I eat out a lot. More often than not, I’m eating multi-coursed meals in higher end establishments. When I’m not eating out, I’m usually recipe testing or cooking something up (inevitably, in batches too large for one) at home.
A by-product of eating “fancy” so frequently is an indelible craving for the casual, the sloppy, the ethnic, and the simple. There’s something to be said for a taco (one that doesn’t involve a chi-chi nouveau twist) or plain old mashed potatoes (not pureed, infused, or otherwise electrofied).
Despite what many may think – I like rolling up my sleeves and letting the sauce dribble down my arm. What do you think elbows are for?
So, if I’m not suiting up for a schmancy establishment, I try to keep things simple, quick, and, for the most part, healthy (although from my flickr, it’s not apparent). Inexpensive is another key factor.
While good food is on everyone’s mind on this Thanksgiving eve, I thought I’d give you a short-list of places around my hometown where I like to roll on a casual meal out with friends or family:
For a jolly green salad, I head to The Mixx, just off the Country Club Plaza. For around $9, they’ll toss me a half a dozen or so “mixx-ins” (your choice from a list of 20+) with mixed baby lettuces for a quick, healthful, yet filling meal. Although I admire The Mixx for their always-creative soups and their upstanding sandwiches, their salads are a welcomed sight for an oft-vegetable deprived restaurant-eater like moi.
For those who think that bluestem is a fancy bank-breaking restaurant, I implore you to re-evaluate. With the rise of bar food and the “gastro-pub” in America, Chef Colby Garrelts has recently re-tooled their Lounge menu to include approachable and familiar main course-type dishes.
Here’s the kicker: everything on the Lounge menu is half-priced Monday-Wednesday from 5-7pm!! They say that they’ll run the half-price program through the holidays. The food is already a pretty good deal at full price, and at half, it’s highway robbery… I feel guilty everytime I eat at the Lounge – but not guilty enough to eat on Thursdays or Fridays…
Over the past month, I’ve tried everything on their Lounge menu from the appetizers (my favorites being the smoked salmon, the Wagyu tartare, and the Assorted Cheese Plate) to the main courses (all six of them, the best being their newly added Shrimp & Grits and the Guinness-braised short ribs), and their desserts (it’s a toss-up between the Caramelized Granny Smith Apples with black truffle ice cream and the seasonally provocative Pumpkin Brioche Bread Pudding with sage caramel) . You can see all of my recent meals at the bluestem wine Lounge (basically, the whole menu) on my flickr.
Cheap, fast, and satisfying, but not healthy, can be found at a number of taquerias here in town. There’s some wonderfulness nestled between corn tortillas going on at El Taconazo in the Armordale neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas.
At lunch, you can order the restaurant’s 5 taco plate for $7. Choose from a dozen fillings. I inevitably gravitate toward the offal: their taco lengua (tongue) is by far my favorite, although the taco cabeza (head meat), isn’t too bad either. Don’t mess with the”American style” garnish of iceberg, tomato, and cheese – the “Mexican style” toppings of cilantro and chopped onions is the way to go.
El Taconazo’s gorditas are the kind of messy soul food that sets you for the day. Clocking in under $7, the warm cornmeal pockets come stuffed with your choice of fillings. While the chorizo with potato is zesty and flavor-packed, the chicherones (pork rinds) sauced with a slightly sweet tomato-based sauce, is sinfully comforting. One should wash everything down at this tacqueria with their home-made horchata – a refreshing cinnamon-spiced rice milk served cold.
Being from a city famous for the “‘cue,” I can’t possibly make it out of a conversation about fast, cheap, but good food without touching on at least a few smokehouses.
Kansas City seems to have a bar-b-que hole, nook, or cranny on every street corner here. My favorites? LC’s Bar-B-Q on Blue Parkway is where I go for the no-frills basics. Their burnt ends are probably my favorite in town.
But, really, bar-b-que is all about the pork.
For that, I head to Oklahoma Joe’s. Their pulled pork sandwich, “Carolina-style” is my favorite bread-bound meat in the city. It’s piled high with meat, “spicy” coleslaw, and “Bubba’s Sauce.” Despite my upbringing in the bastion of the sweet, thick and saucy, I prefer the thin tangy vinegared bbq sauces of the low country and the South. I especially like Oklahoma Joe’s for their variety: the slaw is a must as is their potato salad (something I normally avoid). The fries aren’t bad, and the red beans and rice are an unexpected, but welcomed addition to the otherwise impressive smokehouse fare.
I can’t not talk about the legendary Arthur Bryant’s . Like LC’s, Bryant’s offers a standard selection of bbq meats and sides. Particularly, I love their ribs (short, long, and pork) and baked beans. While their “Original” sauce isn’t bad, I prefer their “Rich and Spicy” sauce, which I especially enjoy with their whole slab of pork ribs.
Lastly, I can never get enough of traditional Chinese food. Rare, though it is (especially in these parts), a bit of sleuthing uncovers good eats. I’ve posted on this blog about two of my favorites, Jen Jen’s and Lucky Wok. Here’s a third: New Peking.
New Peking isn’t really a new restaurant; the Westport strip-mall space has been dishing up decent Chinese under the same name for years. In fact, the former owners were quite good at traditional Chinese seafood dishes. A meal at New Peking was a must for me when crab season rolled around. Now, the restaurant is under new management. It’s now run by the owners if China Tom’s.
What should one order at New Peking? Well, gone are the famous crab preparations of the former owners. In their place is a smattering of compelling hearty offal and beef dishes. At a recent dinner, my friends and I snarfed down a hearty pot of pork tripe stewed with pork blood. The hot pot of beef tendons is also another winner – the gelatinous chunks of tendon marbled with pull-apart beef luxuriate in a rich flavorful beef stew of Chinese cabbage. Both of these hot pots are idea served over steaming rice on a cold wintry day.
As Bobby Flay might say – “get out and eat, Kansas City!” There are a lot of really good meals to be had. And, none of them need be fancy or expensive.