Thursday, May 29, 2014

Al Fresco by Chris Becicka

Who is Al Fresco anyway and when can I meet him? 

Em Chamas
After our so-called spring (really, snow forecast for April 14th?), it’s time to dine outside. Any time you can, in Kansas City, you should.

No, you must. Even if you are in the anti-outside contingent, therefore likely a member also of the “I hate picnics” cabal, at least once a season you should choose to dine under the stars, among the cars, outside the bars. Why? you ask. For goshsake’s why?

Meet Al Fresco. Actually it’s a what, not a who. Sometimes written hyphenated or as one word, alfresco, it originated in the 1700s in Italy: literally meaning ‘in the fresh’ and it often referred to mural painting, on fresh and not-so-dry plaster. The English adapted the fresh part and added it to air, hence dining outside or in the open air.

Several reasons come to mind. First, in our beloved Kansas City, chancing
McCormick & Schmick's
upon a day that’s still glorious when you have chosen to eat out is almost like winning the lottery. The sheer fact of limited opportunities makes the rarity more precious. (From the other side: inaccurate weather forecasts can lead to inaccurate staffing – sometimes you have to be patient.)

 Second, despite humidity, heat, cold, and wind, there exist many great, mostly umbrella-ed, restaurant outdoor spots that make the meal seem more special and taste even better. Third, until you become part of the outdoor crowd, eating outside somehow seems more exotic and glamorous. “Look,” you’re saying to the world, “Look at grown-up me, having fun as an adult, doing something a little bit different and yet still acceptable and I’m in my grown-up clothes, too.” Fourth, the air is not stale air conditioned or reheated molecules, it’s fresh.

Oh, I could go on and on. So I will. Another nice thing about dining al fresco in Kansas City is that a number of restaurants have really gone above and beyond to create a wonderful, relaxing ambiance, usually one where it’s not so easy to hear your neighboring diners’ conversations and the vibe is a bit more relaxed. (From the other side: this also means people may linger . . . and patio seating is really luxury seating.)

Sasha's Baking Co.
Several restaurants have brand new accoutrements – or have redone their patios entirely. Em Chamas north of the river with a skating rink (in winter) beside it, has a brand-new, secluded patio next to its lounge which is ready for this summer. It’s covered, saving you from blazing sunlight. Heaters (necessary too long this year), fire pit, live music, string lights all help create a European-style courtyard. Sasha’s Baking Company, a coffee shop, bakery and lunch spot downtown in the “Library District,” has created a homey, intimate space for 10-14 people with a striking lion’s head fountain, bistro tables, and abundant flowers. Ninth Street and traffic noise disappear as you relax with some of the best baked goods or sandwiches in any town. BD’s Mongolian BBQ in Independence has a patio located right off its taproom (w/over 200 craft beers) as well as misters, couches, fans, and a pellet stove for heating on cool nights. Oh yeah, and 70” HD TVs . . . what more could you wish for?

People dine al fresco for other reasons than ambience – a big one is to people watch. A long-time fave for that? The Classic Cup, where the sidewalk dining is the ultimate in interactive viewing and whose vine covered patio in the back offers a different kind of respite. Other people-heavy views (not to be confused with heavy people views) can be yours at Bo-Lings in the Market, several of the KCP&L restaurants, and Thai Place in Westport. Among others.

Grunauer - Biergarten
Rather look at trains? Go to Fiorella’s Jack Stack and Grunauer’s Biergarten across from Union Station’s active tracks. Can’t leave home without your dog? Try Westside Local downtown or take Fido on a little vacation to Lawrence where both La Parrilla and Pachamama’s cater to canines – or at least let them on the patio.

I have to add that I’m anxiously awaiting the new patio (attached to his new restaurant) that Jimmy Frantze is building. JJ’s will have a prime location in the Plaza Vista (aka Polsinelli) building, and the city scape overlooking Roanoke will definitely be an intriguing one.

Like I said, I could go on and on. But I can’t – so definitely see our complete chart, including who has live music, heaters, which have what views, which are covered, and much, much more. Detailed chart of amenities that each patio offers.
 Al Fresco rocks!

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