Aaron Whiteside grew up spending untold hours in Kansas City’s oldest bar and grill, The Peanut.
After finishing classes up the street each afternoon at Visitation School, the six-year-old carried his books to his mom and stepdad’s business at 5000 Main St. Whiteside hoisted himself onto a bar stool and did homework while regulars flanking either side offered scholarly advice between sips of beers and bites of BLTs.
Whiteside shrugs off the unusual childhood experience as part of the deal when your parents own a restaurant.
“My classmates went home to milk and cookies and I went to The Peanut for a glass of lemonade and some chicken wings or a grilled cheese to get my second round of education for the day,” Whiteside, now 39, said. “It was pretty cool.”
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Whiteside remembers hoofing it with his mom, Melinda Kenny, to the former Hen House at 80th Street and Wornall Road to buy package after package of fresh chicken wings to satisfy customer demand.
“Mom and my stepdad, Rich, worked at The Peanut — she was a cook, he was a bartender — and they bought it in 1981,” he said. “Mom immediately put the buffalo-style chicken wings on the menu because they were inexpensive and gaining popularity back then, along with BLTs in honor of my grandpa. The wings took off.”
Of course, so did the triple-decker BLTs distinguished by onions, cheese and mayo. But that’s another story.
The Peanut had only one fryer in those days and Whiteside learned the precise moment to pull the plump chicken wings — christened Peanut Wings — from the bubbling oil and keep the production line rolling.
“It’s not rocket science, but there’s a definite art to it,” he said.
Whiteside has seen it all when it comes to power eating The Peanut’s legendary monster chicken wings and bulging BLTs.
“There was the time an off-duty SWAT team came in and one of them ate 21 wings,” he said. “I saw it with my own eyes. It was brutal.”
And then there was the momentous occasion Whiteside witnessed a tall, lanky fellow cram down a dozen wings, cheesy fries and a triple BLT in no time flat.
That, Whiteside grimaces as he recalls the food frenzy, was a little like watching the hot-dog-inhaling competitors in Nathan’s world-famous contest every Fourth of July.
“I felt for the guy,” he said.
Peanut Wings for the people
Whiteside helped his mom, Melinda Kenny, in The Peanut’s postage-stamp-sized kitchen churn out the wings, BLTs and other from-scratch bar food that patrons wolfed down as fast as servers delivered it. At age 12, he started working shifts and by high school, Whiteside was trained in the details of running a bar and grill.
“I opened the kitchen in The Peanut’s former 76th and Metcalf location and ran the place when I was 23,” Whiteside said. “And then I built the place in the Northland, at 60th and North Antioch, and ran it for three years until we closed.”
Whiteside went on to earn his master’s degree in counseling but The Peanut, and the chicken wings he unabashedly claims are “the best in the universe,” was in his blood.
“Over the years, The Peanut has become known for a lot of things, including the honor of being KC’s oldest bar — it was a speakeasy before Prohibition was repealed in December of 1933 — and for serving really good, home-cooked bar food,” he said. “Heck, I saw people come in, straight from KCI with their luggage, for an order of wings.”
Jason King, a national food-obsessed college basketball writer, recently declared The Peanut at the top of his 10-best wing joints in the country.
Baseball Hall of Famer and Kansas City Royal George Brett loves the wings and Kansas City Chiefs players are Peanut regulars, their giant frames spilling off the restaurant’s chairs as they tackle plate after plate of piping-hot wings, crunching on celery sticks dipped in Melinda’s original blue cheese sauce.
Peanut Wings — and sometimes the BLT — are usually found on “Best of Kansas City” food lists.
“I give my mom credit,” Whiteside said. “Before she and Rich bought The Peanut, she was a caterer. She always had a knack for knowing what people like.”
Whiteside launched a Peanut Wings mail order business in late 2012 in response to countless out-of-town customers who appealed to the Kenny’s to open a Peanut in their town.
“We had people from Florida, California, Des Moines, all over the place, that wanted a Peanut in their city,” he said.
Whiteside woke up one day and had an epiphany: Take Peanut Wings to the people, wherever they might live.
“So I decided to ship those suckers.”
Whiteside and Melinda Kenny whip up their top-dollar, handpicked jumbo chicken wings at the Main Street commissary where two fryers now accommodate the brisker-than-ever Peanut Wings demand. It takes about 25 minutes to prepare eight-dozen wings.
Peanut Wings to be shipped are vacuum packed and frozen and dry ice is added to the box along with instructions, extra sauce, blue cheese and an official Peanut Wings bumper sticker.
“I’m shipping them everywhere,” Whiteside laughed.
Melinda Kenny owns the original Peanut on Main and the downtown location; the Lee’s Summit and two Overland Park restaurants are independently owned. But all serve Peanut Wings, cater Peanut Wings and send orders of Peanut Wings home with take-out customers.
“Just at The Peanut on Main and downtown alone we blow through about 16 40-pound cases each week,” Whiteside calculated. “On a busy night we might use four or five cases.”
Little did Whiteside know that, decades after studying his homework at The Peanut’s bar on Main Street, he would be Kansas City’s Peanut Wings king.
“Have wings, will travel,” Whiteside said. “That’s my motto.”
For more information on ordering Peanut Wings for home delivery, visit PeanutWings.com.
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.