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    Brazilian Steakhouse

  • Kansas City’s traditional,

    hickory-smoked barbeque

  • Family atmosphere. Barbeque favorites

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    for those in the mood for a lighter meal

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Showing posts with label Chris Becicka. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chris Becicka. Show all posts

Life of a Restaurateur

The Glitzy and Glamorous Life of a Restaurateur

Comfortably ensconced in my padded chair, I daintily sip a glass of good summer rosé and peruse the elegant menu.  Ooh, I think, I could own a restaurant like this.  It would be sooo cool. So very fab.

So glamorous. So glitzy.  So satisfying.  Surrounded by creative people, I would oversee delicious food and drink and my customers, no, guests, would heap praise upon me by the giant spoonful.  I would go all over the world tasting other menus.  I would hob nob with the rich and famous.  Maybe a TV show even.  Of course a cookbook.  At least on the radio.
Cindy McClain and her team have been injecting energy in the Independence Square since 1999.

Aaaawk!  Screeeeech! Crash! Stop. 

That’s the sound of reality breaking the window glass of my dreams.
Ask any restaurant owner, any executive chef, about the glamour and excitement of running a restaurant -- and they’ll laugh.  Somewhat hysterically.  Other than for the sacred few on the grueling Food or Cooking Channels, the Travel Channel, the Food Network, the Asian Food Channel and who knows how many others, my visions are not even close to the actual restaurant world.

It’s Hard Work  

If you’ve been in a restaurant at a happy time, with patrons smiling, food being devoured, polite camaraderie surrounding you (and who hasn’t in Kansas City?), you might think this surface is what the business is all about.  It’s so much more – and this final happy eater scene is the culmination of more time and work than most of us can imagine.  And I’m not even talking about starting a restaurant here, especially since the numbers indicate that 60% fail in their first three years, I’m just talking about what it takes to run one.

I’m also not going to talk about capital requirements to keep a restaurant running.  That’s inevitably an issue for any restaurant, even those that seem to be thriving.  Starting a restaurant runs from around $3,000 to $4,000 per seat, according to one restaurant survey at One owner I spoke with for this article said he was stunned over what it took to build out a space now.  Rent is a huge nut to crack sometimes and practically always one of the top three expenses.

It's Long Hours

But to really begin, just look at time.  Most restaurants are open at least six days a week.  Many, seven.  If they’re not open for breakfast at six or seven in the morning, they’re open by 11 a.m. for lunch.  And they close at ten or 11:00 p.m., later on weekends usually.  The owner, executive chef, or key manager is there for most of those hours.  And if they own more than one, while it may not be double, I guarantee it’s still more hours.  Unless maybe, you own five or more – and then you have “people” – and then, I hear, your problems are sometimes slightly different – but they’re definitely still problems and stress and sleepless nights.

Your work is all-consuming and it ranges from hiring, a continual process, planning the changing menus, sourcing the food and drink, maintaining and updating your space to getting the compressors fixed and responding to complaints.  There’s much, much more.

It’s the Menu

First, the menu.  This seems simple.  If you’re a steak restaurant, you serve steak.  If you’re a sushi, you serve fish.  If you’re down-home country food, that’s what you fix. The executive chef determines the menu and then it’s served, right?  No, not exactly.  There are a hundred complexities tied up in these decisions. One of the biggest is cost and what you can charge.

Once you’ve decided what you think you want to serve, you then face a myriad of issues.  Pricing, for instance, is key.  One owner I know has different drink prices among his several restaurants because liquor taxes vary in each county.  Another, Chris Cozzi, managing partner of two BD’s Mongolian Grill locations on both sides of the state line, wryly notes he (or anyone) can only predict food costs to a certain extent. If there are unforeseen natural events such a flood or drought, that impacts produce costs, he doesn’t change pricing.  But he says, “I don’t pull any items if the price increases because I want the guests to have the experience that they are used to.  I just eat the cost.”  He continues, “I used to worry about it but I can’t change anything, so now I worry about it less.  It is what it is.”  And both his restaurants have the exact same pricing, even if taxes and labor costs are different, which they are.  He says he doesn’t want to confuse or upset his guests.

Pricing may also affect portions if restaurants feel they can’t raise the price enough to cover their costs.  This became very clear to me the other night.  Three friends and I were dining at a good restaurant with an extensive wine list.  All three of them got the same trendy salad – which for $9 each, were about the size of a small saucer.  What I don’t know is if that were a conscious pricing and sizing decision or they’d run out of salad. I do know my friends were not happy.

Another chef I know says that when she came to town, she was startled by the amount of food Midwesterners not only could eat, but what they seemed to demand.  She continued serving relatively small amounts of food (at high prices at this high-end restaurant) and she shrugged and said, “I will always give them more if they ask.”  Of course, we typically don’t ask (too polite I suppose or we don’t want to seem piggy) but instead, after enough complaints, the portions became larger.  Pricing, sizing, sourcing, menu breadth, availability, tradition, changes to keep a menu fresh, seasonal variations – all are important decisions even before the ingredients and preparations are resolved.
Another is keeping up with the trends.  Remember when suddenly every salad in the world was kale?  How did that happen and how much kale do you order?  If Brussel sprouts are suddenly on every menu, or mac and cheese or molten chocolate cake?  What’s next? Restaurants now have to keep up with ever-changing trends.  Steak houses now serve merlot cut (cow’s heel) or the Las Vegas strip (oh heresy, but this is the cow’s shoulder).  Vegetables are suddenly centerfolds. Street food becomes new inspiration.  Restaurants have to pay attention to what their patrons may be seeing on TV or in their travels.
No, It’s the Staff

Most restaurant owners agree that their number one issue is staffing.  It probably always has been but some owners find it even more arduous today.   Cindy McClain, co-owner of ten establishments in  Indepen-dence Square and in the business for twenty years beginning with their signature restaurant, Ophelia’s, is blunt.  “The Millennial issue is real.  They just don’t want to work as much others used to.  They’re fine.  They’re smart.  They have good ideas and do a great job when they’re here.  But when they’re done, they’re done. No extra shifts.  Nothing but what they were hired for.  That’s definitely an attitude change I’ve seen over the years.”  She’s working on their learning curve and the “job as experience” – as long as there’s something new, something to learn, they stay, she says.

