April 29, 2005
at its best
While in a restaurant
several years ago, I heard a woman at another table tell a waitress,
"I want the eggs very medium." She said it twice to
make sure the waitress understood. I never made any sense out
of it until recent visits to Leona Yarbrough's Family Restaurant,
10310 Shawnee Mission Pkwy.
For more than 60 years under the current ownership since
1965 the Yarbrough family has been serving familiar,
ordinary dishes. Anyone with a copy of Joy of Cooking
and enough hours could prepare most of the food in their own
kitchen. But at Yarbroughs, they still do it pre-Joy
of Cooking from scratch, including the salad dressings.
The place attracts predominantly AARP-generation customers who
probably ate the same meals at home in their younger days.
There's nothing particularly remarkable about the dining rooms
of the former Red Lobster site. The two 135-seat rooms have
high ceilings with cream-colored walls accented by slate blue
panels and a dark wood trim. Two aspects of the environment
stand out though. A lack of background music provides a peaceful
quiet despite the large number of people on busy nights.
Secondly, order pads and pencils on the tables allow diners
to write their own orders at their pace. The pads carry over
from the World War II era when the restaurant's namesake started
working for then-owner Mrs. Ann Peterson. Railroad dining cars
of those days used that method to place orders. So unlike most
chain family restaurants, diners can enjoy their meals in a
quiet, unhurried atmosphere something that's pretty remarkable
in today's society.
Emily, my other half, characterized it as "downhome". It's less greasy and starchy than what I'd call downhome. I'd characterize it more as comfort food; www.yarbroughsrestaurant.com describes it as "homecooked".
The starters include a spiced peach half with a dash of French
dressing, tomato juice, fruit cocktail and two soups of the
day. The three times we ate there, they served chicken noodle
and vegetable. I thought the vegetable; with chunks of potato,
cabbage, carrots and tomato soothing and satisfying
Salads: a lettuce and cucumber with any of their homemade dressings;
pickled beets; cucumbers in sour cream; cottage cheese, a gelatin
salad and an excellent coleslaw that they make fresh daily.
Liberally sprinkled with poppy seeds, the slaw has a minimal
amount of vinegar or sugar to allow the taste of the crunchy
cabbage to come through.
The first test of downhome cooking has to be the fried chicken.
My two experts, Emily and my dentist, tried the dinners ($10.25
for regular, $11.25 for all white). They pronounced it, "OK.
During a phone conversation, manager Christina Myers, a seven-year
veteran, told me they minimize the greasiness by pan-frying
the birds in Canola oil. He exuberantly said, "I think
Steve the chicken fryer 's the best I've ever seen."
While some might not consider a medium rare steak comfort food,
I thought it my 10 oz. KC strip ($13.75), when served with the
steamed cabbage and whipped potatoes lightly doused in cream
gravy, qualified as comfort food. Although not remarkable, the
meat tasted tender and juicy, prepared just as I'd ordered.
Some of the dishes could even include "healthy" in
the definition of comfort food, like the Flame Broiled White
Fish Fillet ($11.50). The stamp-sized flakes tipped with just
a hint of brown had a firm moist texture.
At Yarbrough's, "side dish" might be a misnomer.
In addition to the cabbage, two vegetables of the day stood
out. An acorn squash baked in butter and brown sugar and a creamed
turnip-carrot combination both demanded as much attention as
the entrees they accompanied.
Yarbrough's has an extensive dessert menu of familiar, traditional
favorites. A couple of display cases by the cash register showed
off their bakery goods for carry out. Each day, they offer at
least three fruit pies, even more cream pies, a couple of cakes
and the bread pudding made from the previous day's cinnamon
rolls. While not particularly exciting, all the desserts we
tasted were fresh and filling, just one would expect.
When it comes to service, I'd call it homecooked, too. The
waitresses take an almost motherly interest (as in a "eat
your vegetables" way) in their customers. When I swapped
my ice tea for Emily's coffee, the waitress noticed and asked
if she'd made a mistake. We had to explain that we'd changed
our minds and traded. Despite the attention given, the waitresses
seem to have as good a time as the customers.
"We're like a family here," Myers said, "We
all do whatever we have to do to help each other out."
I know a lot of places where the servers could use a takeout
order of Myers and her coworkers' enthusiasm.
With a fourth generation now working in the restaurant, Yarbrough's will probably continue offering inexpensive, good food in a quiet, unhurried environment for a long time to come. And if they ever serve breakfast, I bet they'd know how to cook eggs "very medium."
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