Hearne: Will the Real ‘Standees’ Please Stand Up?

Chef Patrick McDonnell

Chef Patrick McDonnell

My my, such sensitivity…

I’m talking about some of the reader reactions to Pitch foodie Charles Ferruzza‘s somewhat caustic review of spanking new Prairie Village mini movie and dining plex, Standees.

First, let me say, calling out a restaurant on the basis of poor execution and a substandard finished product is totally fair game. And Ferruzza was right on target there.

Second, based on my recent experience, Standees was in sore need of being called out.

Now on to the quarrelsome commentary by Pitch readers – some with apparent vested interests in Standees or its current chef – which while off topic at times, ultimately proved insightful.

I ate at Standees the first week and the food was excellent.

It was priced well for mid-level, upscale cuisine (think Houston’s) and the execution was all but flawless. A few weeks later I spoke to a Mission Hills woman who’d fallen in love with both the food and the intimate theaters.

So far so good.

However, by the Ferruzza dined there, weeks later Standees food quality had nosedived.

I also experienced that last Sunday evening during the prime dinner hour.

IMG_2275Standees dining room was all but empty – not a good sign.

And while Standees “signature” Steak Bacon Burger was quite good – as was the Peanut Butter & Jelly dessert – my foodie wife got the short end of the stick.

“The restaurant had a nice ambiance, but the food sucked,” she says. “I didn’t like the food and I don’t want to go back there. I had the open-faced salmon sandwich (SALMON GRAVLAX) and it was the oiliest, worst grade of salmon I’ve ever had. It was like gristly and oily and the English muffin it sat on was rock hard – I couldn’t cut it with a knife. And the burnt end meatballs came out cold and your French Fries were stale.”

Nuff said?

Now for the finger-pointing.

Ferruzza wrote that he didn’t blame Standees chef Greg Pickardt, but clearly he got that part of the review wrong.

After years of being on the local scene, schmoozing chefs and waiters, Charles tends to default to being the nice guy at times and that’s quite understandable.

But who else do you blame when your food comes out stale, cold and overcooked (like Ferruzza’s pork chop) and for piss poor service and servers?

Standees Peanut Butter & Jelly dessert

Standees Peanut Butter & Jelly dessert

Is it the menu planner’s fault? Don’t be silly.

At some point the people who cook and/or oversee the cooking and hiring and training of servers have to be held accountable

Trust me, those problems were not in evidence when chef Patrick McDonnell was overseeing things during the launch and when the kitchen was run by two hand trained chefs that were later spirited away by former American Restaurant chef Debbie Gold.

“It’s not the guy who designed the menu’s fault,” my wife says. “It’s the chef’s fault. That menu is not complicated at all. It’s the chef’s fault for not executing the menu.”

Ferruzza’s assertion to the contrary was enough to garner a response from McDonnell:

“Charles – There’s nothing on that menu that a competent Executive chef with a well trained culinary team cannot execute, that I can assure you,” McDonnell wrote. “Both the Sous Chef and the Head Line cook who we trained for Standee’s who left, now work for Debbie Gold at Red Door in similar positions. We do this kind of development work for all the majors and many of their line cooks are of the same level as Standee’s or less. Everything worked extremely well during the start up and in spite of what you may have been told, there have been numerous changes since we left. And yes, you should tell your readers if something is not up to standard but it is unfair to focus in on me and my people for the failings of others without verifying the information concerning me that you may have been given. I would have been be happy to talk to you at any time and give you the facts.”

IMG_2261Again, as a food critic Ferruzza was on solid ground in laying the pipe to Standees.

Where he ran afoul was taking a shot at McDonnell while trying to go soft on the dude actually to blame, Pickardt.

And while Charles did not call out McDonnell by name, the obvious proper journalistic thing to have done was to get McDonnell’s response (since he was wrongly laying the blame at McDonnell’s feet). Because at that point, it was no longer just a review of the food, it was a finger-pointing session.

Now the good news…

I finally made it to Standees to see a movie Saturday and can tell you that the theater operation is first class. And the Standees Sundae – as noted by Ferruzza – is excellent.

I can also tell you that Ferruzza’s words did not fall on deaf ears. In speaking to some of the kitchen staff, I was told that a “Come to Jesus” was held to try and make things right.

My only hope is that the movie dudes running Standees don’t place the blame in the wrong place. It’s an excellent menu, but if the head chef is in over his head, they need to remedy that, not dumb down menu.

