This past month I was driving around on my day off with my wife looking for a place to have lunch when we came across an old-fashioned lunch counter and soda fountain inside a drugstore in Raytown that I just had to try.
I called my friends Gay and Craig Jones to join us and we met in the parking lot of Fox’s Drug Store in Raytown, started by Francis Thomas Fox in 1939 and still owned by Gary Fox.
Now before I lead you on about a gourmet meal, I want you to know right now we’re talking basic chili dogs, grilled cheese, tuna salad sandwiches and an old fashioned soda fountain!
We all entered the drug store and found out that there really is no drugstore left. Gary Fox has closed it and the main concern right now is the soda fountain and luncheon counter run by the friendly and outgoing Nancy Lyon.
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There’s a long counter you can sit at with swivel chairs overlooking the soda fountain and several tables along a wall. We sat down and Nancy explained the daily soup and her favorites, and we ordered from the menu board behind the counter. Nancy also loves the ’40s and ’50s music and was playing it for a great background sound.
Like I said, it’s just a basic lunch menu and they also have some delicious homemade soups (prepared by Nancy) every day along with their homemade chili.
Craig and I both ordered chili dogs and our wives ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and tuna sandwich. I also had to add an egg salad sandwich for the middle of the table. Why not? We also ordered a couple of cups of Navy Bean soup. How could we pass? Wait a second, we ordered everything on the menu. We were indeed hungry and enthused.
No lunch counter meal at Fox’s Drug’s would be complete without a chocolate shake so, of course, we ordered a few and I also had to have a fresh squeezed limeade for myself. Talk about old-fashioned!
From Gay Jones:
Elemental comfort food, dishes at their basic core. For example, the grilled cheese sandwich. Fluffy whole wheat bread with American cheese, pickles, set on a white plate. Fancy? No. But the bread had that perfect micro golden crust. The cheese was melted to where it combined with the bread. And the briney bite of the pickle was a nice balance to the sandwich.
Egg salad sandwich had the same approach: all the core components present without any other fuss. Chopped egg, finely diced celery, mayo, mild seasoning. The plain white bread let the retro filling speak for itself.
From Craig Jones:
So of course I wasn’t expecting any haute cuisine. After all it is a drugstore. But what we did get was some down home, almost small-town, good comfort food. You know, it was almost like your grandma just stuck her head out of the kitchen and shouted, “What do you kids want to eat? I’m making hot dogs and sandwiches.” I really enjoyed the chili dog topped with fresh onions. Of course I had to add plenty of yellow mustard. Something about the vinegary tang of mustard combined with the deep meat flavor of the chili, that helps to make this comfort food so soul fulfilling.
From Lisa Mirabile:
Jay drags me from one corner of this earth to the other looking for his favorite iconic restaurants and road food but little did we both know, we have one right now in our own backyard right here in Missouri. I absolutely loved the tuna salad, very simple and plain with mayonnaise, celery, relish and hard boiled egg. This is just such a classic especially since it was served on a couple of slices of Wonder Bread. I have to say, Jay hit it out of the ballpark this time, especially with our chocolate shakes to finish.
I have to agree with my wife, Lisa, and friends Gay and Craig, this was definitely small town comfort food. Oh so simple and yet so deicious. The chili dog was spot-on perfect. I loved the shredded cheese and onions on top and the chili itself was just delicious. You could tell the Navy Bean soup was homemade; just perfect for a winter day. No surprises here, just the basics and just what we were looking for. Americana at its best!!!
And for the record, the iconic soda fountain is one of the finest old-fashioned ones that I have visited, right down to the refrigerated cabinets from back in the ’40s and, of course, the phosphate soda handles and ice cream dipping cabinet that contains strawberry & pineapple sauce for the shakes and sundaes along with the old-fashioned chocolate pump.
Oh, and the chocolate shakes, they are to die for. They even serve you the frosty canister with the remaining ice cream shake in it. Word on the street is if you like malts, this is the place with real malt balls.
Nancy plans on adding some daily specials soon and perhaps a Sloppy Joe.
The next time I’m driving around Raytown, I may just have to pull in and enjoy another chili dog and shake at the 78-year-old soda fountain or perhaps just enjoy an old-fashioned strawberry soda, phosphate, root beer float or even go all out and order a chocolate sundae or banana split.
All I know is one thing, I found a little bit of Americana right here in Raytown. This was a great day off indeed. Ahhhhhhh … Nostalgia at its finest!!
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 62-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.