Which brings us to Patrice Welcher -- see her in her tattooed glory here -- who took over the kitchen at Brookside's Sharp's 63rd Street Grill nearly three months ago.
Sharp's, a longtime fixture of Brookside's restaurant scene, has always had a solid reputation for its breakfast dishes. Lunch and dinner, though -- that was something else.
"We haven't had a real chef in the kitchen for a long, long time," one of the waiters told me. "The owner, Marty Jenkins, just had line cooks back there."
Welcher overhauled the Sharp's menu when she took over the kitchen. She even dropped the inexplicably popular --and horrible! -- signature soup, a cream-of-water-chestnut concoction that even some of the restaurant's veteran servers detested. ("It's like Elmer's Glue," one whispered to me, "with hot water and sugar.") Welcher has real talent with soup: I tasted yesterday's house special, a fresh corn chowder that was rich and delicious.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Last week I received an e-mail from Sharp's fan John, who wrote:
"They [the owners] have totally changed the formerly huge menu to something smaller and more manageable and daily specials that sound great.... [one night] it was corncake blinis with shaved ribeye, horseradish cream, micro greens and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar."
But a couple of days later, another Fat City reader, Steve, sent me a scathing complaint about a dinner he and five friends had endured at the restaurant:
"Among the mishaps: cold meatloaf, falafel that wasn't falafel, tzaziki sauce that was more like cucumber water, cold coffee, mac-and-cheese...that was so garlicky that I couldn't put it anywhere near my mouth or my nose."
Hey, everyone's a critic, right? And any restaurant has its off nights. Maybe this was one of them? So I went to Sharp's yesterday afternoon to sample a few of chef Welcher's creations myself.
I tasted the herbed hummus and falafel. Yes, Welcher's falafel are not the traditional crunchy (and typically overfried) chickpea batter balls; instead, they're golden chickpea pancakes. They were very tasty. And the tzaziki sauce wasn't watery at all. It was right on the money. The hummus was pasty but satisfying.
I wasn't crazy about Welcher's version of a Philly cheesesteak sandwich (though, to her credit, you can order it with Cheez-Whiz for an extra buck). For one thing, she uses slices of rare roast beef instead of grilled steak. And where were the caramelized onions? It's a cheesesteak that's too upscale for its own good.
But that afternoon's featured lunch special -- a grilled meatloaf sandwich -- was superb. Welcher should add it to the menu permanently.
I asked the manager, Jason Whittaker, if he'd heard complaints from Sharp's regulars about the menu changes. He said, "Most of the complaints have been odd, unexpected ones. One couple were angry that we changed our fry product. They told me they drove all the way from Olathe for our old fries. I mean, they weren't that great."
Meanwhile, now that readers have alerted me to Welcher's changes -- and the mixed reactions to them -- I'm eager to revisit Sharp's for a real review.