By Charles Ferruzza
Alaska is one of the very few of the 50 United States to have a dessert named for it. (There’s also Mississippi Mud Pie and New York cheesecake). The dessert – ice cream and cake encased in a meringue shell — actually pre-dates Alaska’s official statehood in 1959, although there’s some debate as to when and where it was first created.
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I’ve read about Thomas Jefferson serving a version of the delicacy in the White House in 1802, but prefer to give credit to Charles Ranhofer, the French chef at the legendary Delmonico’s restaurant in New York. The dessert was allegedly created in 1867 to celebrate America’s purchase of Alaska from the Russians.
This is a long-winded way to saying that the new C. Frogs restaurant in Prairie Village has revived the dessert, which is more labor intensive than say, apple pie – but not always as good. In my three decades of writing about restaurants in Kansas City, I think I’ve only seen Baked Alaska on one local menu, back in the 1980s. I think it was Jasper’s.
There are several retro dishes – frog legs, the Brown Derby Cobb Salad, a version of the venerable French Dip sandwich — on the C. Frogs menu since veteran restaurateur Forbes Cross, best-known for Michael Forbes Grille in Brookside, became a partner in the culinary venture formerly known as Standees and, later, the Chocolate Frog. (I never dined at the Chocolate Frog, I’m sorry to say; I don’t eat in restaurants that sound too child-friendly).
Cross, who has long championed classic American dishes, joined the restaurant’s owner, Peter Brown, as a partner earlier this year after noting that the two previous incarnations of the restaurant – which adjoins a comfortable movie theater – had problems. Big ones.
“The location was great,” Cross says, “but everything else was wrong. The menu, the décor, the service. But it had potential.”
The restaurant, which has had a warm, appealing (and desperately needed) interior makeover, has enormous potential, now that it’s been transformed into a grown-up venue with adult-friendly food. Cross kept nothing from the previous menus, starting from scratch with a focus on barbecue, steaks and at least one culinary nod to his popular Brookside restaurant: the smoked red pepper pasta.
C. Frogs boasts the Cadillac of smokers, a Southern Pride, which burns a fragrant hybrid of hickory and pecan wood, served with Hillsdale Bank Barbecue sauce – that Kansas restaurant closed this year, but the sauce lives on in local stores and markets – because the former owner, Greg Beverlin, played football with Cross at Shawnee Mission East high school.
“I’m not trying to reinvent barbecue here,” says Cross. “We could have created our own sauce, but why? Our patrons love the Hillsdale sauce.”
The barbecue platters are generous, the meat is smoky and tender and Cross’s kitchen staff (including executive chef Steve Kerner) hand-cuts the delicious fries every day in the kitchen. It’s a classy barbecue joint – what would you expect in Prairie Village? – with a full array of tasty side dishes, including dynamite Fontina cheese scalloped spuds for patrons who need more elegance than French fries.
Cross is serving a cobbler-style version of his best-known Michael Forbes Grille dessert, Sour Cream Apple Pie, and the Baked Alaska, made with Poppy’s Ice Cream (made in Lee’s Summit) and doused in crème de menthe and 151 rum. The alcohol bakes off after the server sets the meringue-covered mound aflame, but the minty, boozy taste lingers on.
Cross remembers his parents ordering Baked Alaska at the former Putsch’s 210 restaurant on the Plaza during his childhood. He loved the theatrical flair of the dessert and when dining with his wife in Minneapolis last year, they rediscovered the once-exotic pastry.
“You almost never see it anymore,” he says. “It was time for a comeback.”
Just like C. Frogs.
Cross will be introducing Sunday brunch at the restaurant – a $15.95 brunch featuring hot entrees and a cold table of salads and peel-and-eat shrimp on October 16.
Longtime Kansas City food writer Charles Ferruzza’s weekly column for the Shawnee Mission Post and Blue Valley Post runs each Friday.