Archive | September, 2011

Oasis Lounge- Wichita KS

29 Sep

Sometimes you just get the craving for a greasy burger and fries. That craving led us to the somewhat divey Oasis Lounge recently. The Oasis has been around for quite a while, located on Maple just west of West St. Anyone in the know will tell you that Oasis is known for their burgers. In fact, according to several internet posts the Oasis was named one of the top 10 burger places in the US by USA Today in 1989. So for all of you USA Today back issue aficionados, get into your attic and start digging for the 1989 box. The big question is does the burger still hold up after 20+ years?

I enjoy doing my homework before trying out a new place. My reconnaissance usually consists of trolling various restaurant websites like yelp.com and tripadvisor. After gathering my intel I was prepared for a grimy, dimly lit dive bar with a clientele ready to pounce on unsuspecting outsiders.  To compensate for the presumed atmosphere we strode confidently into the Oasis , making sure not to make much eye contact with the barmaids, lest they discover our charade. Quickly enough I realized that we had nothing to fear. The front door was wide open allowing warm sunlight into this shrine of ground beefiness. And they even had flat screen TVs (Although I believe they were the first model of flat screen ever made by Vizio)! The bar itself is fairly large with several pool tables and the token Keno game in the corner. The crowd seemed rather tame, despite the regular pounding back rum and cokes at 1pm on a Saturday that kept giving me a rather unsober eye.

Their menu contained no surprises, just your typical bar food, except for the fried cauliflower. All three of us decided on what every freedom loving carnivore would, the cheeseburger and fries. Much to my surprise the Oasis even had seasonal beers on tap. Yes you couldn’t get PBR on tap, but Sam Adam’s Oktoberfest was available. I think something like that automatically gets your dive bar status revoked. After a few minutes of building anticipation our meat disks were served to us. I was immediately impressed with the girth of my burger remarking, “There is a good inch and a half [of meat] between the buns”. Although the bun was not the best, the thick patty and melted cheese made up for its short comings. While it is not the best burger I have had, it certainly is a good option for the price. For $6 dollars you got a 1/3 lb burger and fries, which is a solid value in this day and age. Speaking of fries, they were a disappointment. Although hand cut and thick, they were undercooked and lacked much crispness. I’m hoping it was just an off batch, because it really doesn’t take much to make a good fry.

So as it turns out the Oasis is not a sketchy place, in fact its a decent little hang out that happens to serve good burgers.  When I go back I will probably skip the fries and maybe substitute another of their fried creations, hoping they turn out better. The next time you get a craving for a good greasy burger why not take a break from Freddy’s and Five Guys  and try the Oasis.

Oasis Lounge on Urbanspoon

2011 Wichita Eagle Reader’s Choice Awards Recap

27 Sep

It’s that magical time of year again when the Eagle releases its annual Readers Choice Award Winners. A LEGITIMATE best of the best restaurants, shops, services, and other random stuff voted on by the knowledgeable citizens of this fair city. So here are some selected winners from the restaurant category with some pithy, highly opinionated  remarks from me.

Breakfast- Jimmy’s Egg. For the second straight year again people chose quantity over quality here. I don’t think there is anything special about Jimmy’s Egg. They serve typical breakfast food at reasonable prices, there just happens to be 34 or so of them around town. At least The Beacon and The Good Egg were runners-up. Either of them should have won, but then again what do I know.

Chinese- P.F Chang’s. Hey big surprise here! With Kwan Court gone P.F. is clear to dominate the Chinese market in town. Wichita has a great Asian restaurant scene and I guarantee most of them have better food than this place. But Chang’s does have giant stone horses and a nice lakefront location. So beat that. Buffet City is listed as a runner-up, I have no idea where this place is and probably never will unless some deranged person forces me to go there at gunpoint. Great Wall and Yen Cheng were also in the running, but the most confusing honorable mention was Ya Ya’s. Ummm they call themselves a “Euro Bistro” and a quick check of their menu confirms my suspicion that you cannot order General Tso’s chicken there. So what the hell? Is there no quality control in this silly ass competition?

