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As a franchise owner, Christensen was allowed to tinker with the menu to a certain degree, and he should probably have given McGuire a little more flexibility. Besides all the burgers, the menu currently lists only four entrées, including a vegetarian offering of sautéed seasonal vegetables served with rice, black bean salsa and grilled pita bread. That didn't sound very interesting to me, nor did a pasta special that seemed to be the same whenever I was in there (something with marinara sauce and blue-cheese-stuffed meatballs). But I did force myself to order a pan-seared tuna entrée called the Ike & Tuna, and it turned out to be a beautifully grilled hunk of ahi tuna glazed in a ginger-soy reduction and served with real garlic mashers.
Truman ordered the meatloaf dinner one night and raved about it. "And I'm not even that crazy about meatloaf, you know." He also ate every single sweet-potato fry, insisting that they were fresh, hand-cut fries. They're not. (McGuire later told me that they tried at first, but it was too labor-intensive.) But I was impressed that Truman believed they were.
It's not easy to have a conversation at Hamburger Mary's because the place throbs like a disco even during the lunch shift. But our servers were more than agreeable about turning the volume down a bit on the afternoon I brought a friend who is slightly hard of hearing. An elderly gentleman, he looked up from the menu at one point and shouted, "Does this place have go-go boys?"
After blushing, I shook my head. No, but the waiters do dance around the dining room a bit in an enthusiastic manner. "They all shake their rear ends to get customers in the mood for hamburger buns," Truman proclaimed. Heather was quietly eating a hefty bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich topped with a dollop of guacamole to make it, yes, a GBLT sandwich. Finally she turned to me and said, somewhat hesitantly, "It's very festive, isn't it?"
"Mary," Truman guffawed, "you don't know the half of it!"
By then it was time for dessert. The menu lists only a few, including deep-fried Twinkies. I couldn't bring myself to order those — I mean, after you've tasted one deep-fried snack cake, the novelty is positively over — but Truman was eager to sample the Crispy Snickers banana split. After the server brought it to the table, he deemed it "the most phallic confection ever served in the history of Kansas City."
Yes, it's a banana split, but with two scoops of ice cream, vanilla and chocolate, at the base of a firm banana slathered with chocolate, caramel and raspberry sauces. There's an eruption of whipped cream on top, along with a dash of chopped nuts and a shiny cherry. Finally, chopped Snickers bars are wrapped in won-ton sheaths, deep-fried and artfully arranged around the banana.
I didn't think this silly spin on an ordinary soda-fountain dessert was that great, and by this restaurant's standards it was expensive, too. I hope the kitchen staff can come up with something more memorable — or at least less predictable.