In Lee's Summit, a new restaurant called Victorian Peddler is the same story told backward. A few years ago, the former Jones Lumber Mill offices across from the railroad tracks were turned into a dark, smoky joint called Mojo's, which one Lee's Summit resident later confessed to me was "kind of a biker bar." But Mojo's found a kind of restaurant redemption just a year ago, when its owners turned the place into a tidy little upscale bistro called the Cork & Grille. That café lasted only a few months before the newest proprietors, Mark and Melissa Clark -- owners of a combination restaurant and gift shop in the historic hamlet of Lexington, Missouri -- took over the space and gave it the ultimate ladylike makeover. Big, bad Mojo's is now the well-scrubbed Victorian Peddler of Lee's Summit, the perfectly dignified addition to its newly gentrified stretch of neighborhood.
What had once been the actual lumberyard behind the old Jones Lumber building now boasts a stretch of quaint brick storefronts populated by retail shops like Finishings for Her, a clothing emporium that was such a lure to my two dinner companions one night that I sat alone at my table in the Victorian Peddler for twenty minutes waiting for Carol and Debbie to finish trying on clothes next door.
Their shopping spree gave me time to look at all the changes that the Clarks and chef-manager Andy Theroff have made to the former Mojo's, now as frilly and pretty as a small-town debutante. The place is perfumed with the fragrance from the inventory of the gifts and accessories displayed throughout the dining room. The tables share space with a potpourri of scented candles and bath soaps and all manner of oddities: Wizard of Oz music boxes, faux Tuscan-style pottery (made in China), floral notecards, gothic birdcages, stuffed teddy bears, bottles of bubble bath, and happy-face golf balls.
The tables are uncloaked but set with woven khaki place mats and soft-fringed ebony napkins. The glassware is thick and heavy, the silverware is shiny, and in the center of each table is a little white plate topped with a paper doily and a neatly arranged assortment of prepackaged jam, butter and "whipped spread."
"I wonder if that means we'll get hot rolls with dinner," said Debbie, sweeping over to the table with her purchases. Well, you might have thought that we would -- I had actually spied a big pan of puffy, yeasty rolls sitting up at the kitchen window. But we didn't, because our waitress didn't remember to bring them with our dinner. She was a pleasant, efficient young woman (a veteran of the Clarks' restaurant in Lexington) with a snappy answer for everything: "We're rather understaffed tonight," she explained later. "And the rolls come out at such erratic times, I forgot to bring them."
Not that she was any more apologetic about not bringing the white "special" board, which sits on a metal easel, over to the table so that we could see what that night's dinner specials were. Oh, she had referred to it offhandedly as we looked over the dinner menu. "If you want to know what we have on the dessert list, we have those boards over there," she said, pointing across the dining room. It occurred to me then that she might have brought it over for us to see, but her non-Victorian, don't-fuck-with-me manner scared me.