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7 Kansas City restaurants and bars named semifinalists for the James Beard Awards

022522_cm_YoliTortilleria
Carlos Moreno
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KCUR 89.3
Teo Tolentino flips a pressed tortilla toward the stove where Maria Guzman finishes cooking them inside the Yoli Torterilla West Side retail store. Yoli is once again a semifinalist for a James Beard Award.

Kansas City is well represented in the national food competition this year — with The Town Company, Yoli Tortilleria, Drastic Measures and The Restaurant at 1900 all competing against the best in the country.

A modern Thai restaurant, a $150-per-person supper club, and a tortilleria are among seven Kansas City area businesses named as semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation’s 2023 Restaurant and Chef Awards.

Often described as the “Oscars of the food world,” the James Beard Awards are announced in three stages: semifinalists, nominees, and winners.

Here are the local eateries and chefs who made the cut this year, in both national and regional categories. From this group, the finalists will be announced Wednesday, March 29, and an awards ceremony for the winners is scheduled for June 5.

Kansas City area semifinalists

National Award semifinalists were selected from a pool of nationwide candidates.

Outstanding Chef: Johnny Leach, The Town Company

The rustic but refined Town Company is tucked into the Kansas City Hotel downtown, and led by executive chef Johnny Leach. He and his wife, executive pastry chef Helen Jo Leach, create seasonal menus together with their elevated versions of popular Midwestern dishes. On the current menu are dishes like a chile smoked country pork chop, ricotta dumplings, and a buttermilk cheesecake with stone fruit.

The Town Company at Hotel Kansas City
Michael Robinson | RW2 Productions
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Johnny Leach, executive chef of The Town Company inside Hotel Kansas City, is a semifinalist for outstanding chef in the James Beard Awards.

Outstanding Bakery: Yoli Tortilleria

This is the second year in a row that Yoli Tortilleria has been up for a James Beard Award. Last year, the Mexican tortilleria and its owners, Marissa and Mark Gencarelli, made history as the first tortilla bakery to be nominated in any category. Yoli has a couple of locations: a retail location in the Westside where they make flour tortillas, and a manufacturing location in the West Bottoms where they make corn tortillas.

Outstanding Bar: Drastic Measures

Just off Johnson Drive in downtown Shawnee, Kansas, Drastic Measures is a playful cocktail bar that serves just that: cocktails. No wine or beer allowed. The bar is outfitted with soft lighting, cozy lounge areas, and a bartop made of rulers (Drastic Measures . . . get it?).

Its menu features 13 creative cocktails, each for $13, including the “Deadeye Diaz” (mezcal, passionfruit, ancho chile, lime and chile infused olive oil) and “The Roll Up” (cinnamon roll-washed overproof rum, white rum, falernum and lime).

Outstanding Hospitality: The Restaurant at 1900

Located in the 1900 Building, known for its bright white “tulip” columns, in Mission Woods, Kansas, The Restaurant at 1900 is a modern eatery and bar. Head Chef Linda Duerr uses seasonal ingredients to create modern-American lunch and dinner menus, with dishes like a braised short rib grilled cheese and sunchoke-and-black-truffle risotto with sea scallops.

Regional Award semifinalists were selected from states in the Midwest: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Best Chef Midwest

Nick Goellner, The Antler Room: Sitting near Hospital Hill in Kansas City, The Antler Room is owned and operated by Nick and Leslie Goellner. According to their website, Nick Goellner has already been nominated for a James Beard Award twice. Their menus change daily and are inspired by seasonal ingredients -- Wednesday’s included a confit rabbit and kale tortellini and roasted beets with brie.

An interior view of a small restaurant shows a wooden podium with the words "The Antler Room" carved into it with a set of antlers carved around it. A woman sits at the bar looking at the camera. She is holding a menu.
Carlos Moreno
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Owner of The Antler Room Leslie Newsam sits at the bar of her James Beard-nominated restaurant.

Michael Corvino, Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room: Chef Michael Corvino has scooped up a handful of awards in the past, and a couple James Beard nominations. At the Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room in the Crossroads, Corvino creates modern, American dishes featuring ingredients and techniques from his international travels -- their seaweed donuts were even featured in the New York Times in December. A 10-course tasting menu will run around $150 per person, but you can can also dine a la carte . The restaurant features a bar and extensive wine list, as well as live music.

Pam Liberda, Waldo Thai: Executive chef Pam Liberda was born in Northern Thailand, where her mother taught her to cook. At her cozy, neighborhood restaurant Waldo Thai (in, you guessed it . . . Waldo), Liberda makes creative Thai food meant for sharing -- some traditional, some less so. On the menu right now are a tempura Amish chicken, a pork belly curry and a whole fried snapper. Along with her husband, Teddy Liberda, she has opened eight restaurants.

An exterior view of a bright red building shows two black signs hanging. They depict a person playing a wind instrument, sitting cross-legged. The signs read "Waldo Thai."
Carlos Moreno
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Waldo Thai chef Pam Liberda is nominated for Best Chef Midwest in the 2023 James Beard Awards.

Other semifinalists from around Kansas and Missouri

Best Chef Midwest

Adam VanDonge, The White Linen, Topeka, Kansas

Nick Bognar, iNDO, St. Louis, Missouri

Rob Connoley, Bulrush, St. Louis, Missouri

Loryn Nalic, Balkan Treat Box, Webster Groves, Missouri

Outstanding Restauraunter

Michael and Tara Gallina and Aaron Martinez, Take Root Hospitality (Bistro La Floraison, Vicia Restaurant, and others), St. Louis, Missouri

Outstanding Bakery

La Patisserie Chouquette, St. Louis, Missouri

Outstanding Bar

The Gin Room, St. Louis, Missouri

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga is a freelance reporter for KCUR 89.3.
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