I think of "a go go" as a slangy 1960s term inspired by the famous West Hollywood disco called Whisky A Go Go, which opened in 1964; that same year, Lenny Bruce was arrested in smoky New York nightclub Café Au Go Go for using dirty words in his comedy act. In the mid-'60s, anything "a go go" was fun, happening and hip. Smokey Robinson recorded "Going to a Go-Go" in 1965, and Monster a Go-Go played at drive-ins that same summer. But apparently the term is much older than the hippie era: The first Whisky à Go-Go opened in Paris in 1947, and the go-go part of the name comes from the French term à gogo, meaning in abundance.
When it comes to Hash House A Go Go, the new restaurant at the Legends complex in Wyandotte County, it's all about abundance, baby. I really doubt that there's any other restaurant in the metro that serves bigger portions of food. When I brought my friends Dick and Renee to the restaurant for dinner, they were actually embarrassed by the size of the plates — they weigh between 6 and 7 pounds empty — and the gargantuan portions.
Because several dishes on the menu reference my home state of Indiana (Andy's Crispy Indiana-Style Hand-Hammered Pork Tenderloin, for one), it's easy to assume that this restaurant operation is based in the Midwest, right? Wrong. The founders of this Las Vegas-based mini-chain, Craig "Andy" Beardslee and Johnny Rivera, opened their first restaurant in San Diego, the second in Vegas and the third (and newest) in Wyandotte County two months ago.
Hash House A Go Go's sensibilities are a throwback to diners and roadside restaurants of an earlier time. Most dictionaries define "hash house" as slang for a cheap restaurant, and I've found references to the term dating as far back as 1913. To call any dining establishment a "hash house" was a put-down, like snubbing a joint for being a greasy spoon or a beanery. But this Hash House is no sleazy diner, which justifies the addition of "A Go Go" to the title. It's a big, spotless, shiny place with stainless-steel tables, pressed-steel plates on the walls, etched glass dividers, and a brassy sound system that plays an eclectic mix of classical, salsa and pop tunes, and 1970s disco.
The servers were young, mostly beautiful and refreshingly savvy. An effervescent blonde named Erin was one of the most polished servers I've encountered in the Legends collection of chain chow halls.
Old-fashioned hash houses didn't serve booze, but Hash House A Go Go is hot on the hooch, so Erin gave a breathless description of that night's featured cocktail, a strawberry-lemonade margarita. Dick and Renee each ordered one. "Her description made it sound so refreshing," Renee confessed, although she looked a little sheepish when the glasses arrived; both were adorned with a strawberry, a paper parasol and one of those wide, tube-like straws usually used for bubble teas. "I feel kind of silly drinking out of a drainpipe!" she said.
It wouldn't be the last time one of us felt silly that night. We shared the crab-cake starter (a warning to the grazing crowd: There's not much in the way of appetizers here), which was a puck-sized patty loaded with lump blue-crab meat and sided with a mound of chilled angel hair pasta tossed with pesto. It was really very good. I ate most of the crab because Dick and Renee, who noted the gigantic entrées arriving at other tables, decided not to spoil their appetites. And when the super-sized biscuits arrived, I was the only one who snatched one up and slathered it with butter. I admired my friends' discipline, but I'm paid to taste stuff, you know? I've also baked plenty of biscuits in my day, and there's one thing I know: Bigger isn't always better in biscuitland. The Hash House's version is visually impressive, but they're not exactly flaky and moist.
We all toyed with the idea of ordering this joint's signature dish, sage fried chicken (it's even featured on the breakfast menu). But we figured it was a dish best shared family-style, and ultimately we all wanted different things. What we couldn't know is that each dinner could easily be shared by a family of four. I'm only half-exaggerating — and I'm seriously convinced that I could have taken the giant white china bowl that contained Dick's "Big O' Chicken Pot Pie," drilled a hole in the bottom and used it for a sink. Dick was startled by the size of the dish but underwhelmed by what it contained. Instead of a creamy chicken concoction under a flaky crust, this "pie" was actually a stew — and stingy on the chicken! — with a novelty baked-pastry "hat" stuck into it.
Renee made a better choice: roasted butternut squash stuffed with an excellent, hearty risotto and scattered with cornmeal-crusted shrimp. She took 10 bites and was full; it didn't look as if she'd even made a dent in the meal. I went for the meatloaf "stuffed" with fresh spinach, roasted peppers and a smoky mozzarella. The meaty slab rested on a pound or two of griddled mashed spuds, and everything was drenched in a supple marsala cream sauce. After a few bites, I was ready to wave the white flag, too. Bring on the carryout boxes!
Somehow Erin talked us into dessert: a hefty brick of bread pudding made with Snickers candy bars. It was pretty but oddly tasteless.
I returned on Sunday morning for a big fat breakfast with Jeanne, Roxanne and Alexandra. The plates aren't any smaller for the morning meal, nor are prices any lower. Then again, we did order a lot of stuff to pass around — including an excellent plate of thick French toast that had been dipped in banana-cinnamon cream before it hit the griddle; we slathered it in pecan maple syrup. Alexandra wouldn't share her biscuits and gravy, but I had another of those boulder-sized biscuits with my own Basic Breakfast of scrambled eggs and crispy fried potatoes (deep-fried, I think, but I was too afraid to ask).
Jeanne raved about her eggs, which were scrambled with fresh avocado, onion, Swiss cheese and bacon. Hash House A Go Go serves seven kinds of two-egg hash, including a decadent pork-tenderloin version with baby green beans, charred tomatoes and mozzarella. I think that's what the tiny, tan brunette sitting across from us was eating. She took a few bites, then had the server box up the rest.
I ate everything on my plate and some of everyone else's breakfast, too, so I wasn't hungry again until Monday. And I'd like to go back and try the fried chicken, the stuffed burgers and the fresh fruit cobbler. But after a week of eating leftover meatloaf, I'm not quite ready to confront those hubcap-sized plates again.
It may be awhile before I go-go back.