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Bob's Porterhouse didn't win any awards for looks -- a thick, sizzling slab of beef it wasn't -- but he pronounced it "good, not great" and devoured every bit, although after a single nibble at the accompanying mashed potatoes, doused with glossy brown, gluey gravy, he refused to touch them again.
"I could grout a bathtub with it," he grimaced.
The dessert selection boasts homemade cheesecake ($3.99) and Chocolate Suicide Cake ($3.99), but after the rich pasta, I was in no condition to end a meal so decadently. Instead I decided to return for lunch a few days later to check out the sweets.
I had wondered whether the restaurant would be livelier during the workweek, when it would make sense that downtown office workers would pile in for lunch. But no, on my second visit, the place was as deserted as it was the previous visit, with only one other table occupied, by two casually dressed men. Once again, there were more hotel employees in the place than guests. And there was a new mystery to unravel.
Our waiter arrived wearing a black cotton apron embroidered with "The Aladdin Beanery." Beanery? When did it become a beanery?
"Does this place have a different name at lunch?" I asked the server.
He looked startled, as confused as if I had asked him to immediately name the capitals of all 50 states.
"Uh, yes. No. I don't know," he said. "What would you like to drink?"
Later, the restaurant's publicist, Pat Paton, told me: "The beanery concept is something we're still tinkering with. It hasn't been decided yet."
There's little I can say about our lunch, other than it was unmemorable and bean-free. My friend had a very decent club sandwich with hickory-smoked turkey ($5.49) and I had a very expensive and over-cooked cheeseburger ($6.49). And then there was the sliver of cheesecake, dense and rich, that was priced -- scandalously, I thought -- at $3.99 for a portion that vanished in five bites.
What would it take, I wondered, to make this little restaurant become more popular? The fare, simple and uncomplicated, is certainly no worse than the more expensive food served in the once-fancy dining room of another nearby downtown hotel. Once upon a time, back when the old Aladdin still had a rooftop garden (long roofed over) and the Muehlebach had live bands playing in the Terrace Grill, dining in hotels was glamorous and the food was first-rate. But people don't tend to eat in hotels much anymore unless they're staying in them.
The staff at the Holiday Inn Citi Centre is obviously trying hard to make something out of a long-neglected dining room ("We're trying to get memorabilia from old downtown to decorate the room," the pleasant catering manager told me), but improving the food would be a more logical first step. And if only someone could rub a magic "Aladdin's lamp" to make it happen, this cozy room might find a focus and a purpose. The business cards list "fine cuisine." Or is it a sports bar? A beanery? An afterthought? The place definitely needs a little magic.
Contact Charles Ferruzza at 816-218-6925 or email@example.com.
Aladdin's Restaurant Holiday Inn Citi Centre
1215 Wyandotte, KCMO 816-471-1333
Hours: Mon.- Sun., 6 a.m.-2 p.m.; 5-9 p.m.
FOOD: One Star
SERVICE: Two Stars
ATMOSPHERE: One Star
OVERALL: One Star