Food recs: The best Kansas City dishes to honor Juneteenth
Juneteenth, which traditionally marks the day enslaved people in Texas learned they were free, was declared a federal holiday in 2021. Food traditions have grown with the holiday, and there are plenty of ways to honor Juneteenth with Kansas City chefs and restaurants.
Now in its second year as a federal holiday, Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, was when federal troops stood on Texas soil for the reading of General Order No. 3, informing residents of Galveston that all enslaved people were now free — more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.
The official date this year is June 20, but Natasha Bailey, co-host of KCUR’s podcast Hungry For MO and executive chef at Thelma’s Kitchen, and Carlton Logan, administrator of Kansas City Eats, were eager to talk about the date's history and food traditions — including the colors of red, black and green.
"Red represents the blood that was shed. Black is for the color of the skin, and green is for the ground upon which Blacks proudly stand free," Logan explained. "Red can be found in red beans and rice, red velvet cake, hibiscus tea, and even red Kool-Aid or strawberry soda pop."
But while Juneteenth is a holiday, it's not exactly celebratory, Carlton noted.
"We're talking about a situation in which an enslaved group of people went two years without knowing that they were no longer enslaved," he said. "So some people sort of say, well, should we really be celebrating it? Perhaps we should honor those ancestors instead."
Here are their recommendations for honoring the occasion at Kansas City restaurants.
- Soiree Steak & Oyster House — Chargrilled oysters. Chef Anita Moore has a variety of oysters, but the one that really comes to mind for Juneteenth is smoked oysters with a watermelon mignonette. They're my favorite, but there are also her seafood raviolis, smoked wings, barbecued shrimp and fried oysters. The patio is now open.
- The Breakfast & Lunch Lovers' Resturant — Sweet Potato pancakes with cream cheese icing. This spot in Raytown has something for every breakfast and lunch lover. I’m partial to the sweet potato pancakes with cream cheese icing, but sometimes for breakfast you want something that's easy to hold or really comforting, so that's when I get the chicken fried chicken — sometimes it comes with two eggs served with toast or a biscuit, fried potatoes or grits. Or I'll get the breakfast burrito or the breakfast sandwich — the biscuits and croissants are divine.
- KC Cajun – Shrimp Po’ Boy. They have one of the best shrimp Po’ Boys in the city. It's always crispy shrimp that is seasoned perfectly, the sauce is not overpowering and the bread is so warm and buttery and soft that you're finished with it before you even know it. – the shrimp is light, crispy and delicious. They also have great wings and fries. The website lists upcoming food-truck events, but they also just opened an East Side location at 3510 East 27th Street.
- Devoured Pop-Up — Pepperoni pizza. Devoured Chef Jhy Coulter is amazing. Breakfast pizza? Lunch pizza? You got it. She makes the best pepperoni pizza I've ever had — the crust is to die for. She's currently popping up on Saturday mornings at the Overland Park Farmers Market.
- Mattie’s Foods – Mattie’s toaster. Mattie's is a vegan food truck and catering company. The Mattie's Toaster is thick-cut toast with vegan bacon or sausage, Mattie’s cauliflower hash, cheese sauce and agave to round it out with a little bit of sweetness. Also fantastic is their Buffalo Mac. Mattie’s is bringing back their food events, with the first one planned for 4-7 p.m. on June 9.
- Cafe Jo’el KC – Pickled veggies. I keep an eye out for Chef Natasha Ellington’s popups and catering events, which always have innovative menus that can meet any occasion with a flavor adventure. She has some of the best pickled veggies I’ve ever experienced, and her chicken and soups are also fantastic.
- Necessary Catering – Shrimp and crawfish etouffee. Chef Polly Smith has popups, caters events and offers personalized meal prep services. She’s brilliant with anything Southern, especially shrimp and crawfish etouffee — it's like a warm blanket in the wintertime. It feels like something you would get if you're at your grandma's house in Mississippi. And her Alfredo sauce is amazing.
- District Biskuits — Biscuits. These are some of the best biscuits I've ever had in my life. They offer biscuits named for different Kansas City areas, people and businesses. There's the Crossroads Arts District, and it's called the Charlie Hustle: It's fried chicken filet with hot honey butter sauce, cold slaw, pickles and chives. There's the Country Club District, it's called the Capital, and it's rib eye steak, horseradish, Garda aioli, caremelized onions and chives. They hold up. So you can put anything on them without it crumbling everywhere. You can get through your whole sandwich without it all being in your lap.
- Niecie’s Restaurant — Pig ear sandwich. Niecie’s is a longtime fixture of the Black community in Kansas City, with traditional dishes such as baked and fried chicken, ox tails, potato salad, and peach cobbler. But Juneteenth makes me think of their chitterlings or chitlins, a dish made from the small intestines of the pig. They must be washed and thoroughly cleaned, then either boiled or fried in a simple preparation with onions, salt, pepper and garlic. And one of my father’s favorites: the pig ear sandwich. He was so happy to find them here. There’s a definite pork flavor, with a unique texture: The outer part of the ear feels like a wet pasta noodle, and the interior has almost a crunchiness due to the cartilage.
- Peachtree — fried chicken. You have two options here: the Peachtree Cafeteria, on Brooklyn and 12th Street near Gates, or the buffet on Eastwood Trafficway. Either way, the fried chicken is crispy, well-seasoned and hot. Baked neck bones are also on the menu; the macaroni and cheese is cheesy and delicious; there’s also great collard greens and cornbread. Finally, there’s the peach cobbler: it’s dual-crust, so I’m always in search of the perfect bite of crust, fruit and sauce.
- African Dream Cuisine — Puff puff: Chef/owners Neba Ngwa and Stella Musongong started serving authentic West African cuisine in a pop-up in the demonstration kitchen has become a more permanent fixture on the main level of Lenexa Public Market. The buffet includes smoked chicken, smoked pork, Kongla fried rice, Banso seasoned potatoes, sautéed cabbages, fried sweet plantains, two different sauces and puff puff, a sweet fried bread similar to a donut hole. All menu items are gluten-free and dairy-free.
- The Brass Onion — Mrs. B’s Fried Chicken. I believe Mrs. B is Brancato, since the Brancato family is behind this restaurant. And Mrs. B has a great recipe for crispy fried chicken served with braised collard greens, Yukon mashed potatoes and gravy, cornbread and whipped butter.
- Soiree Steak & Oyster House — Red beans and rice. Many Southern and soul food dishes can be found at Chef Anita Moore’s restaurant. Red beans and rice is one of those dishes, served as a side or with a catfish filet or andouille sausage.
- Chef Shanita McAfee-Bryant – Red velvet pancake. Red velvet cake is another staple of Juneteenth cooking — again, it represents the blood, which is kind of not the best thing to think about when you're eating cake — but it has that wonderful cream cheese icing. And Chef Shanita McAfee-Bryant makes red velvet pancakes and red velvet waffles. If you hear she's doing breakfast or doing waffles and pancakes, she's probably going to do that red velvet. I still have a memory of when she had a restaurant and I had a red velvet waffle with bacon and fried potatoes, and I will never forget that meal as long as I live.