The American, Kansas City, Missouri – CLOSED

UPDATE: The American closed to the public at the end of 2016 and is now only open for private functions.

On a recent visit to Kansas City (my first) we had cocktails in the gorgeous American Restaurant in Crown Center, designed by Warren Platner in 1974. We enjoyed the view, the design, the drinks, and the wonderful singer and pianist in the lounge, then moved on to have steak dinner in the Plaza III Steakhouse. There just wasn’t enough time in a long weekend to dine at every classic restaurant. Unfortunately, Le Continental has just learned that The American, Kansas City’s only classic fine dining restaurant, will be closing at the end of the year. Plans are to use it for “pop-ups” and special events in 2017, but there is no word on if it will stay the same or be remodeled.

 

The American Restaurant

dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Crown Center, a mixed-use redevelopment project just south of downtown, was the vision of Joyce C. Hall, Hallmark’s founder. Headquarted in Kansas City, Hallmark’s main office looked out on a little used area of land with old warehouses and parking lots. On the site Mr. Hall built a complex with office space, a shopping center, condos, two hotels (a Westin and a Sheraton), and large fountain (in the city of fountains), and an office building. In 1974 a restaurant was opened on the top floor of the office building that would be the world-class midwest dining destination south of Chicago. Joe Baum, known for the NYC restaurants Tavern on the Green, The Rainbow Room, and the Four Seasons (which just closed this month), was a consultant on the project. James Beard, “The Dean of American Cookery”, was hired to conceptualize and create the modern American menu. And Warren Platner, who had designed modern wire furniture for Knoll and a restaurant for Eero Saarinen’s 1965 CBS building, was hired to design the interiors (he would later design the Windows on the World).

 

image by Dwell.com

image by Dwell.com

 

Platner created a cathedral-like space with high ceilings decorated with fan-shaped bent wood light sculptures facing a view of the city through huge glass windows that could be shaded with wooden shutters. The furniture and carpet were done in fuschia with brass lamp fixtures for lighting and brass railings along the staircases from the foyer and bar into the lower-level dining room.

 

image by designobserver.com

image by designobserver.com

 

Today the restaurant is mostly the same except the brass light fixtures, banquettes, and fuschia color scheme are gone. It’s still a spectacular space. I was there in daylight. I imagine it’s even more striking at night.

 

The American Restaurant

the bar – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Over the years several locally famous chefs helmed the kitchen at the American including James Beard award-winning chefs Debbie Gold, Michael Smith, and Celina Tio. The menu these days, under executive chef Michael Corvino since 2013, has been updated (he is leaving the restaurant in August). They recently dropped table-side prepared dishes from the menu, which were still offered in 2010 (according to a blog post I read). The menu  consists of a prix-fixe three-course menu at $65, with a tasting menu at $110.

If you can possibly make it to Kansas City, you should visit the American before the end of the year.

 

The American
Crown Center, 200 E 25th St #400, Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 545-8001
Open Wed-Thu 5:30pm – 10:00pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm – 11:00pm, live music starts at 6:30 on Fridays and Saturdays

 

 

Stroud’s, Kansas City, Missouri

Who makes the best fried chicken in the U.S.? In 2006 I thought I found the answer when I ate at the original Gus’s in Mason, TN, outside Memphis (since 1973). I love Gus’s spicy, crispy skin (the chicken soaks overnight in spicy batter and is cooked in custom cast iron fryers) so I will go back again. I only hope their expansion into 14 locations in 8 states hasn’t hurt the quality.

Now I’m not so sure if Gus’s is still the best, after having recently been to Stroud’s in Kansas City!

