Chinese restaurants are nothing new in Johnson County. But restaurants like Overland Park’s ABC Café that focus on regional Chinese cuisine are.
Chef Jacky Lee and his wife, Cindy Cheung, opened the brightly lit eatery in September 2010, drawing both Asian and American diners eager for the Cantonese cooking Lee learned in his native Hong Kong.
“A lot of people now know about authentic Chinese food,” Cheung says. “They’re familiar with it, and they love to try new things.”
There’s certainly plenty to try at ABC. The spiral-bound menu lists dozens of options, beginning with dim sum ($2.88 per plate). In larger restaurants that serve dim sum, trolleys circulate the dining room, stopping at tables so diners can pick and choose which little bites they want.
There’s no way a trolley would fit in ABC’s tight quarters, so you order off the menu instead. It’s still a visual experience — the menu sports color photos of each dish rather than written descriptions of dim sum like siu mai (pork and shrimp dumplings), chicken feet with black bean sauce, scallion pancakes and turnip cake.
Dim sum is available six days a week, from noon to midnight. Cheung recommends that tables of four order six or seven types to share; in fact, she encourages sharing across the menu.
“When you share, you taste more flavors,” Cheung says. “I always push people to order different things.”
Dishes come out from the kitchen in the order they’re ready, sometimes upending the American habit of eating in appetizer-main course-dessert order, but most people didn’t seem to mind on a recent lunchtime visit.
Appetizers ($5.88) range from the adventurous (for me, at least), like hot and spicy beef tendon, sliced thinly to give it a slightly crispy texture, to the comforting, like steamed pork dumplings.
There are soups with noodles ($4.88) and some without ($5.88), like the minced beef and cilantro and the lettuce and fish ball. There is also porridge ($4.88), made by cooking rice in a large amount of water until it thickens and then flavoring it with beef, seafood, fish balls or pork with steamed, chopped preserved egg (also known as a thousand-year or century egg). You can even order a salty fritter stick ($1.88) for dipping.
Chow mein (noodles), chow fun (wide noodles) and fried rice ($8.88 to $9.88) can be prepared with chicken, beef, shrimp, eggs or vegetables. Or, you can go for one of the special dishes ($8.88 to $16.88).
Frying the salt and pepper shrimp in the shell turns it a vivid orange and keeps the meat tender, while the simmering hot pots meld all kinds of flavors, from chicken and eggplant to curried beef stew.
Rice is served alongside most dishes and is perfect for soaking up the XO sauce coating my sautéed squid with carrots and green peppers. It’s a savory and complex concoction, made from 20 or so ingredients including dried scallops and shrimp, ham, dried and fresh onions and ginger.
After that, I sat back to sipped from my loose-leaf hot tea, contemplated ordering some fresh mango pudding off the dim sum menu and caught up on the Chinese soap operas showing on the restaurant’s seven flat-screen televisions. And then reminded myself that I was still in Johnson County.
Anne Brockhoff is a regular contributor to FYI/Food. She blogs at fooddrinklife.wordpress.