We’ve all witnessed it.
The multi-tasking driver, who, while chatting on their headset and maneuvering traffic, takes an enormous bite from a foil-wrapped fast-food burger, downs a fistful of fries and slurps a soda.
Usually I avert my eyes, knowing an embarrassing dribble of special sauce will inevitably trickle down their chin or they’ll wipe a greasy sheen from the corners of their mouth with the swipe of a hand.
Drive-through dining has never been high on my list.
The whole process of eating in the car — whether moving or stationary — tends to be messy and awkward. Give me aRoasterie latte to sip and an Christopher Elbow
fleur de sel caramel to nibble, but beyond that my personal talents and desire for portable food consumption are nil.
Perhaps the real reason fast food is summarily dismissed is the low-quality expectation of food served through a window.
Of course, Kansas City’s robust food truck scene is on a whole different level from typical fast food — the gastronomic delights passed over those counters are many and memorable. But I digress.
A couple of weeks ago my friend and colleague Jasper Mirabile suggested I check out an Italian drive-through in the Northland. I was hesitant. And when he added that the drive-through was connected to a carwash, I was downright skeptical.
Jasper has never steered hisco-host down the wrong food path so dutifully I went off in search of Dominic’s Italian Express
at 6902 North Oak Trafficway in Gladstone. My car didn’t need a wash, but I was in need of some lunchtime sustenance.
What I found is a magical — if not eclectic — place where you can get your wheels squeaky clean and enjoy genuine Italian food, à la car.
Dominic Cuccia, known for peddling homemade spaghetti in a bucket back in the mid-1990s at Dominic’s Pizza and Pasta, opened The Better Wash in 2003 and the Italian Express drive-through in 2005. The full menu offers starters and sides, salads, toasted sandwiches, classic Italian entrees, chicken spedini bowls and desserts.
Cuccia’s beloved 74-year-old mama, Rose, is the inspiration behind the food. She comes to Dominic’s regularly to assist with minor preps, to ensure the fresh-daily cannoli filling is just so and that the family-recipe sugo and pasta dishes are up to her standards.
Believe me, Rose’s cuisine criteria are high. Dominic’s food isn’t just good-for-a-drive-through good. It’s good-for-Italian good.
Willie George, who has managed the Italian Express for nearly six years, guides me through the menu. The homemade cheese lasagna with meat sauce, a chicken spedini sandwich and a chocolate mousse cake are boxed up and handed to me with a solemn guarantee.
“These are good, good choices,” George says. “I love the spedini but the chicken alfredo is superb, too, so it’s always a tough decision on what to eat during my shift. I look forward to working a double on Fridays because I’ll eat two Dominic’s meals. I usually start thinking about what I’ll have as I’m getting dressed in the morning.”
Cuccia says business is brisk at the Italian Express — sometimes 200 cars roll through each day.
“We have regulars who come for lunch or dinner several times a week,” says Cuccia. “Not everyone comes to have their car washed. But almost everyone comes to eat.”
As I pull away from Dominic’s drive-through window, the aroma of the old-school Italian food wafting through the car becomes an overwhelming temptation. At the first stoplight on North Oak I tear into the box containing the chicken spedini sandwich.
Following a generous dunk into the tangy amogio dipping sauce, I prepare to take a bite of the tender, marinated chicken blanketed in provolone.
Closing my eyes for a brief second, I sigh and chew, satisfied.
Suddenly I feel a slight dribble of sauce running down my chin. Lifting a napkin to my face, I catch the horrified glance of the driver next to me as he quickly looks away.
Smiling, I continue munching on my Dominic’s feast, knowing eventually I’ll have to pull the car over to dig into the lasagna.
But not quite yet. I have a sandwich to finish.
Kimberly Winter Stern—also known as Kim Dishes—is an award-winning freelance writer and national blogger from Overland Park and co-host with Chef Jasper Mirabile on LIVE! From Jasper's Kitchen each Saturday on KCMO 710/103.7FM. She is inspired by the passion, creativity and innovation of chefs, restaurateurs and food artisans who make Kansas City a vibrant center of locavore cuisine.