Good food should be shared — and not just on Instagram.
That’s why we recently asked local food lovers to dish on the best thing they ever ate in Kansas City. Among their mouthwatering responses: A decadent dessert modeled after campfire s’mores. A juicy burger from a food truck in the East Bottoms. Grilled wraps from a surf-inspired shop in a strip mall, and a barbecue sandwich even vegetarians can eat.
The recommendations varied wildly from person to person, but the enthusiasm didn’t. Read on to find out where to get a “friggin’ good” falafel sandwich, an “ahh-mazing” root beer float, and a fresh-baked pretzel so delectable that you’ll gladly commit “carbo-cide.”
Taste your way through the recommendations this summer, checking each dish off this list as you go.
It’s all proof that the best meals are the ones you savor — and share — well beyond the last bite.
Bluestem’s shrimp and grits
Brad Gilmore is always on the lookout for foods that transport him to his childhood in the South — if only for a few minutes.
“Anytime I can find a dish that takes me back to my grandma’s house,” he says, “that inspires me.”
Gilmore puts that inspiration to work — as executive chef at Bread & Butter Concepts, he oversees menus at Gram & Dun, 600 Ward Parkway on the Country Club Plaza, and two Prairie Village restaurants: Urban Table, 8232 Mission Road, and BRGR Kitchen & Bar, 4038 W. 83rd St.
When he doesn’t feel like making his own food, Gilmore pops in at the lounge at Bluestem, 900 Westport Road, for a helping of shrimp and grits ($14, or $8 during happy hour), a Southern classic interpreted by James Beard Award-winning chef Colby Garrelts. Imagine a bowl of pillowy grits surrounded with a moat of savory broth and loaded down with juicy shrimp and thick slices of sausage.
Gilmore’s other down-home favorites include any of the house-made sausages ($2-3 each) at The Local Pig, 2618 Guinotte Ave. in the East Bottoms, the fried chicken ($12 for three pieces) at Rye, 10551 Mission Road in Leawood, and the chicken and dumplings ($15) at McCoy’s Public House, 4057 Pennsylvania Ave. in Westport.
Pigwich’s 1/3-pound burger
The beauty is in the details at Pigwich, a food truck parked permanently outside The Local Pig butcher shop at 2618 Guinotte Ave. in the East Bottoms.
Take the truck’s 1/3-pound burger ($7) for example: The burger begins with dry-aged beef that’s locally sourced and free of hormones, steroids and antibiotics. The Farm to Market onion bun is buttered with porcini mushroom aioli and a smear of homemade tomato jam. Fresh, peppery arugula and your choice of cheese (pepper jack, cheddar, or provolone smoked in-house) top it off.
It’s one of the best burgers in town, insists Blake Cadwell, an Internet marketer at VML who blogs about his local food discoveries at findingkansascity.com. Part of Pigwich’s appeal is in the atmosphere.
“You’re sitting at a wooden table in the East Bottoms,” Cadwell says. “That’s pretty unique and authentic.”
Cadwell also recommends the ciabatta french toast ($9.90, or $6.60 for a half order) at Blue Bird Bistro, 1700 Summit St. The thick slices of toast melt with pecan butter and a drizzle of real maple syrup.
Maple syrup also is in one of the blogger’s favorite cocktails, the Walk in the Woods ($11) at Manifesto, 1924 Main St. in the Crossroads Arts District. The whiskey cocktail is also made with Old Overholt rye, Alvear Amontillado sherry, and Angostura bitters.
“It’s really strong, so you can sip on it for 20 minutes,” Cadwell says. He also savors the Americano ($3) at Oddly Correct, 3940 Main St. The classic coffee drink — which mellows 2 ounces of espresso with 6 ounces of hot water — lets the subtle flavors in the coffee shop’s house-roasted beans shine through.
“We’ve dialed in the proportions to highlight the sweetness and aroma in our espresso,” says Oddly Correct roaster Michael Schroeder.
Grand Street Cafe’s Idaho ruby ted trout
Courtney McDonough is a bit of a stickler when it comes to seafood. McDonough — a bartender, tequila aficionado and Kansas City culinary explorer — likes fish super-fresh and perfectly cooked, never overdone.
One of her top picks for fellow fish fans is the Idaho ruby red trout ($19) at Grand Street Cafe, 4740 Grand Ave. The expertly pan-seared fillet is encrusted with chopped pistachios and served alongside lemony, herbed Yukon potatoes in a buttery whole grain mustard sauce.
