Restaurants come and go. On KCUR’s Central Standard, our Food Critics — Charles Ferruzza, Mary Bloch and Jenny Vergara — have kept up with the latest goings-on in our local dining scene from over the past several months.
They shared some of the highlights with host Gina Kaufmann:
1. The Monarch Bar opens west of the Plaza. The space is stunning, said Bloch. There’s a huge rectangle-shaped bar — and none of the glasses or liquor bottles are above the bar, so you can also see through the whole room, she added. The bar also has a cart for wheeling around and mixing drinks at your table.
According to Vergara, drinks cost between $12-$15. “Everything in each of these drinks is made in-house,” she said. And the cocktail menu follows the migration path of the monarch butterfly; whatever lands it passes are represented in drink form. While drinks are the main focus, chef Theresia Ota has created some small snack plates to accompany those cocktails.
2. Monarch Coffee opens in Midtown. Unrelated to Monarch Bar, but it, too, is in a stunning space, said the critics. “It’s been called the most Instagrammable coffee shop in Kansas City at the moment,” said Vergara.
“This is not a Portlandia type of coffee shop,” said Bloch about the open and airy space. “And they’ve got the Rolls Royce of coffee machines.” The coffee was excellent, she said, though she warned that the shop can get loud because of the high ceilings.
3. EJ’s Urban Eatery opens in the West Bottoms. This is a Southern-inspired “meat and three” place: pick your choice of meat and three sides. The restaurant, which is located in the former Woodsweather Café space, is open for breakfast, lunch and happy hour.
While its mainly known for chef/owner John Smith’s white barbecue sauce, EJ’s also offers breakfast ribs with red-eye hollandaise, fried chicken, a blackened salmon sandwich, salads and more, including what Vergara called “one of the best bread puddings.” The “meat and three” concept is also becoming popular as well.
“It provides value; if you want to get enough food for your money, this is the way to do it,” said Vergara. “This used to be a workingman’s lunch.”
4. The Ship now serves food. It started as an under-the-radar bar with a nautical theme; now it has a new commercial kitchen with a smoker and a lunch counter. “The food is really good,” said Vergara. On the menu: barbecue, salads, sandwiches and breakfast food. “Over the summer, I had a great caprese salad and an incredible Reuben,” Vergara added.
5. canihaveabite opens in East Brookside. While it has a couple of tables, it’s more of a carry-out place, said Ferruzza. It offers organic and vegetarian meals: smoothies, sandwiches, soups, salads and some entrees. “I’ve had a curry chicken there that was out of this world,” he said. And he called the hummus wrap “the best I’ve ever tasted.”
6. Tiki Taco opens on 39th Street. It bills itself a late-night spot, said Vergara. You walk up and order its Mexican fare at a window; there are a couple of picnic tables on the sidewalk. “They have some of the best fish tacos in Kansas City right now,” she added.
7. Parkway Social Kitchen opens on the Plaza. It’s one of a few non-chain restaurants that’s coming to the Plaza, said Bloch. The former chef at Houston’s is helming the kitchen, and the menu includes Houston’s-style burgers, chicken, salad, sandwiches and ribs.
Vergara calls the space “understated elegance;” it includes a big bar area that’s a social spot. “People shouldn’t confuse this with a casual place,” she added. “This is nice fine dining. If you want a nice steak or a nice roasted chicken or a piece of salmon, this is the place to get it.” Houston’s fans can expect to find a few items that they love from the old restaurant, like the French dip.
8. Brady’s Public House opens on Troost. Chef Shaun Brady, who used to work at Reserve, opened Brady’s in the building that used to house Mike’s Tavern. The space is really dressed up, said Vergara, with an open kitchen. “It’s not high-end, but it’s casual and warm with a full bar,” she said. The menu features Irish dishes, like shepherd’s pie, but according to Bloch, the burgers and fries are also really good.
9. Michael Smith’s has a new concept, Finding Guido. For the 10-year anniversary of the restaurant, Michael and Nancy Smith completely changed the menu from modern American to Italian. The menu includes a section on handmade pastas, which are also available on a pasta tasting menu.
Don’t expect the traditional red or white sauce or pesto, said Vergara. The sauces are more international, she said, such as a squid-ink pasta with a chili spice sauce, served in a small portion from the pasta tasting menu. “I walked away thinking, that almost has an Indian spice flavor to it,” she said.
10. Ad Astra Market opens in Mission. Two best friends opened this shop, which offers food and fresh flowers. One is a chef who makes grab-and-go items. The other is a florist. There’s a communal table, coffee and wonderful baked goods, said Vergara.
11. Café Sebastienne hires a new chef. Remy Ayesh came from The Oliver. She’s also worked in restaurants in New York City and in Chicago, where she was named one of the Top 12 Tastemakers. She’s starting to revamp the menu and add her own touches, said Bloch, such as a little bit more Mediterranean flavor.
12. Andre’s Tea Room has been remodeled. The iconic tea room at the South Plaza location now features soaring roof lines and a coffee bar. The prie-fixe menu, cheese pie and dessert tray also lives on, said Vergara.
13. Kusshi pop-ups. Chef Joe West recently left Stock Hill to return to hosting his multi-course Asian-inspired pop-up dinners, said Vergara.
14. Lenexa Public Market opens. According to Vergara, the open-air food hall features Foo’s Fabulous Frozen Custard, Topp’d Pizza and The Roasterie. Opening soon: Chewology Asian noodles and Mad Jack’s BBQ.
15. Lakewood Local opens in Lee’s Summit. Located near Lakewood Lake, this casual bar-and-grill is by the same partners behind Summit Grill, Boru Ramen and Third Street Social, said Vergara.
16. American Slang Modern Brasserie opens in the Intercontinental Hotel. It takes the place of the Oak Room, said Vergara, and features French classics made from locally-sourced ingredients.
17. Other new openings. Mission Taco and iTap, features the cocktails of bartender Jenn Tosatto. Repeal 18th Bar & Bistro in North Kansas City serves craft cocktails and small plates. Scott’s Kitchen and Catering opened near KCI and offers barbecue, Mexican, handmade sausages and more for breakfast and lunch. Sierra Grill in Lenexa has wood-fired dishes and a nice bar and wine list, said Vergara. Ignite Wood Fire Grill also opened in Lenexa. Three places also opened new locations out south: Q39, Red Door Grill and Jarochos.
18. Closings. Blanc Burgers + Bottles closed its last location in Leawood. Aep Thai on 39th Street unexpectedly closed. Plate in Brookside closed because of a fire. Julian in Brookside, which was chef Celina Tio’s first foray after she left The American, will become Brookside Barrio.
19. Opening soon. A new outpost of Rye will open on the Plaza. Also on the Plaza: Hogshead, a gastropub located in the old California Pizza Kitchen space. Messenger Coffee Co + Ibis Bakery opens in the Crossroads next weekend.