Another owner, who declined to be identified, also agreed with her assessment.  He believes the work ethic has changed substantially.  Climbing up from dishwasher through the ranks doing every job, working extra hours are not typically something people are willing to do. He also bemoans cell phones and trying to keep employees from using them instead of instantly paying attention to customers.  But he points out how very integral training and team work are in his business because without it, “. . . even if the food is great, if it arrives cold or out of order, if their glass is left empty, people are unhappy.”   None of these owners disagree with that.
Chris Youngers, co-owner of Café Trio, affirms that the labor pool has changed, but notes something different.  He says his people like the typical line cook are “. . .  more driven.  More proud. They want more. That’s both good and bad.  They’re very serious and often want to quickly move on to some place that serves more cutting-edge food with a ‘celebrity chef’ they feel they can learn from.”  Another issue is that there is a labor shortage, especially of experienced staff. “Even five years ago, if someone was great with customers but not a good employee especially (unreliable, causing strife, not being a team player), I could move them along because I had someone good waiting.  Not true now.”

Another permutation is that independent restaurants may have special needs.  Gary Worden, who owns Piropos with wife Cristina, notes that chain restaurants may have more resources, can sometimes offer more benefits, but also don’t often don’t have such a personal touch with their employees – there it’s more “burn and churn.”  “We need people to understand authentic Argentinian food,” he says.  “As a specialty restaurant, our patrons may expect more.”  He also gives a shout-out to his ‘older’ servers – “They don’t go out and party late into the night, they go home, they come to work on time, and they earn good money.” He admits to generalizing. 

It’s the Customers  

In the restaurant business, that customer service must make the customer happy is a no brainer.  A good server can make a mediocre meal acceptable and come-backable.  That takes us back to selection, training, and keeping the staff person happy as well.

From the diner who asks a thousand questions about one dish and then chooses another to the perpetually dissatisfied grump (why is he eating out anyway if only his mother can fix this dish?), dealing with people is a huge part of the job.

Youngers says that when he got into the business in 2004, “We thought food was most important.  That’s just the price of admission.  It all comes down to running the business well and the service.”  He repeated what is often said, “Good food can’t save a bad experience.”

It’s the Talk

Sometimes I’ll mention a restaurant to a friend and he’ll say, “Gosh, we haven’t been there for years.  I never think to go there.”  And they like the restaurant. That’s where marketing comes in and that has certainly changed in the last 20 years.  And now, technology has changed the marketing as well.

A lasting restaurant has a specific position in the marketplace. That begins with a business plan and then costs must be controlled, profit margins managed, and a million business decisions must be made, almost every day.  The very first thought item goes back, probably, to those food choices, because most restaurants want to be known – their brand is their unique food.

Serving fabulous French food like Café Provence or Le Fou Frog or with a bit of a twist like Charisse or Tatsu’s, for instance, is a distinction that attracts. People are willing to try different cultures’ recipes more and more every day in Kansas City – which has, some say, been promulgated by all the food shows on TV. Others can add additional features – being in a beautiful and historic train station for instance, like Pierpont’s.  Or having a fabulous location overlooking the Plaza with a year-round enclosed patio now, like Café Trio. Or Piropos’ view of the city.

It's no longer just word-of-mouth.  Now it's a fearsome development called Yelp or a site like it.  Sometimes a restaurant may deserve a bad review, true.   But basing a judgment on just one experience really isn’t fair. And sometimes diners seem to be absolutely unforgiving.
Technology has played an increasingly big role in the last ten years. “Social media is a game changer.  We used to have written comment cards, which are still valuable,” said Worden.  “But there must be 20 sites now where people leave comments.  Some want to be a food critic but don’t understand the restaurant business, but that’s true in all things.  Some people seem to live to write on the internet.  Sometimes they’re correct – when you’re serving 60-70,000 meals a year, even a 1% fail rate hurts.  You try to make corrections on site but some people really do hide until they get to their computer.”

Reservations have changed as well – it’s so easy to make them electronically. People make reservations for a special night at five restaurants, then choose one and don’t tell the four they’re not coming.  “Restaurants compensate by overbooking, just like the airlines. And two people eat faster than four.  And four faster than six. Or Mondays are usually slow but suddenly, for no reason, there’s 100 people here instead of 40. There’s a real art to forecasting, but you’re just not always right.”
So if your reserved table isn’t available the second you enter the restaurant, have a little empathy.  Or have you ever been late to your table, holding up the next diners?  Obviously, even a simple thing like a reserved table isn’t that simple.

It’s a Dance 

So with all the hard work, the long hours, the people challenges, the changes and trends, the search to keep and find new customers, is it really glamorous to own a restaurant?  Although he laughed when I asked him this question, Worden who also owns a monthly magazine called Restaurant Start Up & Growth which he uses sometimes to solve his own restaurant challenges, told me, “Well, it can be great from an ego and social point of view.  Some guys do hit it big, but they usually own several restaurants at least.  I get to meet a whole lot of people.  I’m glad we did this, but we had no concept of what we’d be doing.  Cristina still wants to slap me for saying before we bought in, ‘What can be so hard about owning a restaurant?’ We’ve found out.”

Chris Youngers smiled and said, “It’s been more than I thought.  We were 30 when we got into it.  It’s taken time to come to grasp all it takes.  We’re still here every moment.  Our social life is our customers and our staff.  I wouldn’t trade that. But if I had a son or daughter, I’d say no . . . go find something else.  You do make a sacrifice in your personal life.” 

I liked how Cindy McClain of Indepen-dence Square summed it up when she said, after talking about all the problems, the issues, the people, the challenges, “I have to have eyes in the back of my head.  My head has to swivel like Sybil’s.  It’s 24-7, 7 days a week.  But if you’re an adrenaline junkie, it's fun, it's fast.  It's a dance.


