edible words
July 15, 2004

Lack of 'buds' brings on a preference of taste
by Mike Taylor

I miss my taste buds. There's nothing I'd like better right now than a cold roast beef sandwich with a dab of horseradish on pumpernickel and a fresh green salad with fresh tomatoes drizzled with homemade Italian dressing from Mario's. I also crave our two local specialties – barbecue and a medium rare K.C. Strip. Even if my diet allowed it, my taste buds would reject those cravings and a whole bunch of others at the moment.

A recent illness sent my taste buds into a temporary tailspin and my weight plummeting. Right now, I only recognize two flavors – edible and yuck. Not much to the right of sweet falls into the "edible" category.

I'm supposed to eat a lot of high caloric, high carb and fatty foods to regain the lost weight, but with my taste buds on the fritz, not much appeals to me. I'm constantly trying to think of non-sweet foods acceptable to palate and diet. I’m not having much success.

This temporary handicap is why I'm writing this particular column. This infirmity has reminded me of the enjoyment I get when "the buds" do work. Like many Kansas Citians, I enjoy goin' out to eat; whether I go to a familiar establishment for a favorite dish or unique atmosphere, a place I've never been but heard of or a restaurant with a cuisine I've never met before.

When I started thinking of the places I liked to try – while planning my post-recovery forays – I realized that not only did my choices suggest a gastronomic statement but a political/economic one as well. I'm partial to single-owner, independent places. Whether they be a lunch wagon outside city hall or high-dollar dining Mecca where the chefs 're artists. I'd rather suffer through an occasional below average meal than spend my money at one of the corporate giants’ "stores," where I get exactly the same meal here in KC as I would in San Diego or Boston.

The independent restaurateurs, from lunch wagon operators to high-dollar gourmet chefs, can be seen as descendants of the pioneers who left Westport and Independence over 150 years ago with all their belongings in cover ed wagons. These modern "pioneers" strike out on their own to offer something of their own creation. Like the settlers, they have their whole lives tied to their establishments. If people don't eat in their places, the owners starve. They don't depend on a heavily tested, focus group-approved lockstep program aimed solely at return on investment to determine their menus, with failure just a corporate tax write-off. Independent owners rely on their knowledge and talent.

They have to buy the ingredients and prepare the food for their clientele with a hope of selling enough to put money in the register to buy tomorrow's staple (that's an extreme description, but the high mortality rate of restaurants suggests how high risk the business is). Some time ago, I heard that on an average, restaurants last about two years. When century-old places like the New York Deli and Savoy Grill skew the percentage skywards, simple math suggests that quite a few establishments close their doors before they pay their first month's utilities.

By using their instincts to appeal to our tastes, independent owners offer us brief distractions from our daily routines and tribulations. Whether at a one-man doughnut stand or full-service, fine dining operation, these places offer respite from the everyday world, a distraction while we're their guests. At least that's what I'm hopin' when I walk into a place.

When I find places that have survived beyond the purported two-year lifespan, I'm compelled to patronize them. There are a lot of good places to eat in this town and the owners can be reached without calling long distance – because they spend most of their waking hours in the place. When I get my taste buds back, I'll be looking for places like that again.

I hope I get 'em back soon. All this thinking about food and restaurants has made me hungry for something more complex and interesting than the Instant Breakfast Milkshakes that I've been consuming three times a day to regain some of the lost weight.

Man, right now, I could sure go for a Gyro with some Hummus or some Sashimi with the wassabi mustard and pickled ginger. A Piropos' steak with their Argentinean sauces, up in Parkville. Jerk pork from El Caribe or Cupini's tomato and homemade Mozzarella salad, ummm. A Westport Flea Market or Streetcar burger. Burritos from just about anywhere down on Southwest Boulevard. A Reuben from the dBronx. The pot roast from O'Neill's. The Tomato-Basil soup at Café Europa. Italian cuisine at Garozzo's or Macaluso's. The offbeat breakfasts at Beth Barding's Succotash in the River Market or Bell St. Mama's. Chopped liver at Pumpernick's. I've already mentioned the local barbecue...Stop me whenever...Otherwise, I'll keep goin' on and on and on and on and on ...until I get my taste buds back.

Mike Taylor can be reached at mtaylor@kcnet.com or publisher_editEKC@kcactive.com.

fork, knife, spoon


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