In case you missed it, I took a bit of a hiatus from blogging. As that’s now over, I thought it only fitting that my first post back should be on a place I’ve been meaning to visit for a long time, Grinders at 415 E. 18th Street in downtown Kansas City.
You see, I’ve heard a lot about the place. Featured on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” with the ever-annoying Guy Fieri, it piqued my interest as one, a local Kansas City place, and two, as a place with a unique atmosphere. So on Saturday, following an enjoyable, if a bit exhausting trip to the River Market, Natasha and I stopped by Grinders for a late lunch.
At first glance, Grinders doesn’t even appear to be a restaurant. Covered with concert promotional fliers (it doubles as a music venue in the evenings), you may be tempted to pass it by in favor of the place next-door, sister venue Grinders West. Don’t do that. While I’m told Grinders West is great, you want the original.
When we entered the place, even at nearly two in the afternoon, there was not a spare seat to be found. Undaunted, we made our way through the inside to an open table out back. There were plenty of these because in case you didn't leave your house last weekend, it was f-ing hot. Sitting at a picnic table, we perused the menu while listening to the sound check for the upcoming Dweezil Zappa concert. Between the sound check, the raunchy graffiti covering the tables, the dog roaming the courtyard and the interesting mix of fellow patrons, the whole place had a surreal quality, like something you would find in a Darren Aronofsky film. Of course the copious amounts of alcohol still filtering out of my system from the night before may have added to this.
At any rate, we had plenty of time (but not too long) to check out the menu while our waitress, a pleasant girl brought our drinks. She was a good server, but she probably could have benefited from a little help, as she appeared to be slightly over-burdened with tables. Though I’ve heard the pizza is excellent, we opted for the Philly cheese steak and the molten Buffalo wings. To drink Natasha had a mimosa made with very cheap champagne, and for some reason I decided a beer sounded good. Though they’ve got a great selection at Grinders, I went with a Miller Light (don’t ask me what I was thinking).
Because the place was busy, we had a long (but reasonable) wait for our food. This gave us more time to people watch, something Grinders is prime real estate for. The workers were invariable heavily tattooed with a preference for black clothing. The patrons were a very mixed bag. At the table in front of us 8 hipsters, ironic mustaches and all, drank beer by the pitcher while discussing their favorite Web sites. Behind us a family discussed KU basketball, while next to us a large woman wearing a fanny pack discussed the upcoming Zappa plays Zappa show with her boyfriend.
Had it not been so hot, we wouldn’t have minded the wait at all, but as I mentioned before, it was uncomfortably hot. So when our food finally arrived, we were more than ready for it.
Now several people, including a friend of mine who was born and raised in Philadelphia, have told me that Grinders is one of the few places outside of the City of Brotherly Love where you can get a good cheese steak. Having never sampled Geno’s I can only take his word for it, but I loved this sandwich. Sautéed mushrooms, peppers and onions with thin-sliced beef, provolone and Cheese Whiz on a chewy bun, it was just what I hoped it would be. Definitely worth checking out if you like that sort of thing. Of course Natasha, with her European tastebuds was disappointed. Raised on good cheese, she has a strong aversion to processed cheese and felt like the Cheese Whiz overwhelmed everything else. But then I can’t expect a foreign-born person to fully appreciate the greasy goodness that is a Philly cheese steak. In my book, it was delicious.
As for the Buffalo wings, of which I had also heard good things, I was very disappointed. Served only slightly warmer than room temperature, the sauce was also extremely generic. While they weren’t bad, the wings were nothing remarkable, tasting like something you might find at Chili’s or Applebee’s. Too bad really, considering how much I enjoyed the cheese steak.
Overall, prices were great, we had drinks, a sandwich and wings, and we still got out for under $30 including tip. And while I was unhappy with the wings, the Phillies, along with the reputation of the as yet untasted pizza and grinders will surely have me back