Half of all adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their lives.
• 1 in 3 Americans got their first job experience in a restaurant.
• There are 1 million + restaurant locations in the United States.
• 9 in 10 restaurants have fewer than 50 employees.
• 7 in 10 restaurants are single-unit operations.

 Source: National Restaurant Association web site

It’s an Adventure!

Since it was cool, even if rainy, at long last this week, I took some friends on the streetcar and we ate at il Lazzarone, a not so new anymore pizza place in the city market. What struck me most was that three of them hadn’t been on the street car and that the entire excursion could be considered an adventure – which one kept exclaiming it was. 

What if we started looking at all such trips as adventures?  Life would be so much more exciting.  And even if you’re going to a familiar place, you can turn it into an exploration. For instance, one HOT day last week, I was at McCormick and Schmick’s.  No way was I going to sit outside.  Yet there was a breeze, hot again, but we braved the heat and decided to sit on their lovely patio, ordered a tropical drink and then their fresh strawberry lemonade, ate the perfectly seared bigeye ahi tuna and despite the cars, I pretended I was in Hawaii.  It certainly all felt tropical – and I felt better about my more exotic excursion all evening long.  (Then I went home and took another shower.)

Another recent journey was to Swordfish Tom’s with some of my friends from Les Dames d’Escoffier.  It’s a speakeasy off 18th Terrace downtown and several of us had never been there before.  It’s a bit hard to find – which made their specialty cocktails all the better.  Delicious concoctions in an unexpected venue made me feel like I was in prohibition days, without the gangsters.

There are places I keep saying I want to try but procrastinate.  Why?  I dunno.  This summer is the time to experiment.   I’ve decided, to have more adventures.  Research new-to-me places, re-look at the familiar, go to a special wine dinner for an evening to remember, change up what I do.  Something as simple as if you mostly eat out on the weekends with the crowds, go on a Monday or Tuesday – a far more leisurely experience. Taste something you’ve never been willing to attempt in a favorite restaurant.  Think about eating out as an usual experiment whose outcome is not pre-determined. Adventures are definitely available in Kansas City – if only we look for them!


Happy Hour on the Plaza

5 Great Reasons to Happy Hour on the Plaza

Friend Nancy and I went to Café Trio this week and it reminded me I need to come here more often.  

There are several reasons for this brilliant assessment. 

1. The food and drinks are VERY good. And there are so many choices – including soups and salads which you seldom see on a happy hour menu. I went for the chicken livers and they were great and plentiful – and I am an expert on chicken livers, at least eating them. But there’s also excellent truffle fries, flatbread, fried chicken, mussels, crab cakes and steak burgers – 14 different items right now. 

2. The prices are REALLY reasonable -- $4 well drinks and wine, $5 martinis, $3 beers. Their food features range from $5 to maybe $8 and these are good sized portions, folks. 

3. They have a GREAT location with their OWN parking. It’s the Plaza and you can easily park there. Whoo-Hoo. 

4. They have TERRIFIC ambiance inside and a WONDERFUL deck (heated in the winter, cooled to bearable on our tropical days) that on what is normally a slow Tuesday in other places, was busy but not loudly boisterous. You could talk to your companions. 

5. Our server was DARLING, attentive despite the crowd, and had opinions. I’m generalizing here, but if they’re all like him, or even mostly like him, your time at Café Trio will be equally as happy.

Cafe Trio
4558 Main Street
Kansas City, MO 64111
Ph. 816.756.3227            
Cafe Trio Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Dinner and a . . .

Sometimes I could kick myself. I eat out a lot. But I could be eating out and doing more at the same time if I just opened my eyes a bit and planned better – just the tiniest bit. Here’s what I mean: the Gaslight Grill in Leawood offers periodic (free) music by talented KC musicians on their Cabaret evenings besides their five days a week jazz in their Back Room.

On May 8th, which I missed of course, they had Kristen Alley and Alyce Pickering singing tunes from James Taylor, Carol King, and Chicago. See my first sentence.

Webster House has a full program of events including their monthly supper clubs, jazz trios, special happy hours and the like. Back on the 9th their supper club featured Candace Evans and on May 23, they have a special wine tasting. There’s lots going on – there are three ways to find out easily. The first is to go to our Events Calendar. The second is to search by nightlife, or to sign up for our Instagram, or twitter. The third is to call the restaurant just to check up on what’s new.

 And speaking of special events, you will definitely want to check out SupperClub2018 on September 14. It’s a benefit for scholarships given by Les Dames d’Escoffier and the K.C. Jazz Ambassadors. Sponsored by The American’s Concept Series, it features a five course meal prepared by amazing female chefs and a full line-up of jazz greats. To learn more, check it out here. Do it now – last year it sold out in a flash.

One Great Dish

Chipped beef on toast

A few weeks ago for this space, I talked with Colby Garrelts, famed chef of Bluestem and Rye restaurants. I really appreciate someone who is equally at home fixing the most elegant and sophisticated of dishes AND who loves, and prepares, much more “down home” food, but usually with a twist.  A great example of that is the meal my mom used to fix us, often when she and dad were going out, chipped beef on toast. 

It was that pretty basic version I mentioned in that blog, but now I’ve gotten Chef Colby’s permission to give you the recipe of his far tastier version which I found in his and wife Megan’s newest cookbook, Made in America. It is, proclaims its cover, “A Modern Collection of Classic Recipes” and that’s just what it is – food that is familiar, but they’ve made it MUCH better. It is organized cleverly – Daybreak, From the Cupboard and Garden, Cast Iron, From the Fryer, From the Grill and so on. Desserts of course, too. It’s as much fun to read the personalized notes about the dishes as it is the recipes – and the pictures are of food that looks real. Nice touch, that. 

To make this nostalgic chipped beef on toast but made with bresaola and spinach and real white gravy, click here. I can guarantee you it’s better than what mom made.

Dicey Weather Can Be Beaten

Usually by the third week of April, I’ve dined/imbibed at one or two outdoor dining spaces in K.C.  These are also known typically as patios and several restaurants around town have created lovely spaces for those who want to dine al fresco.
This year, however, no dice.  For starters, it’s snowed, sleeted, semi-hailed, or rained or been freezing cold every weekend – but you are probably also aware of that. Once I got over my surprise at being unable to control the weather, I sought solutions.

