Dining » Fat Mouth

Hotel Fill Ups

The Hotel Phillips makes diners feel right at home.

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Last week, crews of painters, woodworkers, tile-layers and electricians were still touching up the final details in the lobby, ballroom and mezzanine of the Hotel Phillips (12th and Baltimore). The seventy-year-old downtown hotel, newly restored by the Milwaukee-based Marcus Hotels and Resorts, is getting the kind of head-to-toe facelift that any dowager would dream about. The third-floor Crystal Ballroom now looks exactly as it did in the 1930s; its Palladium-style windows, boasting translucent rippled-glass panes, have been uncovered after years hidden behind a 1970s "updating."

In the hotel's lobby, everything is polished and beautiful and up-to-date, except for the heavy brass poster frame near the entrance, which still holds a full-color advertisement for the Walt Bodine Steakhouse. That restaurant, which replaced the Sir Loin Room as the hotel's fine dining room, is gone.

When Marcus Hotels purchased the twenty-story hotel, the company decided that both the steakhouse and the street-level sports bar Hitters (located in the space once occupied by a Katz Drug Store) would check out for good. Later in October, Hitters will be replaced by a full-service bar serving light meals, to be called 12th and Baltimore. "Think cold martinis, cool people and hot hamburgers," says Chris Shaffer, the hotel's food and beverage director.

And while the old Sir Loin Room -- newly minted as Platters -- hasn't changed its seventy-year-old décor (if you don't count the new carpeting and reupholstered chairs), Shaffer is turning the dark, wood-paneled dining room into a venue for a concept so untraditional that none of the other eight Marcus Hotel properties has attempted it.

"It's going to be a challenge, but an exciting one," says executive chef Carl Scavuzzo. "I really think Kansas City diners are going to be attracted to it."

At lunch and dinner, Platters presents a single-price, all-you-can-eat "buffet-style" meal (not including beverages or dessert), served not from a typical steam table but family-style, by waiters. They pop out of the kitchen bearing burnt-orange, white or yellow china platters heaped with four different freshly prepared entrée items. Diners can have a helping of one or all of the items, as often as they wish. And that's after they've indulged in artisan-style breads and rolls (trucked in from Companion Bakery in St. Louis) and helpings from a communal salad of field greens, red leaf and romaine lettuce tossed in the house vinaigrette and served in an amber bowl perched on a metal riser.

"Each day we'll have one comfort food on the platter, like meatloaf," says Scavuzzo, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and former sous-chef at the downtown Marriott. "And a fresh pasta, perhaps. A vegetarian item or a fresh fish, like salmon Chevron with maple-glazed carrots."

An all-you-can-eat lunch at Platters will set you back $9.95; at dinner, the tab runs $16.95. And for $4.95 extra, the servers wheel over a cart laden with four featured desserts (though chocolate mousse and what Scavuzzo claims is "the silkiest, smoothest crème brulee" will be permanent residents). Diners "can have as many desserts as they want, too," Shaffer says.

The restaurant serves breakfast seven days a week from a traditional menu (including its own delicious version of eggs Benedict on buttery brioche), but is pinning its success on the Platters concept. It may take just such a gimmick to lure downtown-wary suburban diners into the urban core. They can check it out without checking in.

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