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Central Standard

Food Critics: The Best Dough-Wrapped Dishes In Kansas City

Matthew Long-Middleton
KCUR 89.3

It seems as if nearly every culture has some version of dumplings: a sweet or savory filling surrounded by dough and either fried, boiled, steamed or baked.

They’re inexpensive, tasty and versatile; they can be served on their own with a dipping sauce or in soup … or in some cases, with the soup inside the dumpling.

“Every culture really enjoys something doughy, and I think it’s that carb-y lift that we get from it,” Food Critic Jill Silva told guest host Brian Ellison on KCUR's Central Standard.

Our Food Critics checked out the dumplings of the world — and uncovered the best dough-wrapped dishes in and around KC.

Here are their recommendations:

Mary Bloch, Around the Block:

  • Pupusas are made with a corn-flour dough and stuffed with pork, ground beef, cheese, beans. They’re similar to a quesadilla, but you don’t see the filling until you cut into it. El Salvadoreno and El Pulgarcito both have excellent pupusas. They are served with curtido, a vinegary slaw with onions and jalapeño (the Salvadoreno equivalent of kimchi). At most places, the curtido topping is at the table and you can add it yourself. It’s just a really nice dish; the vinegary slaw kind of cuts the spice in the filling.
  • The steamed dumplings at Princess Garden are served with black vinegar and spicy oil. The Hunan egg rolls are outstanding, too.
  • The Sichuan pork dumplings at Bo Ling’s come with a garlic-soy chili sauce.
  • Pork buns at Michael Smith. Michael always does a bit of a riff on them; he makes the dough himself and it’s really soft and pillowy. Typically, you have hoisin, cucumber and pork; sometimes he adds ramp kimchi or pickled salad.
  • The pork buns at Gram & Dun have a peanut coconut BBQ sauce and spicy pickled cucumber as a sauce for the pork belly.
  • Gram & Dun also has French onion dumplings, which is a twist on French onion soup. It’s filled with the onion broth and served with Gruyere cheese on top and a crouton on a toothpick. When you open the dumpling, the soup spills out.
  • Tamales are another kind of wrapped dough, with masa and lard combined to form the dough. They’re filled with cheese and/or meat and steamed in a corn husk. Port Fonda and El Patron make excellent tamales. At Christmastime, Port Fonda and Local Pig collaborate to make pork tamales, with proceeds going to Harvesters.
  • Sweet hand pies from Heirloom Bakery are a contemporary and much better version of the old-fashioned Pop-Tarts. A piece of pie to eat on the go.
  • The Rieger always does a good ravioli, which are often filled with beef cheek or rabbit or something like that.

Jill Silva, The Kansas City Star:

  • The potato dumplings and mushroom strudel at Krokstrom Klubb & Market. Scandinavian is the hot world cuisine, with Noma in Copenhagen named the world’s best restaurant. Can’t afford a trip abroad? Closer to home, these ethereal Swedish dumplings by chef Katee McLean are a revelation. The light potato dumplings are served in a cast-iron skillet and bathed in an orange and juniper pork jus that contains chicken confit and fresh peas. The signature mushroom strudel is served with an aquavit cream and glogg reduction.
  • Empanadas at El Tenedor. This one gets my vote for most beautiful plate presentation, elevating a humble hand pie into a delicacy with eye appeal. Food truck chef Carmen Cabia, who hails from Spain, fries her perfect half-moon empanadas, which are stuffed with a variety of fillings. My favorite is chorizo and manchego; they’re fried until deep brown then drizzled on top with squiggles: one orange (paprika-tinged) and the other white (classic mayo) aioli. The empanadas are served on a bed of salad greens and brunoise of tomatoes and onions. You don’t even know you’re eating on a paper plate.
  • RJ’s Bob-Be-Que buffalo empanadas. RJ's is a solid barbecue joint in Mission with some very creative plate presentation when it comes to appetizers. Its dough-covered claim to fame is empanadas stuffed with lean ground buffalo, sprinkled with a chiffonade of greens and served on a plate dusted with paprika to leave a silhouette of a fork and knife. A mayo dipping sauce is served on the side.
  • Beethoven’s #9: This old-school German restaurant in Paola offers a Kansas classic: the bierock (also spelled bierox), a thick, yeast-dough pastry pocket filled with ground beef and cabbage and onions. The pastry originated with Volga German immigrants who settled from Eastern Europe and Russia and eventually put down roots in farm communities in Kansas and Oklahoma. Beethoven’s #9 is worth the drive for its sauerbraten, wiener schnitzel and baked goods. The mother-daughter operation celebrated its grand opening in a new space on the historic square a few weeks ago.
  • The chile relleno at Cacao. This Latin American-inspired restaurant offers a unique take on a classic, using pasilla peppers instead of the more commonly used poblano. It is stuffed with a mixture of ground beef and dried fruits. The pepper is then wrapped in puff pastry and sprinkled with sesame seeds for a lighter version than many cheesy, and often greasier, Tex-Mex versions.
  • The Tamale Kitchen: Tamales are fillings wrapped in masa then cooked in a corn husk. My favorite tamales are made by a co-op of women from Northeast KC who have banded together for fair wages and to create jobs in their community. While many tamales have bland fillings, these tamales have delicious fillings (I like the shredded pork best), and I just think their masa is some of the freshest I’ve seen. You can order the women’s wares from thetamalekitchen.org.
  • Port Fonda’s ricotta doughnuts: These little balls of doughy deliciousness are stuffed with ricotta, fried, rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with a sweet dipping sauce. They have become one of the restaurant’s signature desserts and it’s not hard to see why. Like the sopapilla and churro, fried dough is always a winner, whatever form it takes.

