Cascone's Grill, the family-owned Italian diner across the street from the City Market at 17 East 5th Street, serves a three-piece pan-fried chicken lunch on Thursdays and Saturdays for $8.75. The meal includes two vegetables (today it was mashed potatoes and sweet corn) a stack of Roma bread and a smear of "butter" (that's what the waitress called it, but it was actually some kind of shiny, buttery-colored vegetable oil concoction).
The kitchen was out of white meat by 12:15 p.m. and our server told us that it's not unusual for them to be completely out of chicken by 1 p.m. "The chicken lasts a lot longer on Saturdays," said the waitress, "because we serve a lot more breakfasts on that day."
I know, I know. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it almost always is. That's why when a restaurant or a saloon offers a steak-night special, you can't walk in expecting to get the same quality of beef as the Capital Grille or Plaza III or the Majestic Restaurant. On the other hand, you don't want to be sawing into a slab of shoe leather passing itself off as a "ribeye." Those are the cuts of chewy beef, served with a forlorn baked potato, that represent the typical "steak dinner" offered by those truly low-budget buffets. I mean, when the lukewarm wedge of Texas toast is the tastiest thing on the plate, you know you're in trouble.
But not everyone can afford the price of a first-class Kansas City strip, especially in today's economy. There's nothing quite as luscious as Capital Grille's 14-ounce, dry-aged Steak au Poivre with Courvoisier cream sauce, but at $44 — without a potato or a vegetable — it's not a dish you'll be ordering once a week.
Hey, I'm counting my pennies like every other diner these days. Contrary to what most people think, I do eat on my own dime - just as often as I do for a review-related meal. And, hell, I want to save a little cash, too. But in order to save that dough, I need to remember which local restaurants are offering certain specials on particular nights. The Thai Place restaurants - the Westport location at 4130 Pennsylvania and the Overland Park venue at 9359 West 87th Street - both offer two phad Thai dinners for the price of one on Tuesday nights only. Both dinners must be the same (if you order one phad Thai with chicken, the second dish must be with chicken, although the spiciness level can be different). It's a good date-night dinner.
There's only one of these restaurants left in the metro -- the Texas-based chain closed a couple of its other Kansas locations -- but this one, in a high-traffic tourist spot, is popular for its frequent low-priced dinner specials. The current special offers an unlimited bowl of pasta (patrons can choose both the pasta and the sauce) and an all-you-can-eat salad for less than 10 bucks. For an additional $1.99, you can gorge yourself on unlimited meatballs, too.
Where am I eating this dish?
Red Lobster, the budget-conscious seafood restaurant chain operated by Orlando-based Darden Restaurants Inc., is ending its "Endless Shrimp" promotion this coming Monday.
But on Tuesday, all 700 Red Lobster restaurants in the United States -- including the four locations in the Kansas City metro -- will roll out a new menu that's even more sensitive to budget-strapped diners.
A story posted online yesterday on the Nation's Restaurant News website reported that the popular dining chain will debut six new items on its dinner and lunch menus that "expand customer choices around the $13 to $17 entree price range. Red lobster typically runs an all-day per-person check average of about $19."
Coupons are all the internet rage, especially with the Great Recession lingering and businesses using every tool possible to get customers in the door. Groupon has been serving up restaurant discounts for a while now, and this very rag recently launched pitch.com/coupons.
And just today, Living Social, one of the original gangstas of the coupon-slangin' game, launched its Kansas City operation, with a coupon for 50 percent off at Kokopelli Mexican Cantina in Prairie Village.
May you never pay full price again, you cheap bastards.
I've been in search of a great banh mi since Vinh Hoa in North Kansas City closed. Though I have yet to find a suitable replacement for David Du's grilled pork offering, I might just have uncovered a budget friendly version at Kim Long's Asian Market (511 Cherry), in the Columbus Park neighborhood.
The banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich on a crusty baguette with a combination of pickled vegetables, meat and a fish or spicy sauce. No two are likely to be the same, and the Kim Long's version is a mixture of cold cuts that's a bargain at $2.50.
Despite being refrigerated, the vegetables (sliced carrots, daikon, cucumber and jalapeno) are crunchy, as is the baguette. On my sandwich, a layer of ham and what I believe was liver pate sat underneath a bright mound of cilantro.
The sandwich could have used a splash of vinegar -- the vegetables are fresh, not pickled -- and a bit more heat. But this easily beats a packaged convenience store sandwich. And at this price, you'll have enough in your wallet to pick up a small bottle of sriracha from the store shelves.
|Smokestack's Dinner for Two|
For just a little bit more, though, you can get more from a local 'que joint. The Smokestack BBQ at 8920 Wornall offers the "Smokestack Slab Dinner for Two," a slab of hickory-smoked pork ribs with steak fries, cole slaw, pickles and toast for $22.95. If you'd prefer a bunch of barbecue without ribs, there's the Smokestack Dinner for Two with a half-chicken, two sliced meats, steak fries, slaw, pickles and toast for $22.95. Both these meals can easily be shared by three adults.
And the two Zarda Barbecue locations, in Blue Springs and Lenexa, offer a $17.99 Variety Plate that easily feeds two hungry people: any two sliced meats, 2 ounces of sausage, 3 ounces of bunt ends, one-fourth of a smoked chicken, a rib snack, two side dishes, bread and pickles.
|Something sweet and jiggly, please|
The manager of the restaurant -- which is the new prototype for this North Carolina-based buffet-and-grill chain -- told me that the well-laden dessert station in the restaurant, called the Brass Bell Bakery, always offers a selection of sugar-free gelatin cubes along with the pies, cakes, cookies, soft-serve ice cream, two kinds of fruit cobblers, very good bread-pudding and old-fashioned banana pudding made with vanilla wafer cookies.
I had never been to a Golden Corral, assuming it was one of those dumpy, 1980s-style cheap steakhouses like a Ponderosa or a Bonanza (or a Ryan's Grill & Buffet, which still seem to be doing a beefy business out in the suburbs). Actually, the Northland's Golden Corral has more in common with the casino buffets -- but without the pungent aroma of cigarette smoke and the clanging bells and sound effects from the slot machines.
|Get cozy with a big bowl of lasagna|
It's a very good deal if you're a fan of huge hunks of house-made lasagna. For $11.99, the meal includes a big house salad, garlic toast and an impressively large slab of lasagna made, according to the menu description, with "spinach and meet."
Kreka means meat, of course, but it's an easy meal to share if you want to meet a friend at the neighborhood diner for an evening meal. Or even better, eat half of the dish and take the rest home for lunch the following day.
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