Brunch @ RJ’s Bob-Be-Que Shack

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If you’re reading this on a Saturday or Sunday morning, you need to drop everything you’re doing and go directly to RJ’s Bob-Be-Que Shack on Lamar Ave. and order the Brisket Burnt End Hash. If it’s not Saturday or Sunday morning, and you’re reading this for the first time, I’m sorry that you’re going to have to wait a few days for what is, quite possibly, the best beefy brunch in town.

The truth is, it’s not even really brunch. That would be too pretentious for a place as casual as RJ’s. And I wasn’t aware that they served any booze, because the server probably wasn’t aware that I’d want to drink at noon on a Sunday, and didn’t give me a drink menu. The Brisket Burnt End Hash is available during the joint’s “Country Breakfast,” served only on weekends.

[box]RJ’s Bob-Be-Que Shack
5835 Lamar Ave.
Mission, Kan.
(913) 262-7300
Country Breakfast served Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m.–1 p.m. [/box]

RJ’s is exactly what you’d expect from a place that calls itself a shack. The service is friendly, but a little slow, the coffee is nothing special and the food is painfully abundant. (Make sure you’re wearing stretchy pants when you go.)

A few minutes after my brunch date and I ordered our food, the waitress placed two cinnamon rolls — that we hadn’t ordered — on our table. The smell of smoked meats was making my stomach growl, so I scarfed mine down. It wasn’t gooey like a regular cinnamon roll; it was doughy and fluffy. But as soon as our main courses arrived — with a completely unnecessary, yet tasty, side of biscuits and gravy, made even tastier with a dash of RJ’s sauce — I immediately regretted eating it.

My boyfriend had ordered the Up Before the Chickens Platter. It came with two eggs — which he got scrambled — two pancakes and house-smoked bacon. It was even garnished with a little fresh fruit. The bacon was great, cut a little thicker than most restaurant varieties, and it was clear from the first bite that it had been smoked out back. The pancakes were thick, too. Maybe a little too thick, and definitely a little too dry.

But, you know what? Don’t go for the pancakes. Forget about the pancakes. You can get mediocre pancakes at IHOP. The Brisket Burnt End Hash is the reason to go to RJ’s for brunch. Really, it’s the only reason. But it’s a damn good one.

A heaping serving, the hash features huge chunks of impeccably burnt ends, with large slices of mushrooms and perfectly fried potatoes. That’s all sautéed with finely chopped onions, red peppers and green onions, and it’s served atop a slice of toast that soaks up all of the delicious grease. It also comes with two eggs, which I recommend getting over medium so the yolk doesn’t dilute or mask the burnt-end flavor. Because you don’t want to mess with perfection. You just want to eat it.

Brunch @ Succotash

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Sunday morning, after the Trolley Run — a four-mile charity race along Kansas City’s historic Trolley Track — my friend and I wanted carbs, carbs and more carbs. And coffee. Unfortunately, the rest of our friends were going to one80, and after my experience there the previous week, there was no way I was going back — especially considering the extent of my hunger. Plus, I wanted to try someplace new.

My friend suggested Succotash, and I got really excited. I’d never been to the original River Market location — it closed not too long after I moved back to Kansas City — or the new spot at 26th and Holmes, but I’d heard wonderful things about both.

2601 Holmes
Kansas City, Mo.
(816) 421-2807
Open for brunch Saturdays and Sundays 8 a.m.–3 p.m.
Website [/box]

When we arrived, there was a line out the door. Apparently, many of our fellow runners had the same idea. As hungry as I was, I was more than happy to spend our wait time checking out Succotash’s wonderfully kitschy dining room, mismatched coffee cups and all. Even though we were told it would be 10 to 15 minutes, were seated at a cute little mirrored table within five.

After placing our coffee order, we asked our server if we could get an order of home fries out first. He warned us that the kitchen was backed up, but by the time he came back with our drinks — mine, Cafe du Monde’s chicory and Kristina’s, an Americano made with Oddly Correct beans — he quietly placed a big ‘ole plate of fried potatoes down in front of us. It might have been a previous mess-up — there were a few lingonberries on the plate — but we didn’t care at all. They also could have used some salt and ketchup — neither of which were on our table — but we didn’t care about that at all, either. We just wanted food to put in our mouths at that exact moment. And we had it.

Just as soon as we scarfed down our potatoes, our juices arrived. I was craving something green and had ordered the Lawnmower, made with cucumber, celery, apple, spinach, parsley and lime. Celery is my least favorite of those ingredients, and was the most prominent taste, but it was still wonderful… if you like that kind of thing, which I do. Kristina had the Ninja Sunrise, made with carrot, orange, grapefruit, ginger and beet. The juices were incredibly fresh, because they were made on site with what one server called a “pretty old” but “tried and true” juicer.

I can’t say either of us was actually hungry by the time our main brunch courses arrived, but that didn’t stop me from eating all of mine and some of Kristina’s.

I had the Swedish Pancakes, two crepe-like pancakes topped with lingonberries. I’d never heard of lingonberries before. They’re apparently a staple in Scandinavian cuisine, and seemed to be what would happen if a cranberry and a blueberry made a tiny little baby berry. My meal came with bacon and two eggs, which I ordered over medium. Kristina had the Banana Nut French Toast. It was delicious, but a little too rich for either of us, even after a run. The “toast” was really a banana nut muffin, split in two and cooked like French toast with some sort of sweet, buttery sauce on top that had the texture of gravy. Her meal also came with bacon and two eggs. The bacon was a little dry, but bacon is still bacon, right?

