Yesterday, a friend and I had stopped into the North Kansas City restaurant-and-sports museum known as Chappell's, a place that not only reeks of American sports history, but culinary history too. The menu boasts several dishes that were new and wildly popular on the Houlihan's Old Place menu in 1976, including a London Broil steak (the biggest difference is that today at Chappell's, the steak is a modestly-priced $9.99; it cost $3.25 back in '76).
My friend ordered a Chappell's starter that I rarely see on modern menus: potato skins, deep-fried and filled with melted cheddar cheese, sour cream and bacon bits. Even if I do see this delicacy on a menu, I rarely order it: it's real fattening and kind of boring. But baby, in its heyday, it was probably the most requested appetizer at hot, swinging restaurant concepts like Houlihan's and TGIF Friday's. Yes, I know, times have certainly changed.
As a waiter, I hated the potato skin starters because they were so filling, customers often ordered them in lieu of actually ordering an entree. (I'm guilty of doing this myself, back when I could stand eating them). Those were the days when restaurant appetizers were really cheap, typically about two bucks. A pitcher of sangria cost $4.50!
I bring this up because today's appetizer lists are so much more interesting. If the popular starters of the Mad Men generation were relish platters, shrimp cocktail, stuffed celery, escargot and pickled herring — things got a lot more fattening in the next decade: deep-fried vegetables of every persuasion, toasted ravioli, nachos, French onion soup, guacamole.
The current starter list at the new Remedy Food + Drink in Waldo mixes up retro choices (poached oysters, deviled eggs) with eggplant fries, a charcuterie plate, and a side dish of carrot fettucine. Murray's Tables & Tap in South Kansas City is very new, but offers one of the most horrible retro starters: fried chicken tenders. I personally blame chicken tenders for the obesity problem in the United States. Much more creative and delicious (although maybe not so healthy) are this restaurant's bacon-wrapped seared scallops served with black pepper apricot chutney.
Chef Pete Peterman changes his menu frequently at the new Peanches restaurant on 39th Street, but if you can't spare the fat grams to sample the excellent butter-fried chicken gizzards, you can nosh on a healthy salad of house-pickled beets and bib lettuce with clove-roasted onions, walnuts and bleu cheese.
The healthiest appetizer in town? A contender would be Cafe Gratitude's "I Am Connected": sprouted almond hummus with dehydrated, not baked, house-made crackers.