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Food Critics: The Best Guilty Pleasures In Kansas City

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When it comes to food, everyone has a guilty pleasure.

According to KCUR Food Critic Jenny Vergara, it may be something that’s full of fat and calories. Or it could be a retro throwback (like spinach artichoke dip) or a childhood favorite.

It could also be something that you like but everyone else thinks is gross (who else mixed Hawaiian Punch and milk? Anyone?). Or maybe it's that one dish from a chain restaurant that you crave.

“It’s just something you love to eat,” Vergara told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR’s Central Standard. “You really just enjoy the pleasure of eating something. That’s really what a guilty pleasure is to me.”

Vergara, along with Food Critics Charles Ferruzza and Mary Bloch, searched out the best guilty pleasures in and around Kansas City.

Here are their recommendations:

Mary Bloch, Around the Block:

  • Blvd Tavern — burger and fries. The burger has Wiebe Dairy cheddar, bacon, red wine shallot jam, peppercorn mayo, pretzel bun.
  • Genessee Royale Bistro — classic cheeseburger. Not fancy, but perfectly executed.With cheddar, Bibb lettuce, roasted tomatoes and red onion on a soft bun.
  • Q39 — burnt ends burger. It’s a brisket burger topped with burnt ends, spicy pickle slaw and classic sauce. With French fries, of course.
  • Café Europa — Reuben and fries.
  • Happy Gillis — Cuban sandwich.
  • Pigwich — Cuban sandwich. Comes with homemade chips, to add a layer of indulgence.
  • Betty Rae's — ice cream. To me, real ice cream is the ultimate guilty pleasure. No frozen yogurt, no low-fat, and Betty Rae’s fits the bill. I always go for anything involving coffee ice cream, which they make with Thou Mayest coffee.
  • Princess Garden — a full-on feast. Hunan egg rolls, crab Rangoon, steamed dumplings, Szechuan noodles, dry cooked chicken with pancakes and harvest vegetables with fried rice.
  • Port Fonda — el comedor pork butt dinner. It includes street corn, rice, beans, salsas and corn tortillas.

Jenny Vergara, Feast Magazine:

  • Songbird Café — The Digger. Shamrock Shakes are a childhood favorite of mine back when I ate at McDonalds. The month of March is the only time you’ll find me through its drive-thru. When I can no longer get them at McDonalds, I get a similar fix from The Digger. It is a raw cashew vanilla shake with fresh mint, kale and organic cacao nibs. It is more like a mint chocolate shake, but it fills the void. Not every guilty pleasure has to be a calorie bomb.
  • Sierra Grill— cheeseburger. When you crave one of these, simply nothing else will do. My favorite cheeseburger at the moment is the one chef Ryan Edwards makes at his new restaurant; it’s a half-pound burger, an all-beef patty that’s perfectly grilled. It comes with cheddar cheese on top and is served on a buttery toasted brioche bun with a housemade pickle spear. It is simple. It is juicy. It is unadorned. It is perfection. They don’t have French fries and you don’t need them. The juice from the meat runs down your arm when you bite into it. I put a little Dijon mustard on mine and ate every bite.
  • Brady’s Public House — French fries. Fries are their own separate food group; I could eat them just as my meal. My favorite right now; they’re hand-cut, curry-dusted fries that chef Shaun Brady serves with a curry lime aioli that I am addicted to.
  • Minsky’s Pizza. Pizza is really my true love over all of my guilty pleasures. I like either their straight-up pepperoni pizza or, if I am feeling fancy, I get the Tostada, their Mexican pizza. It’s hamburger or chicken with a spicy refried bean sauce, topped with Monterey Jack and cheddar, lettuce, red onions and tomatoes and served with side of salsa. It is basically a Mexican pizza, so maybe that qualifies for two guilty pleasures in one.
  • Fric & Frac — hard-shell tacos. Hard-shell tacos are not something I would normally cop to eating, but I do enjoy them. I’ve heard them referred to as “mom tacos” because they are just like the ones that came out of the Old El Paso taco kits that our moms used to make for us for dinner. The best mom tacos in the city are here; they’re 3 for $3 on Saturdays only. They have the traditional hard shell, loaded with ground beef, topped with cheddar cheese, chilled iceberg lettuce and chopped tomatoes.
  • Corn dogs. I cannot go to a festival or fair of any kind and not find myself searching for the foot-long corn dog booth. At Boulevardia every year, I have a Boulevard Beer in one hand and a giant foot-long corn dog smeared with mustard in the other. Sonic also sells smaller versions, which will do in a pinch.
  • Pretzel Boy's— soft pretzels. Between Royals games, Oktoberfest and trips to the mall, I eat my fair share of soft pretzels. This is my new favorite. It is a made-from-scratch place that originally started in St. Louis but makes the hand-twisted soft pretzels that are found in Philadelphia. I get them with spicy brown mustard or jalapeno cheese sauce.

Charles Ferruzza, 435 Magazine:

  • Humdinger Drive-In — triple cheeseburger with a chocolate milkshake. Guilty is an understatement at the 55-year-old restaurant. Forget fries; get a small order of deep-fried shrimp instead.
  • The Farmhouse — biscuits & gravy. They’re not bad at Winstead’s or a dozen other places in KC, but this diner classic is an extraordinary morning dish at The Farmhouse. The quality of the ingredients and the masterful preparation takes this dish to a new level.
  • André’s Confiserie Suisse — The Matterhorn. A pastry I dream about; it’s ridiculously rich and fattening. The Matterhorn has long been one of the best-selling signature sweets at André’s. The base of the pastry is a crisp butter cookie, and it's piled high with a combination of chocolate cake and chocolate buttercream whipped together until light and fluffy, then dipped in rich chocolate fondant.
  • Classic Cookie — herbed potato and sausage casserole. I try to stick to granola or oatmeal in the mornings if I’m dieting, but they’re so boring. What I really want (and occasionally order) is this.

Listener recommendations:

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

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