Thursday, December 17, 2009

Robert & Kelly Go to St. Louis (Part 1)

A city blessed so abundantly with White Castles. Can't they spare us just one?

Kelly and I had been feeling the need to get out of town for awhile, so when we had our first open weekend in forever, we decided to take a road trip to St. Louis. I figured we could stop at White Castle, tour a brewery, stop at White Castle, check out the Gateway Arch, stop at White Castle and so forth.

After careful negotiation it was decided that we would stop at White Castle exactly once. Rather, among other things, we'd get some crepes downtown and visit The Hill for Italian food. So we dropped off the kiddo, gassed up the car, grabbed a couple of QuikTrip taquitos -- and we were off.

Pi Pizzeria
Kelly found this place while doing some online recon before we left KC, and noting that it's a favorite of the Obamas, we made Pi Pizzeria our Friday night destination.

The hostess told us it would be an hour before we were seated, so we stepped up to the bar to get beers. Seeing as how we were in St. Louis, we each chose a selection from Schlafly -- Kelly got the Pale Ale, and I opted for the Saison. While I was standing at the bar, I heard Schlafly pronounced three distinctly different ways: Shay-flee, Shaf-lee, and Shuh-laugh-lee.

Since it was a nice night, we sat down at one of the tables outside on the sidewalk. There we started to notice that everybody in St. Louis looks vaguely familiar. Not like people we used to know or anything -- just people we'd seen around in various locales. Like those random people you've got a few of the same classes with in college but never talk to, or are always at the same shows you're at.

The pizza was totally worth the wait. We ordered the Chicago-style deep-dish South Side Classico pie, subbing in green olives and black olives for green pepper and onions. Made with cornmeal, the crust was super-chewy on the bottom, but had a nice crunch at the top of the edges.

You can't tell how delicious it was from this picture. We were at a table near the back of the restaurant, so in deference to our fellow diners I turned my camera's flash off, and the resulting photo came out so bad you can barely even tell it's pizza. People try to pass off pictures of Bigfoot that are clearer than this.

There's a sign at Pi that says Provel and has a circle and a slash drawn through it. I know I'm in the minority of people that like St. Louis-style pizza, but I was surprised to find out that apparently even the people in St. Louis don't seem to care for it all that much.

Benton Park Cafe
Saturday morning, I checked out Urbanspoon to find someplace to go for breakfast, and was immediately intrigued by Benton Park Cafe for two reasons. First, beer biscuits. Second, breakfast pizza. Plus, it's totally within walking distance of the Anheuser-Busch brewery, which we were planning to tour that afternoon.

We looked over the menu in greater detail once we got there, and despite some good looking omelettes, we stuck with ordering the Classic Pizza and beer biscuits and gravy. I will mention that Benton Park Cafe also offers a knife and fork pancake sandwich called McGrittl This, and I'm fairly certain that name isn't legally sound.

I'm glad to confirm that both our breakfast choices were winners. The beer bread flavor of the biscuits was excellent, and the gravy was unexpectedly spicy. The Classic Pizza comes topped with egg, mushroom, onion, tomato, bacon and cheese -- and it marked the second killer crust we got in St. Louis.

Kelly was such a fan of the crust that she started trying to figure out the recipe. She asked what was in it, and while all our server could tell us was that garlic salt somehow factored in and the crust is stuffed with cheese, Kelly did some online sleuthing and found this once we got back to KC.

Didn't even occur to us that the pizza would be a full-size pie, thus easily serving two, but it was and along with the biscuits and gravy we had way too much food. That said, no edges of the pizza's crust were left behind.

When our server dropped off our bill, she also asked me if I wanted a to-go cup for my coffee. Attention all breakfast places: This practice is now mandatory, and your compliance is appreciated.

