From happy hour treats to sumptuous desserts, Central Standard's Food Critics covered a wide swath of Kansas City cuisine in 2014. And what better way to test their culinary knowledge than with a "Best-of" list?
Here are the Food Critics' choices for the best dishes of 2014 in Kansas City:
- Potatoes Bravas at Extra Virgin — instead of being cut into chunks, the potatoes are sliced, fried like a chip, and smothered with a spicy romesco sauce. Addictive!
- Spicy Pork Tamales at Port Fonda — a new addition to the menu, these tamales are filled with pork and blanketed with a spicy chile de arbol salsa. I always have to order the chilaquiles and esquite asado (grilled corn with a habanero mayo).
- Brussel sprouts at Pizza Bella — crunchy, salty, sweet, woody.
- Margarita Pizza at Limestone Pizza — memorable for its drizzling of basil oil on the pizza instead of topping it with a few basil leaves. The basil flavor is more intense and truly part of the dish.
- Tuna Tower at Bo Ling's — deconstructed sushi roll with a kick. Layered spicy tuna, rice, avocado and wasabi peas for added crunch and spice.
- Carbonara at Überdine — A veteran of the Kansas City culinary scene, Joe Shirley has cooked at many well-known area restaurants. He currently has a day job as the executive chef for a major bank in Kansas City, but every few months local diners get a treat at his pop-up restaurant concept, Überdine. While all of my meals there have been great, I can’t stop thinking about the Carbonara — my favorite pasta dish made with eggs, cheese and bacon — Shirley served at his November 23 event. Everything about it was perfect and I can’t wait to have it again.
- Tajarin at The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange — Chef Howard Hanna at The Rieger put an untraditional twist on a traditional pasta dish with a cocoa tajarin. He topped it with braised lamb, Calabrese chiles, and shallots confit. This menu special was billed as a starter, but it was as rich and filling as a main dish, and I hope it makes a reappearance on The Rieger’s menu in 2015.
- El Comedor at Port Fonda — The first summer of Port Fonda, when it operated solely out of its vintage Airstream trailer, I was lucky to have the “el comedor” meal twice. The slow-cooked pork butt comes with all the fixings: tortillas, hot sauces, charred peppers, radishes, crema, and more. I was thrilled when the brick-and-mortar restaurant offered it for carryout, and this fall we had one to go. While my dining room isn’t quite as cool as the Airstream, the food was just as amazing as I remembered it. The bark of the pork is crispy, sweet, and salty, and somehow melts in your mouth. The meat is flavorful and juicy throughout. It’s definitely the best pork butt in Kansas City, hands down.
- Sautéd Chicken Livers & Toast at Extra Virgin — People either love or hate chicken livers. I stand firmly and proudly in the first category. The best I had this year were the sautéd chicken livers on toast at Michael Smith’s Extra Virgin. They were cooked perfectly, and as far as I’m concerned, they were the best thing to happen to toasted bread in 2014.
- Bacon-Date Melt at Happy Gillis — The Bacon-Date Melt is one of the few menu items that remained on the menu when Josh and Abbey-Jo Eans took ownership of Happy Gillis late last year. And for good reason: this sandwich, made with bacon and dates (of course), as well as cheddar cheese, mustard, and arugula is the perfect mix of sweet and salty flavors and it’s layered with texture.
- Honorable Mentions: Burnt Ends, in a tie between Q39 and Char Bar — Kansas City is a barbecue town, but it still has to be hard to open a barbecue restaurant here and do it well enough to compete with the likes of Joe’s Kansas City, Gates, and Arthur Bryant’s. Still, two new contenders stood out this year with their burnt ends: Q39 on 39th Street and Char Bar in Westport. Both are serving up fantastic burnt ends that are the perfect combination of fat, meat, and char.
- Chicken wings and burnt ends from Char Bar — Tabasco-honey fried chicken wings on a savory cheddar-bacon waffle with bourbon syrup and smoky hollandaise. And the burnt ends!
- Fusion Beef Stew from iPho Tower — with a caveat: The "fusion beef stew" has a silky sauce flavored with star anise and cloves, but you have to check with the servers before you commit. If the kitchen has just made a pot, the beef is likely to be tough; if it's been simmering for a couple of hours, it's nirvana.
- The Spud pizza from Limestone Pizza — The Spud pizza made with Kansas potatoes, onions, crème fraiche, bacon and rosemary. The steak and fries entrée is fantastic.
- From the new lounge menu from The American: pieces of tender octopus that Chef Michael Corvino had slow-cooked with lemon and olive oil, then lightly charred and served with fat, starchy corona beans and spicy sofrito; a version of fish fritters – salt cod and potatoes – presented on a wooden panel with dollops of remoulade, capers and strips of pickled green tomatoes. The bartender called it "the most glamorous fish sticks in the world.”
Charles also has a roundup of Kansas City's restaurant closures and openings in 2014 on The Pitch's website.