I found four that could come close to the answer.  Sullivan’s Steakhouse’s outdoor dining is partially covered and enclosed.  You can eat an entire steak dinner or just snack on their bar bites – either works well.  You can also, the last time I was there,  smoke a cigar.  Brewery Emperial in the Crossroads has an entire “beer garden” where you can get much more than a beer.  You can warm up around their “au natural” (almost) fire fit.  You’ll feel like you’re at a great picnic.

Pinstripes in south Overland Park, known for their bocce, bowling and bistro experience, also has a patio upstairs overlooking lots of green.  There’s a nice firepit you can pull your Adirondack chairs up to and part of the space is covered as well.  Snuggles.  Add Plaza  fine comfort-spot, McCormick’s and Schmick’s and instead of sitting in their beautiful bar, try their patio with both tables and couches and a very warm fire pit (and heaters, too).

So that’s four answers to the cold or bad weather dilemma which I advise you to try.  In the meantime, if the weather just doesn’t cooperate, I plan to go sit beside the windows lining the sidewalk seating at Classic Cup and watch the poor souls outside struggling down the sidewalk.  Very entertaining, that.

One Great Chef: Colby Garrelts

One Great Chef: Colby Garrelts

In doing a bit of research on Colby Garrelts, I found his recipe for chipped beef on toast with white gravy.  My navy guy dad called it s*** on a shingle, and my mom made it from packaged dry beef and cream of mushroom soup.  He wouldn’t eat it but we kids liked it though we couldn’t call it what he did. Colby’s recipe has 16 ingredients, and reading it, I immediately wanted to make it.  Or rather, I wanted to order it. But it did make me go buy his second cook book, Made in America.  

You probably already know all of Chef Garrelts’ credentials: a 2013 James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Midwest award winner, 2005 Food & Wine’s Top 10 Best New Chefs, author of two cookbooks (with semi-finalist Outstanding Pastry Chef, wife and co-owner Megan), semi-finalist Outstanding Restaurant for Bluestem in 2018, the third time on this prestigious short list, and all kinds of showcases and awards in various magazines.  The couple opened Bluestem way back in 2004, the first Rye in Leawood in 2012 and its Plaza location in late 2017.  As Colby put it, high concept Bluestem was his 20s, comfortable, more home-style Rye is his 40s.

It’s a remarkably hectic life, running three restaurants.  Colby laughs and says with the three, a wife, two kids, Colin age 7 and Mady 10, a home in which he often cooks, his dad’s farm in Linn County where he tries to grow veggies, he is “pinballing” through life, barely able to get in his favorite bicycling.  But there’s lots to keep him happy, those kids and wife primarily, as well as a great food community here. He notes that Kansas City is full of people doing wonderful food and working their butts off – he wants to help ensure that they stick around. He and wife go everywhere new they can but they also have favorites like Ragazza now at 43rd and Main, Corvino’s, Port Fonda, Michael Smith’s, Novel and lots more.  If an out-of-towner wants a recommendation for KC food, after his own place and Kansas City Joe’s, he suggests taking a trip down the Boulevard to all the Mexican restaurants or trying other ethnic restaurants scattered all over town. He and his family are eclectic eaters. 

While Garrelts was a student at Shawnee Mission East, he worked in a diner and at the Long Branch.  His best friend was going to JCCC in the culinary program; Colby decided to join him because food was what he knew.  Then he moved to Chicago and for a few years worked at some very well-known restaurants like Tru (where he met wife Megan) until he, “. . . got to the point where I didn’t want to work for other chefs.  I wanted to make a name for myself with great food and service, and I wanted to do it with my family around me.”  That’s when he returned to Kansas City – and now he also finds himself in the opposite place of where he once was at Tru or The American Restaurant – younger wanna-be’s now want to come to his restaurant to learn more and then take their newer skills and experiences onward and upward.  This culinary mentorship is rewarding in its own way he admits.
I asked Chef his favorite thing to eat at his restaurant. He didn’t go first to Bluestem where he knows he can really express his ideas in food.  He talked about Rye which is everything he wants to eat on a typical night.  Or breakfast – the Plaza has breakfast, he exclaims. “Our burnt ends.  Meg’s pies. Fried chicken, that’s what it’s all about. That’s why we did it.” 

And now he says, “Megan and I want to build a lasting restaurant, one that’s comfortable, homey, welcoming.  I just want to make people happy and have them enjoy our food.”  

So maybe he’ll put that chipped beef on toast on the menu for me?

Rye Plaza
4646 JC Nichols Parkway 
Kansas City, MO 64112 
Ph. 816-541-3382 

Fast Breaking Deliciousness

Fast Breaking Deliciousness

In the last couple weeks, I’ve broke my fasting relatively early to try two different places on the Plaza for a real breakfast.  Not just coffee but a true breakfast with eggs and bacon and carbs and all my favorites which I never do at home.  There are really only two choices right in the heart of the Plaza for that and of course, that’s the iconic Classic Cup Café and then the new – to the area – Rye Restaurant, which maybe isn’t necessarily thought of as a breakfast place.

The Classic Cup is frequently touted for its long-term status, its people watching, its patios, its wine events, and its famous buttermilk pancakes.  Though I have long wanted to try their bread pudding and just call it a day, I typically opt for one of three benedicts or one of five omelets – though three eggs do make for a hefty breakfast.  Their French omelet is especially tasty – smoked bacon, spinach, apple and brie. I’m going to either get the nine hour pork and eggs or the migas next time.   They have a pretty large menu and you can take pancake mix with you.  I’ve made them just once; if someone would just cook and serve me, I’d certainly have these cakes more often.

