Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Beating Owen Morris to the Punch - Top 10 Kansas City Foods to Eat Before You Die

Over at Fat City, Owen Morris is offering his take on the "Foods you must east before you die" meme, and he starts if off with a panegyric to the old-school Lamar's twist. I'm not ashamed of stealing a good idea and improving on it, so here's my top 10 list, all in one post, and all available today, not solely in the mists of memory. Mind you, this is my take on 10 foods that exemplify Kansas City's food culture - not necessarily my favorite foods in Kansas City, but foods that somehow have a Kansas City flair.

10. Povitica. You don't find this other places - yummy polish bread swirled with sweet fillings. Beautiful to look at, teeth-achingly sweet to sample, this is a treat from Kansas City's immigrant community. Back when immigrants were European, nobody complained when they kept their traditions and even published newspapers in their own language. Thank goodness that back when the Polish were coming to America, Bryan Pratt was not around to pass laws attacking them.

9. Winstead's Burger. Winstead's burgers are simply the Kansas City classic. Everything else there lives up to the classic diner standard - fries, onion rings, even malts. I've found better burgers, but this is the one that really screams Kansas City.

8. Chicken Spiedini. Sure, Mike Garozzo came to Kansas City from the Hill in St. Louis, but his signature dish, chicken spiedini, has earned a place in Kansas City's heart. Laden with garlic and toasted bread crumbs, nothing says old school Italian like chicken spiedini at the original location at 526 Harrison in the old Northeast.

7. Jess & Jim's Playboy Strip. Miles from the stockyard but on the railroad tracks, Jess and Jim's is an old-fashioned steak joint. Decades ago, they were written up in Playboy Magazine, and that faintly scandalous fame carries them to this day. It's really not the best steak in town, and the decor is anything but regal, but Jess & Jim's is the solid favorite in Kansas City's cholesterol-choked heart. You don't need to wear a tie or put up with waitstaff attitude to enjoy a great steak at Jess & Jim's.

6. Dog Day at Hooper's. For a buck and a quarter, you get a great hot dog covered with toppings. It's a Saturday classic, and even the irritable people who don't like kids in bars have to smile at the neighborhood atmosphere and kids in shin-guards fresh from a Brookside Soccer League game enjoying cokes with cherries and shuffleboard. The hot dogs are great - plump, juicy and just salty enough, but the feel of the place is what makes it a part of Kansas City.

5. Murray's Ice Cream. I know, all cities have great ice cream these days, but Murray's is something special. Maybe it's the quirky hours, maybe it's the location off the beaten path of Westport, or maybe it's some sort of drug they mix into their home-made ice cream, but Murray's Ice Cream is more "Kansas City" than any other ice cream place could ever hope to be. Go there for the ice cream, sit outside in the sun and eat it - wow, I can close my eyes and imagine a whole day spent wandering around Westport.

4. Manny's Chips and Salsa. Kansas City is blessed with a strong Mexican-American community, and, as a result, we have a fantastic assortment of great Mexican restaurants. Manny's is, in my opinion, emblematic of the group, though I agree that there are others that put out better, more authentic food. Manny's, though, serves all of Kansas City, with melted cheese and zesty but not spicy salsa. It's not real Mexican - it's Kansas City Mexican. Sitting there, chowing on the second basket of chips and dripping salsa onto your shirt - that's a piece of Kansas City.

3. Bread Pudding for Breakfast at the Classic Cup. Simple decadence. Breakfast at the Classic Cup is a place to see the powerful grabbing a bite before work, and sitting on the patio is both relaxing and exciting. Doing it with bread pudding with pecans and caramel sauce is beyond wonderful. Cares melt away.

2. Beef Sandwich at Bryant's. Don't even start with the arguments about Oklahoma Joe's or LC's or Gates or whatever. Say all you want about great barbecue places in Kansas City, Bryant's is the home of Kansas City barbecue. It simply is. There's really nothing left to say.

1. McDonald's Happy Meal. It hurts me to do this, but many argue that Bob Bernstein, a local ad guy, came up with the Happy Meal. The claim is disputed, but Kansas City's love of corporate, mass-produced crap food is beyond any dispute. I can insist on local restaurants all I like, but the truth is that the drive-throughs of Our Town are clogged with Kansas Citians looking to buy a meal they saw on TV. If you want to have Kansas City's top ten foods to eat before you die, you really ought to eat the one that we have brought to the world.

