In the 1970s and '80s, Blackglama Furs ran a series of photographs featuring aging Hollywood icons -- such as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck -- swathed in dark fur and looking a little weathered but still feisty and appealing. Whatever those babes had in their prime, the photographs proved they still had it.
A dozen or so restaurants in Kansas City also have survived the years with style (see Mouthing Off). Some of them are legendary, even without being draped in mink. Certainly that list is topped by The Golden Ox, the last remnant of the Kansas City stockyards' bawdy, bustling years. Jay Dillingham, the president of the Kansas City Stockyard Company, created the restaurant in 1949 as the first upscale dining room in the neighborhood. Today it has outlived all of its West Bottoms contemporaries: The Frontier Room, The Rancher's Café, the Cowtown Coffee House and the Hoof and Horn Club.
In fact, little is left on that stretch of Genessee Street that would suggest it once was a raucous, noisy and crowded street filled with stores, hotels, pool halls, barbershops and the agriculture offices for radio stations KCMO, KFRM and KMBC. When the stockyards closed in the 1970s, the neighborhood began to resemble a ghost town.
But The Golden Ox -- which faces more steakhouse competition than it has in half a century -- goes on with little change. And that's what the customers want, according to the restaurant's owners, Steve Greer and Jerry Rauschelbach. They have tweaked the menu a bit in the past four years and plan to reupholster the worn (and occasionally torn) leatherette booths. But they don't want to do anything too drastic -- it was one thing to add two salads to the menu, but messing with the cellophane-wrapped crackers was another story.
"I wanted to change the kind of crackers we serve in the cracker baskets with the salads," Rauschelbach recalls, "and there was all kind of hue and cry. Our customers don't want things to change."
As a longtime fan of the place, I don't either -- on an aesthetic level anyway. The last major redecorating was after the big flood of 1951, and I love the dark woodwork, the wagon wheel chandeliers, the mirrors, the amber wall sconces and the cattle brands in the carpet.
It's the kitchen that needs a kick in the saddle.
After four meals in as many weeks, I experienced a couple of nerve-wracking fumbles that nearly ruined good dinners. And something has to be done about the most glaring inaccuracy on the Golden Ox menu: the claim that all meals are served with "hot garlic bread." I have never tasted these hard, vaguely garlicky little toasted bread rounds at anything but room temperature. They arrive with the dinners instead of the salads (that course comes with the assortment of Lance crackers), and it's always a disappointment to peel back the linen napkin and pick up a piece of "bread" that could pass as cattle feed.
"You're being much too critical," carped my friend Connie. She was enjoying the restaurant's best appetizer, a little casserole dish filled with baked mushrooms stuffed with shrimp and crabmeat under a bubbling blanket of melted cheese. "I mean, who cares about bread at a steakhouse? The potato is really the pivotal element in the starch category. If the potato isn't good, it's all over."
Connie and her husband, Greg, hadn't been to The Golden Ox for years, preferring to make the scene at the newer, trendier restaurants. "But we've been talking about going back forever," she said when I invited them to join me. "I mean, it's so out, it's really in."