Even more decadent, at Rye I started with one of Megan Garrelts’ amazing cinnamon rolls.  They aren’t those huge doughy ones;  each is about the size of an apple;  light, airy, and its creamy drizzled frosting is not an afterthought.  Splitting it with my friend was just about perfect since I knew I had a full meal coming.  Said friend ordered the eggs benedict whose eggs were perfectly done and he loved the hollandaise.  I opted for the Rye breakfast with extra crispy hash browns – loved that flat ½ cell phone size and ate every smidgeon, determined to think those potatoes done that way are healthy.  The number one item there is biscuits and gravy, and given the large and very fluffy biscuit that came with my meal, that has to be great, too.  The B&G expert I know needs to come here.  Fast. 

One other very cool thing about Rye I’ve not taken advantage of yet is that they have a small case of to- go items – from those rolls to muffins to a ham and cheese handpie.  Even small and delicious looking cakes.  Oh, and pies.  Pies.

Though both places are open at seven during the week, it did occur to me that by going later, I could shop after eating.  A full morning of indulging.  Nothing better.  

Classic Cup Plaza
301 West 47th Street 
Kansas City, MO 64112 
Ph. 816-753-1840 

Rye Plaza
4646 JC Nichols Parkway 
Kansas City, MO 64112 
Ph. 816-541-3382  


Rye on the Plaza

You Sweet Thing, You

It’s appropriate that I’m writing this on International Women’s Day (even though I decry the need for this “holiday” which has been around since the 1900’s) because I’m writing about Rye’s desserts, all crafted by Chef Megan Garrelts. You probably know she is again a James Beard Semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef. Her previous nomination was for the pastry (a very broad category really covering everything from bread to doughnuts to cakes and elegant concoctions) at Bluestem, the other restaurant she co-owns with her husband. Her pastry expertise and creativity is the foundation of all the desserts at all three restaurants – to say she’s busy is an understatement.

But on to the goodies . . . The Rye dessert menu has a little something for everyone. There is the famous lemon meringue pie of course, sprightly tart and sweet and in my opinion, even as a confirmed chocoholic, the perfect ending to any meal. Her MOKAN pie is another favorite – hers of course has Missouri pecans and Kansas black walnuts – and this recipe was even published in Food and Wine. Making your own pie crust immediately told me I should continue to order it at the restaurants. The dark hazelnut brownie, especially topped with house-made ice cream, almost made me cry. So good. But so all are the other pies, the Kentucky bourbon cake, and the house-made sorbets. Maybe I should just say everything, already.

 Although I have to say I laugh when I see the cheeses on this menu because who could possibly want cheese for dessert (unless you’ve had dessert for your first course and even then . . .), I do like the fact that after dinner wines and cocktails are listed there. Not everyone does that yet, and it makes it so much easier to royally finish off an evening. The Garrelts have two cookbooks out and that lemon pie recipe is in their newest book, published in 2015, Made in America: A Modern Collection of Classic Recipes. Again, I think I’ll just keep ordering it.

 In terms of International Women who should be recognized, Megan Garrelts is right up there. And not just on one day a year. You should definitely leave room for dessert at Rye.

Rye Plaza
4646 JC Nichols Parkway 
Kansas City, MO 64112 
Ph. 816-541-3382 
Rye Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Secrets of KC’s Great Chefs

The (Not-So-Secret) Secrets of 11 Great Chefs

“I’ve Got a Secret” was an old TV series, even before my time almost (1952-67) but then it was revived a couple of times in various formats which I never saw.  The schtick was that a panel tried to guess a contestant’s “secret.” The definition of secret was pretty broad but it was supposed to be amazing, unusual, humorous, or embarrassing.  The contestant could be a famous person or someone more like you or me.  I remember there was a lot of back and forth banter and that my parents liked the show a whole more than I did.

Maybe that’s because the secrets never seemed all that fascinating to me, or that’s how I remember it anyway.  A secret should be really that – deep, mysterious, intriguing.  The whole problem with that concept today is that there seem to be few secrets – everybody knows everything about everybody.  Thank you, internet.

Well, that’s not really totally true.  What if, I thought, what if I could ask some folks with a great talent anything I wanted.  Would they answer me?  And truthfully?

The answer to that burning question is yes.  It’s yes if you’re a great Kansas City chef.  I found that everyone I approached was willing to give me some answers to some scorching questions that I think all of us would like to know.  And though I can’t tell everything about every chef I talked to, I can tell you that in this very hard business, some of the men and women drawn to it who’ve persevered and succeeded in it, have some similarities and some differences. Quelle surprise as the French say.
So if you want to know what I’ve discovered, read on.  It may change how you view your next meal in any one of their fine restaurants and at the least, I bet there’s something in here you didn’t know.

Adverse or Modest?

I started out with the negative, or at least the humble, bit.  I asked, what aren’t you good at?  Yes, a sentence ending with a preposition.  Chef and owner Carl Thorne-Thomsen of Story answered simply, “Patience.”  Chef Leonice Ludwig of Porto do Sul was really upfront when she said she wasn’t good at dealing with unreasonable customers, because sometimes “they are not right.”  Chef Alejandro Diaz of the President’s (Hilton) Providence Restaurant said without hesitation he’s not great in public relations.  He definitely thinks it’s not about him, it’s about the food, which he’s happier to talk about.

Some turned to food to answer this.  Chef/owner Colby Garrelts of Rye and Bluestem says he’s “terrible at pasta.  It’s a very simple food style which I overthink.” Chef Tony Gordon of Westside Local responded with the rather surprising answer of “Veggies.”  He admitted to being a picky eater as a kid and vegetables were not his favorite.  But he’s recovered – working with so many local farmers has made him appreciate the taste and quality of good vegetables and now he’s much more comfortable with pairing them with his entrees.  His mother would be proud.

But the big winner here for these experienced chefs was dessert.  Maybe not a surprise. Taylor Fluevog, Executive Chef at Sullivan’s Steakhouse, said that she’s lucky to have a talented sous-chef who has great finesse in constructing wonderful desserts.  Chef Brandon Winn at Webster House somewhat echoed that – his pastry chef does much that he’d rather not. Mano Rafael, co-owner and chef of Le Fou Frog, agrees with this, “. . . because you have to be a scientist and measure everything.  I also hate to work with sugar – it’s sticky and messy.”  Richard Ng of Bo Lings isn’t crazy about desserts either, saying he is not able to spend enough time on them.  And Bobby Stearns of Ophelia’s and Café Verona laughed as he remarked he still could use more practice on desserts, even though he makes them all the time.

