Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Diego's Bar & Grill opens a long way from Frida's

Posted By on Tue, Dec 10, 2013 at 1:58 PM

click to enlarge A reproduction of a Diego Rivera self-portrait and a copy of the 1931 "Wedding Portrait" by Frida Kahlo peer down from painted cinder-block walls in the new Diego's Bar & Grill in Gladstone.
  • A reproduction of a Diego Rivera self-portrait and a copy of the 1931 "Wedding Portrait" by Frida Kahlo peer down from painted cinder-block walls in the new Diego's Bar & Grill in Gladstone.

In the 2002 movie Frida, the artist Diego Rivera, portrayed by Alfred Molina, announces that "Sex is like pissing. People take it much too seriously."

You might be able to say the same thing about dining. Some people take this foodie thing very, very seriously, but when all is said and done, a hamburger is a hamburger and a cup of tortilla soup is nothing more than a cup of tortilla soup. Neither concludes with anything close to orgasm, although indigestion is possible.

That being said, there's nothing very serious about the food - or anything else - at Diego's Bar & Grill in Gladstone (6024 N.E. Antioch Road, 816-454-0606), the latest creation of restaurateur Ivan Marquez, best-known for his two Frida's restaurants in Overland Park. Marquez took over the former Tanner's location last summer and has created a venue that's not quite a neighborhood saloon or a destination restaurant and that has a menu that's so over-the-map, you almost need a GPS device to understand it.

Unlike Frida's - both the sit-down and fast-casual locations - Diego's Bar & Grill doesn't offer a creative spin on classic Spanish and Mexican dishes, but is a strange amalgamation of Americanized ethnic dishes: pizza, fish and chips, spaghetti Bolognese, chile verde pork, Greek salad, Buffalo chicken wings - and beef sliders topped with gouda cheese.

The only thing missing from this menu so far is chow mein.

Diego's Bar & Grill, which opened last Friday night, desperately needs an illuminated sign  to guide patrons to its location in an undistinguished shopping strip (a free-standing Popeye's Chicken is the nearby landmark), particularly after dusk. There's a perfectly legitimate reason that there isn't one yet (the shopping center is undergoing some exterior rehab work), but it's not the easiest saloon to find on Antioch Road, which has plenty of watering holes to choose from.

I liked our server a lot: a no-nonsense young woman who looks like Bette Davis. That is, if Bette Davis worked during the day as a cook at the Mugs Up Drive-In at 700 East 23rd Street in Independence and was a waitress at night. Her actual name is Tiffany, and although she lacks a veteran server's finesse (bringing out side plates with the appetizers, refilling glasses without saying "You want me to fill that sucker up?"), she has her saving graces.

Marquez needs to re-evaluate some of his menu choices: a "goat cheese pomodoro" starter was a dollop of undefinable cheese on a blanket of bland tomato sauce. And two tiny slices of baguette. I knew I should have ordered the fried pepper poppers.

There are five entrees from the Frida's menu, including a poached basa in a cilantro pesto (presented with a spoonful of lukewarm vegetables) and the cochinita tacos. The roasted half chicken was golden and moist, but I wasn't convinced that it had ever been rubbed with adobo sauce - that's what the menu claims, anyway - prior to roasting.

If the Mexican fare doesn't pique your interest, there are four burger options, including a Mexican burger with Angus beef blended with house-made chorizo.

There are four pizza choices, a grilled cheese sandwich, tacos, burritos, and a grilled pork chop.

"We just need to let people know that we're here," the manager told us.

After that, an explanation of why it exists might come in handy. But maybe I'm taking it all too seriously.


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