I flipped on the TV last week to see, on a local news station, a man who had seen a funnel cloud — cloud, not cake — briefly touch down near the suburb of Lee's Summit. The man had captured a little video of the event on his cell phone. As I looked closer at the man holding the cell phone, I recognized Eddie Adel.
Adel has been part of Kansas City's restaurant scene for more than two decades, since finishing culinary school at Johnson County Community College in the 1980s and working his way up through the ranks at the Westin Crown Center Hotel — from apprentice chef to executive chef to food and beverage director.
When I was first introduced to Adel, he was the young sous chef at Trader Vic's, then considered one of the most glamorous restaurants in Crown Center; it was definitely one of the most exotic venues. At the same time that Adel was learning to make "cosmo tidbits" and pupu platters, a young woman, barely out of her teens, was working as a manager up in the hotel's newer upscale dining room, Benton's Chop House. I met the lady, Barbara Scott, at least a half-dozen times because in those days, Benton's used to host special dinners for media types. I would go as the guest of Walt Bodine, who was on both radio and TV back then and really got the royal treatment.
As far as I knew, Adel was still at the Westin. As for Barbara Scott, I'd always wondered what happened to her. But restaurant people are like nomads: You don't see them for years and then, suddenly, you walk into a new joint and there they are.
Eddie Adel and Barbara Scott are now married, and they own R.A. Long's Sawmill Restaurant in Lee's Summit. I had no idea about the place until a caller to Bodine's radio show said something about seeing bits and pieces from Loula Long Combs' horse barn in the dining room. Combs was the daughter of the lumber baron and philanthropist R.A. Long, who built Corinthian Hall (now the Kansas City Museum), a hospital and a church; she was famous for her passion for breeding and training horses and was a celebrity at the American Royal until she was in her 80s. Any "barn" she created would have been fabulous. I used that tantalizing tidbit to lure Georgina — one of those stubborn midtowners who never wants to leave her comfort zone — along with Bob and Fred to the restaurant.
The dining room does boast a striking 1913 brass-and-opalescent-glass Tiffany light fixture, which did come from the old Longview show barn. There are a couple of stable doors, too. But the smallish room is oddly designed — the bar is tucked into a space on a dimly lit lower level, almost like an afterthought. And let's just say calling it a casual-dining establishment would be an understatement.
Adel later told me that he wants the restaurant to "serve affordable Midwestern but continental cuisine in an environment that reflects Lee's Summit's history." He lives in Lee's Summit, so it was easy to see that there was a niche waiting to be filled in the chain-glutted suburb. I asked him whether, after all those years with a corporate boss (he was with Westin from 1988 to 2005), it was a big gamble to open a restaurant in this economy. "Yes!" he said loudly.
But I think he made a wise move. The restaurant named after R.A. Long feels like a cozy little neighborhood joint, even if it's in a brand-new development surrounded mainly by the pastoral fields near Longview Lake, Longview Community College and the Fred Arbanas Golf Course. The Sawmill is definitely off the beaten path, as far as Lee's Summit goes.