Dec 28, 2010

KC Smoke Burgers: Don't Blink Or You Might Miss It

Restaurant: KC Smoke Burgers
Food: Burgers, Phillies, etc.
Service: Simple waitstaff
Atmosphere: A burger joint in Jerusalem
Price: Burgers $7-$10
Rating: zero napkins

I may have found the worst, most ill-fated restaurant in all of Kansas City.

The other night I was headed home after a late night of work, debating what to grab for dinner that wouldn’t be too far out of the way. A good ol’ burger sounded right, and I remembered seeing a new place open on 39th street, curiously near Fric & Frac, whose burgers I’ve had in the past and enjoyed. A quick comparison post for the blog seemed in order, so I figured I’d try one at the new place and then have one from Fric & Frac soon thereafter and write about whose was better.

But when I left KC Smoke Burgers, the comparison article was off. There was no comparison. Because KC Smoke Burgers is so weird and so bad on almost every level, I found it to be one of the most pathetic restaurants I had ever witnessed.

...because dated pop culture icons, civil war-era weaponry
and antiques go so well with cheeseburgers.
Leading off the list of issues with KC Smoke Burgers is their massive, obvious identity crisis. Located in the vacated Jerusalem Café spot on 39th street across from Aladdin Café, there is already a Middle Eastern image it has to overcome. Jerusalem Café had specially built and decorated walls that looked as thought they were formed from clay in the holy land itself, cracks hand painted on them in an attempt to drive home the look. Those walls remain at KC Smoke Burgers. So one can’t remove the image of hummus, falafel and pitas from his or her mind while looking around.

Cheerleaders? Yep. Quarterbacks? Yep. Clowns?
Are you kidding me? YES!
Perhaps even more curious are the new pieces of décor, however. As I sat and waited on my burger, I took note of the odd, hand-painted items adorning the walls, which included the following: NASCAR banners and cutouts, scenic photos of Jerusalem, generic photography of cheeseburgers and Philly cheesesteaks, cutouts of James Dean, Captain Kirk, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and the Statue of Liberty. On top of the cashier’s stand that occupies the center of the restaurant were two faux antique cannons and a chest filled with faux cannon balls, as well as an antique sewing machine. Behind me, on the East side of the dining room, the walls showcased more hand-painted cutouts: a cheerleader, football player and clowns. Lastly, sprawling nearly the entire width of the front of the restaurant, hanging above the front door, was an expansive hand-painted banner featuring what was either an image of the plaza lights, or another scene from the holy land, but with Christmas lights adorning the buildings. It was hard to tell.

I was eating in the most random and quizzically decorated restaurant I had ever patronized.

The remnants of the restaurant’s Mediterranean/Middle Eastern past crept beyond the photos on the walls – and the walls themselves – and onto the menu, I found. Laced throughout the laminated, flame-adorned sheet were decidedly Greek ingredients: a Mediterranean Philly cheesesteak, a gyro smoke burger and a lamb and pesto smokeburger. Disguised among the traditional burger toppings like ketchup and mustard lurked Greek dressing. And the extra toppings included feta, a garlic cucumber sauce and pita chips, as a side.

I ordered the Fire Smokey Burger from the short list of featured burgers, which came with a good pile of sliced jalapenos under a blanked of melted American cheese. I also opted for grilled onions instead of raw, tomatoes, dill pickles and lettuce (iceberg was the only choice, which was fine). Ketchup and mustard came in plastic bottles on the side, DIY.

The jalapenos were great, but I’d have enjoyed a different flavor of cheese. The bun was quite un-special and while I’m aware of how snooty it sounds to criticize the bun, I feel compelled to point out that we live in a city where Farm to Market-brand brioche buns can be had with your burger. So the bar is set quite high and the cheap Wonder-style white bread buns used here certainly don’t add anything to the burger eating experience.

Then there was the meat. Level of doneness was not asked of me, and well done is what I got. I’m also quite certain that there are some secret spices going into the beef before hitting the griddle – cumin, maybe – which wasn’t awful, but led me to want to put the thing down rather than polish off the last few bites, which is not indicative of my normal burger consumption habits.

These fries may actually have been the best part
of the meal. Not bad.
In the end, the burger, upon which the last chances for attaining a mild level of success hung, failed to help KC Smoke Burger’s case at all, rounding out a pitiful dining experience.

Let me now pause to point out that the staff – the only other folks in the restaurant during the entirety of my meal – were all friendly, went out of their way to serve me quickly and get me whatever I needed, and the manager came over to chat, hoping I’d been treated well and would be coming back again. I didn’t have the heart to lie and admit I wouldn’t even dream of it, but based on my experience at KC Smoke Burgers, I see a huge change of cuisine coming in the near future if they don’t board it up altogether.

With a neighborhood favorite like Fric & Frac serving quite decent burgers one block away, KC Smoke Burgers is spraying a bonfire with a small squirt gun, and, I’d imagine, will be going up in smoke itself sometime not long from now.

Rating: zero napkins

KC Smoke Burgers on Urbanspoon


yousef said...
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yousef said...
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Anonymous said...

Hey yousef, I'm going to assume you're kidding about that post since you included the winky face emoticon.

yousef said...
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KCNapkins Guy said...

First off, thanks for reading, yousef!
Secondly, Anonymous did not write the post, I did.
Third, everything written in the post is true... or at least was at the time that it was written (I don't know if the menu or decor has changed since then. Hope it has.)
Fourth, what on earth is "fanklin"?
Fifth, another winky face? I'm confused.
Last, no one pays me to write what I do. Call me crazy but I just happen to think there are better burgers out there (Blanc, BRGR, even Fric n Frac just down the street) AND much more inviting restaurants with professional decor that I'd prefer to visit. Unless you can explain to me the thought behind the cannons, cannonballs, sewing machine...

yousef said...
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KCNapkins Guy said...

...And the winner for "Most unintentionally hilarious comment on this blog, ever" goes to...

yousef said...
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yousef said...
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yousef said...
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ElGuapo said...

Sorry, but ihave to disagree with your review on the food here. The burger I had yesterday (2/23/11) was delicious. As for the decor, big deal! You go to a restaurant to eat and the decor is just filler. I mean hell go to Applebee's or Chili's,and you get all sorts of crap all over the walls! As for myself, i'm planning on goin' back for more. I'm curious about the other items on the menu- the gyro burger, the 50/50 lamb-beef burger, but especially the all lamb burger. I do hope anybody who reads your review, will ignore it and go anyway.

KCNapkins Guy said...

El Guapo: thanks for reading! Glad you enjoyed your smoke burger.
I disagree wholeheartedly on the decor comment. Decor, which is part of a restaurant's overall atmosphere, has a huge effect on the dining experience for me. Less so for you, apparently. But I think people want to know what a place "feels" like so I try to provide that context, and in so doing, I want to convey my opinion of it.

I've made lamb burgers before and thought they were great. Wouldn't be surprised if KCS has a decent one, but I won't be going back to try it anytime soon.

I appreciate your opinions. Mine are a little different.

milestogo said...

Just had the best philly of my life here. Okay, granted, I was pretty hungry - BUT - it was delicious!!! As a big fan of variety, the fact that I'm already craving another speaks volumes about how good it was!

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