After I took my friend Liz to dinner at Urban Table in Prairie Village, she told me that she wanted to open her own restaurant. "It's going to be north of Independence Avenue," she said. "I'm going to call it Suburban Table and serve casseroles and Sara Lee desserts with Cool Whip."
I thought it was a great idea, but she was just trying to make an ironic point. "No dining experience can be called urban if it's plunked down in one of the metro's oldest and whitest suburbs," she said.
Alan Gaylin, one of the owners of Urban Table, chuckled when I asked him if any of his patrons had similarly questioned its name and location. "I just tell people that Kansas City is growing so fast," he told me last week. "Prairie Village is practically the inner city."
Go ahead and laugh at that one, but remember that a century ago, 31st Street and Broadway was considered a suburb. Prairie Village may not be an urban environment, but Gaylin's two-month-old restaurant definitely draws an urbane crowd. I've eaten five meals there, and it has been busy every time. Breakfast, lunch and dinner each draw an interesting mix of diners: stockbrokers, housewives, college students, tattooed skateboarders, young couples with fussy toddlers, women lunching in groups.
"This is my book club," a friend of mine announced when I ran into her there one night. She introduced me to five of her dining companions. "We pretend to talk about books and then we all come here for a mimosa."
Like BRGR, the first operation of Gaylin and company's Bread & Butter Concepts, Urban Table is designed to be a casual space for sophisticated tastes. Both of the Prairie Village restaurants were immediate successes, suggesting that the company's formula might work anywhere in the metro — even an actual urban setting.
Not that this prototype bistro doesn't have a few kinks and eccentricities left to resolve. A running joke among three of my friends is the Urban Table cashier who, despite obvious affability, has never once gotten any of their orders right. I haven't had that problem myself, but it's inevitable at restaurants where one must order at a counter. Full table service here has so far been available only during the dinner hours — an unfortunate practice, given that the servers at breakfast and lunch deliver food, refill beverages and attend to guests with as much skill as exhibited during the dinner shift. Why not let them take the orders all day?
Of course, no one else I know seems to mind ordering at a counter, leaving me in the minority on the subject. But listen: There really is something stressful about standing in line, perusing the options on the boards hanging over the cashiers' heads (and there are more than a few options), only to feel rushed when it's your turn. When people are waiting behind you, as they usually are at this busy place, the pressure is high to order something — anything! — and not hold up the line. At a place that offers many fine, grown-up dishes, it's disappointing to have to behave as though you're choosing between a Big Mac and a Quarter Pounder.
The food makes up for this annoyance and for others more petty. Gaylin made a shrewd move hiring the talented Brad Gilmore to oversee a menu that offers breakfast every day until 4 p.m. and a completely different, but overlapping, lunch selection from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. The dinner menu offers yet a third array, and its food is served late — very late, for the suburbs.