With more to-go options, Kansas City food crews plunge into another pandemic Restaurant Week
Even as the pandemic worsens again, many restaurants say they can't afford to sit out the city's annual Restaurant Week. Some are offering delivery and carryout options, while asking diners to practice patience and kindness.
The long lines that formed at Fannie’s West African Cuisine on Troost Avenue during last year’s KC Restaurant Week were “overwhelming.”
Owner Fannie Gibson, a native of Liberia, recalled some diners drove three or four hours from “places far away in Missouri I had never heard of.”
“It was beautiful! I really did not expect all those people,” she says, summing up her first time participating in the dining event sponsored by Visit KC, the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association and food wholesaler Sysco.
With the freshman jitters behind her, Gibson is back for more. She says her staff is better prepared for this year’s event, which began Friday and runs through Jan. 23.
To attract more diners, Gibson has added three new menu items for KCRW 2022: spicy gizzards on a stick, an appetizer choice on the $15 lunch menu, and a beef kebab appetizer plus sweet potato greens entrée, both available on the $35 dinner menu.
Twenty-three of the nearly 200 restaurants in KCRW 2022 are first-time participants. Participating restaurants are offering $15, $35 or $45 menus for lunch and dinner, as well as carryout and delivery options.
Proceeds from this year’s event benefit Guadalupe Centers.
“Each year, Kansas City Restaurant Week welcomes new names to its fold, from long-standing local restaurants like Chappell’s to newcomers on the scene like … Deep Roots. This is one of the things that keeps KCRW fresh and exciting year after year,” said Visit KC’s Jenny Wilson, a member of the event’s steering committee.
But as a new wave of the COVID pandemic due to the omicron variant temporarily shutters many restaurants in Kansas City, KCRW participants will continue to offer a wide array of delivery and carryout options.
Long-time Kansas City restaurateur James Taylor has been around long enough to have worked his way through other “catastrophes,” such as the floods of 1993 and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“When you have gone through a number of circumstances you learn how not to quit and keep your head down and not freak out. You’ll get through it,” Taylor says. “We are doing what we can to mitigate (infection) for diners and our staff, but we have to keep living our lives and trudge through this.”
Before vaccines were available, Taylor converted his La Bodega Tapas & Lounge located on the Westside into an al fresco retreat.
La Bodega has been a long-time KCRW participant. BLU HWY, his newest restaurant located south of the Country Club Plaza, will participate for the first time.
Staff at both restaurants have never stopped wearing masks. Despite closing for a few extra days leading up to the event to rest his staff, pulling out of KCRW was not an option for Taylor or his staff.
“It’s a great marketing mechanism for any new restaurant,” Taylor says. “It’s hard to get in front of people and tell your story.”
BLU HWY’s menu echoes the eclecticism of an American road trip. Two of Taylor’s favorite dishes by chef Dan Swinney will be available during KCRW.
Featured dishes include pan-seared rainbow trout, smoked pork belly, jicama slaw and black garlic or honey-bourbon braised short ribs with horseradish sour cream mashed potatoes and gremolata.
Last year, husband-and-wife restaurant team Jeremy Lane and Megan Kendall, decided to forgo KCRW.
Pre-vaccine “we couldn’t in good conscience ask a lot of people to come out,” says Lane, who has participated regularly in KCRW with The Homesteader Café, their downtown restaurant which will join in again to offer brunch and lunch specials.
Their second restaurant, Deep Roots Restaurant and Bar, located in a working class neighborhood in Kansas City, Kansas, opened a month before pandemic lockdown. The immediate response was robust, but the restaurant has struggled to attract a steady stream of diners since reopening.
“Our main goal is to let people know we’re still open and we have food at a good price,” says Lane.
The restaurant is in the same neighborhood Megan grew up and he has family ties. The menu features seasonal homestyle comfort foods with a Southern influence.
The Deep Roots KCRW menu offers two menu tiers. The $15 features a choice of a warm winter salad, a meatball grinder or fish and chips, while the $35 offers entrees such as gnocchi in a vodka sauce, feature porchetta with creamy polenta (one of Lane’s personal favorites), or a creamy Tuscan pasta with shrimp and scallops.
Diners also will get a chance to sample Kendall’s rustic cinnamon pecan bread pudding or chocolate torte.
Deep Roots will offer carryout, but Lane is eager to see a full house. He encourages diners to make reservations, a courtesy that helps participating restaurants to gauge how much product and staff they will need to have on hand.
“KCRW is always difficult to plan for, but even more so nowadays,” Lane says.
He also encourages KCRW diners to continue to exercise patience in difficult times.
“Keep in mind everyone in the restaurant industry is working the job of three people and making the pay of one,” Lane says. “Our staff is frazzled, exhausted and overworked. Patience and kindness go a long way.”
This story was originally published on Flatland.