Yes, there's a body of water on the grounds of the Mission Farms development at 105th Street and Mission Road, but I'm not sure it's fair to call it a lake. A big, pretty pond is more like it — the kind you find on farms and golf courses. So the Lakeside Tavern, which opened in Mission Farms two months ago, isn't really by the side of a lake. But the place must be a tavern, right?
No. Without question, it's a sports bar. Not that this cavernous space — formerly occupied by Boudreaux's Louisiana Seafood & Steaks and, more recently, the Mexican concept Los Cabos — seems designed to be much else. Finally embracing the room's destiny, Lakeside's owners have installed nearly a dozen monitors in the steely-blue lounge and dining room, all tuned to ESPN. To match, the menu is heavy on burgers and fried foodstuffs.
Given the venue's snazzy location and owners (including chef Joe Birch, co-founder of Avenues Bistro), expectations for this joint are probably riding higher than those for any old beer-and-burger depot. A noisy sports saloon in midtown might get away with greasy chili and tater tots, but this is Leawood. The chili, then, is made with Kobe beef, and the chubby fried tots are stuffed with gruyere and bacon.
I know, I know — you're rolling your eyes by now. Maybe we should look at Lakeside Tavern as a parody, a clever caricature. How else to view a place which captures the mood of a traditional suds-wings-and-football bar with about the same authenticity that Wyandotte County's T-Rex Café attempts to re-create the fun and excitement of the late Jurassic Period? I'm still trying to figure that out.
The joint does have its good points. The beer list is strong, the servers are an appealing mix of young hotties and veteran pros, and the menu (particularly its nonmeat options) shows signs of creative effort.
With the Chiefs already packed away for the season, I didn't have a chance to experience Lakeside among rabid fans watching an exciting game. Maybe the vibe in the place would have been more electric then than during my three meals there. On my visits, the customers seemed to be mostly neighborhood folks (including a disproportionate number of trophy wives wrapped in costly furs), in for a quick and relatively inexpensive meal. "It's an older crowd during lunch and in the early evening," one of the servers told me. "It gets a little younger in here later."
That's younger in Leawood years: under 50. But Kansas boomers need their neighborhood watering holes, too — where everybody knows your name, and "pigs in a blanket" are frankfurters wrapped in flaky phyllo, baked and cut into tidy segments. Don't look for neon-yellow mustard, though; these little piggies come with jalapeño-cilantro aioli.
That is, if you're lucky enough to get it. That aioli is the dipping sauce that's supposed to arrive with the light, airy, fried polenta sticks. I can't rave enough about these "fries," which amount to cornmeal-mush frites. But on that first lunch at Lakeside, they were served with runny ranch dressing. Only after I ordered them again, during another visit in the evening, did the actual spicy mayonnaise — creamy and punchy — come with the starter.
Most of Lakeside's dishes come with some kind of sauce, which is a tip-off that the kitchen's ambition has outpaced its judgment. Proof: The "special sauce" on the Train Wreck burger was the dullest (and least "special") version of classic rémoulade I've ever tasted. And talk about a wreck: It did nothing to liven up the sourdough hoagie that formed the boundaries of the shrimp and avocado po'boy. That sandwich sounded so good on the menu but looked like a slab of trashy Texas toast, split open. ("It's not Texas toast, it's white sourdough," the server explained, preserving the mystery of this particular decision.) The fried shrimp were po' all right: petite and so heavily breaded that they they could have passed for fried mushrooms instead.