12 Best New Restaurants in Kansas City
Word on the street: Kansas City sizzles. When it comes to building a solid culinary reputation bridging the gap between NY and LA, KC manages quite tastefully.
Routinely, the trail to good eats is blazed by seriously-skilled chefs — many grabbing headlines beyond the bi-state borders.
Standouts include Jonathan Justus, Cody Hogan, Megan and Colby Garrelts and Celina Tio.
Everyone knows KC does fire and smoke better than most. But dig a bit deeper and tempting culinary fare can be found throughout the metro.
This year was a good one for new restaurants to open their doors.
Come on in, let’s see what cream is rising.
|1. Pizza Bella
When The Moon Hits Your Eye, Like A Big Pizza Pie
There’s cardboard pizza and then there’s the razor thin, toasty crust that arrives smolderingly fresh. The latter is what chef Quillan Glynn has perfected at Pizza Bella. His wood-fired oven is the key, blasting and bubbling an artisanal creation that’s definitely worth the wait. Potato, leek, chorizo, egg. These ingredients make real pizza. Yes, there’s still bianco, marinara and anchovy for the timid, but Pizza Bella will push the boundaries. Plus, a pizza accompanied by Little Freshies sparkling soda guarantees a smile.
The most scorned vegetable since the turnip is Brussels sprouts. But Glynn has his way with them, adding roasted pancetta, cranberries and almonds, then dousing the nuggets et al with vinaigrette. These aren’t your mother’s sprouts anymore.
Atmosphere at the Leawood location is just like the original in the Crossroads. However, instead of looking out onto the urban skyline through garage doors, cast your eyes upon suburban turf with an unencumbered view of the sky.
There’s good and then there’s great. Consider the latter when you make reservations at Voltaire in the West Bottoms. Not only are the chef/owners Wes Gartner and Jill Myers good, they’re bordering on masterful. Why? If they can make cauliflower or yucca taste fab, you know you’re in sure hands. The food looks and tastes original. It helps, of course, that the chefs have lots of experience dishing (they own Moxie Catering). They have what it takes to serve a crowd. Further evidence: duck breast seared, sided with wilted kale, golden raisins, pine nuts, tart cherry-veal jus and Szechuan pepper. Say what you want about chicken, ham or lamb, try these barnyarders and you’re in for a treat. It’s not a particularly big house, but the lovely vintage bar, small intimate tables and urban ambiance place it fashionably forward. The whole place swings with an undercurrent of panache coupled with a menu that changes frequently.
Oh, and please don’t even think about skipping one of Ryan Miller’s hand-crafted cocktails.
Cool, baby, cool.
Kansas City, Mo.
Mio, Johnson County’s Italian trattoria, merits a nod. Considering there’s only a small cadre of exceptional Italian restaurants in town, this establishment is 200 miles closer than hiking up the Hill in St. Louis. Venezuelan-born executive chef Julian Viso says he’s eaten his way “through at least 5,000 places in numerous countries.” That’s a lot of pasta (among other cuisines). Meanwhile, he’s settled his shop into the busy 135th Street corridor where his specialty concept is based on modest prices and entrees without the standard bread-and-red-sauce combo. Far more interesting fare includes grilled lamb chops, lentil and sausage soup, cozze al pomodoro e basilico (fancy for mussels in tomato and basil sauce) and a mean ricotta cake.
Nope, there’s no spumoni to be found.
Polished service in a small but congenial room gives people a chance to talk and be heard. Mio has a good vibe and promises to have staying power.
Mio Italian Trattoria
4800 W. 135th St.
|4. 801 Fish
Shark Tank? Never.
A new fish house, two years in the making, has washed ashore at Park Place. On the bridge, convivial Alex Schifman, a veteran anchor from 801 Chophouse.
“I’m delighted to open this restaurant,” Schifman says. “It’s a beautiful place with equally beautiful food.”
