School-cafeteria days revisited
Their plates are no longer segmented, and they can have more than a half-pint of milk at a time, but a few KC tastemakers still find the specter of school lunches past both haunting and delightful. With school now back in session and children across the metro staring at rectangular pizza and Beanee Weenees, The Pitch asked the people who make some of your favorite grown-up meals to remember what it was like to face the hairnet and the ladle of the school-lunch lady.
Cafeteria: Platte County R-3 Elementary School
Platte City, Missouri
What was your favorite school lunch? Chicken-fried steak. It’s my favorite thing in the world. It’s good and crispy. It’s fried steak, for God’s sake. It was on the menu at Rye, but we took it off because I just can’t get the breading to where I want it.
What school lunch would you avoid at all costs? When I was little, we lived in Platte City. They had a chicken chow mein, and it was absolutely horrible. I remember hating it. It was mortifying. I can’t even put my finger on it. We called it “chicken chow snot,” and I’m sure that’s because it was really starchy. It had something to do with the texture not being right.
Where do you go when you need a fix of school lunch today? We used to go to Waid’s all the time, but they just closed. We used to go to Nichol’s Lunch, and they closed that. Two fried eggs and chicken-fried steak and gravy. That’s a breakfast. I have to find someplace new. Breakfast is so hard to find in this town.
Owner, Beauty of the Bistro
Cafeteria: Stanley Elementary School
Overland Park, Kansas
What was your favorite school lunch? Chicken and noodles with mashed potatoes, I think because it just was more of the homestyle thing you’d have at your grandma’s house on Sunday. The rolls were almost like a homemade yeast roll. They always had corn and put gravy on all of it. Chicken and noodles is one of my family’s favorite meals today.
What school lunch would you avoid at all costs? I wasn’t a very picky eater. I do remember not being wild about the hamburgers. We always raised our own cows, so we always had our own home-grown burgers. I did think the burgers were a little foreign to me. It didn’t even feel like it was real meat.
Where do you go when you need a fix of school lunch today? There is a place that is south of where I live in Louisburg. It’s your basic small-town diner: Miss B’s. It’s one of those cafés you walk in and 99 percent of the people there are all from in town. They do the traditional fried chicken and mashed potatoes. I would get that. It’s all really good. There are older women in the kitchen that have probably been doing it for 40 years.
Bartender, Waldo Pizza’s Taproom
Cafeteria: Jenks Elementary School
What was your favorite school lunch? It flipped between chicken-fried steak or anything with tater tots. This is the early 1980s, and anything deep-fried was good. I’m sure the gravy was instant, but it was deep-fried, so it was all good. There’s a kind of alchemy, magic, that happens when you add whatever substance, plus batter, plus whatever oil.
What school lunch would you avoid at all costs? Salisbury steak. If you could find me one person that likes Salisbury steak, I have to shake their hand. Where do I start? It was like boot leather. It was sinewy. It was chewy. Normally, it’s barely recognizable as an animal byproduct. Nothing about it was good. If it had tater tots on the same plate, I might be able to forgive it for a while.
Where do you go when you need a fix of school lunch today? I’m still searching for the right place. Obviously, I don’t eat quite like that anymore. I haven’t been able to find the place that has satisfied that itch yet. I have yet to try Stroud’s. I hear, for the fried food, it’s a good place to start. I have had some pretty tasty fried food at Niecie’s. I think I had chicken and waffles. I would definitely do it again. Every now and then, you find yourself at a place that has a deep-fried gem in the works and you have to go after it. There is plenty of time to eat salads, and I figure I drink enough red wine to counteract it.