Next Time on Lunch Blog: On to the Anheuser-Busch brewery. There were college kids there, so it must be educational.
Pi Pizzeria: 6144 Delmar Boulevard | St. Louis MO 63112
Pi on Urbanspoon

Benton Park Cafe: 1900 Arsenal Street | St. Louis MO 63118
Benton Park Cafe & Coffee Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Carny Surprise

It was between making this or Funnel Cake au Gratin.

Did you hear about the Casserole Party hosted by Emily Farris at Pryde's Old Westport last week? Sounds like it was wicked awesome, but alas, we weren't able to be there. Besides, the only casserole I've ever made is a little something called Carny Surprise, and since it's a modification of Taste of Home's Corn Dog Casserole, I doubted it was eligible for the big night.

True, the rules of the Casserole Party state that you can manipulate a pre-published recipe to make it your own. And while I've made a few changes to the Corn Dog Casserole recipe that might technically allow it to qualify, I still feel obligated to add a disclaimer that Carny Surprise is perhaps best described as a “straight-up rip-off.”

The deal is thus -- there are three big differences between Carny Surprise and Corn Dog Casserole. First, the Taste of Home recipe calls for a scant one-and-a-half pounds of hot dogs. Knowing there's no way that could ever even come close to possibly being enough, however, I double that.

That's right. Three pounds of hot dogs.

I don't use just any hot dogs, either. In order to more authentically evoke the seedy flavor of carny folk heritage, I go for “Old-Fashioned Wieners” from McGonigle's Market. Sure, at $4.99 a pound, they're mighty expensive, but they're worth it for both the delicious taste and unbeatable snap. Everything else in this recipe is dirt cheap, though, so it evens out.

The second difference is that Carny Surprise is to be served with a barrel of yellow mustard for topping.

The third difference is that I cut down the celery and the green onions to one cup each. I'm not quite sure what celery is bringing to the party anyway.

So it was a bummer to miss the casserole party, but it just so happened that this month's agency luncheon here at the office had the same theme -- and that was all the excuse I needed to get my casserole on and whip up a batch of Carny Surprise.


  • 3 lbs hot dogs, cut into coins (I recommend getting the best quality dogs available, if possible from the meat counter)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup sliced green onions (two bunches should do it)
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 packages Jiffy corn bread mix (8½ ounces each, 17 ounces total)
  • 1½ cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons rubbed sage
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • Barrel of yellow mustard
  1. In the largest pan you have, saute celery in butter for 5 minutes on medium heat. Add onions, and saute for 3 more minutes. Place in a bowl and set aside.
  2. In the same pan, saute the hot dogs for 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Add to the bowl with the celery and onions. Stir it all up real good, and set aside 2 cups.
  3. In the largest bowl you have, combine eggs, milk, sage and pepper. Stir in the cornbread mix, and add remaining hot dog mixture. Add 1½ cups of cheese. Spread into a 3 quart baking dish. Top with the reserved 2 cups of hot dog mixture and the remaining ½ cup of cheese.
  4. Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  5. Serve the Carny Surprise alongside the yellow mustard barrel for topping.

Here's a warning -- after standing over a pan while sauteing three pounds of hot dogs, you will absolutely smell like hot dogs for the rest of the day.

Did I say warning? What I meant was, “Here's the best part.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

30 Rock's Cheesy Blasters

Don't leave us hanging, Meatcat!

What is a Cheesy Blaster, you ask? Watch this and find out.

They sound awesome, right? And while we've waited and waited and waited so patiently for Meatcat to arrive on his magic skateboard and bring us Cheesy Blasters, he's totally giving us the cold shoulder. Not cool, Meatcat. Not cool.

Clearly, we had no choice but to take matters into our own hands and make a batch of Cheesy Blasters ourselves. Here's how we did it.