McDonough, who tends bar at Salty Iguana in Prairie Village, also raves about the mussels ($12) at Cafe Provence, 3936 W. 69th Terrace in Prairie Village, and the jumbo scallops ($23) at Gram & Dun, 600 Ward Parkway — preferably with a “buttery chardonnay,” she says.
When she’s at Port Fonda, 4141 Pennsylvania Ave. , McDonough orders a mezcal with a bowl of diesmillo ($13). That’s braised beef topped with chipotle-cheddar bechamel, grilled onions, salsa and pickled jalapenos.
“It comes with tortillas,” she says, “but I eat it right out of the bowl.”
Renee Kelly’s Harvest sweet potato gnocchi
For Ami Freeberg, vegetables are the main course, not just a side.
Freeberg, the community outreach coordinator for Cultivate Kansas City, a nonprofit that supports urban agriculture, has a big appetite for locally grown food. One of her favorite places to satisfy it is at Renee Kelly’s Harvest, a farm-to-table restaurant in the Caenen Castle at 12401 Johnson Drive in Shawnee.
Harvest’s sweet potato gnocchi ($15), is Freeberg’s go-to entree. Chef Renee Kelly sautes the gluten-free sweet potato dumplings in brown butter, balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs, then plates them up with crumbles of local cheese.
Freeberg also loves the goat cheese gnocchi ($14 or $26, depending on portion size) at Room 39, 1719 W. 39th St., and whatever vegetarian polenta dish is on the ever-changing menu at The Farmhouse, 300 Delaware St. in the River Market. A recent menu featured a seared polenta cake ($14) with tomato, onion, arugula and, again, goat cheese.
For a quick lunch, Freeberg hits the buffet ($9.95) at Taj Palace, an Indian restaurant at 1706 W. 39th St. The buffet, open seven days a week between 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., features fresh-baked naan, vegetable samosas and other vegetarian options.
Genessee Royale Bistro’s farmers toast
When Craig Howard says he eats local, he means it: The owner of Howard’s Organic Fare, a co-op grocery store in the Hospital Hill neighborhood, lives on the West Side. He doesn’t have to go far for a hearty meal made with fresh-picked produce — one of his favorites is the simple, perfect farmers toast ($7) at Genessee Royale Bistro, 1531 Genessee St., in the West Bottoms.
The toast is mounded with the freshest seasonal vegetables (broccolini and kale, for example), fresh goat cheese crumbles and a sunny-side up egg.
“You break the yolk and it spills out over the vegetables,” Howard says. “It’s simple and tasty.”
At lunchtime, Howard walks to Fervere, a bakery at 1702 Summit St., and buys a Cheese Slipper ($8). The crispy ciabatta loaf is studded with hunks of smoky cheddar. It’s the perfect pair for a homemade salad, Howard says.
And for dinner, Howard says there’s nothing more satisfying than a warm bowl of pork soup ($7) at Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, 1924 Main St. The soup, a best-seller, is made with slow-cooked pork shoulder and lots of sweet, roasted garlic. Melted Gruyere cheese and chicharrones, or fried pork skins, tops it off.
Longboards’ Wow! Kung Pao Wrap
Amy Thomases splits her time between Kansas City and New York City.
After landing at KCI, her first stop is almost always Longboards, a wrap shop with locations at 6269 North Oak Trafficway and 1173 West Kansas St. in Liberty. Thomases — head of business development for Rawxies, a line of prepackaged sweets that crumbles the line between indulgent desserts and nutrition bars — can’t go long without noshing on a vegetarian Wow! Kung Pao wrap ($5.65) — tofu, peanuts, pepper jack cheese, fresh veggies, rice and Sriracha sauce tucked inside a honey-wheat wrap and grilled to toasty perfection (meat eaters can order the wrap with chicken, beef or crab).
Thomases, a huge fan of spicy food, adds the wrap shop’s firey Napalm Sauce to heat things up.
The wraps at Longboards are “fresh, delicious and filling,” Thomases says. “And the place has a real mahalo, surf kind of vibe.”
When Thomases is in the mood for steamed dumplings — that happens a lot — she goes to Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop, 2030 Central St., for the steamed vegetable dumplings ($6.59), which she says are the best she’s ever had.
“They’re wrapped in thin dough, and you can tell they’re fresh,” Thomases says.
And when Thomases wants to “commit carbo-cide,” she hits the bar at Martin City Brewing Co., 500 East 135th St., and orders beer with a hot pub pretzel ($7). The salted twist of warm, chewy bread is served with melted cheese and spicy creole dipping sauce.
Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange’s Fettuccine alla Primavera
When Andrea Shores wants a satisfying meal, she heads to Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange and snags a seat at the chef’s table, which overlooks the open kitchen, and orders the freshest pasta dish on chef Howard Hanna’s menu.
“No matter the season, it’s always incredible,” says Shores, who manages the Brookside farmers market and contributes to The Star’s new food blog, Chow Town.
The Rieger’s spring menu features a pea risotto ($11) and Fettuccine alla Primavera ($11) — thick ribbons of house-made nettle pasta tossed with basil cream and piled with farm-fresh vegetables. A sprinkling of salty Pecorino cheese makes the garden-fresh flavors pop.
Shores also gives props to the shrimp and grits at Bluestem (see page 16) and, during the summer, that restaurant’s BLT, which she says “is all about the tomato.”
She’s not usually big on sweets, but Shores can’t resist the wedding cake cookie ($2.25), a sugar cookie stacked with buttercream frosting, at Latteland, which has locations on the Plaza, in Briarcliff Village, Prairie Village, Zona Rosa and the Power & Light District. She also digs the fruit-garnished creme brulee ($7) at Grand Street Cafe, 4740 Grand Ave.
Fud’s jack barbecue sandwich
Barbecue isn’t just for meat eaters. Proof: Fud’s mouthwatering vegetarian barbecue sandwich ($8) is stacked with shredded roasted jackfruit, which grows on trees native to rainforests in Southeastern Asia.
The sandwich is a favorite of Angie Snow, a pescatarian with passions for food and fashion (Snow owns MoVi, a vintage boutique in an Airstream trailer). Snow says Fud’s meat-free barbecue sandwich really does resemble pulled pork.
“It smells like it, looks like it,” she says. “It’s super-savory.”
The jack barbecue filling’s drenched with sauce and piled on a sourdough bun with pickles and onion. Even Snow’s husband, a meat eater, loves the sandwich.
Snow’s also big into salads: Particularly the lemon-and-parmesan topped arugula salad ($6) at Westport Cafe & Bar — which she’s still trying to duplicate at home — and the kale salad ($5, $8 or $11, depending on portion size) at The Westside Local, 1663 Summit St.
That kale salad has a lot going on: The leafy green vegetable is dressed up with shaved Brussels sprouts, brown sugar bacon, slivered almonds and fried shallots in a maple-tahini vinaigrette.
When she’s in the mood for seafood, Snow orders the grilled tilapia fish tacos ($10) at Los Tules, 1656 Broadway St., or China Moon ($8) — marinated shrimp tucked into a crispy flatbread sandwich — at Blue Koi, at 1803 W. 39th St. and 10581 Mission Road in Leawood.
Providence New American Kitchen’s S’mores Flavors
When it comes to summer desserts, it’s hard to top the humble s’more. Picture a puffy white marshmallow toasted (or roasted) to perfection, then squeezed between honey-scented graham crackers with a square of molten milk chocolate.
That campfire classic was the inspiration behind S’mores Flavors ($7.50), a deconstructed dessert on the menu at Providence New American Kitchen, 1329 Baltimore Ave. inside The President Hotel. The artistically plated dessert pairs a molten chocolate brownie with ice-cold graham cracker ice cream. A smear of torched marshmallow fluff completes the trifecta.
John Leach, who writes the local food blog Eating Awesomeness, calls the dessert one of the best he’s ever had.
Also atop Leach’s list of favorite sweets: Especial de Atole ($6.50) at Frida’s Contemporary Mexican Cuisine, 7200 W. 121st St. in Overland Park. The ice cream is made with masa, or corn hominy flour, and tastes like vanilla and caramel corn. A generous scoop is topped with cinnamon, chopped nuts, and house-made goat’s milk caramel.
When Leach is looking for something more savory, he heads to McGonigle’s Market, 1307 W. 79th St. The neighborhood meat market sells grilled Italian sausage (the best in Kansas City, Leach says) and brisket sandwiches ($5.99 each, or $4.99 on Wednesdays) that you can eat on the spot. Leach is kind of a brisket buff: He also recommends the brisket sandwiches from two local food trucks: Driftwood BBQ and Indios Carbonsitos. The latter truck’s Flacco burger ($7) tops brisket with cheddar cheese, bacon and barbecue sauce.
Cafe Europa’s steak tartare
Karina Parreno — Casey Conner’s partner in Milk & Honey French Macarons — craves saltier fare after hours, because “when you’re around dessert all day, you crave savory food,” Parreno explains.
