Keep it Kosher: The Not-So-Secret Secret World of M & M Bakery and Delicatessen

Img 2238

Photo by Robert Miner

A lot of restaurant owners like to talk about family. Their kitchen staff: family. Their customers: family. Their community: family. It’s become so common as to feel cliché. But when you hear Pat Williams of M & M Bakery and Delicatessen talk about family, there’s nothing trite about it. 

“We really love our customers,” he says one morning. The smell of sugar and yeast is heavy in the air. Wiiliams’ actual family is loading frisbee-sized cookies in rows behind the display glass. It all makes concentration difficult.

“Your customers love y’all,” says one eavesdropping patron. 

Williams puts a hand over his heart. 

You can see Williams’ love for family in the quiet, respectful tone customers use to order their food. You can see it in their patience. You can see it in the way lines form during the lunch rush. M & M is one of the few places where we haven’t actively hated the experience of waiting in line. There’s an air of calm in the room, contagious even to a newcomer, with confidence in the kitchen’s efficiency and the food quality promised. You simply never worry that the time spent waiting will have been wasted.

“We want you to say, ‘I’ve gotta have it,’” says Williams. “Come down to be wowed.”

Diners hesitant to venture to Linwood Homeowners-Ivanhoe for a meal would be wise to listen to him. For years, M & M has catered to blue-collar workers, cops, and the surrounding neighborhood. It has over 1,200 reviews on Google Maps. Despite all that, the place sometimes seems like a well-kept secret. 

Everything about the M & M experience feels like a homecoming. Having grown up in New York, part of that feeling comes from the memories of delis I frequented in my youth. Opened by Holocaust survivor Bronia Roslawowski in 1962, M & M began as a kosher delicatessen, a tradition which Williams and his wife Dorothy have continued since they bought it in 1984. You won’t find pork products or animal fat anywhere on the menu.

Lovers of a ham sandwich might take issue with that, but I promise you that the turkey ham is a worthwhile substitute, especially when it’s stacked high as part of the Hook ‘Em Up sandwich [$9.25 for the sandwich and a bag of chips]. It’s teamed with pepper beef, hot cheese, and American cheese, loaded with fresh vegetables, and delivered on a homemade onion roll. The sandwich is soft and crisp, hearty and light. For those with a genuinely prodigious appetite, there’s the C.E.O. [$16.00 for the sandwich and a bag of chips], a two-and-a-half pound monstrosity built to test the willpower of even the hungriest Citians.

“We drag it through the garden,” says Williams, laughing. “I say it’s big for no damn reason.”

More relevant to M & M’s comforting sense of home than one New Yorker’s nostalgia, however, is the philosophy that the Williams’ have woven into their customer service. While Pat sits with me, our conversation is interrupted constantly. He greets every single person who walks in. I tell him I think that’s wonderful.

“Nobody is a stranger,” he says. “I know my customers on a first-name basis, and even someone who comes here for the first time.” He pauses to think. Then he smiles. “It’s like a birthday. We want you back.”

It takes more than a nice greeting to gain repeat customers, however. On the back wall of M & M is a purple neon sign: It’s about the bread. It’s a cute sign, and appropriate for such a high-quality bakery, but it doesn’t do justice to the consideration given to every aspect of the sandwiches on the menu. 

Take the Reuben [$9.75 for the sandwich and a bag of chips] as an example. The corned beef, sauerkraut, and thousand island dressing between rye bread will be familiar to most people, but it’s M & M’s attention to detail that sets the sandwich apart. It’s stacked high, but just high enough to be manageable if you’re eating in the front seat of your car, as so many patrons do. The addition of pickles and onions is M & M’s deviation from the original version, a seemingly simple choice that I interpret as yet another way for Pat and his family to give just a little more to their customers.

“Eat your vegetables,” he seems to be saying, “and enjoy it.”

Because it’s such a popular neighborhood spot, some waiting is inevitable. You can order ahead of time, on the internet or over the phone, if you’ve got places to be, but I think you should order in person at least once if only to experience the atmosphere. You’ve got to hear Pat talk about his family’s food, and feel the passion for his craft. You’ve got to give your order at the counter, and watch it taken down slowly in beautiful script on old-school order tickets. You’ve got to see other people get their food and think, “Damn, I should have ordered that, too.”

That last feeling hits hardest at breakfast which, incidentally, is the best time to go if you want the M & M experience without a line. I suggest the #2 Breakfast Sandwich [$7.75], turkey ham, two eggs, and American and Swiss cheeses on a soft roll. It’s everything you want in the morning—good bread, gooey cheese, and warm feelings. 

Img 2407

The pastry case. // Photo by Robert Miner

Then there are the pastries.

M & M makes the best apple fritter [$3.50] I’ve had in Kansas City. It’s enormous and packed with fruit, lightly fried so it’s crispy on the outside and pillowy on the inside. Their plain donuts are also not to be missed, so light and balanced that one (or let’s be honest, three) hardly seems like enough. 

After interviewing Pat, I wanted to ensure I got a complete sense of their offerings, so I ordered a baked cinnamon roll [$3.50] (or a Hubcap, an apt name considering the size) and a cherry-filled donut to go. I paid and left. 

When I got to my car, I saw they’d snuck a pecan sticky bun [$3.50] between my chosen pastries. What a nice gesture. But the moment I tasted it, I knew it was more than that.

I’ve gotta have it.

It was nearly perfect, the caramel and pecan flavors complementing the delicate dough without becoming oversweet, a praline in a cloud. Pat knew he couldn’t let me go without trying it. He was looking out for me, ensuring I got the best possible experience, even if it meant giving me something for free.

If that’s not what a family is about, I don’t know what is.

M & M Bakery & Delicatessen is located at 1721 E 31st St., Kansas City, MO 64109.

Categories: Food & Drink