I really admire a place when they embrace the concept of Truth in Advertising.
Let me explain. Several months ago, my wife, Gay, and I were trying to figure out where to eat for a weekend morning breakfast. We have the usual places that we hit. However, most of those require a lengthy drive there and back. On this particular day, we just weren’t feeling like making the haul.
“Let’s stay close,” Gay said. I agreed. Besides being a gloomy, overcast day, our schedule needed us close to home.
We drove, we drove, and we drove some more. All around Lee’s Summit. We were dealing with the standard couple deadlock of no clear ideas and noncommittal frames of mind. “Where do you want to go?” “I dunno. Where do you want to go?” You know what I’m talking about. This seemed to go on for quite a while.
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Then, as I turned a corner in downtown Lee’s Summit, there it was. A sign that said “Good Breakfast.” Well, there you have it. We’re looking for a good breakfast; they say they have a good breakfast, so this looks to be the place.
It wasn’t until I pulled into the parking lot that I noticed the lower half of the sign which read: “Main Street Auto and Small Engine Repair.” OK, now this could be interesting. Heck, if I didn’t like the breakfast, maybe I’ll take my lawn mower here. I’m sure it could use a tune up. Who knows?
As we entered the American Garage Bar and Diner (1 SE Fourth St., Lee’s Summit), we were immediately met with black-and-white pictures of celebrities, metal car signs and tons of license plates. And then we rounded the corner and entered the diner itself.
What I saw is hard for me to describe. It was like someone created an interactive museum using items from a salvage yard, a vintage photo archive, car parts, school building scraps and my Grandfather’s garage. I LOVED IT! I could see right away that this place had personality. And boy was I right.
Immediately, we encountered owner Russ DiMaggio, a very friendly guy. “How are you two doing this fine morning?” said DiMaggio as he cheerfully welcomed us. “We’re good. Good and hungry,” I responded. “Well, you came to the right place,” he smiles. “Sit wherever you like and we’ll get you taken care of.”
We looked over the breakfast menu, because that’s what we really wanted. Then I saw it: TENDERLOIN! You see, I have a thing about tenderloins. And when I see one on the menu, I’m probably going to order it.
Since we know there’s a tenderloin in our future, Gay’s going to order the Hashbrown Smothered Skillet Combo to satisfy our breakfast cravings.
And then I see it; disaster. There’s a note next to the kitchen indicating that they’re out of tenderloins. I feel like the time when I thought I was waking up on a Friday morning only to discover that it was really Wednesday morning. Ugh! That was a stomach punch.
“You want a tenderloin? You got it,” DiMaggio says. “I just picked up some fresh tenderloin from the store about 10 minutes ago. Can you wait for us to pound it out?”
Suddenly, the clouds parted on this gloomy day, and rainbows appeared. Unicorns and butterflies filled the room as violins began to playing “Happy Days are Here Again.” DiMaggio’s words have made my morning.
Our food came and we devoured it. Everything was spot on. Just like the sign said — “Good Breakfast” — although I might argue it was great, but I know how modest we Midwesterners can be. The hashbrowns were crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The eggs were cooked to that “just right” over-easy texture so you could mix the velvety yolks in with the other savory ingredients of the skillet. Our breakfast craving was completely satisfied.
And what about the tenderloin? Come on! It was just pounded out and hand breaded not even 5 minutes before it was brought out. The sandwich was wonderful. I’ll add this place to my tenderloin list. We will definitely come back.
As we chatted with DiMaggio (and later met his wife, Mary) another characteristic of this restaurant revealed itself: Giving back. DiMaggio described how they’d just finished putting on a Thanksgiving dinner for those who could not afford a good meal. Another time, they sponsored a fundraiser for a local Lee’s Summit family who needed help with medical bills.
Sometimes I think the word “local” gets overused and sometimes just comes off as a catchphrase. However, I can tell you that this couple epitomizes the term “local” by actually giving back to their local community in meaningful, tangible ways. With people this dedicated here, no wonder the food tastes so good. You can tell that your meal was made with love.
Since our initial visit, Gay and I have been back a couple of times. Most recently, during the noonish hour on a Sunday. I couldn’t decide if I wanted breakfast or lunch, and of course, they had a solution for my persistent indecisiveness. One of the specials of the day was three enchiladas topped with two eggs. That’s what I’m having. Gay ordered the Omelet of Morpheus, which featured Kalamata olives, feta, spinach, garlic and a balsamic reduction. Both dishes were excellent choices.
So if you’re looking for a quirky diner that serves up solid food, and thrives on giving back to the local community, make some time to check out American Garage Bar & Diner (named after local musician Pat Metheny’s album, by the way). After all, this place delivers a good breakfast … a really darn good breakfast. Now that’s truth in advertising.
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 barbecue judge, a student of pizza crafting and an enthusiastic supporter of the greater Kansas City food scene.