  • Hot dogs
  • 8 oz bag shredded jack cheese (NOT pepper jack, just plain jack)
  • 8 oz bag shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Can of pizza sauce
  • Pepperoni
  • Tube of thin crust pizza dough
A note on the hot dogs: We used Johnsonville Stadium Style Beef Franks since they were the biggest I could find, hence more room for jack cheese. Once the Cheesy Blasters were assembled, though, we had a leftover pizza lump, so I think this recipe could easily accommodate any standard 8-to-a-pack hot dogs. Unless they're turkey dogs, the inclusion of which in Cheesy Blasters would be nothing less than morally wrong. Same goes for turkey pepperoni. I wish we'd gotten a picture of the leftover pizza lump -- there was something truly disturbing about it. It looked like it might start to scoot away of its own accord, like the raisin concoction John Cusack's mom made in Better Off Dead.

  1. Preheat oven to temperature stated on the pizza crust directions.
  2. Assemble pizza. We went in the order of pizza crust, pizza sauce, cheese and then a protective barrier of pepperoni in hopes of minimizing mozzarella/jack co-mingling.
  3. Cook hot dogs on stovetop according to package directions.
  4. Cut a slit lengthwise in the hot dogs, and stuff with jack cheese.
  5. Cut pizza into strips, not quite as wide as the length of the hot dog. You want some hot dog overhang coming out of each end.
  6. Roll a hot dog in each pizza strip. If at all possible, try to roll it so that the seam of the pizza ends up on the bottom but the jack cheese in the hot dog faces upward, thus preventing too much cheese from oozing out as it melts.
  7. Bake according to pizza crust directions, until golden brown. Don't forget to spray your baking sheet with Pam.

Boom! You got Cheesy Blasters!

No shocker, they turned out pretty delicious -- at least the sum of their parts. It probably helped that by the time our Cheesy Blasters came out of the oven, we were a couple of Old Styles into the evening. If there's anything bad to say about the Cheesy Blasters at all, it's that I envisioned them looking somewhat more cylindrical, and not so much like Hot Pockets.

Actually, here's the worst thing about Cheesy Blasters: It's nigh-impossible to get the jingle out of your head. Seriously, it's starting to drive me batty.

Meatcat, please come hang out with us. We'll even sweeten the deal with all the Old Style you can drink. How can you turn that down?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

King Buffet

Strip malls are the new castles.

So is King Buffet a Chinese buffet or a Japanese buffet? In the waiting area there's a giant mural of the Great Wall of China. However, they've also got an entree called Japanese Chicken. Then again, the buffet has Mexican food as well, so whatever. It doesn't matter. Really we just wanted massive plates of fried in sauce.

Studying the mural while we were waiting to be seated, Steve said with awe, “It's just like being there -- on a really blue day.” Shortly thereafter we were shown to our table, and I made my first trip to the buffet for a bowl of hot & sour soup and some appetizers. I got crab rangoon, chicken teriyaki on a stick, some fried pork dumplings that were 300% more doughy than any dumpling I've ever encountered before, a pork and shrimp Dim Sum concoction, and everybody's favorite traditional Chinese delicacy, cheese nuggets.

But the highlight was the Dragon Roll. Tug pointed to it and asked me what was in it. “Dragon,” I said.

Nick countered, “I think it's actually imitation dragon meat. Like K-Rab.”

“You mean it's Dee-Ragon?,” I asked.

“Yeah,” confirmed Nick.

Plates two and three were entrees. Like the appetizer selection, pretty much all the usual Chinese buffet suspects are present and accounted for. Your General Tso, your sesame chicken, your lo mein and fried rice, etc. And each one tasted about like they taste at every other Chinese buffet -- vaguely Asian with only slight variation in flavor from dish to dish. Which is exactly what we were in the mood for, even if it doesn't sound as good when you spell it out like that, though.

I should note that King Buffet does have two items I hadn't seen elsewhere.
  • House Special Chicken: I liked this quite a bit. Mostly because it had mushrooms in it, not because it tastes any different than anything else on the buffet.
  • Peanut Butter Chicken: First bite was awesome. Second bite less so. After the third bite, I never wanted to taste this again. Do not put more than two bites of this on your plate.
King Buffet also has sushi. Now I like sushi and everything, and this sushi looked fine, but buffet sushi, uh, well...thank you, but no. Yet between that and the soft taco -- technically more of a tiny burrito, I believe -- I probably should've braved the sushi. The soft taco tasted like it came out of a can.

