Golden Ox restaurant will be revived by Voltaire owners Gartner and Myers

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Yes, there will be foil-wrapped baked potatoes.

Chef Wes Gartner and his business partner, Jill Myers — co-owners of Voltaire, the bar and restaurant at 1617 Genessee, in the West Bottoms — have learned over the past couple of weeks that people care about baked potatoes. They’ve learned this because earlier this month, they signed a lease on the former Golden Ox restaurant space, at 1600 Genessee, across the street from Voltaire. (Stockyards Brewing Co. will inhabit the south half of the building.) People are excited. People have questions. People want potatoes.

The Golden Ox, one of Kansas City’s most famous steakhouses for 65 years, closed last December. It was considered gone for good until Gartner and Myers decided to bring the famous venue back to life.

“Wes and I used to have dinner at the Golden Ox on Sunday nights,” says Myers, whose memories of the steakhouse date back to her childhood. “We often discussed the things we would do if we could take it over. We never thought, at the time, that would actually happen.”

Myers guides me through the building, showing me how deftly it has been subdivided. The Stockyards Brewing Co. claims, among other areas, the old Golden Ox lounge, with its 20-foot mural of a 19th-century cattle drive. And the new Golden Ox is taking 5,000 square feet, including the original private dining area, the Dillingham Room. The former open grill, at the center of the restaurant, will become the venue’s bar, and the grilling station — which Gartner says will remain charcoal-fired — moves into the kitchen (with a wall removed so diners still see the cooks in action). Stockyards customers will be eating Golden Ox food. The result is something like two antiques in one, with each benefiting from separate, decidedly modern visions.

“Isn’t it a perfect building now?” says Bill Haw Sr., the cattleman who owns the space (and 48 acres of surrounding property). “I hate big restaurants.”

Gartner and Myers watched the Golden Ox decline in its final few years. “I knew things were bad,” Myers tells me, “when a waitress told us not to order anything with bearnaise or hollandaise sauce because they weren’t made fresh anymore.”
“And then the menu started getting smaller and smaller as they dropped dishes from it,” Gartner adds. “I’m not sure, in the last days, you could even get real mashed potatoes anymore.”

So, yes, it does all come back to the spuds. And when Myers and Gartner reopen the Golden Ox in September 2016, the classic potato side dishes will take their places next to — what else — some kind of iceberg-lettuce salad (“probably a wedge,” Gartner says). But don’t look for plastic baskets filled with cellophane-wrapped crackers.

“If we have crackers,” Gartner says, “we’ll make them in-house. We’re planning to bake our own breads, too. This is a really big kitchen. There’s a lot we can do here.”

One of the reasons Myers and Gartner felt comfortable taking on the Golden Ox as a new project, while juggling Voltaire and their successful Moxie Catering, is that a steakhouse menu is essentially timeless — not subject to the seasonal fancies of voguish farm-to-table dining.

“We change the Voltaire menu a lot,” Gartner says. “But once a steakhouse menu is set, you don’t make significant changes to it. The original Golden Ox had certain dishes that dated back to 1949.”

That’s not to alarm Yelp types: Chef Gartner plans to turn his Golden Ox kitchen into an all-scratch facility, even as it turns out what he calls “the classic dishes.” That means, he says, “all the main beef cuts, the baked potatoes, some kind of gratin potato.” He adds, “I want to incorporate some kind of pasta dishes into the menu, too.”

Gartner and Myers plan to keep prices reasonable at their Ox. “This won’t be another Capital Grille,” Gartner says.

It took Gartner and Myers more than a year to ready Voltaire for its 2013 opening, and that space required little interior work. They’ve given themselves much less time to reopen the Golden Ox. The idea is to be open before the American Royal, but there’s much more construction work than they’ve taken on before, including returning the booths and banquettes. They’re still not sure they want to use the Ox’s old tables — “There’s an inch of resin on top of them,” Gartner says — or exactly which of Haw Sr.’s artifacts to put back into service. (“The restaurant’s name and the memorabilia are two of the best assets of the building,” Haw says, casting his vote.)

The Golden Ox’s spacious parking lot is another great asset, but much of that will go away when construction begins on a proposed 230-unit apartment building. Though that project hasn’t been finalized yet, Haw says, “in all probability, it will happen.” Myers says the new Ox is entitled to 200 of the original 900 parking spaces.

The old Golden Ox didn’t need even that much parking a year ago, but the West Bottoms’ recent evolution may yet make the area a restaurant hub. Meanwhile, Gartner says, “This is our own little time capsule down here.”

 

Categories: Dining, Food & Drink