Counter Intelligence

A person can find out a lot about the state of the world just by sitting at a restaurant counter.

Early one morning — about 3 a.m. — I was eating a grilled patty melt at the Town Topic diner at 2021 Broadway when a willowy young man with spiky hair and pink eye shadow sat on the stool next to me, ordered a Coke and announced that he had just seen an alien leaving a flying saucer.

Even though I laughed, I dashed to my car after paying my tab. Just in case.

Much more useful information gets exchanged on Saturday mornings at tiny Café Venezuela (719 Central Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas), where the long counter is packed with natives of Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela drinking owner Jose Garcia‘s dark, sugary coffee and volubly discussing South American politics and sports. I stopped in for lunch one afternoon to eat a fantastic Panamanian chicken stew (simmered with peppers, green olives, potatoes and celery) and blab about the restaurant business.

Garcia pointed to the former convenience store across the street, at 708 Simpson, that housed The Cuban Corner for two years. Owner Jorge Manan closed that restaurant on June 12; a new owner is turning the space into a Mexican restaurant. “I think Jorge was tired of the restaurant business,” Garcia said with a shrug.

Garcia plans to move off Central Avenue himself this summer. He’s eyeing a bigger location over on Sixth Street. And with no competition from his friend Manan, he’s thinking about adding a few Cuban dishes to his menu.

And he was excited about yet another outlet for South American cuisine.

“Have you been to Sabor Brasil yet?” Garcia asked. “Everybody’s talking about it. I’m going tonight.” I had heard about the Brazilian restaurant, which took over the location at 7148 West 80th Street in Overland Park, where Scavuzzo’s Italian Restaurant had struggled (“Good-bye, Cruel World,” November 20, 2003).

The two-week-old Sabor Brasil is owned by husband-and-wife team Fabio and Erica Devasconcelos and Erica’s mother, Eliana Sedovic (the restaurant’s chef) and her husband, John. “We’re serving dishes representing all the diverse parts of Brazil,” Erica says, “but our signature dish is feijoada, black beans with Brazilian dried beef, smoked pork ribs and sausage.”

She recommends chasing it with a caipirinha, that head-spinning cocktail of sugar-cane liqueur, fresh lime and ice. Alas, the last time I had one of those, I saw a flying saucer, too.

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