Remember Ruby? New book explores lost and loved Kansas City restaurants | KCUR 89.3

Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque stands today as one of the most popular restaurants in Kansas City, but our culinary claim to fame extends far beyond the famous “grease houses.”

A ghostly array of long-closed bars, roadhouses, cafeterias, lunch tables, burger shacks, diners, and steakhouses has played a part in shaping our collective taste buds. These “lost” restaurants were independently owned restaurants that had been around for at least three or four generations.

“You build a cuisine — a food heritage — by making the same foods to the same standards over and over again” (History Press).

Popular restaurant samples include:

The The Green Parrot Inn is located at 52nd Street and State Line Road in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. The inn ran from 1929 to 1955. The menu featured home-cooked from scratch by Tina May Dodd, whose most famous dish was fried chicken. Dodd was also a prominent supporter of “Dry Kansas”.

“If Kansas City sometimes claims that fried chicken dinner is its own contribution to good American foods, that claim depends in large part on Dodd’s efforts and her definition of healthy food best prepared with a tall glass of iced tea,” Broomfield wrote.

The front and back covers of Andrea Broomfield’s new book: “Special Restaurants in Kansas City.”

Putsch’s 210, which opened in 1946, “summarizes fine dining at (Country Club) Plaza. Her service, lighting, soft live music, and tableside cooking were executed with graceful precision,” Broomfield wrote.

“Although the restaurant closed in 1973, Putsch’s 210, dress code, violinist wandering and table-side cook, suggests that Kansas City residents have lapsed into an era they will remember for the rest of their lives.”

Broomfield writes that El Nopal Restaurant, 416 W. 13th Street, was run by the Infante family from 1930 to 1966 and is considered “the first restaurant in the area to consciously introduce a wider audience in Kansas City to Mexican food.”

“While it would be impossible to determine how a ‘Kansas City’ taco came about, where ground beef marinated in corn tortillas, plucked teeth, closed and deep fried, this was exactly how the Infante family prepared their tacos,” according to For Susan Infante Lozano, daughter of the owners.

Ruby’s Café (1506 Brooklyn Ave. 1952-2001) and Maxine’s Fine Food’s (3041 Benton Ave., 1962-2003). Both owners were known for their soul food and their contribution to race relations through apartheid and beyond.

“There was a lot of information about Robbie (Watson McIntyre), but there was a lot of contradictory information. Putting her story together was really interesting,” Brumfield said during an interview with Flatland. “Also, Maxine Byrd of Maxine Fine Foods… both have a lot to do with interracial relationships… (and managed places) where people can come and talk about race issues on hot cakes.”

Picking and choosing which restaurants to highlight was difficult.

“Restaurants are loved until they disappear,” says Broomfield, a Kansas City resident. “While they are there, no one thinks about archiving the lists. They are so busy running the business, so putting their stories together can be really difficult.”

run havoc history

If it is true that the press is the first first draft of history, Brumfield acknowledges its reliance on the reports of several local food writers (including this author). She even considered dedicating “Fine Restaurants in Kansas City” to the late Charles Firuza, longtime restaurant critic at The Pitch.

“He never treated this job as just a restaurant critic,” says Brumfield. “He was always trying to get some of the history: the significance of where the restaurant was? What kind of neighborhood was Waldo? Who were the people who owned this restaurant before this family? He was always looking for that information, I thought, more than any other food book” .

Andrea Broomfield, Ph.D., a food historian.  She is a professor of English at Johnson County Community College.
Andrea Broomfield, Ph.D., a food historian. She is a professor of English at Johnson County Community College.

Broomfield was particularly intrigued by Ferruzza’s enthusiasm for the Bamboo Hut Restaurant and Lounge, which was open from 1942 to 2010 and “an interesting crazy story.”

The “reputable” route is located at 40 Highway and Pittman Road (now 10111 EUS 40). When brawls broke out, jurisdiction was muddled between Kansas City and Missouri and Independence Act enforcement.

By 1980, the tiki’s interior was on fire but gave way to a turquoise décor that was described in a review as “the lounging room of the 1960s.” However, the Bamboo Hut continued to serve up tough drinks, added mega steaks, and remained a place where “smoking and cholesterol never went out of patterns” until 2010.

Unfortunately, the Bamboo Hut didn’t make the cut, but the full story can be found on the Broomfield blog.

chasing breadcrumbs

The COVID-19 pandemic initially frustrated Broomfield’s work on the manuscript. When libraries, research archives, and restaurants closed, she had to rely on ancestry.com and newspapers.com.

When she started writing, Brumfield ignored the 45,000 word count because she didn’t want to choose her entries based on the length of the manuscript. She had several entries that were ultimately unsuccessful, but she convinced publishers to give her an extra 3,000 words, at the cost of color photography.

“What matters to me is that we have a reliable history of Kansas City restaurants,” says Broomfield. “People who want to take a trip down memory lane, that’s fine, but I’m writing this book for people who can continue that work. Ideally, 20 years from now, there’s a much better history of Kansas City food than I did.”

Most frustrating for her about to make mistakes?

Broomfield was keen to seek information on the reasons behind the closure of La Bonne Auberge, a French fine-dining restaurant in a Northland strip mall that gained popularity in the 1970s through the mid-1980s.

1972 list from La Mediterranee.

Kansas City Star

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1972 list from La Mediterranee.

The restaurant was founded by the late Swiss chef Augustin “Gus” Reddy, whose patrons included Susan Weniger of Food Network’s Two Hot Tamales fame, and Kent Rathbone, who grew up in Liberty, Missouri, and owned prestigious restaurants in Dallas.

When Broomfield was unable to verify the circumstances of the restaurant’s closing, she instead opted to categorize La Mediterranee, one of the premier French restaurants of the 1990s.

“One of the most important things I’ve learned is that when you have a restaurant, it’s like a part of your body,” says Brumfield. “It’s like excess, and when something bad happens in your restaurant, it hurts, and people don’t want to talk about it.”

local support

There is, of course, a chapter entitled “BBQ and Steakhouses”. But it was the fine dining chapter that caught the attention of a British food magazine.

From the 1940s to the 2000s, most fine dining took place in hotels in the early days of Kansas City history. Over the past 20 years, independent restaurants (including Bluestem in Westport, which closed during the pandemic but missed the manuscript deadline) have taken the lead.

“I think we have a lot of fine dining restaurants in Kansas City, we don’t wear them. I think they might come back because people are sick and tired of the noise, the loud music talking, the bare walls,” says Broomfield.

“There is a place for 210 Putsch, and someone will come and do it. In the meantime, we have a level of restaurants serving a high standard of cuisine.”

Broomfield gathered to discuss her book at Revocup Town Center, noting that the locally owned café was tucked away in a shopping mall dominated by chains of national brands.

“It seems to me that the biggest challenge and the greatest tension in modern restaurant history is: How do you maintain a distinct food identity when you are encroached upon by these huge chains that suck up all the real estate?” Says.

Ultimately, Broomfield hopes that Kansas City goers who have read her book will understand the importance of celebrating and supporting independently owned restaurants.

“I want people to have a conscious sense of what makes Kansas City food. And in the end,[readers]stop and think about what it means to have a food city,” she says. “A lot of people don’t realize this problem, and why would they be… They love Bonefish Grill because it has a great vibe. But if you support Bonefish Grill, what don’t you?”

This story was originally published on Flatland, a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.

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