Here’s a room where customers are easily accommodated, whether it’s a quick slurp at the raw bar or a leisurely top-of-the-line repast from Schifman’s repertoire (think: poached lobster tail with a champagne caviar sauce). Fish flown in daily is never frozen. Watch all of the action from the chef’s table where one of the 10 cooks expertly designs your dish in the open kitchen. And, if it’s a seasonal specialty you’re craving (Dungeness or soft-shelled crab), you got it. Yes, there are steaks and chops for the landlubbers, but for the money, pristine fish from around the globe is the whole idea here. Look up, it’s a bird, it’s a plane ... actually it’s one big bluefin tuna coming right at you.
11615 Rosewood St.
|5. Orange Box
What A Squeeze
Hi-ho down to Southwest Boulevard, where you’ll find the unassuming little Orange Box. Owner Scott Welsche would like to treat you to his version of slow food presented fast.
His motto, “Life’s too short to eat fast food,” says it all. It’s a conundrum for sure but somehow his grilled salmon with mango chutney, three-cheese lasagna, curried chicken salad and an ever-changing roster of salads is presented with little fanfare but a lot of taste. Welsche delivers. Plus, his carry-out includes bringing it right to your car when you call ahead. How’s that for service?
The upshot? This place is very reasonable.
You don’t wait, you simply order (phone or in person) in this small and simple box. Polite service and an on-going menu changes weekly according to the chef’s whims. Many favor the pork tenderloin. Also admirable, Welsche’s notion to bring good food to neighborhoods that don’t have it. Think about it.
2700 Jarboe St.
Kansas City, Mo.
|6. Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant
Wineries aren’t usually embedded into a city shopping district, much less into our upscale Country Club Plaza. The exception is Cooper’s Hawk, roosting slightly north of Pottery Barn. Never mind the retail jam outside. Inside there’s a handsome Napa-style tasting room coupled with an attractive restaurant.
You can swirl and sip while perusing the wine lockers. Soon, up you go to the lofty second story where the holiday regalia of the Plaza is on view. A pretty spectacular accompaniment to a festive lunch or dinner.
The chain’s KC installment is its 11th nationwide.
Opened in 2005, owner Tim McEnery’s concept is spot-on. He buys varieties from around the country, then pairs the vintage — by the glass or bottle — with menu items, all designed to maximize the dining experience.
In this nest, portions and pours are ample. Signature modern casual food changes with the seasons. If you love your wine, there’s an exclusive wine club to join featuring 12 to 15 blends annually.
One thing’s for sure, you won’t leave hungry.
Winery & Restaurant
4686 Broadway Street
Kansas City, Mo.
The Barnyard’s Best
Two maestros — Megan and Colby Garrelts — have delivered. Rye, their paean to down-home cooking, was exactly what we expected: generous portions, smartly creative and deliciously crafted. It’s a place to celebrate Midwest sensibility while lingering over that bottomless cup of coffee.
You’ve got to love a place that boasts Spring Pea Soup, or how about their Mac ‘n’ Cheese? No one in town does it better. Oh, by the way, Colby was voted Best Chef Midwest 2013 by the Oscars of food, the James Beard Foundation, so maybe there’s a clue.
If you’re going, go with gusto. Lunch is as good as dinner with an ambiance that’s lively and upbeat. Snag a bowlful of shrimp and grits or dig into that hefty plate of buttery battered fried chicken. Yeah, you’ll have to lick your fingers, but honestly ... who cares?
Stick around for Megan’s scrumptious sweet endings. Apple Crisp ... whoa.
This is, after all, our kind of country cooking.
10551 Mission Road
Stop and Smell The Wild Mushroom Cheesecake
Planning on shlepping out to Independence? Reservations at Vivilore gives you the raison d’etre. Owners Whit Ross and his sister, Cindy Foster, have put quite a bit of sweat equity into an enchanting antique and art gallery/restaurant. A 1907 book with the title “Vivilore” (or “How to Live Well”) was discovered upon renovation, so the siblings took up the idea to make that very notion come true with their new gustatory. Chef Hope Dillon confidently maneuvers her way through an imaginative lunch and dinner menu showcasing her talent. Black bean cakes, grilled beef panzenella salad, chorizo and Portobello flatbread are among the highlights. Seated inside, surrounded by oversized murals and gilded goods harkening from days past, or outside (the real treat), at least when the weather cooperates, you won’t be disappointed. Ross likes to play in the dirt and hisgardens are nothing short of fabulous. There’s quite a bit to study at Vivilore, making the entire adventure worth it. Leave time to settle in and enjoy the food, then linger among the gardens and antiques. This is a very genteel way to spend an afternoon- into-evening.