Some (Possibly Not Secret) Big Dislikes

Armed with this info, I kept to my negative trend and asked them what is the most irritating thing about their customers – or kitchen . . . giving them an out because hardly anyone will tell about that most hated thing about their customers – at least sober they won’t.  A couple had no complaints, so I’ll skip them.  But there were a couple of instructive answers from the other side of the wall.  Story’s chef bemoaned his small kitchen.  Alejandro Diaz said he’d rather be in an open kitchen because, “There’s great motivation and gratification when you see people enjoying your food.”

Two chefs are annoyed by people changing their food – putting their own restrictions on the chef’s dish.  Mano Rafael says, “I understand dietary and allergy restrictions but when it’s just that they prefer potatoes to couscous, it irritates me because I put a lot of thought into all the components of my dish.  Get a side of mashed potatoes but try the dish the way it was intended!”  Tony Gordon says the same thing, “When customers completely customize their own dish.”  Brandon Winn points out the necessity of, if you have a true food allergy, telling your staff person immediately, but he’s irritated by “100% dietary restrictions that are really preferences.  It’s when preferences are put in front of you as allergies . . Cross contamination in kitchens is inevitable.” 

Only a slight step away from that is when, according to Chef Leonice Ludwig, customers come in and tell her, “How I should be cooking Brazilian food that we have been cooking for years with recipes handed down for generations.”  People, people, let the chef create and cook the food!

Still on that other side, Colby Garrelts notes, “I love our customers but I hate when they complain about noise at both of our Rye restaurants. I want high energy in those restaurants! I want noise and I want people to have fun!”  So noted.  Bobby Stearns mentions Yelp, stupid reviews, so called “foodies,” and ordering breakfast items at dinner.  Richard Ng hates to waste good food and ingredients, but didn’t indicate if that’s on his customers or in his kitchen.  Probably both I’d guess – waste is waste.

At What We’re Great

What do they think their restaurant does an extra-special good job in?  Predictably, Taylor Fluevog at Sullivan’s says bone-in steaks.  Yep.  Despite his fish reputation, Carl Thorne Thomsen says Story excellently does craft cocktail creation.  Jeff Dietzler says Jax is especially good at sustainability, totally important for seafood.  Brandon Winn is proud of how well Webster House does with special events and being adaptable as they have become more contemporary using more fresh ingredients.  Tony Gordon believes Westside Local does an especially good job in using local ingredients and working with local farmers.  He specifies he likes to help support local businesses in the city himself.

Alejandro Diaz is really happy with the way Providence represents new American food.  On the other side of the ocean, Mano Rafael points to the fact Le Fou Frog has been demystifying French food for so many years.  Leonice Ludwig claims an outstanding specialty in something the others wouldn’t: picanha, the most prized of Brazilian meats we call a sirloin cap (but Brazilians keep the fat on until the steak has been cooked).

Home Sweet Home

Are chefs just like you and me, only better cooks?  I’d guess there’s much more to it – like years of education and training, arduous experiences, comprehensive knowledge in a bunch of different areas.  But they do (sometimes) cook at home, just like me.  It’s a question of time.  Chefs’ go-tos home on the range sound a whole lot better than mine, though.

Jeff Dietzler doesn’t have a chance to cook at home very often but he likes to cook for family and friends and loved ones about twice a month.  His fav?  Lasagna. Alejandro Diaz cooks for “my wife and me a couple times a week, we usually do pork tacos or quesadillas. When we have more time, I make gluten free sweet potato gnocchi Parisienne with creamy Bolognese sauce.”  So much for simple.  “When I am at home I cook for my parents, daughter, and my sister.  I try to make sure that I cook on average four times a week when my mother doesn't beat me to the punch,” reveals Taylor Fluevog.
Brandon Winn says he cooks for himself and it all depends on how much he’s worked.  During Restaurant Week, he said he went home, had a beer or two, and went to bed.  Otherwise, though, he uses his “smoker a lot. . . I can walk away from it for an hour or two.  I like simple.  I tend to nibble on menu items a lot.  Home is plant-based hashes and I don’t eat a lot a protein at home.  It’s eggs or lentils if I do. Or curries.”  Colby Garrelts says, “I cook at home every chance I get. My kids love brick chicken and risotto. That gets served a lot at our house.”  Leonice Ludwig cooks risotto at home, too – “it’s so easy and good.”

“Honestly, before I became the chef at the Local, I used to cook a lot at home,” says Chef Gordon. “Nowadays I rarely do. But if I do decide to, I'll make southern dishes like fried fish, jambalaya, or maybe fire up the smoker and barbecue.”  Both Richard Ng and Bobby Stearns say they just don’t cook at home much.  Mano Rafael says, “At home I take turns cooking for my family of four.  Sometimes it’s every night; sometimes my wife does it.  They like what I cook but don't like how many dishes I use and they say I make too much.  Our most common go-to meal is some sort of pasta.”

Chef Fluevog admits, “When I am at home we like to cook rustic-style, good old home cooking.  We make Italian lasagna as well as BBQ meatballs and cheesy potatoes.”   Carl Thorne-Thomsen is most comprehensive as he thinks about this fiery question.  “I cook breakfast every morning for my wife, Susan, and our three children. I cook family dinner on Monday nights. I also cook lunch for my wife on Mondays and Tuesdays. Family dinner is always steak, chicken, Caesar salad, a vegetable, rice and pasta. Something for everyone.”  Whew.  Opening a can of soup, it’s not.

Try This Once at Least

If you’ve not had the following dishes, you should, according to our experts.  Check them out (and off your list).

“I love foie gras. At Providence we pan sear it and baste it with herbs and grill some Boston brown bread and garnish it with local fig jam. It’s indulgently buttery, sweet, salty and nutty,” opines Alejandro Diaz.  Our kale and artichoke crab dip. (Jeff Dietzler at Jax).  “Menudo.  Tripe.  Sweetbreads.  They are delicious by any standard.  Such flavor” . . . (Brandon Winn). Octopus (Carl Thorne-Thomsen).  Steak tartare (Taylor Fluevog).

