It's much more rewarding to stay closer to Kansas City's urban core by dashing over to the three-month-old Grinders, which serves a totally decent -- and cheaper -- Angus cheeseburger, with a pile of crunchy tator tots. This combination saloon and pizza parlor was opened last November by artist Jeff "Stretch" Rumaner in his former studio space at 417 East 18th Street. Stretch says that until he opened Grinders, there wasn't a dining spot between Y.J.'s Snack Bar on the West Side, at 18th Street and Wyandotte, and The Peach Tree Restaurant, just east of the Paseo.
"There needed to be something on this street," he says. He considered a couple of different concepts, including a bar-laundromat, before settling on a place that serves pizza, soups, crab rangoon, grinders and hoagies, and a real Philly cheesesteak sandwich. "I'm from Philadelphia," he says, "so we're making them right, with either provolone or Cheez Whiz."
Stretch hopes that other joints will follow his lead and revive a neighborhood that once boasted quite a few little restaurants, back when downtown was still hopping. As recently as the 1950s, there were a dozen independently owned restaurants along 18th Street, including the Busy Bee Café (which is still sitting there empty, waiting for a tenant), the Deluxe Café, the Nighthawk, Tart's Chili Bowl and the Wide-Awake.
Grinders is taking on the Wide-Awake's late-night policy, serving food after midnight most nights. "If we've got customers in there drinking," Stretch says, "we're still serving."
One of his specialty pizza pies is a tribute to the late Kansas City pizza maven Larry "Fats" Goldberg, who would have loved Grinders' la vie boheme ambience, not to mention its Monday-night special: two-for-one large pizzas. I love the fact that there's no standing in line for a table.
Not yet, anyway.