  • Jasper’s is known for Chef Jasper Mirabile's cannolis — a fried dough tube stuffed with flavored ricotta — and there is always a rotating cast of flavors and toppings for this traditional Italian dessert. He even had a blueberry cannoli for the Royals’ playoff run. The fillings are only limited by a chef’s imagination.

  • Doughy delights at this weekend’s Ethnic Enrichment Festival in Swope Park: In addition to the plentiful crab rangoons, egg rolls, empanadas, samosas, strudels and tacos, consider trying American Indian fry bread tacos, Nepalese chicken dumplings, Norwegian ableskivers or Nigerian meat pies.

Charles Ferruzza, The Independent:

  • I love Empanada Madness. A variety of fillings (potato, queso fresco with eggs, shredded beef, and others) in a light, flaky cornmeal dough crust. It's all fried, if that’s a concern, but not greasy.
  • Po’s Dumpling Bar. Fried or steamed dumplings are the signature dish here, with outstanding Jade Dumplings (steamed shrimp and chive) and char siu steamed buns filled with roasted pork.
  • At The Oliver, they do something I just love: steamed buns with wheat flour filled with Sloppy Joes. And it’s a good Sloppy Joe; it doesn’t taste liked the canned version that my mother would have opened. The steamed buns are so light that you don’t feel completely bloated and heavy afterwards.
  • Jasper’s: Lobster ravioli – exceptionally rich – and fresh-tasting ricotta cheese ravioli served with a choice of meatball, Italian sausage or meat sauce.
  • Osteria Il Centro. Although the combination of shellfish and dairy sounds off-putting, this venue’s seafood ravioli does a stellar job with crab, shrimp and ricotta cheese.
  • The Pie Hole (a savory pie food truck). Excellent sausage rolls and meat pies, including the “Swagger Daddy” with steak, mushroom, onion and gravy in a wonderfully flaky crust.
  • I love tamales, and one of the best places to get them is the San Antonio Market in KCK. You can get a bag for a low price.
  • I love apple fritters, especially when there’s lots and lots of apples in it. The Louisburg Cider Mill makes excellent fritters.

Listener recommendations:

  • Butternut squash ravioli at Lidia’s in the fall.
  • Hand pies (miner’s pies) from The Community Mercantile in Lawrence. They’re available in the deli section and the to-go section. They have two versions: sausage mushroom and sweet potato curry. Both are excellent. They’re similar to Cornish pasties, but smaller. They’re cheap, small, nutritious and very good.
  • The samosas from Kulture Kurry are good.
  • You can get momo (Nepalese dumplings) at Zen Zero in Lawrence. Its owners are from Nepal.
  • The best frozen pierogis are at European Delights (a grocery store).
  • Chai Shai has the best samosas and pakora in town. One of my Pakistani friends has said they're the best in the country!
  • Chez Elle has a lot of sweet crepes.
  • At The Farmer’s House in Weston, they make apple fritters with the same recipe from the old Vaughn’s Apple Orchard. They just started making the fritters for the season and will continue to have them through the fall.

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org.