I experienced the weirdest déjà vu last week. I was at a combination bar and steakhouse in Lee's Summit, and I had the sensation that I'd suddenly been transported back to a loud and louche "lounge" in the late 1970s. Back then, men wore their hair longer, artfully feathered and spray-lacquered (just the right tonsorial accompaniment to polyester leisure suits and gold chains), and women sported funky Farrah Fawcett hair wings and hobbled from fern bar to fern bar on sexy little "beartrap" wedgies.
Don't get me wrong: There was no one in the lounge half of Rumors Steakhouse who actually looked like that. But I bet plenty of them used to. The first night I dined at Rumors, a healthy number of the happy-hour clientele was made up of middle-aged survivors of the swinging Carter era.
The very name of this steakhouse evokes a great pickup bar of a different era. "It's not that kind of place," one of the servers assured me. Really? A female friend of mine loves Rumors because, she says, men flirt with her in the bar with an aggressiveness she hasn't experienced since Confetti's was the hot nightclub at Bannister Mall. Back when there was a Bannister Mall.
Of course, that's just hearsay. I can't personally confirm any hot happy-hour action at this steakhouse, even if the bar side of this 10-month-old restaurant was so packed that I had to park my car a half-block away, in the parking lot of the hotel behind the free-standing restaurant.
The dining room was pretty busy, too, with an eclectic mix of patrons of all ages, shapes and shades. No one was dressed up or putting on airs — this definitely wasn't a Capital Grille crowd. But the prices at Rumors are more in line with that upscale Plaza steak joint. There's a filet mignon and lobster combo — the description of the dish sounds delicious — priced at nearly 50 bucks, and the only steak that goes for just under $20 is a 10-ounce top sirloin marinated in Caribbean jerk sauce.
Fast-growing Lee's Summit needs and deserves its own fancy steakhouse, and for the moment, Rumors is it. The service isn't as polished and attentive as one might find at, say, Plaza III or Ruth's Chris, but that's not the point here. Rumors has much more in common with the old Remington's Steakhouse — a semi-classy restaurant that once drew crowds to the hotel formerly known as the Adam's Mark. Like Remington's, Rumors has delusions of sophistication that are half justified by good food.
In fact, the food at Rumors is really good. The executive chef is Stefan Haney, the German-born culinary star, formerly of the Horny Toad restaurant at the Lake of the Ozarks. I've never dined at what is now known as H. Toad's Bar & Grill (in order to be "politically correct," according to one employee there), but it, too, is a combination nightclub and restaurant (the "hottest nightspot in the Midwest," according to its website).
I'm not sure what the hell Haney is doing at Rumors, but he's doing it well. His menu finds room to indulge the ridiculous and sometimes also to reach the sublime. The list of starters, for example, offers Buffalo chicken wings and fried-chicken tenders rolled in corn flakes but also includes alluring house-made crab cakes in a cream sauce of sweet corn and chipotle. There's also a "Rangoon" dip made with blue crab and shrimp, served with wonton chips. The French onion soup, lightly dappled with croutons and a discreet blanket of bubbly cheese, is bold and beefy under ribbons of caramelized onion.
My friend Truman got positively frog-eyed at the prices for even the non-beef dishes on the menu. "A sautéed chicken and cheese tortellini carbonara for $21?" he asked with a low gasp. Well, I explained, it comes with a salad.
The entrées' side dishes, including the salads, play as nondescript accessories rather than vital complements. But the certified Angus steaks are superb: The 12-ounce rib-eye, dripping with a smoky tomato butter, is gorgeously marbled and tender, and the petite slab of salt-encrusted prime rib — a cut of beef I rarely order anymore because so many restaurants do it so poorly — arrives fork-tender. The surprise of the night was Haney's succulent pan-seared pork chop, draped in the most evanescent Vermont maple glaze — not sticky or jarringly sweet — and a smattering of beautifully caramelized apple slices.
The food trumps the time-machine ambience — some nights, just barely. The décor's dated quality remains distracting, and there was a baby squalling at ear-splitting decibels both times I ate dinner at the restaurant. Then again, I'd cry, too, if I were getting a bottle of lukewarm formula in a restaurant where the kids' menu boasts an 8-ounce rib-eye served with steak fries for $14.95. At Rumors, that constitutes a bargain.
We didn't order dessert — who could afford it? — but I did return for Sunday brunch with a couple of friends. It's a menu-only affair and practically a steal compared with dinner. The most expensive brunch dish is a rib-eye served with eggs: a variation of the same steak offered on the children's menu, for the same price.
The beef tips, sautéed with mushrooms, pearl onions and a splash of cabernet, weren't tender enough. But the kitchen staff knew how to assemble a classic eggs Benedict, with a light, soothing hollandaise sauce miles removed from the curdled yellow mucilage that oozes from too many local restaurants.
Unlike my previous encounter at Rumors, where the bar was bustling and the dining room was crowded, the brunch business was practically forlorn. There were only two other occupied tables in the room, which was so quiet and somber that Truman's loud, raucous voice seemed bright and festive for a change.
The bar crowd was pretty spartan as well, but it was Sunday morning, so the revelers from the previous night were either somewhere confessing their indulgences or still working on them. The rumors worth starting about this place happen at night. Talk is cheap then, but the food isn't.