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USA: Kansas City

Ev’rythin’s Up To Date In Kansas City

by Robert Glaze

As Rogers and Hammerstein’s lyrics for the song from the musical Oklahoma imply, everything is totally up to date in Kansas City! I am from St. Joseph, MO just to the north and enjoy visiting Kansas City at least twice annually. I love trying new restaurants, checking out some new BBQ spots and seeing great art. It is the perfect spot for a solo trip, a girls’ weekend or for a romantic weekend away. My top recommendations for a fun weekend getaway include:

Where to Eat in Kansas City

As a well-known meatpacking city with large stockyards, Kansas City became a destination for barbecue pitmasters. It attracted the families of Bryan, Gates, Boyd, Harris, and Thompson. Therefore, a barbecue culture emerged that is still prevalent today with over 100 restaurants in the metro area. Now, each time I head back home, I try to make a point to check out new spots on each trip.  My favorites include.

Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, formerly Oklahoma Joe’s Bar-B-Que, is a popular barbecue restaurant located in a working Shamrock gas station at 3002 West 47th. It is one of the most famous of the Kansas City barbecue restaurants. Make sure to go early as the line starts forming well before they open at 11 am. They have a wide variety of sandwiches and dinners. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Putting it in the company with the French Laundry and El Bulli, Anthony Bourdain named Joe’s one of the 13 places to eat before you die”.

Q39: Make sure to book your reservation beforehand online, since this restaurant featuring barbecue and wood-fired grilling, is packing them in. I loved the casual, contemporary atmosphere and great food. Open for lunch and dinner, I enjoyed a business lunch. They offer a large selection of sandwiches, salads, soups, brisket burgers, BBQ lunch plates, and sides. 1000 W. 39th.

LC’s Bar-B-Q is located at 5800 Blue Parkway east of the Country Club Plaza. This is a popular spot that has been featured in a number of articles on the best BBQ in KC. I enjoyed the casual atmosphere and the food. Their meats include beef, ribs, ham, turkey, and pork along with sausage, chicken, shrimp, burnt ends and chicken wings. The menu includes sandwiches, sides and combination platters.

Other great restaurants to visit include:

Chef Vaughn Good left his butcher shop/restaurant in Lawrence to open Fox & Pearl. It is located in a historic building at 2143 Summit St. on the westside. It has a wood-fired hearth that is the centerpiece of the restaurant and his menu. It was named 2019 Restaurant of the Year by Kansas City Magazine. Kristine Hull, the owner, designed the interior using reclaimed architectural details. I enjoyed meeting her and loved my brunch. Good was recently named a Semifinalist for the 2020 James Beard Award for Best Chef Midwest.

Located in Westport, Bluestem is one of the best restaurants in Kansas City offering what they bill as progressive American cuisine with seasonal and local. I enjoyed the restaurant for Sunday brunch. It had a good selection of brunch items, served in a bright dining room. The service was excellent. The dinner menu comes highly recommended as well. The chef/owners, Colby, and Megan Garrelts, met at the well-known restaurant Tru, in Chicago, and opened the restaurant with great acclaim in 2004. Colby Garrelts is the 2013 James Beard award winner for Best Chef Midwest and received Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef recognition in 2005. Both have been featured in an article in the New York Times about great food outside the big cities.

North of Westport is The Russell. I read about this new spot, in a rustic setting, as a new go-to place for lunch and made a point to visit it on my most recent trip. Open for lunch and brunch they are known for their food and pastries. They specialize in wood-fired cooking with most dishes cooked over an open flame.  I loved the green pear salad and also the salmon and avocado toast. The tomato and burrata toast also looked great. I highly recommend that you stop in while in town.

One of my favorite spots to eat, particularly during the Holidays, is Webster House. At 1644 Wyandotte, this is an old school that has been turned into a wonderful store and restaurant. There are several rooms to choose from. I love the bar and the area near the kitchen. It is right across the street from the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, so it is a great spot before or after a performance.

In Mid-town Kansas City, The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, opened in 2010 in a historic building that was a hotel from 1915 and also home to one of the largest whiskey distributors in the country before it was shut down during prohibition. The dining room has a historic, yet contemporary feel and offers a menu featuring local farm-to-table items. There is a fun cocktail lounge/speakeasy in the basement called Manifesto, which you enter from the alley in the back. Esquire Magazine has named it one of the “Best Bars in America”.

Grunauer, in the Crossroads District, is a really good restaurant for Austrian specialties that is open for lunch and dinner. Their original restaurant is still serving similar food in Vienna. They also serve Julius Meinl coffee which they get from their location in Chicago. The atmosphere is warm and very European. It is located at 101 W. 22nd St., next to Lidia’s and Jack Stack Barbecue – Freight House which are also great choices.

Recently opened just west of the Plaza is The Restaurant at 1900, located in an iconic building from 1966 that was the former headquarters of H.D. Lee Jeans. It has since been remodeled into offices, the restaurant as well as performance, event and conference spaces. There is a roof terrace as well. I thought the design was really outstanding. The food and service were excellent. I highly recommend that you try it when you are in town.

