2016 Fall/Winter

Dining guide

By Sarah Gish | sgish@kcstar.com
and Andrea Shores, Special to Ink

15 comfort food dishes to try this fall

Chef Theresia Ota grew up in Hawaii in a family that loved to cook.

Her German mom’s specialty was sauerkraut-braised pork shank. Her Japanese dad loved to make chicken katsu — chicken pounded thin, breaded with panko and fried until golden.

But on most days, Ota liked to eat light.

“Growing up in Hawaii, we didn’t really have the days where you want to eat mashed potatoes or mac and cheese,” she says. “Comfort food to us was cold tofu with shoyu (soy sauce) and scallion and sesame oil. On those hot days, it’s nice and refreshing.”

Ota’s idea of comfort food changed slightly 16 months ago, when she moved to Kansas City for her job as chef de cuisine at Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, 4814 Roanoke Parkway.

“I love having access to real Kansas City barbecue,” says Ota, who recently went to Gates for the first time. “That was killer. I can’t not eat ribs: They’re my favorite.”

She also raves about the kimchi pancakes and kalbi (Korean-style short ribs) at Choga Korean Restaurant, 6920 W. 105th St. in Overland Park.

When it comes to over-the-top comfort food, Ota says it doesn’t get much better than the Surf N’ Turf at Jax Fish House. Customers mix and match from a list of options that includes grilled sirloin, braised short rib, shrimp, lobster tail or King crab.

Ota’s ideal combo is the braised short rib with a steamed lobster tail ($48). The thick hunk of beef is seared, then braised until it’s almost fall-apart tender in a mixture of reduced red wine, chicken stock and beef drippings.

“The fat just melts into the meat,” Ota says. “It’s beautiful.”

The meal is served with melted butter (for the lobster), plus a wedge salad, olive oil mashed potatoes and seared greens. It tastes like pure indulgence, but it is also gluten- and dairy-free.

In the mood for comfort food? Here are 15 more Kansas City dishes that will satisfy the strongest cravings for everything from Vietnamese pho to meatloaf and mac and cheese.

Buttermilk Fried Oysters & Waffle at Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar

On those Sunday mornings (or afternoons) when you’re almost too hungover to go to brunch, consider going to Jax Fish House for the Buttermilk Fried Oysters & Waffle.

The $14 dish — which can be ordered with chicken for $12 — pairs a bacon-flecked waffle with buttermilk battered and fried oysters. Andouille sausage gravy and a drizzle of red hot maple butter made with Frank’s RedHot sauce, maple syrup, butter and bourbon adds extra layers of decadence.

A light and bright slaw made with cabbage, carrots and onions is the ultimate foil to all that richness.

Jax Fish House serves brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. — S.G.

Cheesy Potato Bake at Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbeque

Jack Stack’s cheesy corn bake ranks high on the list of Kansas City’s must-have barbecue sides, but make no mistake: The molten Cheesy Potato Bake is perhaps Jack Stack’s best kept secret. The $5 side dish is served au gratin, with layers of potatoes cooked to perfection. They hold up to the bubbly cheese while maintaining their bite — no mushy potatoes here. The dish is garlicky, creamy, indulgent, and sure to warm you from the inside out.

Jack Stack has locations at 4747 Wyandotte St. on the Country Club Plaza, 101 W. 22nd St. in the Freight House, 9520 Metcalf Ave. in Overland Park, 13441 Holmes Road in Martin City and 1840 NW Chipman Road in Lee’s Summit. — A.S.

Chicken Pho at Vietnam Cafe

Years before bone broth and chef-driven ramen shops were trendy, Vietnam Cafe was serving warm bowls of noodle soup in Columbus Park.

Vietnam Cafe, a bustling family-owned restaurant at 522 Campbell St., serves satisfying chicken pho (Pho Gà on the menu) for $6.80. The bowl of slow-simmered broth and rice noodles comes with a plate of aromatic toppings: Cilantro, basil, sliced jalapenos, bean sprouts and lime wedges. Want to add even more flavor? Drizzle on some Sriracha.

If you can’t finish the huge bowl, don’t worry: One of the fast and friendly servers will help you wrangle the noodles into a to-go container. And if you can finish it, do yourself a favor and order a Vietnamese iced coffee at the end of the meal. The super-strong java will jolt you out of your pho coma in a flash. — S.G.