 

Original Stroud's - photo by stroudsrestaurant.com

Original Stroud’s – image by stroudsrestaurant.com

 

In 1933 when Prohibition ended Guy and Helen Stroud opened a bar-be-que shack at 85th Ave. and Troost St. in Kansas City. In WWII beef was hard to get so Helen Stroud started making pan-fried chicken dinners, which sold for 35 cents. The roadhouse’s popularity grew and grew until 1977, when Mike Donegan and Jim Hogan, 2 young bartenders at Kelly’s Westport Inn (the oldest bar in town), bought Stroud’s. In 1983 the partners, along with Mike’s brother Dennis, bought Sandy’s Oak Ridge Manor, a German – American restaurant in a historic house in north Kansas City for a second Stroud’s location, often called Stroud’s North. A third location opened in Wichita, Kansas, in 1992.

 

Sandy's Oak Ridge Manor postcard

Sandy’s Oak Ridge Manor postcard – image by the Kansas City Public Library

 

The original roadhouse location, with its creaky wood floors and piano players, sadly closed in 2006 for the widening of 85th Street, relocating into a new building in Fairway, Kansas in 2008 (go here to see some of the signage from the original Stroud’s). In 2013 the KC Hopps restaurant group partnered with Mike Donegan to open the newest Stroud’s in Overland Park, Kansas in 2014. Jim Hogan sold his share in 2000 and Dennis Donegan passed away in 2004, but Mike Donegan continues to run Stroud’s, keeping the same home style food, friendly service, and old-fashioned country atmosphere in all Stroud’s locations.

 

Stroud's Oak Ridge Manor - photo by Stroud's North facebook page

Stroud’s Oak Ridge Manor – photo by Stroud’s North facebook page

 

On my recent visit I chose the Stroud’s North Oak Ridge Manor location over the other restaurants because it’s the oldest Stroud’s location and because of the building’s history  (the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Sites in 1979). Originally a two-room log cabin built by homesteader David Hale in 1829, the cabin was bought in 1844 by Dr. James Howard Compton, who expanded it into a 10-room house for his growing family and often gave lavish parties for their large extended family and circle of friends (when you enter the foyer of the restaurant today you can see that you are in the original cabin). In 1954 Darwin and Louise Sandstrom purchased the large home from the Compton family, opening a German – American restaurant called Sandy’s Oak Ridge Manor in the house. On the grounds of the restaurant was the statue Justice (see postcard above) from the 1859 Clay County Courthouse, which was salvaged when the courthouse was razed (now on display at the Clay County Museum). In 1983 the restaurant became Stroud’s second location.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

fried chicken dinner with all the fixin’s – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

chicken noodle soup – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Fried chicken dinners are served family-style, brought on large platters to your table. Dinner comes with choice of homemade soup or salad, choice of potato (baked, mashed, french fries, or cottage fries), green beans, and homemade cinnamon rolls.

The fried chicken is simply coated with flour, salt, pepper, and paprika and fried in skillets by hand, which Stroud’s says makes for the juiciest chicken (and provides drippings for their excellent cream gravy). I couldn’t agree more. I’m usually a dark meat man, but I had a breast and found it very juicy and tender. Delicious!

 

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

tower of fried chicken – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

frying the chicken at Stroud's - photo by Stroud's North facebook page

frying the chicken at Stroud’s – photo by Stroud’s North facebook page

 

Stroud's cinnamon rolls - photo by Gareth Imparato in Pinterest

Stroud’s cinnamon rolls – photo by Gareth Imparato in Pinterest

We loved their dark brown french fries and mashed potatoes with gravy, but those cinnamon rolls are out-of-this-world! They are not exactly like traditional cinnamon rolls which are rolled up, cut and baked. These are more like big, fluffy, sweet dinner rolls with a coating of sweet cinnamon goodness and pockets of gooey melted cinnamon-sugar-butter. Best served hot at the restaurant but take some home for breakfast too!

 

Stroud’s menu also includes chicken fried steak, Kansas City strip steak, pan-fried pork chops, and some seafood entrees. But you are going for THE best fried chicken in the U.S., right?

