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In Kansas City, it's heresy for Houlihan's to serve barbecued baby back ribs. That's the kind of between-quotation-marks barbecue that diners in other cities and suburbs get, never knowing what the real thing should taste like. But the menu description sounded so good, I ordered them — twice. And neither time did I get a slab that was tender or succulent. Wrong place, wrong time, I guess.
Where Houlihan's has charted significant progress over the years is its dessert list. I've always been a sucker for this chain's chocolate-cappuccino cake, frosted with foolhardy generosity (perhaps to help cover occasional dryness in the cake itself), and the crème brûlée is now runny only about half the time. You can order a trio of pint-sized versions of the desserts, including those two; and the miniature pecan pie, caramel-rich and fabulous, is the new star.
I refuse to say that this is the Houlihan's phase of my life. But if I admitted to being middle-aged and in need of comfort food, I would admit a strong desire to eat here. In terms of price, ambience and service, the Fairway restaurant exerts real appeal. Exciting? No. "But after the first martini," says a friend who can recall those long-gone days of hipness, "no one gives a damn." Some things never change.