Chef Rafael says, “Steak au poivre for people who think French food is too fancy. Escargot and foie gras.” Whole flounder, pork belly (Richard Ng). Chef Garrelts takes it up, or down, a notch: “Any kind of offal, liver, sweetbreads, etc. I love the texture and the unique flavors.”  Chef Gordon said he’d “have to go with ceviche. I was always skeptical about raw seafood being cooked in fresh squeezed lime juice. But this stuff is amazing.”  Brandon Winn summed it up: “We should all try new things, whatever is new to us.”  Bobby Stearns adds, “Something you have been scared to try.  Try it.”

Your Last Meal, Ever

It’s only appropriate to end this article with the last meal on earth question.  I didn’t even put them in prison awaiting execution, just that last meal, assuming you still have your teeth and taste buds. There were some simple, but perfect, sounding choices.  Chef Ludwig says she’d want picanha, cooked by her husband. Chef Tony Gordon exclaims, “It'll have to be pizza.  I love classic New York style pizza from Johnny Jo's Pizzeria. I love that place.”  Chef Ng says he wants egg fried rice cooked by his wife.

Chef Thorne-Thomsen would have a cheeseburger his wife cooked along with at least one glass of 2014 Realm Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Cabernet (which, by the way, garnered a 99 in the Wine Advocate). Jeff Dietzler envisions a large last plate: “Full of bone marrow, pâtés, and charcuterie.  It would be prepared by all of the chefs who have mentored me and showed me their ways.” Nice. 

Chef Rafael is explicit.  “My last meal would be a ribeye encrusted in garlic and fresh herbs cooked by my Chef Fatmir with a side of pasta cooked by my wife. Brandon could add a little surf to my turf and sauté some perfect scallops and then if pastry chef Carter threw in a goat cheese cheesecake, I'd be fat and happy.”
Chef Diaz is clear.  “It would start with some cheese, wine and baguette, follow by braised short ribs and mashed potatoes, tacos al pastor (yes,TACOS), and I would finish with a vanilla bean crème brûlée.  It would be cooked by my cooks and sous-chef.”

Chef Winn told me a short story before his final choice.  “For my 30th birthday, we went to Eleven Madison Park – for 25 courses. It was life changing.  Last year I went to Rieger and ordered ten meals I wanted and then Howard Hanna carefully and thoughtfully re-engineered them all into one dinner.  In other words, I would like Howard Hanna to just go for it. That’s the meal I want.” 

 A Few Last Words

While I’m pretty sure that these 11 chefs may have secrets that are deep, mysterious, and spine-tingling intriguing, I think I’ll have to dig deeper to get those.  I’m happy to settle for the idea that these people are nicely unusual, amazing in their craft, and willing to reveal at least a little bit about their lives.  Frankly, I came away impressed.  You can easily sample their skills and ultimate creations in their restaurants and should have a better understanding of the man or woman beneath that chef’s coat.  Whether or not you get a chance to talk to them too, I bet you’ll also be impressed.

Ladies Who Lunched, Largely

Esteemed publisher Kathy Denis and I had lunch last week at Webster House, one of my favorite haunts.  Not that that old school is haunted in any sense of the word. 

They’ve freshened up their menu again which Chef Brandon Winn does seasonally at least, so we felt compelled to eat heartily.  The mushroom soup managed to be light but hearty with the mushroom flavor unmistakable – and the slices and chunks of mushrooms helped that of course.  Determined to be healthy, I ordered the house salad then said we’d split.  Kathy got the pan-seared scallops with butternut squash puree and an apple cider reduction and they were perfect.  Since I’d been so healthy so far, I then proceeded to wolf down most of the short rib tartine whose eponymous rib just dissolved in my mouth along with the caramelized onion and smoked pepper jam.  We shared both dishes (somewhat) and finally, sated, sat back and sighed happily.

And then our cute and very obliging staff person talked us into dessert, despite our bulging bellies (well, mine was, I won’t speak for Ms. Denis).  “It’s light,” he said, winningly.  “t’s delicious.  It’s the perfect finish.”  And the Blood Orange Bar, which tasted like a holy version of a dreamsicle, was all those adjectives.  But I’m compelled to add I think they should rename it even if it is made with blood oranges.  Something like “Citrus Tower” or “Orange Delight Bar” or even just “Dream Bar.”  But “A rose by any other name . . .” and you should
still finish up with this for lunch or dinner, no matter your belly.

And speaking of finishing off a terrific lunch, I next went downstairs and promptly bought a great scarf for myself.  What a treat-ful day. 

Webster House
1644 Wyandotte 
Kansas City, MO 64108 
Ph. 816-221-4713 
Located just south of the Kaufmann Center for Performing Arts

Webster House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Happy Hour IX: The Drum Room at Providence

Kansas City, to my mind, has never been a particularly great place for hotel dining and drinking. (Oh, sure, there was the Peppercorn Duck Club and Skies, I still miss them both.) You are welcome to disagree but among my friends and me, we never think about getting happy in a hotel in this town. Traveling, sure. But now I’m starting to think we should put hotels on our list.

Case in point: The Drum Room adjoining Providence New American Kitchen in the Hilton downtown. Their happy hour runs from 4 – 6:30 p.m. – I like that extra half hour. Also there’s parking across the street which is less expensive than most of the lots around and who knows, you might get lucky with street parking. You’re downtown, folks.

But during that time, you can actually have dinner if you have that burger craving all good Midwesterners fall prey to – it’s just six bucks as are their duck fat fries (I ALWAYS ask for extra crispy no matter where I go) that come with a beer and cheese fondue. There are just two other items on the menu – calamari and feta fritters, also inexpensive and also yummy.