Recently moving from the East Bottoms to the River Market at 20 E. 5th St., the Local Pig is a butcher shop featuring a large selection of local steaks, roasts, chops, sausages, burgers, and charcuterie.  You can eat there and choose from an expanded menu of sandwiches at their Pigwich concept from brisket and pulled pork to burgers, fries, and desserts. It is located in a much larger space including a 300-seat outdoor patio. I was just back at the new location and enjoyed the sandwich with the smoked pork, slaw and barbecue sauce.

On my last trip, I had lunch on the way to the airport at Happy Gillis Cafe & Hangout, known for their sandwiches, toasts, salads and breakfast items. I had the best grilled cheese sandwich with brie cheese, an apricot mostarda, fresh apples, and arugula! I loved the casual atmosphere. Just be aware it can be crowded as it is very popular.

Across the street is a fun new find, The Campground. This is a casual, farm-to-table restaurant that opened in late 2018 in the former Genessee Royale Bistro space at 1531 Genessee St. I enjoyed Sunday brunch with my cousin after my niece’s wedding the night before. It has a fun, casual atmosphere and good food. Located in a former gas station, the old garage doors can be opened in the warmer months.

EJ’s Urban Eatery, in the West Bottoms, is open for lunch, Happy Hour and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. What a great experience! The E is for Erik J. Gaucher, a leader in the wealth management industry, who is a newcomer to the restaurant business. The J is for John Smith, a Chicagoan, who has worked in a number of the best restaurants in Chicago and NYC. Located in a 100-year-old brick building, the focus is on a modern version of the traditional Southern comfort food concept known as a Meat and Three. I had a really great lunch with a platter of smoked brisket along with green beans and the squash casserole. I also had a great conversation with John Smith. I will definitely go back!

Spirits, Beer, Wine, and Cocktails

The J. Rieger & Co. Distillery was originally founded in 1887 in Kansas City, it was a distillery with over 100 different products. It closed as a result of Prohibition. It was reopened in 2014 by members of the Rieger family and produces products including a Kansas City Whiskey, a Midwestern Premium Vodka, a Midwestern Dry Gin and a Caffe Amaro made in conjunction with a local coffee roaster. Their spirits can be found in some of the best cocktails in Chicago, New York and New Orleans including the Aviary in Chicago and Manifesto, at the Hotel Rieger in KC. Make sure to stop in to pick up a bottle or sign up for a tour or a special event. Check out their website for details. Their expanded tasting room opened in the Spring of 2019 at 2700 Guinotte Ave. in the East Bottoms.

Tom’s Town Distilling great new addition to downtown Kansas City and was the first legal distillery since Prohibition. It draws inspiration from the country’s most polarizing and corrupt political boss,Tom Pendergast, and is named for him. They feature and produce Pendergast’s Royal Gold Bourbon, McElroy’s Corruption Gin and Ely’s Strongarm Vodka. Tours are available and their tasting room/bar features craft cocktails using their spirits as well as a food menu. I enjoyed my first visit and loved the decor and the great old fashioned. 1701 Main.

Monarch Bar is located on the west side of the Country Club Plaza at 4808 Roanoke Pkwy. This is a sleek, contemporary bar serving craft cocktails and small plates. They have a nice patio for the warmer months, but I loved the atmosphere inside with its wonderful art and design. I found it a great spot to have a drink before dinner on the Plaza or the surrounding area.

Amigoni Urban Winery: Their attractive tasting room and wine storage facility is located at 1505 Genessee. They grow their grapes in central Missouri and feature Rhone-style wines and no sweet wines. There are reds, whites and a rosé. You can also taste beers produced by Boulevard Brewery a short distance away. The building housing production and additional storage is a few blocks away. I really enjoyed the Urban Blend which is a smooth red featuring Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot aged for 14 months in oak barrels. Their Cabernet Franc was really good also. It is their signature grape and number one seller. It is aged for 18 months in white oak barrels. Cheese plates and other plates are offered along with the tasting.

Stockyards Brewing Co. is also located in the West Bottoms in the historic Golden Ox building at 1600 Genessee St. The Golden Ox was started in 1949 and was the top steakhouse in town. After they closed for good in 2014, Stockyards Brewing took over in 2015 and has kept the historic bar intact. This is a fun spot to taste one of their ales, lagers, pilsners, stouts or porters. You can also have a cocktail and a snack. The classic decor and old murals are well worth the visit.

Green Lady Lounge is the popular jazz club with a warm and cozy atmosphere, that offers live music 365 days a year. The walls are painted a velvet red and decorated with vintage oil paintings. So grab a great Old Fashioned and listen to some wonderful music! They often have three or four groups a night. So you can go early or late. They also have a performance space on the lower level. 1809 Grand.

Where to Stay in KC

I suggest the boutique Raphael Hotel or the larger Intercontinental both on the Country Club Plaza as great places to stay. Also great is the sleek Fontaine Hotel, also on the Plaza. This boutique hotel has a contemporary restaurant, the Parker, and a bar on the top floor, with great views. Stop in for a meal, drink or cup of tea. There is a lobby bar and a restaurant where breakfast is served.

