On my short list of places that fall into this category are Stephenson's Old Apple Farm, Stroud's, the Savoy Grill, EBT, Plaza III -- and a much less famous joint. The Bamboo Hut has been around longer than any restaurant in the city, save the Savoy Grill. This 72-year-old roadhouse on Highway 40, which I've reviewed before ("Roadside Attraction," May 31, 2001), may not immediately come to mind when you think of legendary dining spots in Kansas City, but it's been serving its own kind of deep-fried chicken since 1932, the year before Prohibition officially ended.
Amazingly, over the past seven decades this combination saloon and dining room has had only five owners. The newest proprietor, Lori Cheek, took over from the fourth owner, Jeannie Craig, last October. Cheek has run her namesake bar, Lori's Place, for 17 years. It's barely a beer bottle's toss from the Bamboo Hut's front door, and Cheek decided to snap up the Hut last year.
"I'm going to tear Lori's Place down and build a new building," Cheek says. "But while I'm waiting for all that to happen, I had some time on my hands, so when I heard Jeannie was interested in selling, I made an offer."
Cheek hasn't tampered with the menu, other than to add some dinner specials, including a plate of fried frog legs for $13.95 on Friday nights. Her biggest change has been the addition of two big-screen TVs, one in the bar, the other in the dining room. It's the most brilliant decorating decision in the place's recent history.
You see, when the Bamboo Hut opened as a watering hole that served stiff drinks and baskets of chicken, its original owners made a vague attempt to give the back room a sense of South Sea style to go along with the establishment's tropical name. But the fake palm trees and the dance floor were victims of a 1980 fire, and for the last 25 years the dining room has looked remarkably like a 1960s rec room. The walls are paneled in dark wood, the tables are draped in burgundy vinyl, and wall sconces are outfitted with little orange flickering light bulbs. Because the cuisine is home-style and the service is casual (but attentive), adding the big ol' TV has made it possible for patrons to feel as if they're eating dinner in their parents' basements.
My parents didn't have anything like a rec room, so I was doubly thrilled to be living out the fantasy: eating Texas toast and fried foods with three of my closest pals while watching sitcoms on a giant screen! The sound was turned down, of course, so Bob and Carol and Gia and I could comment on the action around us.
"It's like stepping into a time warp," Carol said, admiring the other diners' clothes and hairstyles. One square-jawed young man sported a Kennedy-era flattop; another wore a lavish Porter Waggoner pompadour. Behind our table sat an attractive seventysomething couple, he in a coat and tie, she in a cashmere sweater. They started their meal with a potent cocktail each, then moved on to salad and steaks. The rest of the clientele, though, was distinctly less sophisticated.