Chow Town

Hidden gems can be found on Kansas City area menus

The Big Pig sandwich features sliced ham, smoked pork, bacon, smoked provolone, a mustard BBQ sauce, topped with an onion ring on a cornmeal bun, available at Fiorella's Jack Stack.
The Big Pig sandwich features sliced ham, smoked pork, bacon, smoked provolone, a mustard BBQ sauce, topped with an onion ring on a cornmeal bun, available at Fiorella's Jack Stack. The Kansas City Star

I don’t know about you, but I’m guess if you’re reading this you’re like me and you enjoy trying different things to eat.

I love new recipes, new rubs, sauces, salts, peppers, and herbs, new restaurants — you name it. Heck, when I was producing and hosting my television show, Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert, it wasn’t unusual for me to be trying a dozen different curries in Thailand one week, and kangaroo and yabbies in Australia a few weeks later. I love the variety.

Same holds true when my wife and I dine out. Sure, we have our favorites places like anyone else, but we never order the same dish at the same time and never, well, almost never, order the same dish over multiple visits. All this got me thinking, are most people like me ordering different things all the time, or are they creatures of habit ordering the same standards times after time?

What I found was really pretty interesting. Turns out, when it comes to visiting a couple of Kansas City’s classic venues, customers play it pretty close to the vest, selection-wise. As a result, customers might just be missing out on some terrific “hidden gems” on area menus.

I first posed the question what people order to the folks at Stroud’s Restaurant. We’ve all had the pan-fried chicken, right, but how about the pork chops or shrimp every now and again as a change of pace? Turns out, not so much. Stroud’s told me 95 percent of its customers order the fried chicken and that they dish out about a ton of it every week. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for the shrimp or pork chops and that is a shame.

However, Stroud’s shrimp does have some celebrity support. I’m told Rush Limbaugh, who frequently dined at Stroud’s when he lived here, loves the shrimp. He orders them when he visits and he talks about the dish when he’s on the air. Stroud’s said when he does, the shrimp sales skyrocket.

The pork chops, which I’ve had on a couple of occasions also have a big booster — longtime Stroud’s owner Mike Donegan. Donegan said they’re his favorite. He also said many regular diners who come in daily order the chops as a backup because “not many folks can eat fried chicken more than five times a week.”

Five times a week. I’ll just let that resonate with you a bit as I move on to another Kansas City favorite eatery — Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue.

I reached out to Jack Stack’s head honcho, Case Dorman for some customer ordering insight. Dorman said 80 percent of customers order barbecue compared to grilled and salad items and it’s stayed consistent through the years.

“We’ve made a point of emphasizing the 20 percent, but people still love out barbecue through time,” Dorman said.

And just like Stroud’s, Dorman said customers get stuck on their particular favorites.

“Yeah, one of our greatest challenges is to get people to try something different,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons we started to put some of those other items on the appetizer menu, like salmon, crown and lamb.”

Dorman is especially proud of Jack Stack’s rack of lamb.

“I think we do lamb really well,” he said. “Our rack of lamb is my guilty pleasure, for sure. Also, our fish has that unique flavor profile from the grill and oven. And, I gotta tell you, I think we do salads really well. We’ve emphasized those more and more over the last couple of years.”

Dorman said he’s happy to have so many loyal customers, even if so many of them order the same things over and over. But, on a personal level, he’s a lot like me.

“For me, I like to experience the range the products we provide with a unique flavor profile,” Dorman said.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.

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