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Food critics: Best Kansas City dishes for the start of fall

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At Cacao restaurant you can enjoy the house-made mole sauce over a plate of enchiladas.
At Cacao restaurant you can enjoy the house-made mole sauce over a plate of enchiladas.

There’s a sort of food that just seems right this time of year, as nights grow cool but the days are still warm. KCUR's food critics have great suggestions for the in-between.

We’re no longer looking for light summer fare, but neither are we ready for the heavy comfort food of winter.

This end-of-summer and start-of-fall season can be tricky for restaurateurs. "If you look at the seasonal menus across Kansas City from different chefs, nobody's really made the full transition to fall yet," says Jenny Vergara. "We're still trying to wrap summer up."

While waiting for seasonal root vegetables like Brussels sprouts, beets and sweet potatoes to arrive, Mary Bloch has a standby to see her through.

"I'll go with spice any season... but it's always nice to add a little bit more of that in the fall," Bloch says.

Vergara and Bloch offered up their picks for the Kansas City dishes that will help you step from summer into autumn.

Mary Bloch, KCUR food critic:

  • Tailleur — grilled duck breast with lentils and sweet potato, pork shank with polenta, and scallop and lobster risotto. I made my first visit there earlier this week. What a lovely oasis. The menu sings fall at the moment. Having mentioned all of those worthy dishes, I’m going to have a hard time ordering anything but the bistro burger with crisp pomme frites.
  • Night Goat Barbecue barbecue tacos, apple hand pie. If you can possibly save room for dessert after the tacos, order up the hand pie with bourbon caramel sauce. Doesn’t that sound exactly like what fall is all about?
  • Happy Gillis — Carrot, Carrot, Carrot. Currently only serving brunch Friday to Sunday, the menu focuses on whatever season we’re in. Right now they have a fun dish with roasted carrots, carrot hummus, pickled carrots, roasted peanuts and greens on warm pita bread.
  • Extra Virgin chicken mussakhan, Moroccan lamb tagine. The menu was recently revamped to highlight Mediterranean specialties. The Palestinian dish has sumac roasted chicken legs, onions, pine nuts and flatbread. The lamb is one of my favorite fall and winter dishes. It’s all about comfort — the result of hours of braising lamb, olives, almonds, apricots in the oven. As is typically the case, here it’s served over couscous, with herbs and lemon.
  • Port Fonda — pozole verde. Back in business and under new ownership. Happily they are still serving some of my old favorites. I tend to inhale the chunks of green chile-marinated pork shoulder and hominy in a spicy tomatillo broth. Nice to have those wonderful chips nearby for dipping.
  • Novel — ramen noodles. Not your typical ramen. Chef Ryan Brazeal
    has created a noodle soup filled with shrimp, jowl, miso butter, yuzu and shiitake. Silky, warming and comforting.
  • Sura Eats stir-fried rice cake, kimchi fried rice. Located in the Parlor food hall in the Crossroads, this Korean hotspot features two of my favorite bowls in town. The rice cake is essentially mochi rice noodles that look like gnocchi, with beef in a sweet spicy sauce. Definitely a stick to your ribs meal. I also love the large kimchi fried rice, served with your choice of beef, spicy pork, or tofu with a sunny side up egg. I am partial to the spicy pork, but I’m all about the heat.
  • Kobi Q— rice cake. Found in the Crossroads and Westport, they have similar menus as Sura Eats, but they serve the rice cake dish with spicy pork or calamari.
  • Rye — shrimp and grits. I typically don’t order this dish until the days start to cool, and when that happens, I turn to Rye for my fix. I love the smoked pork accent, and of course the hot sauce that tops it off.
  • Cacao — mole. I love this chile sauce with dozens of ingredients, including nuts and seeds, raisins, a myriad of chiles and chocolate. It's quite labor intensive, so I just make one big batch a year, necessitating that I find another source to satisfy my addiction. Cacao makes a wonderful version, and serves it atop chicken with rice or as a blanket for enchiladas.
  • India Palace — biryani, lamb vindaloo, chicken Rogan Josh. I think of Indian food as too rich for the hot months of the year, but as fall comes, so does my craving for these dishes. I love the creamy goodness of the sauces.