Stroud’s is a recipient of the James Beard Award for Excellence in the “Home Style” category, the first restaurant to win in that category.

 

Stroud’s Oak Ridge Manor
5410 NE Oak Ridge Dr, Kansas City, MO 64119
(816) 454-9600
Open Mon-Thu 5pm-9:30pm, Fri 11am-10pm, Sat 2pm-10pm, Sun 11am-9:30pm

 

 

Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno, California

 

When I was a young man running around San Diego on my Lambretta scooter in the 1980s I loved to eat at the Chicken Pie Shop in Hillcrest, especially during cold winter days (OK, it never got very cold in San Diego, but we’re cold wimps in California). It was the ultimate homemade comfort food, served in a time machine café that first opened in 1938 at 5th and B downtown and later moved to 5th and Robinson in Hillcrest (first on the southeast corner, moving to the northeast corner in 1965). The chicken pot pie dinner was tasty, cheap, and very filling (lunch there was my meal for the day). In 1990 the shop was purchased and moved to North Park. It’s not a time warp anymore in atmosphere but the menu is still old-fashioned and the food is good, hearty, and cheap. The friendly, veteran staff stayed with the restaurant when it moved.

 

Storefront of Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

photo by mears on Flickr

 

In the cool Tower District of Fresno is an unrelated Chicken Pie Shop (aka Grandmarie’s) that is thankfully still frozen in time. In 1956 Mary Ross (“Grandmarie”) and her husband opened the original Chicken Pie Shop on Olive Street in Fresno to serve chicken pies from her own recipe. In 1966 it moved into a space on the same block previously occupied by Byde’s Hardware (the old location is now a parking lot next door). Mary Ross’ grandson Gary Ross is the current owner, so this year the restaurant has been owned by the same family for 60 years!

 

Dining room of Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

 

The dining room is probably the same as it was when it opened: two-tone green tufted-naugahyde booths, wood-grain Formica tables, original linoleum floors (a rarity these days!), chrome coat racks, and TWO horseshoe-shaped lunch counters in chartreuse Formica with bright-green swivel chairs. And there are large, colorful, rooster wall hangings!

 

lunch counter of Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

one of two lunch counters – photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

 

rooster wall hanging in Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

rooster wall hanging in Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

photo by Dean Curtis, 201

 

 

 

 

 

 

rooster wall hanging in Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The baked chicken pies are excellent: a flaky pastry crust filled with chicken chunks and served with mashed potatoes, a golden gravy made from scratch from the restaurant’s chicken stock, biscuits, and cole slaw, all house made. Other options for lunch or dinner are chicken & noodles, fried chicken livers, honey ham steak, country fried steak ‘n gravy, and pot roast. An assortment of sandwiches, salads, and soups are available, including their homemade chicken barley soup served with a mini loaf of homemade bread. They also serve breakfast. An off-menu special is the berrock, a pasty-like meat pie of Volga-German (Germans from Russia) origin.

 

berrock at Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

berrock on vintage plate – photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

 

chicken pie with mashed potatoes, gravy, cole slaw, and vegetables - photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

chicken pie with mashed potatoes, gravy, cole slaw, and vegetables – photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

 

As you can see, they still use vintage china. The good diner-style coffee is served in Tepco mugs, perfect with one of their house made deserts, such as the apple crumble. I had rice pudding and can say without reservations that it was THE BEST rice pudding I’ve ever had, hands down! And I love rice pudding so I’ve tried it all over the country.

 

rice pudding at Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

rice pudding – photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

 

After your hearty meal why not walk it off around the Tower District, which is a hip area of independent shops, restaurants, nightlife, and a historic theater.

 

(Grandmarie’s) Chicken Pie Shop (no web site)
861 E Olive Ave, Fresno, CA 93728
(559) 237-5042
Open Mon-Fri 7:00am – 7:00pm, Sat 8:00am – 6:00pm (possibly 2:00pm), Sun 8:00am – 2:00pm