Novel Restaurant Finds A New Home
Interior of Novel's new location at 1927 McGee in Kansas City
Photography Ashley Deck
Novel’s new location in the Crossroads Arts District reveals itself like a good book that hooks you with the first sentence.
For chef Ryan Brazeal and pastry chef Jessica Armstrong, the co-owners and husband-wife team behind the restaurant, it was important that the sequel to the first installment of Novel (opened in 2013 in a cozy, intimate two-story Westside house) break the mold.
The décor has a modern color palate — gleaming whites, pearly marble, polished tiles — thanks to the creative direction of celebrated Kansas City artist Peregrine Honig, working in partnership with El Dorado Architects. An impressive, 80-foot custom tile mural of a playful fox and other native Missouri critters, created by Honig and Laura Rendlen, takes over the wall running behind the bar and through the main dining room. Dark wood chairs are arranged atop a smooth concrete floor, and guests also get a glimpse into the kitchen, where they can observe the busy interactions of restaurant staff.
For Brazeal and Armstrong, the move was about more than modernizing (and expanding) their space.
“We did want to let people know we were making a fresh start,” Brazeal says,” and we needed more functionality to operate. The house had a lot of charm, but the way it was constructed was backward, with the staircase in the middle of the entryway and the dining rooms on two separate floors. It wasn’t designed to be a restaurant.”
Brazeal has taken this opportunity to revamp his menu, too, though the changes to the food are not as drastic as the look and feel of the new space compared to the old.
Spring Pea Soup
“I had some ideas about the way a menu should be formatted that I thought made sense five years ago, but they aren’t as approachable now,” Brazeal says. There’s more focus: Gone is a convoluted beef tenderloin dish with countless components; today, it has been replaced by a simply prepared prime strip steak with a fried potato terrine and lemon parsley butter. It’s an entrée that fits the modern, sophisticated location at 1927 McGee.
There’s also more variety. The new menu boasts four housemade pastas (and one imported rice noodle dish), all priced between $10 and $14, and a host of hearty vegetable sides (see: roasted Brussels sprouts with a walnut vinaigrette, sesame seed-crusted baby bok choy) all under $9.
“We wanted to make the menu conducive to dining out more frequently rather than being a special-occasion-only place,” Brazeal says. “It’s a lot easier to accommodate dietary restrictions now that the entrées are more focused, and with the sides, it’s a lot easier to mix and match and substitute.”
A new general manager (Paul Passig, from Bread and Butter Concepts) and a new bar manager (Jonathan “Tex” Bush, Manifesto) mean that Novel regulars can expect an elevated dining room service and inventive cocktail options. But it is the dessert menu that deserves special attention: Armstrong, formerly the pastry chef at Bluestem, has always had a talent for sweet finishes, but the move seems to have freshly inspired her.
“I put my entire self into the new menu,” she says. “Now that our daughter is two, I’ve been able to work more, and I wanted to make this special. I wanted this menu to be creative, super fun and more composed than previous Novel desserts.”
That means guests should save room for an elegant raspberry chiffon cake and a bountiful banana split designed for a whole party to share. Armstrong is already planning her next wave of desserts: grasshopper icebox cake, a cold brew sundae and rhubarb bars.
Perhaps more than anything, Brazeal and Armstrong are excited to embark on this new venture together, side by side.
“The relationship that we have is so special,” Brazeal says. “We’re working together to reach an end goal, and it’s been great having my partner around with me, having someone who you can always count on to care as much as you do.”
And so, another page turns for Novel. This next chapter is off to a running start.
First course: Once you have the paddlefish caviar on top of puffy gougeres with house-whipped cream cheese and chives, you’ll never want it any other way. ($14)
Second course: Tenderly braised duck neck and foie gras celebrate a joyful marriage as they are tucked into agnolotti pasta and served with a port wine syrup and pickled cherries. ($14)
Third course: Midwest meets Moroccan with the grilled lamb chops entrée, complemented with charred eggplant and cauliflower plus a host of rich spices (hello cumin and cardamom). ($34)
Dessert: Rediscover an underrated favorite in the pineapple upside-down cake, given new life here with a carrot cake base plus cream cheese sherbet. ($9)
Drink: The “Roots to Branches” cocktail plays with beet and tarragon, leading to a drink that is earthy, refreshing and thoroughly addictive. ($12)