The bottom line:

Johnson County diners are very discerning.

They flock to new restaurants, causing one to two hour waits on prime weekend nights. However, once they decide a place isn’t up to par, they abandon ship ultra fast.

Standees made some really good impressions early on and the slowed down summer dining out scene may have given the eatery a chance to make things right before too many minds get made up for it to mount a comeback.

They’d better hurry.

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31 Responses to Hearne: Will the Real ‘Standees’ Please Stand Up?

  1. chuck says:

    I can’t remember when a Ferruzza review wasn’t dead on the money. He always tries to emphasize the positive and never fails to give me a good read on what to expect.

    He is the best food critic in town in my opinion.

    When he is negative, I always think, “Wow, they must really suck.”

    I am gonna go with “Chuck” on this one.

    • admin says:

      From my experience last Sunday, I agree.

      However, Charles didn’t eat there when they were firing on all cylinders before Debbie Gold spirited away the top guns and left the dude in charge that Charles tried to stick up for.

      Blaming a consultant and menu planner for cold apps, overcooked pork chops and stale french fries and English muffins makes no sense.

      Charles is tight with a lot of the waiters and cooks in town and obviously didn’t want to go too hard on the guy, but he missed the mark on that one.

      That menu was working out just fine until the main guys left and Pickardt took over.

  2. Super Dave says:

    I have to agree as well with chuck about Charles and what he reported. I will say I don’t think it was one of Charles’s better reviews either. While being factual I am sure the story seem to stumble along in getting this information to use the readers. To me he went just a little to deep on the behind the scene issues that seem to be taking place. My take on Chef McDonnell was if you can f**k up making a response to a story he did it. You want your side of the story known first call the writer or editor and see about your day in print first.

    • the dude says:

      Yeah, McConnell definitely screwed up the response. Whatever the real problem is the management needs to step in fast and correct it or else they will be eating a ton of money on this deal. We went there over the PV art fair weekend and the food was pretty good save some first week hiccups. I would hate to see it suck for our next visit.

    • admin says:

      Lots of ways to look at that and it seems obvious that Pickardt’s pals rode to his rescue in trying to make McDonnell look bad in the Pitch comments section.

      However, I don’t see it that way.

      McDonnell deserved a call to respond to Charles supposition and he didn’t get one. Plain and simple. The issue went to print and the review was also published online. How else was McDonnell to get his side of the story out to Pitch readers? He’s a respected chef and businessman and no way was he going to let that hit go unanswered.

      If anything McDonnell probably underestimated the anonymous sniping one exposes oneself to in online comments sections. Don’t think for a minute some of those critiques of McDonnell weren’t set up deals. That’s kind of how many of these games are played and we’ve all seen it right here on KCC.

      Trust me, even a Pitch correction would have been weak. Plus they never would have run one because it wasn’t so much a factual error as it was an error of omission.

      I thought McDonnell acquitted himself quite well in his comment. It was short and to the point; there were no problems with Standees food until the two chefs bailed and Pickardt was left in charge. The menu is far from being too extensive and good cooks could execute it easily (as they had prior to the departures).

      Look at the menus at any number of restaurants that are far more extensive and complex.

      Besides, cold, stale, overcooked food is not a consultant’s doing, it’s a problem of the chef’s making.

      And McDonnell should have gotten a call, because if he had, Charles would have learned what the problem was instead of merely speculating on it and presented a more balanced review.

      Make no mistake; Charles got the food criticism part right. Totally.

      He messed up trying to guess where to place the blame.

      • Super Dave says:

        I disagree with you. When does a story go from being about the food to being about the nightmare going on behind the scene at Standees? I really think Charles was trying to just be about the food while trying to leave the politics out of it but failed at doing so. McDonnell isn’t blameless here by any means. In fact the blame goes to almost all who have a anything to do with Standees kitchen up to this point It’s a clusterfuck that shouldn’t have ever happened but it did and has to be fixed if the place is going to saved. A whole other story can be done to expose alone what went wrong here. So Hearne, if you think the Pitch isn’t incline to write such a story then you need to go dig it up and put it out here so all can see what happened.

        • admin says:

          You’re right.

          There really are two stories here to tell. When Charles went in, he went there to review the food, which is what he does.

          Having such a bad experience – especially in light of the fact that my review and Jenee of the Star were largely positive (except Jenee effed up and tried to eat her entire meal on the tiny snack table at her movie seat) – raised the obvious question of why?.

