Like its long-gone Kansas City counterparts -- The Wishbone, The Green Parrot -- this family-owned restaurant served family-style chicken dinners, back when innocent diners didn't give a crap about carbohydrates, starches or trans fatty acids ("More mashed potatoes, honey?"). A salad -- dripping with homemade dressing -- was something you ate before dinner, not as dinner.
The Frog Pond croaked decades ago, but I can still remember the yeasty aroma and pillowy softness of the freshly baked biscuits; the crunchy surface of the pan-fried chicken; the velvety, peppery gravy dripping down a mound of fluffy whipped potatoes.
I thought about those happy times again recently when I remembered that several months ago, when I was driving to Leavenworth to eat lunch at one of the area's last remaining Nu-Way hamburger joints (Mouthing Off, December 25, 2003), I had caught a glimpse of an alluring sign as I whizzed along Highway 7: Fried Chicken Dinners. It was posted outside what looked like an old roadhouse to the right of the highway. My friends Bob and Ned were in the car with me, and they snapped to attention when I yelled at them, "Turn around and get the name of that restaurant!"
Bob caught a glimpse of the sign before we crested over a hill. He scribbled the name on my pad: The Overlook.
"The Overlook?" Ned snorted. "It doesn't look over anything except this crummy highway and the pastures of Lansing, Kansas."
OK, so the citified Ned didn't necessarily appreciate the American pastoral landscape. But I did. After all, if we'd kept going, this particular highway would have led us past the storied prison and all the way to historic Fort Leavenworth! Besides, less than a mile from the Overlook is a "gentleman's club" called Whispers (which stays open quite late but only serves lunch), and any neighborhood that attracts "gentlemen" can't be too much of a backwater, can it?
Several weeks later, though, on the night that Bob, our friend Patsy and I ventured back onto K-7, we were hungry for a much different sort of breast. We wanted fried fowl and hoped that the Overlook would do this classic dish right. Patsy had a positive feeling about the place the minute we drove into the parking lot.
"Look at those two incredibly fat women coming out of the restaurant," she said. "That's got to be a good sign."
We could smell the perfume of bubbling cooking oil -- the Overlook's bird is deep-fried -- from all the way out in the parking lot. We couldn't get to the front door soon enough.
Other restaurants and bars have staked their claims in this building over the years, but the 3-year-old Overlook is the first to serve fried chicken, chops and steaks. It's not a glamorous place, but it's certainly comfortable. Just inside the door is a dimly lighted, narrow lounge area where bowls of shelled peanuts sit on the bar; hanging from the ceiling is one of those beer fixtures with a miniature horse-drawn beer wagon artfully rotating in a clear plastic bubble. The main dining room is as spacious as a barn, with a soaring roofline and whirling ceiling fans.