And why the hell was I eating at Fire Mountain in the first place? My friend Bob and I had been visiting a friend in a Johnson County hospital, and as we headed back to Kansas City, we passed the free-standing stone building at 10810 West 75th Street and were impressed by the jam-packed parking lot. A co-worker of mine, who lives nearby, later told me that this parking lot is always packed.
In a previous incarnation, it had been a low-cost Ryan's Family Steakhouse, but Fire Mountain sounded a shade more upscale. We felt compelled to check it out.
Upscale? Nah. The lure is that it's supercheap. It's $8.70 for a "Large Mega Dinner," which includes steak and several all-you-can-eat buffet stations. Beverages are extra. If this all sounds like a Ryan's steak joint, that's because surprise! Fire Mountain is also owned by the South Carolina-based Ryan's Restaurant Group.
It wasn't just a culinary extravaganza but a fashion parade, too, starting with the nerdy kid who escorted us to our table; he looked so dapper in high-water pants with cuffs that stopped well before his shins. The customers sported more vivacious ensembles one bosomy gal practically popped out of a glittery tube top. Across the room, a guy wore a T-shirt emblazoned with a giant cannabis plant. And then, of course, there was Elvis.
"His sideburns are fake," Bob observed. "They're glued on."
I stood right behind the King as he scooped a mound of macaroni and cheese onto his plate, and the sideburns did, indeed, appear artificial. But no more fake, I guess, than the man in the prickly pompadour toupee creating a towering soft-serve sundae over at the "sumptuous dessert bar." That's what the Fire Mountain Web site calls it. Sumptuous. I wouldn't go that far; the coconut cake was bone-dry, the bread pudding was tough as shellac, and the iced carrot cake was adorned with a pile of julienne carrots of the salad-bar variety.
The grill guy behind the glass partition used tongs to plop a couple of modest hunks of medium rare beef (not a whole steak, mind you) on each of our plates.
"It's not too bad," Bob said, taking a bite. "Tender, not fatty."
Like a young Elvis.