Recently opened downtown is the 21c Museum Hotel Kansas City. I am a big fan of this small boutique hotel group. I have stayed in their Bentonville, AR, Louisville, KY and Nashville, TN locations and eaten in the Lexington, KY hotel restaurant. They took over the former Savoy Hotel that from the early 1900s was a popular destination for those arriving in Kansas City by train. 21c has totally renovated the rooms and expanded and reopened the famed Savoy Grille at a total cost of over $50 million.

Located in the Crossroads Arts District, the Crossroads Hotel, is a recently opened boutique hotel. Located in a historic building, it has a sleek contemporary design. It has a number of room choices plus has its XR Cafe for coffee, drinks and food in the lobby, the more formal Lazia Restaurant for Italian food and its Percheron Rooftop Bar with great city views. It is a great addition to the city.

The Southmoreland on the Plaza is small B&B located in a great spot near the Country Club Plaza and the KC art museums. I was to stay there on my last visit but unfortunately had to cancel. I look forward to visiting in the future. 116 E. 46th St.

What to See and Do

The Country Club Plaza was the first shopping center in the US built by J.C. Nichols and opened in 1923 in a Moorish style similar to the buildings you might see in Seville Spain. It is not enclosed but is a 15 square block area filled with fountains, restaurants, cafes and great shopping. Many of the local stores have been replaced by national specialty stores. If you can see it at Christmas, the Plaza is at its best with colored lights outlining every building and covering every tree. It is a magical place to visit at this time of year with one of the most festive holiday traditions in the country.

Crossroads Arts District, just north of Crown Center, is a newly emerging arts district. Here you will find a number of galleries, restaurants and a new boutique hotel. There are art walks in this area the first Friday of every month.

I recently went back to 18th & Vine, the area, east the Crossroads Arts District, where Kansas City jazz is the focus. There are several jazz clubs including the Blue Room at the American Jazz Museum at 1600 E. 18th where you can attend weekly live music performances. The American Jazz Museum has great exhibits on Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and others as well as the history of jazz. Also in the same building is the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum which is really interesting. I was not aware of this part of sports history until I went. 1616 E. 18th St.

Harry S. Truman Library and Museum: The short drive east to Independence MO to see Truman’s Presidential Library is well worth the effort. The displays and exhibitions are excellent which include a recreation of his Oval Office in The White House. 500 W. US Highway 24. His home a few blocks away is open for visiting and is a National Historic Site. Another historic site is the National WWI Museum and Memorial just south of downtown KC.

The River Market, an area along the Missouri River, just north of Downtown, is now a growing residential neighborhood with new condos and lofts, new restaurants and coffee shops. The anchor of the neighborhood is the City Market. There are many food options in the market from Kansas City Barbecue, Chinese (Bo Lings) and Vietnamese. There is an Italian grocery, a great bakery, and vendors selling local produce. There is a Farmers Market every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year.

The West Bottoms is an emerging area just west of downtown. It was the old central market dating back from the early 1800s. Today the old, warehouse buildings are being redone. Here you find centered around the Hy-Vee Arena, a number of restaurants, an urban winery, many antique stores and new microbrewery. There are approximately 20 stores featuring antiques, vintage finds, and architectural artifacts. Many are open only for the First Friday Weekend of the Month event where you will find special sales events throughout the area. One of the most popular spots for shopping is Bella Patina, which has three levels of vintage furniture and antiques.

 The Arts in Kansas City

There are major museums to explore along with great theater, opera, dance and classical music.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is a really wonderful art museum that is known for its Asian collection.  It also has a substantial impressionist collection and a good modern collection that is housed in the Museum’s new wing, designed by Steven Holl, which has won praise from architecture critics around the country.  The famed Rozzelle Court is a great place for lunch or a snack.  I will never forget seeing a Van Gogh exhibition from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 1963.  I can still remember the paintings and it was life-changing to me.  When I was in Amsterdam a few years ago, I felt like I was visiting some old friends.

The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, near the Nelson, has an excellent permanent collection and has very good traveling exhibitions as well. Make sure you see the Café Sebastienne which, with the many paintings on the wall, has one of my favorite restaurant designs anywhere!

Kauffman Performing Arts Center is a wonderful new addition to the Kansas City arts scene that opened in September 2011.  It is a wonderfully designed building by Moshe Safdie, along with his partners for the project, theater designer Richard Pilbrow, and acoustician Yasu Toyota. It is the home of the Kansas City Ballet, Kansas City Symphony and Kansas City Lyric Opera.

Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio, at 3616 Bellevue, is a state historic site. This is the home and studio of the famous mural artist who moved to Kansas City to teach painting and drawing at the Kansas City Art Institute. He died in his studio in 1975 and it is exactly as he left it.

I hope you enjoy your time in KC. Let me know if you find any new spots for me to try when I return later in the year.

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