Jenny Vergara, Feast Magazine:

  • King G’s Deli — classic deli sandwiches. This new East Crossroads deli features a menu highlighting the bread and fillings specialties found regionally across the United States. Some you may know (like tuna, turkey and Swiss, and pastrami on rye) and some you may not (like tamago sando and the New Jersey classic Taylor sandwich made with Spam-like pork roll, American cheese, and fried egg on a butter bun). A popular favorite is the Italian muffuletta that comes with Sicilian-style sesame loaf bread filled with sliced mortadella, sopressata, capicola, provolone, olive salad, giardiniera and mozzarella.
  • BLU HWY lobster rolls, roasted baby beet salad, barbecue octopus, burger and fries. BLU HWY is a new restaurant, bar and patio that opened this week in the former Black Dirt space on south Main Street in Kansas City. This is an experience meant to evoke the collective love and nostalgia for the food and freedom found on an American road trip. The culinary team has created a menu with plenty of twists and turns, like that beet salad topped with coriander microgreens, spicy red Fresno chilies, roasted peanuts and dressed with a coconut and lime sauce.
  • Magic Noodle noodles six ways: string, classic, mid-round, mid-flat, flat and shaved. Owner Elvin Liu grew up in China with noodle shops on every corner, so when he moved to Kansas in 2010, he went looking for a place to get hand pulled noodles and soup, and when he couldn’t find it, he built his own place. The noodles are prepared to order behind a plexiglass wall where customers can watch. Order the Triple B bowl of soup and get your choice of hand-pulled noodles in beef stock, braised beef brisket, pickled radish, cilantro and scallions. And meet BellaBot, a delivery robot that looks like a cat and is programmed to deliver food from the kitchen right to the table.
  • Little Butter Bakery — menu changes weekly. Kelsey Earl started a cottage baking enterprise out of her home during the pandemic. Now, she has expanded her baking business to include weekly pastry boxes announced on her Instagram page on Friday, for Sunday pickup. A recent Game Day box included four spinach artichoke hand pies, four Buc Tui BBQ pulled pork stuffed buns and six salted chocolate chunk cookies for $45. Most of her weekly boxes offer both sweet and savory items for around $24. Her items are all perfectly seasoned and exceptionally baked using local ingredients where she can. Watch Instagram @littlebutterbakery for weekly menus.
  • Red Kitchen — breakfast burritos, birria tacos, tostadas, pozole soup, tortas, mollettes, tamales. Now officially moved into her new anchor spot inside the Lenexa Public Market, Alejandra de la Fuente has expanded Red Kitchen’s popular Mexican breakfast and lunch offerings with access to a much bigger kitchen to cook in. Guests flock to sit at her counter to enjoy breakfast. Her signature tamales that are also available to take home.
  • Jarocho KC — seafood. Depending on how it is prepared, seafood can bridge the gap between summer and fall nicely. Raw oyster on the half shell can turn into a warm dish when you char-broil them with garlic chili butter or stuff them with cheese, onions, jalapeños, cilantro, shrimp, octopus and blue crab meat. Catch of the day is a great way to get introduced to new fish, grilled and served with sides like slaw and beans. Still, the best way to go is to book the omakase experience with owner Carlos Falcon, who will lead you through as many seafood courses as you desire. He and his wife and managing partner, Sayaka Gushi Falcon, finally got the doors back open to both Jarocho locations, the original in Kansas City, Kansas, and the one out south on State Line Road.
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As a host and contributor at KCUR, I seek to create a more informed citizenry and richer community. I want to enlighten and inspire our audience by delivering the information they need with accuracy and urgency, clarifying what’s complicated and teasing out the complexities of what seems simple. I work to craft conversations that reveal realities in our midst and model civil discourse in a divided world. Follow me on Twitter @ptsbrian or email me at brian@kcur.org.
As senior producer of Up To Date, I want our listeners to hear familiar and new voices that shine light on the issues and challenges facing the myriad communities KCUR serves, and to expose our audiences to the wonderful and the creative in the Kansas City area. Just as important to me is an obligation to mentor the next generation of producers to ensure that the important conversations continue. Reach me at alexanderdk@kcur.org.
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