Have you ever visited a restaurant solely because it’s highly recommended for one particular dish? Sure you have. We all have.
But what happens if you visit on the day when they’re not serving that particular dish?
If you’re lucky, you’ll experience a happy accident like I did.
My wife, Gay, suggested that we go out for fried chicken. After hearing the words “fried chicken,” it reminded me of a place that I’d been hearing a lot of good things about in the Columbus Park area. People I knew were raving about their fried chicken. I’m not real big on jumping on bandwagons, so I’d held back from going there yet.
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However, this seemed to be the day to try it.
It was early Saturday afternoon. We headed down to Fifth Street, between Campbell and Harrison streets to The North End to see what all of the talk was about.
When we pulled in front of the building, I remember that I had eaten here a few years before; La Sala’s I think the place was called then. As we walked into the cozy spot, we noticed lots of natural wood, a bar to the left, and a menu board on the back wall.
We found a table and pretended to look over the menu. I had my “tasters” set for that fried chicken, after all. But then came the bad news: That fried chicken was only served on Saturday night. So, no fried chicken for us.
Oh no! What to do? I hurriedly looked over the menu again to see what was going to catch my eye. There were many Italian specialties — lobster ravioli, lasagna with sugo, chicken parmesan. But then I found the “Sandwiches” section: A pork tenderloin and a Reuben. Decision made and disaster averted.
As we waited with anticipation for our plates, we noticed the mix of customers. It was a combination of locals and newbies like us who were checking the place out. The common denominator was that everyone was smiling and enjoying their food. That’s a good sign.
The sandwiches arrive, and we ready our knives. Here’s our strategy: Gay and I always split what we order, so we can each taste more menu items at a restaurant. This is a great approach to use when trying something new on a menu alongside something you’ve had before. If the new item doesn’t work out, at least it’s not a total loss.
First, the tenderloin. Now, if you’ve read any of my blogs before, you know I have an affinity for great tenderloins. That also means I have very high standards for this Midwestern comfort food. (You can check out my tenderloin blog here. You’ll see what I mean.) Just at first glance, I could tell that I was not going to be disappointed.
▪ Tenderloin bigger than the bun. Check.
▪ Hand pounded and breaded. Check.
▪ Breading that stays on the tenderloin. Check.
▪ Flavor that would not stop. Check. Check. Check.
“OMG,” Gay said when she pinched off just a piece of the tenderloin to taste. “That is perfect. Let me know when I get to try my half.”
Remember, we’re splitting these things. Her anticipation gets me even more excited to bite into this huge sandwich. And it only took me one bite to tell that they’re doing tenderloins right here.
As I mentioned in my Tenderloin Blog, I’m never trying to replace your favorite tenderloin joint with my opinions. However, if you love tenderloins, you need to give the one at The North End a try. I think it’s excellent.
Now, let’s move on to the Reuben. This showed up stacked high with thinly sliced corned beef, oozing Swiss cheese, warmed sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing, all spilling over the sides of the sandwich. It should almost be illegal to have that much flavor between two pieces of crisp rye bread.
As far as I can tell, this sandwich seems to meet the “Reuben Rules” my friend Derek Owen created:
▪ The bread needs to be rye or marble rye. Yep.
▪ Toast bread on both sides to avoid your thumb pressing through as you pick up the sandwich. Can be done on request.
▪ Melt the Swiss just to the point of gooey- ness (clearly a technical term). Yep.
▪ Sauerkraut should only be on the grill long enough to knock the chill off, and the juice should be used to flavor the corned beef (pastrami is an acceptable substitute). Yep.
▪ True Russian dressing is preferred to Thousand Island. The North End uses Thousand Island — and I loved it.
▪ Corned beef or pastrami should be sliced thin, grilled long enough to acquire a crust, and piled high. Yep.
▪ Any substitutions with turkey or coleslaw immediately change the sandwich to a Rachel. No substitutions here.
So as far as I’m concerned, The North End passes the test.
You see, second to my love for tenderloins, is my fondness for Reuben sandwiches. So I’m looking forward to trying this one. However, I must wait.
My wife gets first dibs on the Reuben since she ordered it. Part of the Rules of Splitting Things. All I’m hearing are mumblings of a satisfied wife. At one point, I swear that she makes some sounds similar to Meg Ryan’s fake orgasmic performance in “When Harry Met Sally.”
This makes every head in the place turn and look at her. I just shrug my shoulders. I’m used to it.
Another part of the Rules of Splitting Things is that I have to wait for her to finish her half of the Reuben before I get my half. This is an exercise of patience on my part. But after 23 years of marriage, I like to think that I put up a pretty good front.
“Oh no. Me?” I say, “I’m fine. Just slide my half over when you’re ready.”
See what I mean? However, the dialogue in my head is more like a raving, starving, lunatic. “Push that plate over here! I gotta try this Reuben!”
“Okay,” she says. “I’ll be done soon. I’m trying to savor every bite.”
I understand exactly where she’s coming from. When it is finally my turn to try the Reuben, I did not display even a modicum of her restraint. With each bite, I was experiencing the satisfaction of the perfect play of corned beef, aged Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing, and the distinctive crunch of the rye.
To be honest, at first I wasn’t sure if it was the anticipation of that first bite that made it so good, or if it was really that good. But it really is that darn good. Eureka! I am so excited to find another good Reuben in Kansas City.
And there’s the happy accident. We came here expecting to have one of The North End’s specialties (Saturday night fried chicken) and instead, ended up finding a place that I would tell you is a “go-to” place for both tenderloins and Reubens. That doesn’t happen very often.
So, if you don’t happen to be at The North End on a Saturday night, don’t fret. They have many other specialties that they should be known for. I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed. You just might get to experience your own “happy accident.” Bon appétit.
Craig Jones is a live-fire cooking expert, the Grill Mayor for Food Network (2012), and owner of Savory Addictions Gourmet Nuts. He’s also a certified KCBS BBQ judge, a student of pizza crafting and an enthusiastic supporter of the greater Kansas City food scene.