Cinnamon Roll French Toast Platter at Kate’s Kitchen

On weekend mornings, groups of customers wait on the sidewalk outside Kate’s Kitchen, a neighborhood cafe at 8002 N. Oak Trafficway that serves homestyle breakfast and lunch.

The wait is worth it, especially if you go all-in on the Cinnamon Roll French Toast Platter ($7.75).

The star of the sweet and savory meal is, of course, the French toast: Two slices of real cinnamon roll coated in egg batter, seared ‘til golden and drizzled with cream cheese icing. Maple syrup comes on the side because, why not?

The French toast is accompanied by two eggs cooked to order, plus sausage or thick, crispy slices of bacon. It’s no wonder this place is so popular. — S.G.

Cinnamon Roll at The Corner Cafe

Who doesn’t like cinnamon rolls? The classic breakfast pastries magically transform common ingredients — flour, yeast, butter, sugar, cinnamon — into soft, warm swirls of heaven.

The Corner Cafe makes some of the softest and largest cinnamon rolls in the Kansas City area. They’re baked close together in a deep pan, which prevents the outside from forming a hard crust. The outer swirl is just as soft, light and feathery as the center of these plate-sized rolls, which cost $3.29 each and are served with a serrated knife and fork.

The locally owned chain has locations at 4541 NW Gateway Ave. in Riverside, 8301 N. Flintock Road in Liberty and 4215 S. Little Blue Parkway in Independence. — S.G.

Mac & Cheese at Beer Kitchen

There’s no shortage of macaroni and cheese dishes in Kansas City’s dining scene. Some restaurants offer simple, everyday versions of the classic dish; others aim for downright decadence with add-ins such as lobster and burnt ends.

Purists might prefer the base model at Beer Kitchen, 435 Westport Road. The $11 entree is satisfying and indulgent, even without mix-ins such as white truffle oil and braised short rib (though those are available for an upcharge). A decadent three-cheese blend of fontina, pecorino-romano and white cheddar smothers large elbow shells cooked al dente — perfect for maximum cheese saturation.

Served piping hot in ceramic dish, the mac & cheese is topped with buttery, herby, crunchy breadcrumbs toasted golden brown. — A.S.

Macrobiotic Bowl at Cafe Gratitude

The “I Am Whole” macrobiotic bowl at Cafe Gratitude, 333 Southwest Blvd., is much more than its base layer of rice and beans.

Kale, tangy kimchi and kombu (a chewy sea vegetable) add bite to the sweet roasted butternut squash and savory adzuki beans. An addictive drizzle of garlic tahini sauce — which is not recommended for first dates — and piquant teriyaki almonds help knock this dish out of the park. If you’re sick and looking for a way to feel whole again, pair the restorative $13 bowl with house-made ginger ale. — A.S.

Pastrami Hash at Hank Charcuterie

At Hank Charcuterie, a butcher shop-turned-full service restaurant in Lawrence, brunch is more savory than sweet. (Even the French toast comes with hearty smoked ham).

Several menu items are served in a screaming hot cast iron skillet (seriously, don’t touch it), including the delectable pastrami hash. The $12 breakfast consists of roasted potatoes, onions and sauerkraut baked with hunks of salty, smoky pastrami under a layer of white cheddar and a poached local egg. A hint of grainy mustard adds an extra layer of flavor.

Equally filling is the Campfire Breakfast ($11) — Kansas pinto beans baked with ham and topped with house-made maple breakfast sausage, a pickled jalapeno, smoked apple gastrique and an egg. Both dishes pair perfectly with a spicy Bloody Mary ($6), served in a mason jar with house-made pickles.

Hank Charcuterie, which is located in a former filling station at 1900 Massachusetts St., serves both dishes during brunch from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. — S.G.

Salted Butterscotch Pudding at The Jacobson

The salted butterscotch pudding ($6) at The Jacobson is a savory, sweet and satisfying end to any meal.

The copper-colored pudding is served in a petite ramekin with a dollop of sweet whipped cream and shaved chocolate so fine it resembles cocoa powder. The portion appears small, but the pudding’s flavor is full and rich on the taste buds. A light sprinkling of sea salt brings all the flavors together into one mighty bite.

