By Charles Ferruzza
It really wasn’t until the restrictive Liquor By the Drink laws changed in Kansas in 1987 – laws that had been on the books since 1881 – that restaurants on the Missouri side of the metro began making inroads into Johnson County by opening satellite branches west of State Line Road. And vice-versa.
True, the Gilbert/Robinson empire had opened some of their successful concepts, like Annie’s Santa Fe, in Overland Park, but they were forced to operate in those days as “private clubs” for patrons who wanted a cocktail or a glass of wine. (For years I held on to my stack of cheaply-printed “club cards” from various venues until I finally stopped drinking).
These days, it’s not unusual to find restaurants that started life on the Kansas side opening new operations on the Missouri side (Nick & Jake’s, for example, or the Salty Iguana). One of the first Thai restaurants that I remember in the metro was Bangkok Pavilion, still operating nearly three decades later (but under different ownership) at 7249 West 97th Street in Overland Park.
In the earliest days of this restaurant, the dining room boasted a beautiful and sassy waitress named Ann Liberda who didn’t take long to open her own restaurant, the original Thai Place at 9359 West 87th Street in Overland Park. She later opened several satellite restaurants on the Missouri side, including an ill-fated downtown spot in the old Western Union building on East 7th Street and a Westport location at 4130 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The latter venue, situated in the space formerly occupied by the original Classic Cup restaurant; this version of the Thai Place lasted for 20 years.
A new Thai restaurant opened in the Pennsylvania Avenue location last week and the name may resonate with Johnson County diners. Restaurateur Michael Brillhart had opened his first restaurant, Sweet Siam in Lenexa in 2012. Instead of opening a second location of his popular dining spot in Missouri, he opted to close the Lenexa location completely and move his entire business to Westport, taking over the shuttered Thai Place building.
It’s too early, really, to make any honest judgement about the ten-day-old restaurant; the service is awkward and inconsistent – a little serious training would do wonders in this dining room – and the cuisine, which seemed nearly magical in Lenexa has lost some of its luster in the move.
Still, Brillhart is a hands-on restaurateur and really made something special out of that unassuming Lenexa location that I didn’t think was possible.
I’ll wait a bit before returning until the kitchen crew is operating on all cylinders: when the food is good at the new Sweet Siam, it’s very good. And when it misses, it’s lousy; an order of “crispy tofu” not only wasn’t crispy, it was as rubbery as a sponge and lukewarm to boot.
The prices, just as they were in Lenexa, are very reasonable and if the new dining room lacks the sleek sophistication of the Kansas location, it has a lot of potential. And Westport is lucky to have another familiar local brand setting up shop here.