          So after things didn’t pan out Charles took it in another direction and speculated as to why the food was so bad, pinning it on the company that designed the menu instead of the guy who was responsible for cooking it and sending it to his table.

          Frankly, Charles should have contacted McDonnell to give him a chance to explain before publishing. Journalism 101.

          He didn’t and only because McDonnell’s feathers were ruffled did we learn in the Pitch comments section that the people McDonnell had trained – the guys who had executed the menu so well early on – had been hired away and some new guy was the one doing the (dis) honors.

          I have contacted Standees and we’ll see what if anything more they and McDonnell have to say.

          However, at this point we already pretty much know. McDonnell laid out what happened and both Standees spokesman and a kitchen staffer told me a fix is in.

          The only thing that remains to be learned is what course of action Standees now will take.

          But trust me, the odds of them calling me or Charles to say they fired the new chef or are tossing the menu are slim.

          To me, since the place started so strong before the key staff departures, all they need to do is hire someone who – forgive me if this sounds a bit harsh but – knows how to cook and run a restaurant kitchen.

          Pretty simple.

          • the dude says:

            The problem I had was that McConnell was a total prick in his response, Feruzza was just reporting what was told to him by the servers. I have rarely heard of a reviewer talking to the chefs unless they recognize and corner them or a puff piece is being written. Bottom line, McConnell = pompous PRICK in my book.

  3. harley says:

    hearne….theres not a doubt that a place can have an off night.
    To be fair…go back and see what the food is like and see what has happened
    andif the changes made were put into affect. adinner and movie establishment
    during one of the worst summers in movie industry history (lots of big
    blockbuster busts) might have something to do with it. give them another
    chance….I think Charles does that.

    • admin says:

      Valid points, but let’s assume that Charles went more than one time (as did I, thrice).

      And judging from the falloff we both experienced – after my having had and been told of numerous other positive experiences early on – combined with the departure of key kitchen staff and the addition of a new chef, they’ve got issues.

      Serious issue.

      Which McDonnell addressed as well, as did kitchen staffers I spoke with last week and a spokesman for the establishment. In other words, they know they have problems and are on record as addressing them now.

      Give Charles credit for being the spark that ignited things.

      As for the blockbuster movies being bad this summer, Standees doesn’t show those kind of movies anyway. They concentrate on adult fare and Jack tells me their box office numbers have been good.

      You have to remember that Standees is on record as saying that the restaurant needs to stand on it’s own merits. And the movie action is somewhat apart from that. For this place to succeed it has to hold its own as a restaurant first and a place to see movies second.

      It won’t be around long if all they do is fill three tiny theater auditoriums and sell snacks and desserts to moviegoers.

      For example, two out of my three visits there were dining only. As will probably be the next one.

      • harley says:

        80% of restaurants have lousy food.
        talk of the town…135th….horrid
        winsteads….poor at best
        the places in park place…overpriced and short…
        town center….disappointying but its hard to kill a tuna
        salad sandwich
        makers mark…off the mark…
        garozzos (he didn’t invent spidini…) gone downhill especially
        on college…
        restaurants are hurting right now. They’ve cut portions.
        My people at distributorships say they’re using cheaper
        ingredients…less expensive cuts of meat and fish….
        downsizing portions……cutting back on labor and seating
        it a tough business but theres plenty of good ones around
        that have understood that you’ve got to bev consistent
        and good each and every meal or you’ll strike out.
        then you’ve got some great ones in joco……still delivering
        great product.
        just toomany of them for them all to survive!!!!!

  4. bschloz says:

    Stopped in for lunch a couple of weeks ago on a weekday. For a second I thought I stumbled into Leona Yarbough’s.
    Lunch was good — pricey like the Plaza. Took a tour of the Theaters and thought it looked first class to watch a movie.
    Tough call, don’t think I would go there as destination for dinner and movie. Iffy location gonna have to be a neighborhood place. Hope they used OPM

  5. Logic Wins says:

    Superdave strikes again. Talk about “dropping it” someone needs to take his own advice and quit beating a dead horse. Man! You’re everywhere! Do I sense some personal interest in Standees and Pickardt?? Lol

