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Our table was sharing a heaping plate of crunchy chicken livers and a basket of french-fried mushrooms, dipping them into a little plastic cup of ranch dressing -- which was, Gia noted, "thick and creamy, just as God intended."
Carol eyed the wine list with fascination. "There's only five kinds, including Lambrusco, which I haven't seen on a menu in years. And they're $2.50 a glass! Oh, except the Chardonnay -- it's $3.50. Can you believe these prices?"
Obviously, the Bamboo Hut's prices are in a time warp, too. An 8-ounce Kansas City strip, served with a salad, "garlic" toast (it's really Texas toast with barely a hint of garlic powder) and a potato, costs less than 8 gallons of gas. A 5-ounce filet mignon won't even set you back 10 bucks.
Carol ordered one of the more expensive items, the seafood platter, which had just as many freshwater offerings, including fried catfish and frog legs, as heavily breaded shrimp. I snagged a couple of those golden fried shrimp and agreed with Carol: You just can't go wrong with a crusty crustacean. "It's good fried food," she said, arguing that her high-cholesterol platter was probably just as healthy as the iceberg-lettuce salad that had come before it, which was doused in more of that thick ranch dressing.
Gia ordered a dinner special that I coveted, a patty-melt platter, so I decided to be adventurous and order the fried frog legs. "Where do you get the legs?" I asked our cherubic young server, Adam. He blushed and stammered, "I'm not sure, but I don't think it's in Missouri."
Bob announced that when he had worked in a local seafood house, the frog legs had been imported from Bangladesh, but our server didn't seem convinced that the Bamboo Hut's had come from that far away. The big, meaty hind legs (the only edible part of a frog) were surprisingly good, flash-fried in a light, airy batter. I guess they tasted like chicken, but not as fabulous as the juicy, succulent bird fried in the Bamboo Hut's kitchen each night by cooks Don and Rick. Bob loved the crispy, crackly crust and the hefty size of the breasts.
One Bamboo Hut tradition that Lori Cheek hasn't changed is the no-dessert policy. That doesn't mean customers have stopped asking for it, Adam said. "Yeah, it would be nice if we had, like, a tiramisu or something."
I was thinking more along the lines of apple pie. But who the hell can even think of dessert after packing away a big meal at this place?
A few nights later, Bob and I returned, this time with the saucy Joy. She had never heard of the Bamboo Hut, though she did point out a Highway 40 celebrity landmark on our journey to the joint. "You see that place that looks like an old gas station? That's where Skip Sleyster lives."
Our waitress that night was a no-nonsense Bamboo Hut veteran who clucked over us as if we were her grandchildren. "She's so friendly and nurturing," said Joy, who then nearly jumped out of her seat when a buzzer went off in the kitchen, alerting the servers that an order was up.
We sat closer to the TV that night so Bob could watch the Mizzou basketball game -- along with everyone else in the dining room, which was packed at 7 p.m. An hour later, the place had nearly emptied out, though we had barely noticed because we'd been so focused on our dinners. Joy raved about her tender, perfectly grilled 5-ounce filet. Bob was equally passionate about his Kansas City strip, cooked in butter and garlic and sided with a foil-wrapped baked potato that he piled with butter and sour cream.