Fast Food- Freddy’s! As you will see later, it apparently is one of the best restaurants in Wichita judging by it domination in 4 four categories. And who did Freddy’s beat out? Why Spangles of course. This may cause some bad blood between these two bitter rivals, I feel a media blitz coming from Spangles. Prepare yourselves for Rene Stevens by TV, Radio, Tweetage, and Facebook. They will reclaim the top spot next year I guarantee.

Italian- Olive Garden. Yes! I know Wichita has been weak in the Italian restaurant scene, but c’mon. With two new good Italian places recently opening I think Olive Garden and their all you can eat breadsticks and salads will be going down next year. DeFazios and Sweet Basil, longtime bastions of Italy fare, were runners-up.

Japanese- SUMO. Surprisingly PF Changs was shut out of this category. This was one of the few categories that was dominated by chainfree places. As far as SUMO winning , I personally think that Kanai is a better place, but I won’t complain too much. Hana Cafe, Wasabi, and Kanai were all runners up.

Locally Owned-  Spangles. Yeah take that Freddy’s you just got served. Tanya’s, El Mexico Cafe, and Bella Luna were runners-up in this rather ambiguous and open category. My choice for locally owned: Usuluteco.

Lunch- Twin Peaks. I have nothing. The category was “Best Lunch” not “Best Scantily Clad Waitresses”. Just reading Denise Neil’s review makes me never want to go to this place. Shockingly enough Freddy’s was once again a runner-up as were Bella Luna and Doc Greens.

Mediterranean-Bella Luna. This is a tough category that includes about 50% of all restaurants in Wichita. I don’t have a problem with Bella Luna, but it is not the most authentic Mediterranean place in town. I would give N & J’s and Byblos the edge over Bella Luna, but at least this was another category that was all chainfree. Although I don’t know of a chain Mediterranean place, maybe that is something I should look into. I’m thinking never ending bowls of hummus and some costumed character that will entertain the kids by weaving grape leaves into animals.

Mexican- Felipes. Yeah a legit place finally wins! Is there better Mexican food in Wichita? Yes, but Felipes has some solid stuff, just not their salsa. Three runners-up in this category were chains, which is unacceptable. Wichita has wonderful local Mexican places that most people don’t know about because they aren’t located on Rock Rd. or at the Waterfront. Shame on you if you claim you like Mexican food, yet have never eaten on Arkansas St. El Mexico Cafe and Playa Azul  were the other runners-up in this category.

Mongolian- This is a worthless category. If you voted for or frequent these “Mongolian” places then you need serious restaurant counseling.

Thai- Thai Tradition. Surprisingly neither Freddy’s or Ya Ya’s got any vote in this category. What a shame. Anyway, Thai Tradition is a great place that you must go to and try the spring rolls. They will make you forget all about those stupid horses at PF Changs. There were a few places in this category that I need to try out, namely Bangkok, Promise Thai, and Sit @ Thai Bistro.

Bakery- Panera. Sure they bake things here I guess, but when I walk into a bakery I want to smell warm bread cooling in racks, I want to see a baker covered in flour, and I want a delicious sample for free. That is why I go to the runner-up, Great Harvest Bread, for my bread needs. There are also Delano and Bagatelle bakeries in Wichita that you might want to check out.

BBQ- Hog Wild. I like to think I know quite a bit about BBQ, but apparently I am at odds with the general public because I think Hog Wild is one of the worst Cue places in town. I guess if you like dry, chewy ribs they are your place, but I will stick with Pig In Pig Out and B & C. When Pigs Fly and Bubba’s were also runners-up. I have yet to try these places, but I have heard good things. Much to my satisfaction Famous Dave’s was missing from this list. I guess people finally got tired of asking for some meat with their sauce. One more oddity with this category was the fact Buffalo Wild Wings was a runner-up. If you think BWW is a BBQ joint, please get in touch with me because there is much for you to learn.