    • harley says:

      you’re right logic….everyone’s an expert today in restaruants.
      hc hasn’t peeled a potato….hasn’t workedas aserver…never
      made adinner in a restaurant….never probably washed a
      dish in a restaurant….never designed a menu….never cooked
      anything in a restaurant….so when he speaks he probably
      speaks as strictly a consu mer. No real knowledge ofwhat ittakes
      to run a restaurant as someone who has been in the industry and
      who has experiencein running ahigh class establishment.
      We usually stick with the higher end restaurants…after seeing all
      those youtube videos I’m very selective about the places we go to.
      and please…the pic of that peanut butter desert looks absolutely
      gross!!!!!!! hearne….try spending a little cash on the wife…
      take her somewhere nice…bonefish…plaza 3….piropos…..I mean
      when you go to movie theatres for food what the heck do you expect?
      Wolfgang PUck??????????????????????????????????????

      • admin says:

        To borrow an old sing lyric, H Man:

        You don’t have to be a weather man to know which way the wind blows.

        I’ll dedicate that one to the smartman, who is up there somewhere no doubt refinishing a hot tub for you to soak your troubled self in if and when you make it.

  6. paulwilsonkc says:

    “Is it the menu planner’s fault?”

    Sure, I’d go with that, the menu planner is to blame.

    And while you’re at it, co-enjoined in the blame is Minute Man, Kinkos, or whoever PRINTED the menu. Yeah, that’s the ticket, blame them too.

    Maybe it’s the ink they used in the menu, or a bad copy machine, but I’d blame them as well; they too are why the food is bad

    Look, I love CF’s writing, but good lord, bad food comes from bad cooks, bad sous chefs, bad chefs, bad prep assistants and or sub-par quality food from the supplier.
    Not to mention food that sits under the “lights” too long before it gets to your table.

    Where’s David Hayden when you need him?

    • David Hayden says:

      “Mr VanGogh we hear you are the finest artist in all the land, therefore we would like to hire you to paint a replica of this work by Rembrandt.”

      Chefs have styles just like any other form of creative individual or person asked to do subjective work. Inheriting another chef’s menu sucks because it isn’t yours. Within the industry we don’t judge a chef by the combination of flavors created by another chef. The complaints were about flavors and not execution. Charles reasonably gave the current chef a pass. It would be like if Hearne hired me to replace Craig and asked me to do so in his style. I could lie and use atrocious grammar, but I wouldn’t want it to be what my writing capabilities were judged by.

      Likewise, I am sure Charles will put great stock in Hearne’s lesson in journalism. How many calls did the Harmon family get to put in their thoughts on his story?

      • admin says:

        Ah, how quickly you forget.

        The “Harmon family” was unreachable and not commenting. Especially at the peak of the news and rumor reporting going down in the immediate aftermath of his suicide.

        I did however talk to several sources on and off the record and reported the rumors and then amended them as more details came to light. CNN, The Star and every major media does exactly the same on breaking stories, waiter dude.

        As for chefs preferring to prepare their own menus, are you kidding? You think when a chef is hired at Houston’s, Capital Grill or 99 percent of the quality, established restaurants out there that they’re allowed to create their own menus.

        Very insightful comment…not. Besides it’s Harman not Harmon, my good journalism consultant. I remember when you chided me as well on the Pitch scooping that the two gay dudes had bought Jardine’s.

        Uh, never happened, did it?

        Yet that “report” remains to this day – uncorrected – on the Pitch website. While one of the two “Jardine’s owners” cools his heels doing slam time.

  7. Skippy says:

    If the food at Standees is anything like the Red Door, I will assume its awful. McDonnel should not be boasting about how good his food or the training of his chefs/cooks is if he has had a hand in the Red Door.

    • admin says:

      Debbie Gold is the one who’s hand is in the Red Door and she spirited away the two guys McDonnell trained that were running the show before the food went south via the replacement killers.

      Unfamiliar with the Red Door, but they hired Gold to make it better

  8. Blythe McDonnell says:

    To “the Dude”, If you are going to call someone a prick you can at least get their name right. It is McDonnell not McConnell. It’s extremely rude to use such language especially when speaking about someone you have never even met. I guess your parents never taught you any manners. I am fortunate my mother and my father, the prick you speak of, did.

  9. admin says:

    Sorry dude, but your comment was out of line, so off to the trash can it goes.

