But even though I worked in Overland Park for 15 years, I never knew (or cared) when Johnson County's bustling suburban mini-metropolis was founded. It's trivia that might have come in handy at OP1906 Bar & Grill, the attractive new restaurant in the Overland Park Sheraton, because neither the hostess nor the busboy knew why the dining room was called OP1906.
"Well, someone has to know," said my friend Patrick, shaking open a neatly folded red napkin onto his lap. "Ask the waitress."
I looked up to see Sallie, a pretty young server with an artfully frosted pageboy hairdo and a Southern accent thicker than sorghum. She had the correct answer immediately. "Overland Park was founded in 1906," she explained, "but it wasn't actually incorporated as a city until 1960."
I was more impressed when Sallie knew that William Strang Jr., the ill-fated entrepreneur who founded the Missouri and Kansas Interurban Railway and made and lost fortunes, purchased the original 600-acre plat that became Overland Park. Strang's name is emblazoned on a framed Monopoly-style game card hanging in a room filled with artistic representations of game pieces: a giant silvery jack, stainless-steel chess pieces, paintings with images from playing cards. It sounds silly, but in this hotel restaurant's tasteful interior, the game motif plays well.
I didn't expect a restaurant in this hotel (which is half of the adjoining Overland Park Convention Center) to be as stylish as it is. If I sound cynical, it's because this city's other hotel dining rooms aren't exactly stellar in décor or cuisine. But to my amazement, OP1906 Bar & Grill looks downright swanky. Even better, chef de cuisine Eric Carter and executive chef Scott Skomal have assembled an imaginative dinner menu with food that looks as fabulous as it tastes.
It's not an elaborate menu. Carter and Skomal offer only five appetizer selections, three salads, two soups and nine entrées, if you don't count the "seasonal special of the evening." But there's a lot of creativity packed into these choices. "Fish & Chips," according to Carter and Skomal, isn't the British treat but sushi-grade tuna and spiced chips with a wasabi aïoli. Instead of standard-issue buffalo wings, they offer quail "drumettes" swathed in a pomegranate reduction. Patrick and I shared the scallops Rockefeller, which isn't prepared as the oyster dish of the same name usually is (broiled with chopped spinach, butter and bread crumbs) but rather with serious glamour: Three plump, caramelized scallops are arranged on a puddle of peridot-colored herb-garlic cream sauce dotted with curls of salty pancetta.
It was such a luscious sauce that Patrick and I both sopped up every last drop, using pieces of bread from a basket heaped with slices from three different loaves. When we ran out of sauce, we turned to little balls of butter, including a maple butter and one made with garlic and blue cheese.
"You can't help but admire all the nice little touches here," Patrick said. "It's all very sophisticated, except for the music."
I was cringing at the piped-in soundtrack myself. You might think that when a restaurant is striving so hard for a sense of style and élan, the management would think twice about playing the sappiest Top 40 hits of the 1980s. It wasn't mood music. It was elevator noise.
I could go a long time without hearing Whitney Houston's "I Want to Dance With Somebody" again. Fortunately, it didn't spoil the luxury of that night's potage du jour, a hearty broth loaded with ham, potatoes and leeks. Patrick sang the praises of the organic 1906 Blue Salad (clearly inspired by Lou Jane Temple's Blue Lou Salad introduced the same year as Whitney's hit), loving how each dainty leaf was lightly glazed in blueberry-lavender vinaigrette.
Our dinners were simply remarkable. Patrick's plate of tender bison short ribs, mushrooms and black-pepper pasta was a "stroganoff" in name only; delicately spiced with a subtle coriander au jus, it was such a succulent affair that Patrick compared it to good sex. My own meal, a massive portion of moist Kobe-beef meatloaf, was almost too rich to eat.
Desserts were a different matter, though. An ambitious chocolate sampler was too clever for its own good the Godiva semifreddo in a shot glass was cute but tasted like a leftover milkshake. Bread pudding made with Krispy Kreme doughnuts was interesting in concept but almost inedible. Instead of being light and custardy, it was more like deep-fried, day-old French toast.
My friends Frankie and Bill didn't quite believe me when I raved about the hotel restaurant, so they came along on my second visit. "It's a very elegant room," Bill said after we were seated at a lovely linen-covered table.
"And a very elegant salad," Frankie added, staring down at a glistening mound of ruby beet sticks topped with fresh grapefruit wedges and fresh chevre.
Bill ordered the dish that I'd coveted on my previous visit: spaghetti and lobster meatballs with porcini-rubbed scallops. "There's more breading than lobster in these balls," Bill sniffed. "Instead of spaghetti, it's very spicy angel-hair pasta," he said. "It's almost too pretty to eat." But he ate every bit of it anyway with no lack of enthusiasm, I noted.
"Too pretty to eat" is, however, a recurring theme here. Nearly every plate that comes out of the kitchen looks as if it's been styled for a magazine photo shoot.
Beef-loving Frankie loved the wood-smoked strip, and I was amazed at the satiny sliced duck breast with a mulled-wine reduction, sided with a warm ginger-onion confit and hearty risotto laden with wild mushrooms. It was a spectacular autumn dish.
My companions made savvier dessert choices than I had on my earlier visit. Frankie greedily savored every last crumb of an inventive take on old-fashioned "apple crisp" lighter and fresh-tasting rather than hot and crispy, it was a layered tower of spice-dusted blanched apple slices and crisp phyllo pastry, splashed with cinnamon caramel.
If Bill who was regaling us with gossipy tales from his life in the 1950s had ever stopped talking, he might really have enjoyed the finale to his meal: the trio of creamy fruit sorbets served in an oversized martini glass. I stole a few bites myself before the ices melted into a glop of mango, berry and lemon.
When Bill finally turned his attention to his dessert, I asked him if he knew the year that Overland Park had been created.
"I grew up in the northeast part of Kansas City back in the 1930s," Bill said, holding his spoon aloft. "We didn't even know that Overland Park existed."
It's never too late for a history lesson.