Tag Archives: mccoy’s

Old School Foods: Dishes in Need of a Revival

Like music, literature and other disciplines, the  culinary arts occasionally look backward for inspiration. Thanks to a relatively recent revival, comfort food has firmly entrenched itself in the hearts and menus of American chefs. Whether it is the biscuits and gravy at Happy Gillis, the macaroni and cheese at McCoy’s or the great meatloaf sandwich at the Brick, hearty mid-century dinner staples are everywhere to be found. Higher-end dishes like steak tartare and crabcakes that were popular in the 1950s similarly came back from the depths of obscurity. However, some of old-school recipes have been somewhat overlooked by food trends. Here are a few foods that would do well for a proper comeback.

The monte cristo gets acclaim for combining the idea of french toast with a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. How it has escaped the popular obsession with preposterous fried foods is beyond me. It is either constructed out of two individual pieces of french toast or entirely dipped in egg batter and deep fried. Often served with jam and dusted with powdered sugar, one could be forgiven for interpreting this as a breakfast item. Indeed the sandwich was long a reliable offering of all-night diners, where such lines are often blurred. The Monte Cristo is a classic American bastardization of the croque monsieur, which is itself simply a glorified French ham and cheese sandwich. You can order a Monte Cristo at a few places around town. Corpulent local blogger Chimpotle sampled a gut-busting version at Cheddar’s in Overland Park not long ago. I prefer the humbler version at Succotash.

French Onion Soup is not as polarizing as I expected it would be when I developed a taste for it in my late 20s. I suspect most people either love it or don’t think about it at all. Trust the French elevate the humble onion in such a manner. While available at French restaurants including Le Fou Frog locally, I always associate French onion soup with diners, steakhouses, chain-smoking grandmothers and playing jarts in the front yard as a child. A rich beef broth forms the base, which is combined with pungent caramelized onions, covered with Swiss cheese and topped with a giant crouton. Prior to delivery, the soup is broiled to golden brown in a dark ceramic ramekin. While the traditional preparation is divine, I could see chefs creating some stunning modern interpretations.

Our culture’s tiresome obsession with bacon managed to overlook one of the classic 1950s, faux-fancy appetizers: rumaki. Simply put, rumaki is (are?) chicken livers and water chestnuts wrapped in bacon and glazed with a sweet sauce. They are typically skewered with toothpicks and broiled until crunchy. Back when Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny were tearing up suburban hi-fi sets with their Polynesian-inspired tunes, housewives were busy serving up rumaki to houseguests, just as Betty Draper did in season 2 of Mad Men. A nice balance of sweet, crunchy, chewy and uh, livery, rumaki deserve another go-around on restaurant menus. I cannot think of a single place in town with rumaki on the menu, although a few caterers offer them sans-liver.

Pot roast is the dish on this list most likely to actually pop up on more menus. No, the gloriously textured Chinese pot roast from Blue Koi doesn’t count, I’m talking classic American pot roast: soft, stringy and accompanied by roasted vegetables and potatoes with a rich jus. The version at McCoy’s probably does the dish the best service locally. I have not tried the Friday pot roast special at the Corner Cafe in the northland but I’ll warrant it is worth checking out. One could argue that meat cuts like short ribs and cheek have picked up where pot roast left off. But genuine pot roast is pretty hard to find at good, local restaurants. I’ll bet Julian would knock this out of the park.

Have you seen the stuff people made out of Jell-o in the old Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks? Good Lord, those creations put the present-day fiddlings of molecular gastronomists to shame. Sure most of those dishes seem pretty gross, as they incorporate everything from olives to tuna fish to hard-boiled eggs, but Jell-o actually tastes pretty good when handled with care. While I enjoy straight up jello cubes with a dollop of cool whip, I would love to see what a truly talented chef could do with the stuff.

My honorable mention? Spam. Quite popular in Hawaii and parts of southeast Asia, the canned meat is actually made entirely from chopped ham and pork shoulder, not the assemblage of snouts and anuses people assume. And it actually costs upwards of $4 per can, more than a comparable amount of ground beef.

Thankfully I am not a chef and do not have responsibility for updating and preparing dishes like these for a fickle dining public. But these foods and many more from decades past have the potential to become legitimate food trends.

Dining al Fresco in Kansas City

The weather warmed up considerably this last week, which immediately had me dropping by places where I could eat and drink in the open air. If Kansas City’s smoking ban has done anything, it has seriously expanded our options in this area. After all, even Dave’s Stagecoach boasts a patio these days. Options being widely varied and ever expanding, I decided to pay a visit to few local establishments to see how the season is shaping up thus far.

