edible words
April 29, 2005

‘Homecooked’ at its best

by Mike Taylor

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 Yarbrough’s, 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".

Some of Leona Yarbrough's "homecooked" dishes include (clockwise) stewed chicken and noodles, boiled new potatoes and steamed peas; Pan fried chicken, whiped potatoes w/cream gravy and red cabbage; Grilled Reuben w/potato chips; Roast round of beef, whiped potatoes w/brown gravy and green beans.
(photo by Sam Garcia)

A full dinner includes a starter, salad, entrée, two vegetables, dessert and a beverage, with prices beginning below $10. Now that's comforting! An entree with only two sides is only a couple dollars less. Luncheon entrees with two side dishes, dessert and a drink run $8.95. At their website, customers can print out coupons for additional savings.

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."

Leona Yarbrough's Family Restaurant

(photo by Sam Garcia)

10310 Shawnee Mission Pkwy


Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Sun., 11a.m.-6p.m

Ratings: (out of four stars)

FOOD ***
SERVICE ***..5


Key: $-under $10 • $$-$10 to $20 • $$$-over $20


fork, knife, spoon


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