Cafe Reviews

Kitchen Kaboodle

You know the part of you that never stops being seven years old? The part that can suck up spaghetti in lengths more appropriate to transatlantic cable? The part that can trickle-drink an entire large Coca-Cola by maneuvering a finger over the end of a plastic straw?

Well, hurry that part over to K's Family Restaurant some evening and let yourself be young again. Here's the restaurant that everyone from Denny's to Debevic's is trying to re-create. But stripped of the large advertising budget, the carefully created ambiance, the cute kitsch and the relentless salesmanship of these other places, K's presents the homestyle concept's edible kernel of truth.

K's is nothing more than huge portions of decent mom-food served at incredibly reasonable prices. You don't get tony thematic atmosphere or fancy nouvelle-nursery food. What you get is a place where mom doesn't have to do the cooking and where it's fun, not a federal case, when little sister inevitably knocks over her Coke glass.

Upon arrival at K's, it will be readily apparent that this is no visit to Vincent's. Nestled amidst fast-food chains and discount shoe emporiums, the decade-old K's looks like it has been there for at least several hundred years. If Jaguar-packed parking lots leave you jaded and, conversely, a passel of rusted-out pickups gets your culinary motor revving, you just won't find a more appetizing embarkation point than this.

The salvage motif is continued inside the restaurant, which is done in an assortment of industrial-age brown plastic materials. Observant types will notice the de rigueur soda fountain counter, the short-order kitchen window, the dessert display case that is a living monument to polyurethane wrapping and the almost maniacally consistent tilt of every picture in the restaurant. Even fairly oblivious folk are likely to notice that they are freezing to death, and it is devoutly to be wished that the same people who wired the air conditioning in this place are available to do the job if Phoenix ever gets a domed stadium.

After you are seated, a waitress immediately appears with a pot of hot coffee. K's is the sort of restaurant where denial of this drink is looked upon as a vaguely un-American act. So let her pour you a cup which, even if you don't drink coffee, can be held to keep your hands warm while you look over the menu.

The menu itself is a guaranteed smile. Even though it's rather lengthy, you can probably recite most of it before you even look at it. Tuna melts, cheeseburgers, chicken-fried steak, meat loaf, fried shrimp, tacos and breakfasts (served 24 hours a day) are just a small sampling from this everybody's favorites bill of fare. There's an appealing list of "kiddie specials" and every evening features some sort of all-you-can-eat promotion like spaghetti (Monday/Thursday--$3.69) or fried chicken (Sunday--$4.59).

On a recent evening my party selects liver and onions, sirloin steak, veal parmesan, a tostada, a taco and a "kiddie" portion of spaghetti and meat sauce. The first three items come with soft dinner rolls and a choice of soup or salad bar. This evening the soup is a good homemade thick navy bean, pleasantly smoky and studded with bits of ham, celery and carrots.

As for the salad bar, it doesn't really quite feel comfortable in this place, although I suppose it's a necessary concession to modern times. In any event, it's the sort of salad bar that's light on fresh vegetables and loaded down with starchy salads like potato and macaroni. A shredded carrot salad with a creamy cinnamon dressing gets a nod of approval from my wife, who eats it off my plate before I can get a taste but swears her evaluation can be trusted. A special moment in this meal comes right before the arrival of our main courses when our waitress delivers an assortment of condiments to the table. Included are Hunt's ketchup, Heinz 57 Sauce, A.1. Steak Sauce and Lea & Perrins Worcestershire. This is exactly what you don't get from big corporations in which the accountants are running the show and extensive name-brand generosity strikes the financial vice president as ill-advised.

As it turns out, the sirloin steak and the liver are quite palatable even without the Worcestershire. The liver, in particular, is pounded nice and thin, cooked to a still-tender degree of well-doneness and dressed with a generous portion of sliced sauteed onions. I like it because it still has a little of that earthy liver flavor without being at all rank.

Both steak and liver come with generous sides of carrots and mashed potatoes, although the latter is one of the evening's disappointments. These are instant mashed, reconstituted with too much water and served with a tasteless grayish-brown gravy. Rather wonderfully, however, the restaurant gives the option of refusing potatoes whenever they are included in a meal in exchange for a fifty-cent menu price reduction.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Steven Weiss