Little Debbie & Company

It’s about time Debbie Gold stepped back into the limelight.

Centered at The American Restaurant, where she’s been since 2008, Gold has come out from under the Crown and joined founder Gary Zancanelli at Leawood’s Red Door Grill.

Behind that door is a handsome, near-minimalist room that plays to all. 

Designed by Urban Prairie Collaborative architect Paul Minto, the space is smooth, merging industrial with natural materials. 

There are no sharp edges in this room. Two long bars at the entrance are concrete, as is the floor. That theme is carried into the casual dining room, where touches of metal, rough-hewn wood walls and creative lighting from iron and glass pendants deliver a handsome backdrop.

Hooray For Sun 

It’s easy to sit inside, although outside is an option. Shielded from the street by a decorative fence, it’s also easy to imagine you’re somewhere other than a corner of a strip mall in southern Johnson County. 

Tastebud and I settled in for lunch on a weekday at high noon.

Though the place is relatively new, there’s little evidence of nascent jitters. Everyone seems to have worked out any kinks. 

A scratch kitchen and wood-fired grill are touted as the M.O. in a kitchen helmed by Jacob Moeller, the former sous chef from The American whom Gold tagged to bring along into this venture.

“Right now I’m training, developing more menu items and yes, I’m cooking,” says Gold, a James Beard Award-winner. 

She has her hands full — this is a seven-day-a-week job. 

Gold’s formulas include a range of flatbreads featuring rotisserie pork to house-cured salmon. The burgers are a blend of McGonigle’s brisket, short rib and chuck tenderloin. The “S’Wiches” include brats, pulled pork and grilled steak from Local Pig. Among the endings, sarsaparilla doughnut holes with Christopher 

Elbow sweet-cream ice cream is a tempting finale.  

Unlike so many restaurants of late with open kitchens, you’re invited to peek — but only through an oversized glass keyhole at the back of the room — and watch the flurry. That’s where the wood-fired oven sits, but there are no pizzas in sight. Whew. 

Let’s delve. 

“I don’t eat meat,” Tastebud announced. 

“No problem,” countered Joe, the assistant manager, suggesting so many options I could see Tastebud starting to glaze. 

He promptly suggested the artichoke would be our starter. Then we decided to split the Caesar followed by one of the signature flatbreads. 

“Sounds decent,” I said, especially looking forward to one of the delicious-sounding flatbreads all dressed with fire-roasted onions, fontina, roasted corn and mushrooms ($9). 

In a flash, our artichoke arrived. 

“This is unlike anything I’ve seen,” said Tastebud, puttering into the shards of black olives, pecorino and flakes of potato chips accessorizing the roasted vegetable ($11.25).

“This appetizer is Saveur-worthy,” I said, digging in.

Our Caesar wasn’t anything to crow about but it was the perfect complement to the flatbread. 

“I am so glad we didn’t order one for each of us,” I said, realizing my full-meter was ticking. 

“I don’t know how this all comes together, but I gotta tell you, it’s great,” said Tastebud. 

“That’s why Debbie Gold has been on the Food Network twice and you haven’t,” I said.

Pork, Polenta and More

Upon returning for dinner recently with a different Tastebud, we had a trio of dishes. 

A hefty pork chop dressed with apple chutney was accompanied by fire-roasted polenta and grilled asparagus. The chop was a bit dry but the polenta — which Tastebud inhaled, leaving me only a teaspoonful — was subtle, smooth and the perfect side for the pork ($20).

We split the tender, full-moon-sized scallops bedded on a mix of brocollini, navy beans and roasted eggplant. Forget the eggplant and concentrate on the scallops, beans and veggie ($28).

We ordered the roasted chicken for Tastebud’s husband, poor guy. We started to indulge, leaving him with a lonesome wing after we plowed through the juicy half atop wild rice, shitake mushrooms and crispy fried spinach ($16). 

We lingered over the brownie pie while discussing the menu with Gold. 

“I want to do this food the way it needs to be done or I won’t serve it,” she said. And since she’s the high profile behind the flame, the buck stops with her. 
I like that.

The concept at Red Door is easy, a good price point fitting the location.

“There’s also a Happy Hour, Monday through Saturday, with all types of reasonably priced small bites and drinks available,” we were told by Bartender Brooke, who said things are settling into a nice rhythm now that people are hearing about the restaurant.

“Favorite cocktail?” I inquired.

“Leawood Well Water,” an ode to our little city, she said.

So sit back, relax and enjoy this comfortable place.

You have a slew of options to choose from in Johnson County. Add the Red Door Grill to the list.