Again, all we were looking for was fried in sauce, so barring my third bite of Peanut Butter Chicken and that soft taco, as buffets go this wasn't bad. Perhaps even slightly above average, thanks to the Dragon Roll and the mushrooms in the House Special Chicken. Although there weren't any Chinese donuts, and that totally blows.

Maybe it's a Japanese buffet after all.
1601 West 23rd Street | Lawrence, KS 66046King Buffet on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Los Corrals

Next door to The Peanut. Which is why I've never been before.

Years. It’s taken years for me to finally check out Los Corrals, because every time I intended to go I'd stop one storefront short, getting lured in by The Peanut and its promise of delicious bar food and sketchy service. Trust me, if you don’t have your heart 100% set on Mexican, it's easy to get caught in The Peanut's siren song.

This time, backed up by some encouraging reviews and a desire to blaze new ground, I joined fellow lunchophiles Caitlin and Wells for our inaugural Los Corrals visit. But just to be safe, we approached from the east to avoid any last-minute temptation from its neighbor.

My buddies went inside as I snapped a photo, and had already been seated when I entered the modest lobby. Trekking forward into the restaurant to look for them, I noticed that Los Corrals appears to infinitely expand into a series of increasingly larger dining rooms.

At last I found my group in the third room, although I couldn't help but wonder how much further Los Corrals went back. Like if deep within the catacombs, there's a Grail knight patiently awaiting his taco platter.

Service is fast here, and soon we were munching on the complimentary chips and salsa, with an order of cheese dip on the way. The chips are deep yellow and thicker than most, and they carry an almost meaty taste, which I can only guess is infused from being fried with the tacos and whatnot. Wells was a big fan, but both Caitlin and I were less enthusiastic. She thought they were overcooked and I was put off by the over-crunchiness that makes them hard to bite into. The cheese dip was fine, just unremarkable.

Speaking of cheese, they really load you up -- and it’s more of a Velveetaish consistency. Good in moderation. Much less so in excess.

We ordered right down the dinner combo plate menu 1-2-3, each option coming in under $8. Wells went with the two taco and two enchilada combo, and Caitlin with the taco, enchilada, soupy beans and rice plate. I liked the sound of the taco, enchilada, quesadilla and chalupa plate -- seemed like it would be a huge bargain and a chance to try a good variety.

How disappointed I was when I found out that the difference between a quesadilla and a chalupa is that the oversized corn nacho gets splashed with cheese dip rather than a layer of beans and lettuce. The enchilada was alright. However, the entire plate was redeemed by the taco.

I wasn’t expecting much, but when I took a bite, I had to pause and look for the cheese dip I could have sworn I was tasting in there. Nope, it was just beef -- fantastically greasy beef with great sauce snuggled up in a crispy shell. If I go back, I’m getting all tacos.

In fact, this experience opened me up to making tacos my usual at various other Mexican restaurants, instead of my standard go-to of enchiladas. I've yet to find one with the delicious initial impact of Los Corrals, but rest assured, I’ll keep looking.
409 West 9th Street | Kansas City, MO 64105
Los Corrals on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 29, 2009


A mere 20 miles away from 18th & Vine, yet worlds apart.

Seeing as how Sullivan's was way too busy for our taste when we tried to do a Guys' Night there on one Thursday last August, we decided to give it a shot on a Wednesday this time around. Sure, Sullivan's seems a bit fancy for the likes of us, but the bar menu has some relatively cheap options, and there was one in particular that we were determined to check out -- Bleu Cheese Chips. Your Lunch Bloggers are total sluts for stinky cheese.