One of her favorite savory summer snacks is the steak tartare ($10) at Cafe Europa, 323 E. 55th St. The appetizer brightens raw beef with lemon, shallots, capers and mustard. Homemade potato chips are served on the side.
“It’s so fresh and citrus-y,” Parreno says. “It’s the perfect dish for summer, but let’s be honest, I’d eat it in January.”
Parreno also melts over the escargot with herbed butter ($6) at Westport Cafe & Bar, 419 Westport Road, the pancetta-flecked Brussels sprouts ($8) at Pizzabella (in Kansas City and Overland Park), and the 365-day aged hanger steak ($19 at dinner or $14 at lunch) at The Farmhouse, 300 Delaware St. The “super-tender” steak — which she likes medium rare — comes with salsa verde and blue cheese butter.
When she’s finally in the mood for something sweet, Parreno’s go-to shop is Andre’s Confisserie Suisse, 5018 Main St. She recommends the Chocolate Matterhorn ($2.50) a little mountain of butter cookie, chocolate cake and whipped buttercream enveloped in chocolate fondant, and the merengue balls ($2.50), two chocolate-dipped merengue cookies squeezing a rich layer of silky ganache.
“I have a pretty bad sweet tooth,” Parreno says.
Milk & Honey macarons are available at The Roasterie, Cosentino’s, Nordstrom, The Mixx, Chez Elle.
The Westside Local’s broccoli quinoa burger
It was love at first bite when Callie England first tried the broccoli quinoa burger ($11) at Westside Local, 1663 Summit St.
England, the founder of Rawxies, doesn’t like typical veggie burgers because they’re made with one of her least-favorite foods, beans. But this version, bolstered by protein-packed quinoa and topped with Havarti cheese, microgreens, and a sweet and salty maple-tahini dressing, was different.
“It’s unexpected,” she says, “and it has so much flavor.”
Even England’s meat-eating friends approve of the broccoli quinoa burger, which she orders on a vegan Farm to Market bun. The thick bun only tastes buttery — it’s brushed with olive oil before toasting. England likes the burger with a side of tomato-fennel soup, chunky and full of bright, summery flavor.
England also flips for the falafel sandwich ($7) at Pigwich, a new food truck from the owner of The Local Pig, a butcher shop at 2618 Guinotte Ave. in the East Bottoms.
“You’d think they wouldn’t have a vegetarian option,” England says, but they do, “and it’s so friggin’ good.”
When the food entrepreneur’s in detox mode, she orders the I Am Whole macrobiotic bowl ($12.75, or $14.75 with avocado) from Cafe Gratitude, 333 Southwest Blvd. The bowl — which England says sustained her during her stint living in the San Francisco Bay area — is a healthful heap of kale, carrots, sea palm, sprouts, house-made kim chee and your choice of quinoa or brown rice topped with tahini-garlic sauce and teriyaki-glazed almonds.
Westport Cafe & Bar’s mussels
Casey Conner spends her days in Louisburg, Kan., baking and assembling macarons in a commercial kitchen with her friend Karina Parreno.
The founders of Milk & Honey French Macarons are constantly coming up with new flavors — recent inventions include basil-lime, apricot-almond and blueberry cobbler.
Off the clock, Conner craves super-savory dishes.
Her favorite: The buttery, garlicky mussels ($11) at Westport Cafe & Bar, 419 Westport Road.
“They add some beautiful tomatoes and fennel,” she says. “I like to split the mussels with someone and have some cocktails — they make a really great Manhattan.”
Conner doesn’t like to split the Portabella-bachi sandwich ($11) at Swagger Fine Spirits & Food, 8431 Wornall Road in Waldo. The vegetarian version of the bar’s famous deep-fried Suribachi burger ($13) swaps a tempura-battered portobello mushroom for beef. Wasabi coleslaw, Sriracha hot sauce, pepper jack cheese and hot mustard make the sandwich sizzle.
“It’s the best thing in the whole world,” Conner says. “There’s so much flavor, you don’t miss the burger.”
For dessert, Conner is slightly obsessed with the root beer float ($4.85) at Glace Artisan Ice Cream at 4960 Main St. and 4535 W. 119th St. in Leawood. The scoop shop usually makes the float with Sprecher root beer and salted pretzel ice cream, but Conner orders it with Madagascar vanilla ice cream because she’s allergic to the gluten in pretzels.
“It is ah-mazing,” she says. “The best root beer float I’ve ever had.”