I was looking through a box in my basement and stumbled upon a forgotten treasure: my collection of Kansas City restaurant menus dating back to the mid-1980s, when I reviewed restaurants for the Sun Newspapers of Johnson County. The first shocker, of course, was the prices: like a roast beef dinner for under five bucks at the old John Francis Restaurant (see the menu above), which was an Overland Park standby for decades at 7148 West 80th Street. If the family-owned restaurant had held on, it would have celebrated its 50th anniversary on February 5.
At least a dozen restaurants have come and gone in that space just west of Metcalf, including a Russian restaurant, an Italian one and its current tenant, the successful (and delicious) Mi Ranchito Cantina.
The Rio Theater, directly across the street, was still Kimo South Theatre back when John Francis served "Chicken in the Rough" and offered a "Sunday Chuck Wagon Buffet" for $5.95. Boy, I wish that deal was still arround.
My friend Cathy Barnett, now a successful actress, started her career as a 15-year-old waitress at the John Francis Restaurant. "I was fired," she told me, "because I couldn't balance eight plates on one arm like the veteran waitresses."
Her favorite story involves her inability to sell the dinner special one night. "It was a beef cutlet and on the board in the kitchen, someone wrote 'cutlet, mashed pot peas, dessert.' I didn't know it meant that the dinner came with mashed potatoes and peas. So I told customers it came with mashed pot peas. If anyone asked what that was, I told them that it was peas mashed in a pot in the kitchen. What did I know, I was 15!"
Hell, I'd eat mashed pot peas, but only if it came with fried chicken and the salad bar. -- By Charles Ferruzza