As I told those of you that read the last post, I spent part of my Thanksgiving Day with one side of my family, at the Golden Ox. Having been a lifelong Kansas Citian, I was pretty disappointed in myself that I had never been to the iconic Golden Ox. Although we didn't get the full Golden Ox experience, I formulated a pretty strong opinion about the place, and anyone that says that it is no longer relevant.
The smell of coals still smoldering on the charcoal grill fill the air. If it weren't for the thin gaps between the awards and pictures of Kansas City (and the West Bottoms) from yesteryear, you wouldn't be able to tell what the walls looked like. The dining room is dimly lit, but inviting. The whole place is just dripping with nostalgia, and not in some nouveau hipster-esque type of way, but in a great-grandmother's den room type of way.
The clientele were a rich melting pot of young and old, blue collar and white collar, racial diversity, and different socio-economic backgrounds, all coming together for a family meal and to give thanks on this day of Thanksgiving. The place was packed, it was all asses and elbows in there. The waiter told us that they were planning to feed something on the order of 2000 people that day, that sounded absurdly high to me. But sure enough, as we sat there eating, there did not seem to be a lull. There was always a line of people waiting to be seated.
The spread, on this day, was not the standard fare. The offerings were not dissimilar to what you could expect to have at a family Thanksgiving potluck. All of the usual suspects were there, but with a few surprises. Of course there was turkey, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, "salads" (both of the lettuce and mayo based varieties), dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and the like. But this being a steakhouse, there should be no surprise that there was a lot more to offer (meat wise) than just turkey. There was pork loin, ham, smoked salmon and they even shreaded the dark turkey meat so that it resembled something like a shredded/pulled pork, it was fantastic! The smoked salmon was delicious, it was garnished with capers (that I believe were also smoked) and red onions, it really doesn't get much better than that! The shreaded/pulled dark meat turkey was pretty awesome as well!
The sides were good, don't get me wrong, but I believe that most of them were probably brought in (or at least a little bit pre-made and reheated). First of all, they could all be made from scratch, and I could be completely wrong, it has happened before (see Colby Garrelts' Rye). But that being said, this is not the kind of place that I would tell you to go for some killer side. This is the kind of place that thrived during the days when the only side option you had to go with your steak was a potato.
The Golden Ox opened in the late 1940s. Do you know who ate out, in Kansas City, in the 1940s and 1950s? NO ONE! Why would anyone pay to eat something that they could cook at home? The Golden Ox came to prominence by setting up shop right by the stock yards and serving you, literally, the freshest steak that you had ever had in your life. The stock yards have long since closed down, but the Golden Ox remains. I still get the feeling that when I go back for my steak dinner, and a stiff drink, the only side I would contemplate ordering is a baked potato.
Some view the Golden Ox as a dinosaur: slow and unable to adapt to change. I look at this quite differently: while culinary trends have come and gone, the Golden Ox still stands, after those trends have been long since forgotten. While a trendy restaurant like Voltare, that stands right across the street from the Ox, may taunt the powerful creature, none can ever challenge it's resolve. The Ox has stood, unwavering, holding steadfast to its identity, since the day that it was founded. The Ox has weathered many a storm, economic downturns, and floods. None of this has been strong enough to bring down The Ox. In fact, in the front of the restaurant, they hang pictures of the flooded bottoms, wearing it almost like a service man or woman would wear stripes.
In a way, the sign (at the top of this post) embodies the restaurant. It is not new, it is not shiny, it may not have the luster that it once did, but it is still standing, and dammit, it is still important! I don't know if the Golden Ox will be able to take the crown from Anton's as my favorite steakhouse, but I will certainly be back to let them try! In this day and age when steakhouses that people mention as their "favorite" are all chains (M&S, Capital Grille, Ruth's Chris, etc.), you have to go get yourself some local flavour!