"I felt so bad for my customers," Chebaro says, thinking back to those icy days. "I guess I never realized how small the room was when I first leased the space."
Happily, the formerly claustrophobic dining nook is now a foyer, boasting storage space and a flight of ten wooden steps leading up to a new, sixty-seat dining room in what was once part of automobile collector Joe Engle's old home. To the right of the first-floor entrance, Chebaro and Helwani have enclosed the kitchen, creating space for a wooden seating banquette and room for six additional tables.
The menu has been made over, too. Chebaro dropped several dishes (including the gyros) and added new items such as bastiva -- phyllo pastry stuffed with Moroccan-spiced chicken. He is most excited about a flank steak sautéed in a sauce made from a long-simmered concoction of soy, bananas and apples. "That sauce has to cook for two days," he says.
The idea of an apple-and-banana sauce set my own teeth chattering; there are some combinations I prefer not to sample, and bananas with red meat tops the list.
Still, Elvis loved banana-and-peanut-butter sandwiches, and -- food trivia alert! -- Hostess Twinkies were originally filled with banana cream. (A national banana shortage during World War II forced a recipe change, and the fluffy white stuff in the phallic-shaped sponge cake was flavored with vanilla instead.)
And speaking of recipe changes, I keep insisting that the Twinkie -- which celebrates its 74th birthday this very week -- doesn't taste the same as it did when I was a 12-year-old Twinkie junkie. However, Cassie Piercey, a spokesperson for Kansas City-based Twinkie baker Insterstate Brands, says the recipe hasn't changed in all those decades.
"Maybe your taste buds have changed over the last 34 years," she suggests slyly.
Which simply could not be possible.