Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Restaurant 20: The City Diner (Kansas City, Missouri)

RESTAURANT: The City Diner
LOCATION: 301 Grand Blvd. Kansas City, Missouri
DATE: May 14, 2005
FOOD: Eastern Omelet (Ham, Onions, Peppers, Mushrooms, Tomatoes, American Cheese), Hash Browns, ½ Blueberry Pancake
BEVERAGE: Decaf Coffee
PRICE: $12.00

Often times I grow nostalgic for the America I never knew. The “simpler” America of the 1950s when the American dream could be remarked upon without cynical asides and diners dotted city street-corners with promises of hashbrowns, home-style pancakes and fried eggs. Ah, oh how perfect it was.

Then I remember segregation, McCarthyism, Red scare blacklists, and the wide usage of happy pills by women supposedly content to be stay at home moms. So maybe America was no better then than now, but at least some of the diners survive to hint at the era that never was. And guess what? They still serve pancakes.

The City Diner in Kansas City, Missouri offers such a trip to the ghost of culinary times past. Old-school in feel and biker/Western open-road/Johnny Cash in d├ęcor, this diner is exactly the type of place I imagined Kansas City would be home to. Luckily, though the furnishings are old, the food is fresh, time-honored stand-bys done right.

Steph’s parents had suggested The City Diner as an old family favorite, recommending the pancakes and the chance to write your name on the restaurant’s walls if you could finish two of the flapjacks in a sitting. Typically such a challenge would perk my interest, but knowing that I would be sitting down at Arthur Bryant’s a few hours later, I opted to base my manhood on something other than the hollowness of my stomach.

So instead, Libby and I split a blueberry pancake, which was every bit as good as Steph had foretold. While neither as fluffy nor transcendent as Clinton St.’s pancakes, these were still wonderful breakfast fare and like all of Joseph Heller’s works post Catch-22, they should be judged on their own merits and not compared to that which is uniquely monumental. The blueberries in City Diner’s were ripe and spread evenly throughout the light pancake, whose outside was the perfect shade of griddled brown.

I guess I truly was in the Mid-West as my “Eastern” omelet had all the components of the Western omelets I’ve ordered all throughout my life on the Eastern seaboard (the “Western” omelet had bacon instead of ham). The omelet was more of an egg crepe or burrito, as the vegetables and ham were encased inside rather than incorporated into the egg. This detracted from the eggs which were delightful in and of themselves. This is IHOP’s style of omelet preparation and I generally prefer full integration of egg and ingredients. City Diner’s omelet was thus only a partial success though the distribution of cheese inside brought everything together like the conclusion of an Agatha Christie mystery. I especially liked the hashbrowns, crisply fried on the exterior but thick enough so that I could actually taste the spuds, and not have to rely on the texture as sole indicator that I was eating anything at all, as happens with so many restaurant’s burned afterthoughts of hashbrowns.

City Diner was a strong way to kick off my Kansas City dining holiday. My main complaint was that the kitchen was a bit inattentive to details. Libby and I both received white instead of wheat bread and my omelet had American (my least favorite of all cheeses, if you can even call highly processed and congealed oils a cheese) instead of Swiss cheese, though on the order slip used also as receipt, our waitress had written our orders correctly. These weren’t huge mistakes and certainly didn’t ruin an otherwise solid diner breakfast. Perhaps the slip-ups were even appropriate, a reminder that the America of the past was never as ideal as we would like to believe.

RATING: 6.8/10