It’s been open for three months, and Kansas Citians are still lining up outside of the Columbus Park Ramen Shop.
No, really. I was there on an arctic Saturday night and a dozen people stood outside for an hour, drinking beers and waiting for a table.
This is KC. They weren’t waiting for Chiefs tickets or burnt ends. Folk were patiently and happily waiting for bowls of broth and noodles.
I get it. I like big bowls and I cannot lie. Listen, foodie friends: I know now that the ramen is worth the wait.
But on this Saturday night, I wasn’t in the mood for standing around in the cold. I was at that spot when hunger meets anger: hangry. Josh and Abbey-Jo Eans, owners of Happy Gillis Cafe & Hangout, opened this ramen noodle shop in a 350-square-foot converted garage next door. It was my first time there, and I’d forgotten how tiny that is. It seats about 23 people. On a Saturday night after 6:30, you can expect to wait 45 minutes or more.
Somebody should have warned me — just like people should always be told about Gates Bar-B-Q. There, the woman at the counter yells, “Hi! May I help you?” not out of simple courtesy. It is a command. She’s ready to take your order, and if you don’t know what you want, step out of the way.
When you’re prepared, it’s charming. But when you’re on the outside of this inside joke, it can ruin the experience. So it helps to be forewarned about the Columbus Park Ramen Shop.
There are five rules stated outside the front door of this rockin’ ramen garage. Let me break them down for you:
Sign in when you arrive. Walk in the door and add your name to the list. Leave your cellphone number. Say you are perfectly open to sitting at a community table (dining with strangers). Trust me, the people at your table are concerned only about their ramen and each other. Sit down and get your grub on.
Listen for your name. Maybe you’ll luck out and get a table right away (your best shot is right when it opens at 5 p.m. or during that last hour before closing). If not, hope to wait with the crowd huddled along the walls. If all else fails, order a beer and stand outside. I chose to sit in the warmth of my car. They have your phone number. They even text you an estimated wait time and virtual wait list.
Whatever you do, grab a menu. There are only four options, but you’ll want to be ready to order when your time comes. (I love the Shoyu: chicken/dashi broth, roasted Amish chicken, marinated farm egg, marinated shitake, scallions and the Japanese chili pepper seasoning yuzukoshō.) Oh, always order the daily pickle. It’s an assortment of veggies, fruits and garnishes for your soup. To drink, try the sparkling peach jellied sake. It’s weird but good.
Seating is based on availability, not the order in which you arrive. If a party of four gets there before a party of two, the party of two might get a seat first. These are the breaks.
Enjoy quickly; others are hungry too. I know you’re excited. But this isn’t the kind of place you come to for long conversations and catching up with old friends. The music is amazing. I heard KRS-One’s “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” and Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You,” and I wanted to dance. But this is a quickie. Whether you’re eating with a spoon, chopsticks or you asked for a fork, dig in and get out.
Corie Rast, restaurant manager, says the average dining experience takes no more than 35 minutes (ours took 40). It’s not just about turning the tables over quickly. She says it’s important to eat the ramen while it’s fresh and hot, preferably within 20 minutes. As she says, “slurp loudly and unapologetically.” Do that, y’all. Then wipe your chin, pay and leave.
Come back tomorrow. You’ll want to return, soon. But understand the hours and days are limited. The restaurant, 549 Gillis St., is open only 5 to 10 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays and 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. I’ve been twice this month. On a Saturday, we arrived at 6:30 p.m. and waited 61 minutes. On a Thursday we walked in at 5:52 p.m. and it took only a few minutes to get a seat at a community table. By the time our food arrived, a small crowd was forming outside. But carry-out is an option if waiting just to hurry up and eat isn’t your thing.
For more information, go to ColumbusParkRamenShop.com.