This is an embarrassing admission, but it's true: I always wake up on the wrong side of the bed. One of the reasons I'm not much of a breakfast eater is that I'm perpetually grumpy in the morning — too ill-tempered to expend more energy than it takes to prepare coffee and one piece of toast. And I prefer to enjoy this meal, such as it is, alone.
So I'm not always keen on going out to eat breakfast unless it's
10 a.m. and I'm in a better mood. Knowing all this, you can now understand why it was such a nightmare for me when I worked the breakfast shifts in two different but equally horrible pancake restaurants. When I have to clock in at dawn, I'm not a waiter. I'm a performance artist.
I invariably beg off going out to breakfast with friends. And brunch, too; I even hate the word brunch. Civilized people should not be forced to eat lukewarm scrambled eggs and bad Danish pastries in public.
But a couple of weeks ago, someone called to tell me about a new breakfast joint in Gladstone. "You'll love it," gushed the caller, who clearly had mistaken me for some other restaurant writer. "They have stuffed French toast, and guess what it's stuffed with."
I couldn't guess, but she kept goading me. "Go on, try! Guess!"
"Oh, all right," I said, "sauerkraut."
"No, no! It's stuffed with scrambled eggs, melted cheese and sausage."
The idea was so revolting, I was tempted to hang up the phone, but I listened graciously while the woman extolled the many virtues of Kate's Kitchen, a five-month-old bruncheonette on North Oak Trafficway. The more she insisted that I would just love it, the more determined I was never to go there. But you know how life works. One day I took a wrong turn off U.S. Highway 71, got lost and was heading God only knows where, when I realized that I was on North Oak Trafficway — that great stretch of tattoo parlors, thrift stores, dent-fixing shops and Chinese buffets. There, in a spot formerly occupied by a Filipino restaurant, was Kate's Kitchen.
It was fate, not the stuffed French toast, that lured me into this restaurant. Fate and my friend Bob's rumbling stomach. "I'm hungry," he whined.
It was Sunday morning, after 10 a.m., and a group of people were milling around the front door. I warned Bob: "If there's a long wait, I'm not staying."
But even though scads of after-church patrons were waiting for tables, the man at the cash register assured me that we could have a table in 10 or 15 minutes. "The tables turn pretty quickly here," he said. I sat on a bench and eavesdropped on two giggly teenage girls, who were holding Bibles and whispering about boys in a sweet, innocent way reminiscent of Jan and Marcia on The Brady Bunch. Boys, they concluded, were cute but kind of weird.
Our server that morning was cute but kind of weird, too. I asked if Kate was the name of the restaurant's owner. "In a manner of speaking, yes," he said as he filled my coffee cup. "But Kate is only 4 years old. Her parents actually own the restaurant."
The parents are David and Kelly Hendrix, who commute from Olathe to run the place; they operate the business with Joey Franke, who oversees the kitchen. Later, I told David Hendrix that Kate's Kitchen reminded me of the local First Watch restaurants when they first opened — back when I would still eat in one of them. (These days, I think Denny's has more personality and charm than a First Watch and is cheaper, too). I blushed when David revealed that his father, Ron Hendrix, was the First Watch co-founder but later sold his interest in the chain.
Kate's Kitchen is more appealing than any First Watch, if only because it feels more like an old-fashioned diner. The food is hearty, uncomplicated and inexpensive; the service is snappy and friendly.
On that first visit, I was so torn between breakfast and lunch that I ordered both: the low-fat "Wrapped Up" creation from the "Fitness Corner" section of the menu, and from the less-fit corner, a couple of traditional slider burgers. The healthy breakfast wrap was predictably bland: egg whites, turkey, avocado, Monterey Jack cheese and mushrooms in a spinach-jalapeño tortilla. I guess I was supposed to punch it up with a spoonful of the second-rate salsa, but that was futile. Why does healthy have to be so boring?
Those greasy sliders, on the other hand, were superb — burgers bursting out from their tiny buns, piled with grilled onions and sided by curly Q fries.
Bob later fretted about ruining his diet with a version of eggs Benedict prepared with excellent flaky biscuits, sausage patties and a blanket of creamy sausage gravy. Kate's serves the traditional kind, too, or a variation with crab cakes and tomatoes.
"It's wonderful," Bob announced. "Why can't there be a Kate's in midtown?"
Why, I wondered, isn't there one in Olathe, where the Hendrix family still lives (they're contemplating a move to the Northland). The turf there, though, is still dominated by First Watch.
I returned a couple of days later for lunch with my friend Truman, who was delighted to see an old friend of his from the Hyatt working as a server.
"Do you like it here?" Truman whispered. "You're used to fine-dining restaurants."
"I love it," the server said. "The owners are really friendly, and the food is good."
Truman rolled his eyes. "It's restful and comforting," he said, looking around, "but it's a pancake joint!"
His assessment improved when lunch arrived — a "California Fresh" club sandwich piled with roasted chicken, avocado, bacon and pesto mayo, and served with fries and cottage cheese.
A friend of mine had raved about the Kate's Kitchen Reuben sandwich, but I felt that I simply had to taste a dish that I would only order when forced, like at gunpoint.
Yes, I would try the stuffed French toast. Our Rubenesque waitress, who must be on the same healthy diet as I am, gave it a resounding vote of confidence. "It's like a breakfast sandwich," she explained, setting down a pitcher of warm maple syrup. "It's two slices of French toast with scrambled eggs, melted Cheddar and sausage in the middle."
"The Gladstone version of croque monsieur," Truman announced.
It's a massive and visually interesting culinary creation, and it gave me heartburn, but I can see why some people would find this oddity to be the best of both worlds. It's a sandwich, it's a breakfast — it's both!
Would I ever order it again? Only if the day ever arrived when I woke up on the right side of the bed.
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