10815 E. Winner Rd.
|9. Pig & Finch Gastropub
At first glance, you’d think this combo is an unlikely pairing. But at Pig & Finch, they’re kissing cousins.
The Iowa-based enterprise that brought us 801 Chophouse is extending the palm once again with this tasteful room settled into Leawood’s tony Park Place.
Nicely wrought in dark woods, a comfy chef’s table and plenty of natural light spilling in, the concept is one of comfort and joy. Chef de cuisine John Smith (formerly of The Jacobson) knows how to please, starting with a raft of appealing appetizers: Camembert croquettes, bacon nut brittle.
Then comes the hearty. Crispy fried chicken, thumb-thick pork chops, savory duck cassolette, short ribs, lamb shank and gnocchi.
It feels pub-like throughout, advancing the unabashed notion that beer is food. Expect stouts and pints, ales and lager to accompany your meal. But if hops isn’t on your mind, sip If You See Kay — a delectable vintage — slowly.
Pig & Finch Gastropub
11570 Ash St.
Sex in the City
It’s all about ancestry at Sake. Executive chef Sean Lin is indebted to his family for teaching him the intricacies of cooking.
“There have been many stops from Hong Kong, the Bahamas, Italy to Miami and New York before settling here to practice what my mom, a great chef, taught me,” says Lin.
With big, big rooms, more than 300 people at a time can experience Asian fusion at its finest: fresh noodle dishes, a range of intricately hand-rolled sushi and traditional Chinese cuisine. Plus, if you want to eat, drink and dance — or the reverse — there’s a huge bar with plenty of room to take a spin.
Lin, cooking since he was 15, knows how to please.
“I serve only premium products: bluefin tuna in Yuzu sauce, bite-sized beef Negrimaki, bubbly calamari, shrimp and scallops with snap peas and udon noodles, to name only a few.”
Dishes adorned with delicate orchids or pooled in vibrant sauces give presentation a new meaning.
Strang Line Rd.
|11. The Basha Mediterranean Cuisine
Exotica comes to the hinterlands. Owners Mohammed and Nader, two fledgling culinary entrepreneurs, have decided that what we need is gyros and kibbeh, baklava and shawarma, pita and hummus. You get the drift. Here’s where you will find the fragrant flavors of the Middle East wrapped in flakes of phyllo and rice.
The meal at The Basha is seductive, infused with subtle to substantial herbs and spice. The key is inviting in the senses. Here’s where mint or a jewel-toned glass of hibiscus raises the bar. In particular, the chicken shawarma bedded on golden rice is unbeatable. From start to finish, the food here is such a departure from regular fare that your taste buds will dance. Be sure to end with an aromatic cup of Turkish coffee. The intensity is not for the faint so, go ahead, boldly imbibe. By-the-by, in Egypt, your fortune can be read from the stain at the bottom of your cup. Indulge in this oasis. It’s fated.
7016 W. 105th St.
Overland Park, Kan.
Hot Off the Press
It’s so satisfying when a destination is highly anticipated. So goes the journey to Novel.
Lifted above street level, a Victorian house welcomes all into the tight but manageable confines of the former Lill’s on 17th. No matter, the place is catching on with the cognoscenti who expect only the best. Chef Ryan Brazeal is stepping right up after apprenticing with a host of restaurateurs including David Chang at NYC’s Momufuko. Brazeal gets an “A.” His skills translate into dishes that are at once beautiful and inventive.
Fervere’s bread leads, and is followed by starters including poached egg over tripe and fluke crudo. Then it’s time to savor the entrees: diver scallops, ricotta gnocchi and a chicken brick — all accompanied with sophisticated sides. Regardless of your choice, the imprint is lasting. Brazeal is foraging for only the freshest ingredients, many locally-sourced. Novel presents a highly personalized account of “New American” creativity at its best. Luscious.
815 W. 17th St.
Kansas City, Mo.
photos: Steve Puppe, Brooke Vandever, 8183 Studio