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Sandwich Café Happy Gillis Proves a Satisfying Excursion

[media-credit name=”Annie Savage” align=”aligncenter” width=”650″][/media-credit]It’s impossible to not be charmed by the soup and sandwich wonderland that is Happy Gillis. With it’s whimsical interior and deliciously comforting cuisine with a twist, there’s just no way to resist the lure of this downtown café.

Located in the downtown River Market on its namesake, Gillis Street, Happy Gillis is tucked away in a unique area which many Johnson County residents, such as myself, have left somewhat untouched. Happy Gillis is one of many locally-owned cafés, bakeries and boutiques in the surrounding area that are worthy of exploring. However, its distance from many East students’ homes may also be the reason that so many people haven’t heard of it. For me, the distance between my house and Happy Gillis makes it a place that should be visited on a special occasion, not a place I can go to as often as I’d like (as much as I would like that).

[media-credit name=”Annie Savage” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]When I walked into Happy Gillis, I entered one of the most inviting and quirky spaces I’ve seen in a long time: the first thing I saw when I stepped inside was a huge collection of antique plates that cover nearly an entire wall. An old-fashioned, diner-style counter complete with spinning barstools faced out of one of the café’s many windows, and a couch and set of chairs created a comfortable area for conversation. The café’s tables are complete with sweet porcelain salt-and-pepper shakers that make me think of my grandma’s china cabinet. To add to the fun and laid-back atmosphere, each table is covered in butcher paper and a mug of crayons tempts you to doodle before your meal. An adjacent wall is covered in scraps of table paper that features the most recent “abandoned wall art”, which range from kid’s drawings to the work of some highly skilled crayon artists alike. Even if you’ve never been there before, it’s not hard to feel comfortable inside Happy Gillis.

The cheerful atmosphere of Happy Gillis is matched by it’s friendly and engaging service. When I visited for a late lunch on a Saturday around 2 p.m., which is an admittedly weird time to eat, the service was quick, probably since it was pretty quiet. However, if you came in while the place was busy, it could be hard to get a table, since there aren’t a ton of them. Luckily for me, there was no line when I came in to order at the front counter. Their menu is displayed on a chalkboard behind the counter (behind which you can see your sandwich being made) and after you order, your plate is brought out to your table by one of the friendly servers. When I went, my food probably came out only five or 10 minutes later.

[media-credit name=”Annie Savage” align=”alignleft” width=”150″][/media-credit]As great as the cute interior and friendly service of this café is, that’s not even close to the best part about this soup-and-sandwich joint. Their lunch menu (Happy Gillis also serves breakfast!) includes a variety of classic sandwiches with a twist, like the mouth-watering chicken salad sandwich with pistachios I ordered. From the perfectly-cooked chicken to the toasted bread and salty pistachios, this sandwich couldn’t have been more satisfying. If chicken salad’s not your thing, try the Gillis version of a classic BLT (theirs includes egg salad) or one of their ooey-gooey boulevard cheese melts. If you want, you can even grab a side of the soup of the day or a bag of chips, but come hungry: one sandwich is big enough for two meals, and you absolutely have to save room for dessert.

If you go to Happy Gillis, I honestly don’t care what you choose off the menu. I am certain you won’t be disappointed. But I have to insist that after you finish, you grab one of the café’s brownies. They may look no different from your typical chocolatey treat, but trust me — it might just be the best brownie you ever have. With it’s dense, rich texture, huge chunks of chocolate and ever-so slightly salty chocolate flavor, there’s no way to pass this dessert up. According to urban legend, the brownie recipe is so super-secret that Happy Gillis’ chef must be alone in the restaurant to make them. After asking one of the chefs just how true this myth was, he just laughed as a waitress said, “Come to think of it, I haven’t ever seen a recipe.” Maybe the recipe’s secret-ness was a bit of an exaggeration, but nevertheless, these brownies are amazing.

Happy Gillis’ outstanding success has lead owner Todd Schulte to make his first addition to the “Happy” family, called Genessee Royale Bistro, on (what else?) Genessee Street in Kansas City, Missouri. Genessee Royale also serves breakfast and lunch, and from what I can gather from the online menu, they offer a variety of slightly fancier sandwiches… and a chocolate espresso brownie that I may have to try.

If you’re looking for an excursion out of your comfort zone that’s sure to satisfy your need for a homemade sandwich unlike any of your mom’s creations or a brownie that’s out of this world, then, believe me, you’ll leave Happy Gillis with a happy tummy.

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Hannah Ratliff

Senior Hannah Ratliff is an A&E Page Editor for the Shawnee Mission East Harbinger. This is her second semester on staff. She enjoys visiting new places, watching action movies and being with her dogs. Read Full »

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