November 8, 2010 – Din w/Vi and Su

The dining room at Sahara

DIN W/VI & SU @ ………

This is the entry that I make every month.  Sometimes I record it on my cell, sometimes in my Palm. 

It’s an entry I’ve made for over 15 years.  It is my shorthand for dinner with my friends Virginia and Susan.  Every 4 to 5 weeks, the three of us get together for dinner at a local restaurant.   We always have good food and good conversation.  Maybe only once have we had an experience we didn’t enjoy.  (I’m not mentioning the name of the restaurant to protect the guilty.)

How did we start?  We met through a mutual friend, back in the 80’s, when I was working at a hotel.  This young man hosted some great parties and social events.  Through a series of separate situations, over a period of several years, our friendships with the mutual friend ended.  But sometime in the mid 90’s, if memory serves me correctly, Virginia thought it was a good idea for us to get together.  So she asked if we could meet for dinner at Jerusalem Cafe in Westport, I think.  The three of us had a good time so we decided to meet a month later.  And we’ve been meeting ever since then.

  • We usually meet on Mondays.  Over time, we’ve met on Tuesdays, Wednesday but for now, it’s Mondays.
  • Most of our choices are locally owned or based but we’ve occasionally visited a “chain” restaurant, along the lines of Buca di Beppo. 
  • We have a dining region.  As far north as River Market.  As far east as Peachtree Buffet on Eastwood Trafficway.  As far south as Overland Park. 
  • We used to meet at 6:30 but we changed it.  We moved it up a couple of times because of my crazy schedule.  We also moved it to catch the 6pm Early Bird Special at Avenues Bistro…and it was worth it.  So now, we meet at 6pm.
  •  Asian, Mexican, Soul Food, Greek, Barbeque, Thai, American Bistro…there are no boundaries to our choices.  I don’t think we’ve done Korean or classic French. 
  • We usually start each meal with a shared appetizer, if available, and finish each meal with dessert.  We are partial to hummus, and when it comes to dessert, we love crème brûlée, bread pudding and almost anything chocolate. 
  • Virginia is usually the one who does it right – she eats a well-balanced meal with a focus on good vegetables.  Susie and I are the ones who go for the fries and things that are cheesy/greasy.  And we are the two who SHOULD be eating right.  But for the most part, this night is one of a few nights each month that I may eat for pleasure instead of just energy.

It’s Monday so our choice tonight was at Sahara on 51st near UMKC.  It’s the perfect spot for college students on a budget.  Or 3 older adults who want good food at a reasonable price. 

Sahara

The order counter at Sahara

 

Although I always look forward to our next location, I was disappointed to hear it replaced the Russell Stover candy store.  They baked some great cookies with those creamy chocolates.  I digress.  The restaurant is part of a new trend – “self-serve” cafes and bistros where food is ordered at a counter then delivered by a staff member.  It’s a great ideal considering a lot of their customers are pocket poor college students.

Sahara's Veggie Platter...something for everyone...or at least 3 people.

We were trying to decide between the falafel and hummus when the young man behind the counter suggested the vegetable platter.  It not only included falafel and hummus but also dolmas, and baba ghanosh. 

Both ladies had the gyro salad.  It consisted of traditional lamb served over a green salad, tossed with a vinaigrette.  Tzatziki sauce was also served on the side.  Since this is simple dining, the salad was served in an old-fashioned melamine boat-type dish.   The soft pita bread was served in a wicker basket.

The layered Gyro Salad at Sahara

I ordered the chicken kebab…with FRIES!  The chicken was formed into a patty and served in pita halves with pickles, tomato and a creamy sauce.  The serving of fries came to the table one of those wicker baskets.  The fries were dusted with a seasoning that added a redish, yellow tint to the fries.  I asked the counter person about the seasoning – it was a seasoning salt but none like any other I’d had before. 

Chicken Kabab sandwich with fries

Sahara must have been hit hard by the college students today because there were no desserts in the glass front case by the register.  There was a dessert square the counter person brought to our table (Susan’s birthday was the 5th) but it not enough to satisfy our taste buds.  It was a small, flat square that reminded me of sweet cornbread in terms of texture and taste.  And it was drenched in a very tasty honey syrup.  We tasted it – it was OK but we then headed off to our next destination to satisfy our sweet tooth.  

Red Mango

We cut through the adjacent parking lot and walked a few feet to Red Mango.  Elliott Threatt is the owner of the shop along with the adjacent Jerry’s Subs.  Elliott and I attended junior high and freshman high school together.  Before going into the sandwich and yogurt shop businesses, Elliott was a comedian, appearing locally and nationally. 

The yogurt station...help yourself!

Red Mango continued our theme of self-serve eating.  Once you arrive at Red Mango, the counter person asks if you’ve eaten there before.  If not, he/she will proceed to explain how it works and also provided you with tablespoon sized samples, served in a small tasting cup.  Once you chosen from more than 8 different flavors, you proceed to the machine, let the yogurt flow into your cup and then move over to the toppings bar.  The cost is based upon weight so you are in control of the portion size of yogurt and various toppings. 

Crunchy, fruity, nutty...scoop it up.

Virginia and I had Cocoa with various fruit and crunch, chocolaty toppings.  And Susan had White Peach – no toppings.  I had a taste of the Pumpkin Spice, which was good despite the fact that I’m not a big fan of pumpkin pie. 

Red Mango has a great concept…something for everyone, all-natural, gluten-free, non-fat yogurt at about 100 calories for a 1/2 cup serving.  And probiotics are added for immune support.  All of this equals good yogurt that’s good for you (just be careful with some of those toppings!)

As always, we ended our dinner with hugs.  Three people from different backgrounds, of different ages, with similar interests.  How ironic that the guy who brought 3 complete strangers together is no longer in the picture.  It’s almost as if we needed him to connect us but we didn’t need him to STAY connected.  What has kept us together is something I find important in all of my relationships –  good conversation, good memories….and good food!

Links

www.redmangousa.com

http://blogs.pitch.com/fatcity/2010/10/sahara_restaurant_opens_in_old.php – Article from the Pitch Weekly, written by restaurant critic Charles Ferruzza

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