Even had I not been using my run as an excuse to consume far too many calories, brunch at Succotash would have been a perfectly pleasant experience. I can’t wait to go back. I just won’t order as much food next time.

Brunch @ one80

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“This is my least-favorite meal I’ve ever had here. That’s sad,” my little sister Jo said about her Veggie Benny at one80 on Sunday. That was the general sentiment at our table, and at the table of my friends, who happened to be eating across the room.

Our brunch was doomed almost from the start. Jo, her girlfriend and I were seated without menus, and though coffee was the first thing I ordered, it never arrived.

[box]NOTE: one80, formerly at 435 Westport Road, has been replaced by Beer Kitchen, which has awesome brunch. Good![/box]

Thinking my caffeine was still on its way (maybe they were brewing a fresh pot?), I ordered the one80 Mary which, supposedly, was made with spicy tomato juice and vodka. It tasted more like it was made with V8 and water. When I asked the waitress if it was supposed to be spicy, she asked if I had ordered that way. “Well…. um, do you have Sriracha?,” I asked. “Can you just bring me some of that?” As it turned out, not even a ramekin-full of my favorite hot sauce could save that cocktail.

Luckily, the food was better than the drinks, or lack thereof. I started with an order of Grand-ma French Toast — four slices of Grand Marnier-infused French toast with toasted almonds, maple syrup and whipped raspberry mascarpone — for the table. It was as good as it sounds, but it took me a while to find that out, as it arrived about three minutes before my silverware did.

Then came the main courses. My Mexican-inspired Green Eggs and Ham was just right. My sister got the Veggie Benny as she ordered, eggs overcooked and all. Her girlfriend, who opted for the Veggie Benny with no special requests, ended up with the Classic Benny (eggs Benedict with Canadian bacon) with two incredibly over-poached eggs. Because she’s not one to complain, she decided to keep it — which turned out to be a good idea considering my how much my sister disliked her order.

Made with sauteed spinach, tomato, sliced avocado and poached eggs on ciabatta, the Veggie Benny was really close to being really good. The flavors were right on, but it was soggy, due to the fact that the ciabatta wasn’t toasted — a problem that would have been escalated by properly-poached eggs.

After my friends finished their meal, they came over to say hi, and I tried to down more of my Bloody Mary as we all shared whispers about our less-than-stellar brunches. My friend Bill ordered his bagel toasted (it wasn’t) and the biscuits and gravy he barely touched were “very bland.”

Perhaps the folks at one80 were just having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, because I’ve certainly had better meals there. Still, I don’t think I’ll be going back for brunch any time soon.

Brunch @ Bluestem

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When Colby Garrelts was nominated for his fourth “Best Chef: Midwest” James Beard Award, I decided it was finally time to break down and go to Bluestem, the Westport restaurant he runs with his wife, Megan. The problem was, and always had been, I couldn’t really afford to eat there, at least not for dinner. Fortunately, Bluestem serves my favorite meal of the day (brunch) at a price comparable to most restaurants in the neighborhood.

Knowing Bluestem was small, but not how small, I erred on the side of caution and made reservations for Sunday at noon through OpenTable. When I had to call to change the time two days out, the host was incredibly accommodating.

900 Westport Road

Kansas City, Mo.

(816) 561-1101

 | Website[/box]

As soon as we walked through the door, we were promptly seated in the cozy, sun-drenched dining room, which clearly would not have been as easy had I not made reservations. The endless, excellent coffee — a special Bluestem Roasterie blend — began to flow freely and was passed frequently as my brunch date and I decided to share the Eggs Benedict and Spiced Apple Nut Stuffed French Toast. And since brunch isn’t really brunch without bacon and a bloody Mary, we ordered those, too. I was thrilled when the waiter asked me if I wanted my glass salted; hell yes, I did!

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. The bar was a little backed up but I was happy to wait. It was one of the best bloody Marys I’ve ever had — and I’ve had many. While I didn’t get the full ingredient list, the woman who refilled my coffee cup at least six times told me the mix was made the night before with heirloom tomatoes, Sriracha (my favorite hot sauce) and other “spicy spices.” I thought I also tasted some fresh garlic and horseradish.

As I peered over the salted rim of my glass, I saw a tower of toast coming at me: the Spiced Apple Nut Stuffed French Toast. I admit, I half expected it to be stuffed toast, sort of like a jelly doughnut. Instead, spiced green apple slices and nuts were sandwiched in between two giant pieces of French toast. It was topped off with fresh whipped cream and powdered sugar, and though it didn’t necessarily need the side of warm maple syrup, I couldn’t really resist pouring it over the top.

The Eggs Benedict was equally as impressive: two perfectly-poached eggs and ham slices atop what I suspect was a lightly-toasted Wolfermann’s English muffin. It came with a side of mixed greens and country fries — horizontally sliced potato, cooked to a golden brown.

My boyfriend — to whom I defer on all things meat related — was less impressed with the bacon. Not that there was anything wrong with it. But for something named after its place of origin (Webb City), he said, it should be better than your run-of-the-mill really good bacon. While I agreed that a thick cut might have been more exciting, there was no denying that, yes, it was still really good bacon.

We had every intention of finishing off our meal with the Banana Bread Ice Cream Sandwich, but our full stomachs had other plans. And now we have an excuse to spend another Sunday morning at Bluestem, perhaps even just at the bar sipping on coffee and bloody Marys while we share dessert for breakfast.

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