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Central Standard

Kansas City's Most Iconic Restaurants That Aren't Around Anymore

savoy_grill.jpg
Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri
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In December, an often-called iconic Kansas City steakhouse shut its doors.

The Golden Ox Restaurant & Lounge, which was one of the oldest restaurants in Kansas City, will see new life next fall under new ownership

But what makes a Kansas City restaurant iconic? It depends on who you ask.

"People have very diverse reasons for loving a restaurant," food critic Charles Ferruzza told host Gina Kaufmann last week on Central Standard.

"It could be food, it could be place they got engaged — it could be anything," he said.

Ferruzza says "iconic" means that it has to be around for 50 years or more.

Sometimes, restaurants appeal to certain communities, Kansas City historian Monroe Dodd told Kaufmann. Or they appeal to our childhood sense of nostalgia.

“If there is a place you went with your family when you were a kid for an occasion … you weren’t going there to celebrate the food as much as you were to celebrate being together,” Dodd said. “I think that’s how a lot of restaurants here got to be iconic."

Here are Ferruzza's and Dodd's picks for the most iconic Kansas City restaurants that aren't around anymore:

The Golden Ox (West Bottoms)

Ferruzza: The Golden Ox had been around such a long, long time. In fact, it was the last restaurant in West Bottoms for a long time. Even though the quality of the food was really inconsistent at the end ... there was something about eating in that time capsule.

It’s a very distinctive part of Kansas City history because the Stockyards are long gone. It was like the last relic of a very important chapter in Kansas City’s life.

Dodd: I can remember going there from time to time, usually at lunch, back in the '80s, maybe early '90s, and being surrounded by men in white short-sleeve shirts and ties ... They represented an earlier sort of image of that area: Guys that did business in the Stockyards.

The Savoy Grill (Downtown)

Ferruzza: People liked the fact that it was there, even though many of them stopped going there. Now that it’s not open, people are realizing that if you love a restaurant, you have to support a restaurant.

The Peppercorn Duck Club (Downtown, in the former Hyatt Regency at 23rd and McGee)

Ferruzza: I have a great nostalgia for it. It was very, very popular when I moved here in 1984 ... I liked it because it was Kansas City’s first restaurant with a chocolate dessert bar. I liked it for that reason only.

Putsch’s (Various locations)

Ferruzza: When they closed all of them — I think the Plaza Putsch’s was last to close — I went into a deep depression even though I had not eaten there for several years … I loved it because when I first moved to Kansas City, I was so poor — I worked at a newspaper — and Putsch’s Cafeteria was one of the few places I could afford to eat. I have a great nostalgia for it.

EBT (South Kansas City, at I-435 and State Line Road)  

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Credit Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri
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A branch of the store on the Country Club Plaza, 1964.

Ferruzza: I loved EBT. EBT was really the last relic of a truly fancy restaurant in Kansas City. It was a special event restaurant … I liked the fact it was sort of a tribute — almost a living tribute — to a department store that nobody remembers anymore.

Dodd: I never shopped at Emery Bird Thayer, but I remember it in the late ‘60s as a really grand place in those days of locally-owned department stores. And I know that a lot of people think of EBT as just the best dad gum place to go shop in the whole city; there was a tearoom there.

The image of the old Emery Bird Thayer store as the best of all the department stores in town had a lot to do with propelling that restaurant.

Four Winds Restaurant at the Municipal Air Terminal (Downtown)

Dodd: Part of its greatness was that you could look out and see this amazing thing: Propeller airplanes taking off in the ‘50s … It’s a place you didn’t forget whatever the food is like.

The Westport Room (at Union Station)

Ferruzza: I think the most talked-about restaurant in my 30 years in Kansas City -- which was closed well before I moved here -- is The Westport Room. Everyone went there. It was a very fancy restaurant, I understand.

Some friends of mine of a certain age say they knew their boyfriend was serious about them when they took them to the Westport Room.

Dodd: It had a dish called Maciel's Chicken. A gong would ring or some sort of bell when they brought it out. (It was named after Joe Maciel, the restaurant's personable maitre d', added Ferruzza).

It was thought highly of. If you had an income to do it, if your parents had the income to do it, you would meet w your friends there, even as a teenager, because it meant something.

New York Bakery & Delicatessen (70th and Troost)

Kaufmann: A place that takes on meaning for a specific community … for me, (it) was iconic because I grew up Jewish in the 1980s. So going to a synagogue down the street, going there every single weekend, the way people there talked, the way the pickles tasted, the fact that you could get a cow tongue sandwich even though they were totally out of vogue in the 1980s, that the cream cheese came in giant slabs and not delicate shmeers … this is all part of what made me feel like part of a community.

Jennie’s Restaurant (Columbus Park)

Dodd: I think the Italian community in what used to be called the North End – now it’s called the Northeast area – had several iconic restaurants. They were community restaurants serving food the way people were used to having it served.

Other Icons

Harry Starkers (Plaza), Hotel Muehlebach (Downtown), Skies (Downtown, in the former Hyatt Regency at 23rd and McGee), Benton’s (Crown Center).

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org.

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Central Standard restaurantsFood & Drink