Now, on to the equally important part: the drinks. There’s two draught beers on tap for $5 as are their house selections of red and white wine BUT what I like – premium well cocktails are just $6. If you’re determined to go the true high end, splurge on the original Drum Room’s Old Fashioned, which as an old fashioned expert, and a modest one at that, I can tell you is excellent; there’s also the Pendergast, and several memorable more – woo hoo! Head bartender Jeff Ruane summed it all up well for me when he said, “The ambiance here is like no other place – its history, the people who come here from all over or who live down the block, the music, we’ve got it all.” He’s right.

Yep, a great night out with a great burger and drink – in the historic atmosphere of one of Kansas City’s most storied hotels. Be sure to step down a few steps and look at the pictures and class case with artifacts of previous days. It’s definitely a happy two and a half hours.

Providence New American Kitchen
1329 Baltimore 
Kansas City, MO 64105 
Ph. (816) 303-1686 

Drum Room Lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bow Wow

Wow! I know some of you believe every year is the day, week, month and year of the dog, but according to the Chinese New Year Calendar, this year occurs only every 12 years but the earth dog occurs in only 2018 (and years 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, and 2030). But no matter, the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum will celebrate the Chinese holiday new year on January 28 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and this year is especially special. 

Bo Ling's Chinese Restaurant is going to be there (rooms 4 and 5) to help by serving some of their fine cuisine like dan dan noodles with pork, Sichuan dumplings, roasted chicken, vegetable fried rice, and rangoon dip with crispy noodles. Besides trying some unusual dishes, you and your family can enjoy several different dance groups, a traditional Chinese dress show, even a yo-yo demonstration along with special Asian influenced menu items in the Rozzelle Court Restaurant. There’s so much going on – and it will help you learn about a different culture, too. Go here for times and events. 

 The new year celebration is actually February 16 this year but the celebration begins on the new moon between January 21 and February 20. The Lunar New Year is celebrated in other Asian countries and is a major holiday – Chinese families typically gather for an annual reunion dinner – and also it’s traditional to clean house thoroughly to sweep away bad fortune and welcome in good luck. Red decorations, firecrackers, and monetary tokens in red envelopes are also common. So this year, go ahead and celebrate two new years. I’m definitely going to do a bit of that cleaning thing! 

P.S. The symbols say “Spring Festival,” the new year’s other name, in both traditional and simplified the bottom two characters) Chinese. Or so Wikipedia told me.

Braised Red Cabbage Recipe

Braised Red Cabbage

Jeff DietzlerOne Great Dish
A while back, as I’m sure you’ll recall, I spoke with Chef Jeff Dietzler at Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar and wrote in that blog that he does even cook at home when he has time.  One thing that creative chefs do is reach into their memory banks and recreate.  This recipe is an example of that and a perfect wintry pick-me-up as well.

Braised Red Cabbage

1 head red cabbage, finely sliced                             
2 carrots, medium grate on box grater  
2 apples, granny smith, medium grate   
1 red onion, small dice                  
½ t. nutmeg                                                                       
½ t. coriander, ground
1 T. salt, kosher                                                                
2 t. black pepper, ground                                                            

½ C. red wine vinegar                                                    
½ C. apple cider Vinegar                                               
1 C red cooking wine                                     
½ C brown sugar                                              
2 quarts vegetable stock                                              
½ C. oil, rice bran                                                                             

1.)  In a medium sized sauce pot, place rice bran oil over medium- high heat.
2.)  Sweat onion in oil for one minute. Next, add cabbage, carrot, apple, nutmeg and coriander. Sweat for another two minutes. 
3.)  Deglaze with red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and red wine. Add brown sugar, salt, pepper and stock. 
4.)  Bring to a boil and then simmer until almost all of the liquid is gone. 

Jeff said, "I chose this recipe because we have recently added it to our menu and it is perfect for winter weather. My grandmother gave me the recipe – she made it every Christmas Eve for our traditional dinner.  As I’d walk in the door, the smell of this braised cabbage would be the first thing I noticed. I love the smell and flavors of the sweetness, sourness and earthiness. So delicious."

Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar
4814 Roanoke Pkwy 
Kansas City, MO 64112 
Ph. (816) 437-7940 

2017 Memories

Thanks for the Memories, 2017

I’m a lucky girl as I get to eat out often.  A lot.  But when asked to come up with the best meals of 2017, I must pause, ponder, try to remember.  I would say that entire spectacular meals are tough to recall –  , well, not to recall beyond, “That was all wonderful,” which makes for really boring reading.  Instead, I tend to remember one especially wonderful dish which casts its glimmer on everything else to create that total glowing impression. So I’ll mention a few, briefly.

First things first.  That means, before dinner, a drink.  Surprise. I’ve been on an old-fashioned kick recently (well, the last ten years) so I think I’d pick the one made with Scotch at Porto do Sul or one of the newer riffs on the classics at Pierpont’s.  I also really like the aquavit tasting at the Krokstrom Klubb and Market – you drink these and your mouth even feels clean as your brain gets cold.

Since my perfect meal dream is going to include fish, I truly have remarkable choices in Cowtown.   I will start with the shrimp and grits at Webster House. Then I will chomp down on almost any fish Chef/Owner Carl Thorne is featuring at Story.  And I won’t be able to neglect Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar but will probably have to choose, ohmygosh, what?  The grilled ahi tuna on nori sushi rice rocks my boat.  I am compelled to also order a crab cake at McCormick and Schmick’s.

I really should have started with this paragraph.  “Eat Dessert First” is a motto to live by.  Frankly, it’s hard to decide among several.  But one is at the Hereford House which is known for its steaks, but their carrot cake is different from others I’ve tried – but even more rich and decadent.  Speaking of rich, when I want to calorie-splurge, I’d probably go for one of the creamy, divine cheese cakes at Grimaldi’s  Pizza.  Yes, pizza.  Or I might choose something chocolate at Andre’s (anything works there but I am especially fond of their coconut “Matterhorns” covered with dark chocolate.)  Or, and this one does surprise me, the chocolate peanut butter cookie at Tannin’s Wine Bar and Kitchen.

I could go on.  And on.  Too many choices, too little time.  But with a little more luck, I’ll expand my choices (and my waistband no doubt) in 2018.

What did you eat in 2017? 

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