    • the dude says:

      I don’t follow, I did not use any extreme vulgar languauge to Ms. O’Donnell’s response. Like I said I call a duck a duck when I see it. Her father made the mistake of airing out his grievances in the public blogosphere when Feruzza did not mention his name at all- AND he is well removed from the situation at hand. Then he proceeded to throw everyone under the bus and basically called out Charles as a rube. He could have just sent a nastygram directly to Charles and kept out of the discussion but apparentley his ego just had to take it to the blog to punk everyone but him. That in my book puts you in the jerk category.

      The real problem here is that the current management and chef is to blame for the current problems and this clown has nothing to do with it (the current food situation), but his ego forced him to personally comment on the blog and trash anyone and everyone in his wake. I don’t have to personally know the guy to know those kinds of punk moves makes you a jerk at best.

      How ’bout that? A little better?

      • admin says:

        Yeah, that’s a bit more civil, thank you.

        Here’s the bottom line though to me. McDonnell is a respected, nationally known chef who runs a company with a gold-plated reputation. Maybe throwing himself to the comments section wolves was unwise, but he’s hardly an egomaniac.

        Unlike Charles, I’ve met and interviewed him.

        And while Charles didn’t name him but anybody with half a clue – perhaps with the exception of a few among in the general public or comments section who haven’t been following the reporting on Standees – it was clear who he was referring to.

        So that’s a very weak argument. Anybody in the know or following Standees either knows or is in a position of finding out who Charles was dissing, so that wouldn’t have passed muster with a real editor.

        The Star for example would have required Charles to either take that reference out or call McDonnell and try and get a comment from him.

        I personally don’t think McDonnell was throwing Standees under the bus as much as he was explaining that they were in difficult straights because of the departure of the key players.

        It doesn’t take a restaurant expert to figure out that when chefs are hired it’s up to them to deliver the goods, not toss out the menu and cook whatever they think is best.

        As I said above, when you are hired by the Bristol, for example, you are hired to turn out whatever is on the Bristol’s menu, not screw it up and claim it’s a bad menu.

        What’s so hard about not serving stale French fries, bad salmon, cold meatballs and dried out pork chops?

        That’s a menu design flaw issue? Please.

        • the dude says:

          OK, Charles made the mistake of attempting to pin it on the CONsultant and the CONsultant made the mistake of responding publicly and in my mind not the best manner when he did. We can agree on that.

          • admin says:

            We’re close.

            I think the consultant’s was the far lesser sin. Arguably an error in judgement but nothing approaching the scope of a couple of the Pitch commenters that hammered him.

            After all, what choice did he really have to try and set the record straight?

        • paulwilsonkc says:

          I have a great deal of respect for what my friend Mr. Hayden does and I have always read and took as gospel what Charles has said about a restaurant, good or bad, and found him to be, almost without fail, dead on the money.
          I found it funny and paradoxical when David wrote; “Mr VanGogh we hear you are the finest artist in all the land, therefore we would like to hire you to paint a replica of this work by Rembrandt,” as I just finished watching Chelle virtually duplicate Starry Night as part of a collage she painted on a large scale piece of furniture for a client. She both loved doing it and it couldn’t be distinguished from the original, or at least the portion she duplicated. So I got a chuckle out of that.
          While both of these men have, without a doubt, forgotten more about the business than I will ever know, here’s the main thing I don’t understand about the comment of a Chef working from another person’s menu and how much that sucks for the Chef in residence.
          I get stuck in ruts at restaurants. I love the same places; I eat primarily the same menu item at each place I go. We have a favorite Mexican joint. They have had the same menu for 3 years. If you look back in the kitchen, it’s Chef du Jour on duty. They come and go through the revolving door of the kitchen as fast as Harley’s threats of law suits and visits to “Fedurul Cort.”
          What stands out in my mind is the food is 100% consistent. Now, I understand morphing the same 5 ingredients into 35 different menu items must be much different than what happens in the kitchen of The Majestic, or Standees, but can you really blame food issues on Chef Tom having to cook off a menu developed by Chef Paul? I don’t get it because I’ve seen the flip side of that coin.
          I treasure my family recipes and I can cook them identical to how I remember them, and I’m not Edith Ferguson, it was her recipe, not mine.

  10. Hot Carl says:

    I’ve worked with Charles and have always liked him but he does have a personality that veers from charmingly nice to mean and vindictive in about the time it takes for someone to tie their shoe. Very odd guy but I do like him and his food reviews.

  11. admin says:

    I think he did a great job on the review itself, he just got sidetracked on trying to figure out why some of the food sucked.

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