The patio was full-up when we got there, so Shaw, Dorsett, Voytek and I took a seat in the bar area, which features live jazz seven nights a week. Failing to find any beers we could get excited about from the Sullivan's selection, we sucked it up and ordered a round of expectedly overpriced Miller Lites. Meanwhile, tonight's entertainment was playing the world's most boring version of “Oye Como Va” ever.

Half an hour later, a table on the patio opened up and we moved outside where we had some Manhattans that turned out to be fairly decent. Nearby there was a really tan over-50 guy in pink pants, buying bottle after bottle of champagne for three twentysomething girls.

I'm not judging. If you're over 50, and can afford to splurge on bottles of champagne for some hot young things, I say do it. It may not even be as expensive as I think, since I doubt you have to buy the good stuff. This is the kind of lifestyle Shaw should aspire to, pink pants and all.

Food-wise, we had a good feeling about Sullivan's. The Pitch named it Kansas City's Best Steakhouse in this year’s Best Of issue, and although we were planning on ordering exclusively off the bar menu, that's still a pretty good endorsement for the kitchen staff. Here’s what we got:

Bleu Cheese Chips -- As noted, these were what we really wanted to try, and hands down they were the big winner. The skillet chips were satisfyingly crunchy with the perfect thickness, and absolutely smothered in bleu cheese.

Gnocchi -- If there’s gnocchi on the menu, I’m going to order it, and this wild mushroom and spinach version was delicious. Lots of parmesan, too. I could've eaten this as an entree.

Tavern Sliced Steak -- Served with sauteed spinach and a mushroom butter sauce, it's the flavors of the gnocchi in steak form. Good, but I would've preferred to just have more of the gnocchi.

Firecracker Shrimp -- Allegedly spicy, these fried popcorn shrimp were an epic fail. I was promised a taste explosion as big as an M-80. These were more like black snakes.

The food notwithstanding, this isn't a place I'd want to hang out at. Despite the fact it's a chain, Sullivan's seems so totally Johnson County Whitebread that it's inconceivable it could exist anywhere else. Supposedly Sullivan's is modeled in the vein of a 1940's Chicago-style steakhouse, but overall the vibe is more like smooth jazz elevator music.

There's a mural near the top of the wall that runs around the length of the bar area featuring scenes of jazz guys playing their instruments, and the quality of the art is roughly that of 10 for $10 souvenir t-shirts. It's like going to The Max from Saved By the Bell, after the set had been dressed up to look jazz by somebody that had heard of jazz without ever actually hearing jazz.

Our Sullivan's experience came down to this -- there are a couple of good things on the bar menu, and while the beers are pricey, they're not outrageously disproportionate to anything else in the Town Center vicinity. But if it's atmosphere you're looking for, Sullivan’s is about as jazz as Chuck E. Cheese is punk.
4510 West 119th Street | Leawood, KS 66209Sullivan's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Blame It On Cain’s (Tulsa Road Trip 9/09, Part 3)

Never say die.

Robert: As previously recounted, I'm a Whatafarm veteran, but Shaw, Jeff and Ryan had never tackled one -- so before embarking upon the arduous drive home, we headed to Whataburger.

Shaw: In preparation, I drew up a new Whatafarm diagram that included the full complement of Whataburger toppings. We figured giving them that would be easier than saying “I want a burger -- add chicken, bacon, fried egg and anything else you can throw on there.”

Robert: Except fish. No fish.

Shaw: Spirits were high as we pulled into the parking lot, even though the Whataburger that Ryan's GPS led us to seemed a little sketchy. Chatting about the domination soon to be taking place, we ran into one of the managers walking to her car, and showed her the diagram to confirm we weren't going to get any static. Impressed yet also clearly relieved that she was now off duty, she said making us Whatafarms shouldn't be a problem -- and then promptly sped away.

Once inside, following Robert's pre-established protocol, I stepped up to the counter, looked the employee dead in the eye, slid the diagram across the counter and said, “We'd like four of these, please.”