The Jacobson is located at 2050 Central St. in the Crossroads Arts District. — A.S.

Seasonal vegetable salad at North

Who says comfort food can’t be healthy?

North, a contemporary Italian restaurant at 4579 W. 119th St., serves a seasonal vegetable salad that only tastes like an indulgence.

Picture hunks of orange butternut squash tossed with charred green Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, ruby radicchio, pistachios and chopped dates. Farro, an ancient grain with a nutty texture, adds extra bite, and white balsamic vinaigrette ties all of the fall flavors together.

Warning: This colorful $11 salad is hefty; ask the server to split it in two if you plan to order an entree. — S.G.

Shio Ramen at Shio Ramen Shop

Shio Ramen Shop’s namesake dish ($13) consists of an aromatic pool of clear chicken dashi broth with noodles and thick slices of pork belly tender enough to be sliced by chopsticks. The pork belly smells so much like breakfast bacon it’s a wonder there aren’t strips of it somewhere in the bowl.

Shio’s noodles are thinner than traditional ramen noodles, but they’re cooked al dente, so they’re firm enough to withstand slurping. Before you dive in, muddle the slow-cooked egg and give the scallions and black garlic oil on top a swirl to distribute the flavors of this upgraded version of chicken noodle soup.

Shio Ramen Shop is located at 3605 Broadway in midtown Kansas City. — A.S.

Smoked Turkey Sandwich at Free State Brewing Co.

Lawrence’s Free State Brewing Co. has beer — and sandwiches — down to a science.

The brewpub at 636 Massachusetts St. serves cold brews with hot sandwiches such as Grilled Three-Cheese, Ciabatta French Dip and Pastrami Reuben. All of them are piled on fresh-baked bread from Wheatfields, an artisan bakery just a few blocks away.

If you’re the type of person who looks over to Thanksgiving leftovers more than the holiday meal itself, go for the Smoked Turkey ($8.95), which consists of sliced, house-smoked turkey on rustic French bread with Swiss and cream cheese. If you order the sandwich grilled, the cheese melts and the bread turns toasty and golden.

The mouthwatering meal comes with a side of crispy fries and a cluster of red grapes. — S.G.

Tater Tots at The Rockhill Grille

If you think there’s no such thing as fancy tater tots, you’ve never been to The Rockhill Grille.

The restaurant, which opened in the former Cashew space at 2000 Grand Blvd. this year, serves house-made potato tots with molten jalapeno cheese centers.

The $8 appetizer arrives at the table piping hot, in an aluminum cup lined with paper. Garlic aioli and ketchup is served on the side. If you want to avoid toasted taste buds, wait a minute or so before popping one in your mouth (hard, we know). — S.G.

The O Waffle at The Oliver

The chicken and waffles trend is alive and well at The Oliver

The restaurant at 4807 Jefferson St. on the Country Club Plaza serves a classic (and delicious) version of the soul food classic at brunch, 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.

The O Waffle with fried chicken ($15) is a rich, golden masterpiece served with honey butter and maple syrup. The chicken is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. Texas Pete hot sauce gives the strips their spicy cayenne kick.

Fans of spicy brunch dishes should also consider The Oliver’s tasty chorizo breakfast tacos ($12) and green chile-infused Bloody Mary ($8). — S.G.

Tomato Glazed Meatloaf at Hi-Dive Lounge

You wouldn’t expect to find homestyle meatloaf at a bar, but Hi-Dive Lounge isn’t your typical dive.

The laid-back bar at 1411 W. 39th St. has a surprisingly extensive menu that serves standards such as Chipotle Buffalo Wings and Oven Baked Pretzels alongside heartier entrees such as grilled pork chops and a completely addictive shell mac and cheese made with smoked Gouda, cheddar, Black Forest ham and peas.

The Tomato Glazed Meatloaf ($14) tastes like something Mom would make: Picture two slabs of soft, slightly spicy meatloaf in a sweet and sticky sauce with a pile of whipped potatoes and green beans cooked with bacon.

The meal is best paired with a $2.50 can of mystery beer from Hi-Dive’s vending machine, which dispenses yard beers such as Miller High Life Light as well as craft selections such as Nebraska Pils from Nebraska Brewing Company. — S.G.