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Blogger samuel ryan said...

jesus, if it hurts you so much, why not write about an actual kansas city restaurant that you love, instead of taking a misguided crack at the golden arches?

your list's okay, but... yeesh.

a kc expat's list, off the top of my head, in no order:

• oklahoma joe's "smokie joe" sandwich w/ fries
• flea market hamburger
• waldo pizza, st. louis style
• double winstead, 50/50, chocolate shake
• joe joe's chicken panini
• angie's lemon gelati
• rudy's beef taco
• bryant's beef on bun
• princess garden crispy beef
• taj mahal buffet (if asked for one dish, though, the free gulab jamun at dinner, just to mark the awesomeness of any taj mahal experience)
• bb's lawnside batter fries

then a double bypass.

i could keep doing this all day, too. step your game up.

9/30/2008 9:32 AM  
Anonymous ali said...

i agree with my brother, weakkkkk. maybe you have to get out of town to realize what's good.

9/30/2008 10:39 PM  
Anonymous J said...

I'll put in a vote for Bo Ling's. Some seriously good Chinese food; on par with anything I had in DC when I lived there and worked near Chinatown for 2 years.

9/30/2008 10:50 PM  
Anonymous Andrew said...

Andre's Confisserie Suisse. see Andre's here

10/01/2008 6:02 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Sam and Ali -
I don't think the two of you have commented on the same blog post ever. Sorry to have been insufficiently gushy about your hometown, but my goal wasn't to name the 10 best foods in KC - I was going for the 10 foods that most reflect KC cuisine. I think I did a decent job of choosing things that reflect a distinctive KC personality - except for the bread pudding on the Plaza (that one doesn't fit, and I wish I had gone with BB's batter-dipped fries, which is a great example of how Missourians think batter-dipping makes almost everything better).

The two of you are in New York amd New Orleans - two of the best food towns in the world. But you're jealous of the Happy Meal thing, aren't you?

10/01/2008 6:05 AM  
Blogger Owen said...

On my news feeder, it only contains the first couple of words of a headline and so the title it read "beating owen morris" which gave me a good fright.

I really like your list, at least some of the entries made me do a double-take, especially the happy meal but also the chicken spiedini and Manny's chips. Others made me jealous that I hadn't thought of them like the winstead burger (hitting my head over forgetting that one) or the Jesse & Jim strip.

I'll be sure to highlight this on my blog today.

10/01/2008 6:52 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

While I agree that Sam's list is better on the whole, I think it is disqualified for nominating anything made "St. Louis style."

10/01/2008 8:11 AM  
Blogger samuel ryan said...

dan -

that was my problem! the snark! as the kid living in new york, shouldn't i be the one throwing dated mickey d's barbs at you, while you defend the proud, diverse culinary traditions of kansas city, missouri?

and jim -

thought i might catch some flak for that, but when it's the only good pizza in kansas city, you've got to give me a break.

10/01/2008 9:05 AM  
Blogger DLC said...

I think this is a great list, and more interesting than unnecessarily provocative assertions about which food is "best." Nonetheless i would have given a shout out maybe to Stroud's and the Peachtree buffet.

10/01/2008 9:18 AM  
Blogger MoxieMamaKC said...

I completely forgot about Dog Day at Hooper's. Thank you for the reminder. It was a major pregnancy craving of mine 4 years ago! As an advertising professional, I am impressed with your creativity in picking the Happy Meal, but as a Kansas Citian, I would have gone with the Cheesy Corn at Smokestack/Jack Stack or BB's batter dipped fries. Otherwise, an excellent list.

10/01/2008 12:34 PM  
Blogger "The D" said...

Dan, it surprises me that in 9 of your 10 choices you name a place to get a specific food but not on your povitica choice.

Allow me to give you the one and only place to get the BEST povitica. I'm sure you've heard of Strawberry Hill Povitica. It by far is the best you will find in this town or any other town.

10/01/2008 12:48 PM  
Anonymous Nuke said...

You give good list my friend. Like many said I could argue the "best" factor but not the authentic KC-ishness.

Here are comments on all 10.
10- never heard of it, love me some Lamar's but I would give this a try.

9. This or the Flea.

8. Hell yeah! I never heard of spiedini before visiting Garozzo's, but it was an instant hit!

7. God I love that place. I have never had the cajones to attempt the playboy tho.

6. I didn't know, but I like the idea!

5. Again news to me.

4. See #5

3. Nice choice. Anything local an not on-the-effing-border would have been acceptable here tho.

2. OK this is one where best and most exemplifying KC are hard to separate. I have never had Arthur Bryant's (or Oklahoma Joe's or LC's for that matter), but at least you choose a beloved local establishment.

1. OK, I KNOW you said it was created here, but I call BS. It has no special local feel/flavor from the other billion McDonald's round the world. I would substitute Mr Morris's # 9 instead.

10/01/2008 3:44 PM  

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