Robert: Your form was 100% correct. For the life of me, I can't figure out what it was that threw this particular Whataburger into total chaos.

Shaw: The diagram caused much commotion and umpteen looks of horror. Eventually every Whataburger staffer was up at the counter. All except one.

They took our diagram to the back, and a couple of minutes later a guy -- I'm not sure if he was the head manager or what -- emerged and said, “I'm sorry, we can't make that.”

Robert: Whaa? Excuse me? What do you mean? You can't? Or you won't?

Shaw: We asked for an explanation, and he just repeated, a little more sternly I might add, “I'm sorry, sir. We can't make that.”

Robert: Come on! It’s not like it's made out of unicorn! You've got everything you need right there!

Shaw: At this time, I will point out the irony of the current Whataburger campaign: “Customize Your Burger.”

Robert: So we did the only logical thing. We piled back into the car and went in search of another Whataburger.

Shaw: There was some anxiety in the air, since we were running out of time before 11:00, when breakfast hours end and you can't get a fried egg anymore. The egg is critical to the equation! If you don't get an egg, then you're just some jerk with a fried chicken-burger-bacon-cheese sandwich.

Turned out there was no need to worry -- this location looked like the crown jewel of the Whataburger empire, and when we showed the crew what we wanted, they were excited to join us on our adventure. They even asked if they could make a copy of our diagram.

Robert: Not to mention they gave us free fountain drinks after hearing the sordid tale of how we were turned away at the other Whataburger.

Shaw: When our four Whatafarms arrived, the table supports audibly creaked. This thing is just as much of a beast as you think it is.

The first bite is almost overwhelming, a dancing assortment of flavor, but thanks to a sound structure the Whatafarm quickly settles into a nice balance. About halfway through, I started slowing down. By the end I had a little sweat going, yet I still powered through and finished proud. Also a little regretful, but mostly proud.

Robert: Indeed, I'm proud to report that we all finished our Whatafarms. As we were wrapping up, the general manager came over and chatted with us for a couple of minutes. He apologized again for our experience at the sketchy Whataburger, and gave us kudos on our refusal to give up on a dream.

While I don't know if he'd want to see his name on Lunch Blog or not, it must be said that Whataburger #303's general manager deserves a raise, a promotion to corporate and full access to the Whatajet, which I'm not sure is a real thing but if it isn't it certainly should be. Whataburger bigwigs, please email me and we can let you know who your #1 employee is and sing his praises even more.

Shaw: Everything about the food and service here was topnotch -- I couldn't be happier with the experience. It'll be awhile before I need another Whatafarm, though. Next time, I'll have to try something from the regular menu.

Robert: You should. I'd say Whataburger serves the best fast food burgers around, but to me they actually taste a step above fast food.

Smokey Ben's
Shaw: Four hours later, we stopped for barbecue. That was a truly awful idea.

Robert: Jeff, Ryan and I -- or maybe it was just me -- really wanted Hot Momma's. They're these little spicy sausages we got here on our last Tulsa road trip. One or two of them would have been a fine afternoon snack.

Shaw: But we also got ribs.

Robert: We should not have gotten ribs. They were fine, but four hours after a Whatafarm, we should not have gotten ribs.

Ill-conceived barbecue pit stop notwithstanding, it was an awesome trip. And now I'm ready to go back for another show at Cain's Ballroom. Who's up for Drive-By Truckers? How about Hank III?

Little bit of bad news, though, guys -- we totally missed the Hanson show.
The good Whataburger, not the sketchy one:
4726 East 41st Street | Tulsa, OK 74135Whataburger on Urbanspoon
Smokey Ben's:
610 West Mary Street | Yates Center KS 66783Smokey Ben's Incorporated on Urbanspoon
(Although no matter where you may find yourself, if you want a Hot Momma bad enough, Smokey Ben's will magically appear.)