One of the best aspects of Cafe Trio’s relatively new location is the nice view of the Plaza  accommodating outdoor diners. The deck is semi-exposed, bleeding fairly seamlessly into the indoor dining room. The area is served by its own bar and is typically populated by Trio’s notoriously well-heeled yet boisterous patrons. A smaller, completely open patio serves patrons looking for more intimacy with the elements. Or a cigarette. This is a nice ambiance in which to savor one of their many wines (half price on Tuesdays) or nosh on their excellent pork short rib appetizer. Just be prepared for the inevitable fleet of frat boys on crotch rocket motorcycles flatulating down Main street.

Westside Local’s patio has garnered all sorts of rave reviews since it opened last year which all seem well-deserved. Covered by a sturdy wooden trellis that crawls with ivy in the summer, this veritable beer garden is a casual and fun environs in which to imbibe one of their well-prepared cocktails. The long picnic tables encourage table-sharing, one of the best ideas I have seen in a local place. While the crowd gets lively later in the night, Westside Local patrons are a pretty respectable bunch.

McCoy’s probably has the most well-known deck in town, a distinction that makes perfect sense considering that it sits in the heart of Westport. The corner location gets a lot of foot traffic, and it is not unusual to see people talking over the railing to friends on the street. Punctuated nicely by shady trees, McCoy’s deck is just about the perfect spot for after work drinks. If you stay too long into the dinner hour, you may find yourself tempted by the fish and chips or one of their excellent specialty burgers.

Across the intersection lies a patio near and dear to my heart at Harry’s Bar & Tables. The  multi-leveled outdoor seating area is both an eminently social and intimate space, depending on where you sit. People watching, if that’s your bag, is a big deal here since you can see every Harpo’s-bound fratboy and suburban punk rocker that saunters by (Harpo’s does have a nice patio by the way). Harry’s caters to a slightly older crowd than most Westport establishments and also seems to be popular with service industry types.

On to another Harry’s. Not too long ago, the outdoor seating area at Harry’s Country Club in the River Market received a minor but much needed makeover. What previously reminded me of a monkey cage is now a more colorful outdoor patio with an enclosure alongside the building that can be opened or closed according to the whims of Mother Nature. The patio features one of the best views of Kansas City’s skyline, a southward orientation that is uncommon among local establishments. Harry’s has one of the best Happy Hours around too, with multiple beers, cocktails and foodstuffs on special. Despite the inevitable onslaught of cigar smoke, the crowd is easy-going, fun-loving and diverse.

I wish I could say the same for John’s Big Deck on Wyandotte street downtown. A recent post-work visit had me waiting on the sidewalk for the doorway to open well after 4:30 p.m. That, coupled with the small horde of 20-something Power & Light rejects and semi-professional drunks in my midst forced me to make a preliminary departure. The Big Deck is still a great spot with a fantastic view, and is a perfectly acceptable after-work place to throw back a few Bud Lites al fresco in a scenic setting.

When The Well opened near 75th and Wornall last year, it promised to be the hottest outdoor spot in town. Given the crowd I saw there on a recent weeknight, I think this promise is coming to fruition. The tented rooftop houses quite a few tables, all of which were filled with young men and women in the throes of early evening buzzes. This place fills up quickly and gets extremely loud, assisted by earnest “modern rock” blaring overhead. This is the man-sandal, Ed Hardy, backwards baseball cap crowd, so consider yourself warned. I like the food at The Well quite a bit, but the service is extremely spotty (I’m being diplomatic) on the roof so I would consider this a drinking spot, brah.

The Velvet Dog in Martini Corner won’t win any enlightened patron awards either but the patio is extremely pleasant. It feels like hanging out in a friend’s back yard, with brick flooring and an abundance of shade. There is a dedicated bar under a covered tent that also shields an outdoor pool table from the elements. More excitingly, you can play Bocce Ball in the court toward the back. Happy Hour drinks are affordable and varied, though the food is typical bar fare. While nearby Sol Cantina has a larger and perhaps more popular outdoor seating area, the Velvet Dog is my choice in Union Hill.

While it may not look like much, Brookside’s Aixois French Restaurant contains one of the best patios is the city. If you can handle the preponderance of little old Mission Hills ladies, small children and dogs, it offers a great view of the Trolley Track Trail and the residential area beyond. The tables are a little close together and the service can be a tad stuffy, but the menu is one of the most consistent I’ve encountered. The patio is just an absolute joy in the warm months, the perfect excuse for an evening glass of rose and one of the best shrimp cocktails you will ever have. It’s not a rocking good time but an extremely calm and delightful one.