Burger- Freddy’s! The domination continues. Everyone loves those thin, crispy wafers of meat. Everyone except for me. I like a nice thick patty where the meat still contains some moisture and pinkness. At least TJ’s Burger House and  Bionic Burger made the list. They were right up there with proven winners Five Guys and Spangles. On one end you have an average burger that will set you back $9 and on the other, a patty that tastes like it costs, cheap.

Hot Dog- In tough competition Sonic beat out Quik Trip for best wiener. Why not throw in the concession stand in section 24 of the IBA? And the Wiener Is and Dog N Shake were runners-up.

Pizza- Knolla’s. Here we go, a local place fends off the big boys of pie making to take home the prize. I was sad to see that Wichita Pizza Co. did not make the list. In my opinion it is one of the best pizza places in town.

Steak- Texas Roadhouse? Smack in the middle of cattle country we let Texas Roadhouse win best steak. That is like having McDonalds win best baguette in France. Judging by their prices I would guess they are serving USDA Choice which is inferior to the meat you will find at runners-up Chesters, Red Rock, and the Scotch. Although the steaks at these places are much more expensive, their taste cannot be beaten.

Subs and Sandwiches- Subway. Hooray for frozen tubes of bread! Once again Subway is voted the best in Wichita. I just don’t understand. Does anyone go to Cinnamons Deli, The Artichoke, Tanya’s, or the Metro Grill? There is no comparison with these places and Subway. At this point I just don’t the energy to complain anymore.

Taco- Drumroll please…Taco Shop. Okay I guess this is an improvement from Taco Bell, but really? Back in high school, I enjoyed the Taco Shop for all you can eat Mondays. There wasn’t much to the taco so you could really pack them down(My PR was 14 by the way). I just keep telling myself, “Could be worse,  could have been another year of Taco Bell perched atop the pinnacle of Wichita tacos.” At least El Mexico and Felipes were runners-up in this category. Four of the six restaurants in this category had the word “taco” in their name and just to clarify things for next year, there is no rule requiring the establishment to have the word “taco” in order for them to win.

So there you have it, a rundown of selected winners and losers of restaurants and food as voted on by the folks. There was some decent representation from chainfree places, but not as much I would like to see. For those of you who didn’t vote or who perhaps did not choose wisely, fear not you will have a chance to redeem yourself next year and all will be forgiven. The biggest question for next year is: Will Freddy’s pull it out and win every single category? I hear they are working on a steakburger maki roll that will blow our minds.

Farewell Kwan Court

20 Sep

As of Sunday the 18th of September one of Wichita’s landmark Asian restaurants has closed. Kwan Court had a 20+ year run as having arguably the best Chinese buffet in town as well as some darn good sushi. Kwan Court was one of the first places to get in on the sushi craze before it had really caught on in Wichita. Their extensive Chinese and Japanese menu appealed to just about everyone’s tastes, but unfortunately they fell on hard times.

I had been to Kwan Court a number of times growing up, but it wasn’t until I started dating my wife that I started eating there regularly. After years of having a disdain for sushi, Kwan Court was the first place I broke down and tried it. That experience was the springboard for my adventures in sushi as well as my overall exploration of new and exotic food. Besides the sushi one of my all time favorite dishes was served at Kwan Court. I’m talking about the Crispy Walnut Shrimp. If you ever had this dish then you know what I am talking about. It is hard to think that I may never get to have this dish again.

Last week we had a family birthday bash at Kwan Court and even though they were closing in two days their food was as good as always. It was a great way to say good bye to a beloved restaurant. And although the owner would not give us his Walnut Shrimp recipe he did present me with a gallon of the sauce as a parting gift.

The restaurant business is tough, especially in the current economy. With the many dining choices out there, it  is important that people continue to support our local places. The more unique places we lose, the more homogenized and bland out restaurant scene becomes.

