The ghosts of meals past don't just show up in literature, as I discovered on an outing to Leavenworth last week. I'd driven up there to check out one of Kansas City's culinary relics: the Nu-Way burger.
I'm not a native of Kansas City, but for years I've heard about the wonders of a crumbly, steamed-meat sandwich called the Nu-Way. In the days before McDonald's deep-fried all of its local drive-in competition, the Nu-Way was a big deal here. There were Nu-Ways in downtown Kansas City, Kansas, and all around Kansas City, Missouri, including at 31st Street and Troost, Meyer Boulevard and Troost, and on the Country Club Plaza. By the 1980s, though, they had all vanished.
Nu-Way lives on in Wichita, but for Kansas Citians who need a loose-meat fix, the closest venue is the 71-year-old location at 510 Shawnee in Leavenworth. There it shares a freestanding building with Carole's Style Salon.
Nu-Way burgers have been steamed there -- with no salt, sauce or seasonings added -- since the Depression. The current owner, Corbett Fowler, bought it in 1985 from his father, who had owned it since 1962. In the early days, when there was something resembling life in downtown Leavenworth, this 35-seat diner would stay open until midnight. Now it closes at 5 p.m. during the week, at 6:30 p.m. on Friday nights and at 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
The hours have shrunk, but not the compact sandwiches, which are served wrapped in waxed paper and can be ordered plain or "with everything," which means onion, pickle and mustard. Patrons with more adventurous tastes can fire up the burgers with hot sauce, barbecue sauce or ketchup. Fowler sells other sandwiches, too, including a hand-breaded tenderloin (once called a Tip-Top), corn dogs and a fried-fish sandwich.
He sells less-fattening side dishes such as cottage cheese and coleslaw, but the incredibly greasy onion rings are much, much better. The teenage waitresses have a no-nonsense, perfunctory serving style, but the most expensive item on the menu is $2, so you can't expect fawning.
Not this Scrooge, anyway.