Jeanne’s Cafe-Wichita KS (Two Words: Coconut Pancakes)

12 Sep

In search of some late Sunday morning delight, we decided to try out a College Hill favorite, Jeanne’s Cafe. Jeanne’s is located at Douglas and Oliver just down the sidewalk from Watermark bookstore. This is a solid little neighborhood eatery that appears to have quite the regular following. Jeanne’s has your typical diner fare breakfast and lunch choices. Eggs, pancakes, french toast, burgers, sandwiches, and daily specials.

As we walked in, I noticed that Eggs Benny(Eggs Benedict) was gloriously displayed on  the chalkboard. I knew it was going to take something quite marvelous on their regular menu to sway me away from the perfect combination of eggs, muffins, ham, and hollandaise. Surprisingly enough I found some competition in the form of coconut pancakes. Typically I lean towards pure, unadulterated pancakes, but I just can’t pass up things with coconut in it. So I took the plunge and ordered up some hotcakes.  Steph opted for one of the popular favorites, French Toast.

The pancakes were good, but what really set them over the top was the shredded coconut that was grilled into the bottom of each one. It may sound like a strange combination, but it was most excellent. Steph’s thick cut French Toast was good as well.

If you are looking for a no frills cafe that offers some good home cooking Jeanne’s is your place. Who knows, you may try some of the those delightful pancakes and become a regular for life.

Jeanne's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Bella Vita- Wichita KS(The Trojan Horse of Fine Dining)

4 Sep

This weekend we decided to give Bella Vita a second chance visit. On our first attempt we drove all the way over to the west side only to find they had locked the doors 3o minutes before their supposed closing time. Well after a few months of trying to push that out of our minds we were up for round two.

Bella Vita is located in an inauspicious strip mall on West  St. just north of Douglas. You could call it the Trojan Horse of fine dining in Wichita. From the outside it looks like you might be walking into some retro supper club where the Saturday night special is meatloaf with brown gravy. Once you get inside though you start to get the vibe that there is something big going down. We showed up with no reservations on a Friday night(the staff told us this was a no no) and luckily were able to get a table after a short wait. Beware: They like to keep the small waiting area rather cold, so make a note to bring a snuggie to prevent frostbite while waiting. The dining room at Bella Vita is small with only about 12-15 tables set up in two rooms.  The decor of the restaurant, while nice, felt a bit dated. Fortunately the food made you forget all about your surroundings, well almost.

After being seated, our waiter rattled off the specials of the day. Although we were considering the calamari as an appetizer, the stuffed eggplant special won us over. It consisted of thinly sliced eggplant that had been stuffed with rice and peas and then fried. It was served with a delightful marinara sauce that complimented the fried eggplant nicely. Most menu items are A La Carte, so we both ordered side house salads before our entrees. The house salad comes with a lovely sweet balsamic dressing and is plated very nicely with strings of carrot and beet adorning the top. There were many tempting entrees, but in the end I decided to try the Osso Buco Veal special, while Steph went with the Cannelloni Crepes. My veal came served with a nice tomato based sauce and pappardelle noodles. The veal was wonderfully tender with the rich flavor that is expected from this meat. Strangely when I offered Steph a bite of baby cow she was a bit put off, but I eventually coaxed her into trying it. Steph loved her savory crepes. They came with a tasty Black Angus meatsauce and were topped with a wonderfully creamy bechamel sauce. We both thought the crepes were as good as those we had in France.

Bella Vita is the real deal when it comes to fine dining in Wichita. The food is top notch and perfectly executed. Although the environment is a bit lacking, they are planning to remodel in the coming months. Our biggest knock on Bella Vita was the noise level. When you combine a small dining area with a boisterous  Friday night crowd, it can get a bit loud. At one point a woman who may have polished off a bottle of wine by herself was dropping F-bombs. Rather entertaining.

Bella Vita – http://www.bvbistro.com/index.htm

Bella Vita Bistro on Urbanspoon

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 986 other followers