What… you ask… a culinary scene in KC? Yes, I say… and a good one! Over the last 10 years I have been to KC many times to visit my friend Lauren and her family and have become very close with her sister Libby and more recently their husbands, Ross and Nick. Like me, Lauren and Libby are both big foodies, so it is always an adventure when we get together to try new places as well as for them to cook fabulous feasts. We decided that this weekend we would explore the culinary scene in their hometown as well as have some home cooked dinners; and what a treat it turned out to be.
I arrived on Friday at lunchtime and our first stop was “ Houston’s”. Don’t mock Houston’s. I know it’s a chain, but there is something about going to the flagship restaurant, which I have been to many times. I left my camera in my case so didn’t take any photos, but you can trust me that Houston’s did not let me down, especially with their signature Spinach and Artichoke dip, which is always fantastic! Followed by the Grilled Chicken Salad with Lime Vinaigrette, it was the perfect lunch for the first day of my Kansas City long weekend vacation.
In the evening, the five of us (Lauren, Libby, Ross and Nick an of course myself) went out to Smithville, MO to dine at a restaurant called “Justus Drugstore”. Currently up for the James Beard Award, Justus Drugstore, offers inventive and creative dishes in a small Bistro setting that was once a small-town pharmacy. Amazing dinner!
The next morning we got up at a very leisurely pace and drank coffee until we all decided to get ready to go out for lunch. We decided on something healthy and easy and ended up at “The Mixx.” The Mixx is a bit like “Tossed” that I went to in Boston. Fun, fresh salads, with great ingredients. I decided on the Ahi Tuna Salad and Potato and Leek Soup. Both were delicious. A little surprising that the salad had a fried egg on it instead of boiled, but it was actually quite good. I really didn’t need the dressing at all. What was even more surprising was that this salad/sandwich café serves alcohol. You just don’t see that in Boston at all. It’s like walking into an Au Bon Pain or Cosi and getting a glass of wine with your lunch! Probably another good reason to visit the Missouri.
Next on our list was shopping. Not so much, sadly, as it was ruined by a torrential downpour that didn’t seem to want to stop. No serious damage done, which is probably a very good thing now that I come to think about it.
In the evening, Lauren decided to invite a few friends over for dinner. She made her Aunt Karen’s famous “Pasta Primavera.” I quote from Aunt Karen’s recipe book… “simply the best dish I make!” I have to agree with Aunt Karen, it was truly one of the best pasta dishes I have tasted. Lauren is going to be my next “Guest Blogger” so will share this fabulous dish with you.
The evening was a lot of fun with a great dinner, fun wine and a few rounds of “Taboo”, which just made for some hysterical moments.
Sunday morning and a gorgeous, sunny 75 degree day in Kansas City. A bit of lying around – I so needed laziness on this trip. The five of us decided on brunch – my favorite meal! Lauren knows this so always indulges me when I visit. We went to a place called Westport Café and Bar. Very good for brunch and quite possibly the best coffee ever! Many cups were drank at our table, along with a Mimosa for me. I was on vacation, it’s allowed.
The boys went home and we decided to go and see the “Diana” exhibit at Union Station. The station itself is quite spectacular and definitely worth a visit. It has lots of exhibits going on at any one time. The “Diana” exhibit is really not worth $28/person at all, I am sorry to say – I even feel guilty saying it with being British and all. You do get to see her wedding dress as well as some of her gowns and outfits, which was quite nice, but apart from seeing her ballet shoes and a school report from when she was a child, I can’t say I would ever recommend it. I probably would if it was $10.
Sunday night, and yet more food! This time it was Ross’s turn to play Chef and what better way for a man to do this, than to hit the Man-Grill! Pork Ribs, Beer Can Chicken, leftover Pasta Primavera, Potato Gratin, Corn on the Cob and Fruit Salad. Oh, and one of my favorite little wines, the Sebastiani Rose – a clean, crisp, fresh summer wine – very very very drinkable – woops. We sat outside and enjoyed each other’s company (and Ross’s parents company) and fun banter. I so want an outside space. It is just the best thing to have dinner and wine outside with friends on a warm evening. It just makes you damn happy!
One final day left and another 75 degree day with a perfect gentle wind and no humidity. Lauren goes to Pilates on Monday morning so, as I don’t bend, not even a little bit, I decided on going for a run. Oh right, and my race is less than a week away!!!! I ran five miles – oh yes I did! My knees are like old lady knees with creaking bones and lots of ouches every time I stand up! They hurt… a lot .
After showering, I knew I wanted to be outside before I had to go to the airport, and even more so, because I knew it was snowing in Boston. My feet were in flip flops – I just didn’t want that to end! Anyway, this time, just me and my dear friend, Lauren, decided to go for a final lunch at a place called Coal Vines Café & Wine Bar – a relatively new place on the Plaza. We sat at the open window with the light wind coming in and our sunglasses on and ordered a glass of wine (a humungous glass of wine I might add… I think the waitress gave us half a bottle each!). We then ordered some food to share for lunch of Salmon Tartare, Caesar Salad and Penne Vodka with Shrimp. Oh and the manager was very handsome indeed. I was trying to think of excuses to get him over to our table. It was the perfect end to an absolutely lovely weekend. No drama, no work, (well maybe a few emails), and some sleep… just friends, food, wine, smiles and laughter.
What is even more fun is that I am back to work for only two days and then off to Napa for five days. More friends, food, wine and a little race thrown in on Saturday morning to keep me in shape. Wait… I can’t keep a straight face when I say that – hahahaha. There is no keeping in shape, there is only trying desperately to not go up another dress size! Okay, the race is because I signed up for it three months ago and feel I have no choice even though I am not ready for it in the slightest.
106 Main Street, Smithville, MOOpened in 2007 by Chef, Jonathan Justus, with a vision of keeping part of the Bistro with the original fixtures from the original pharmacy. He turned the empty space into a stylish restaurant specializing in deftly prepared creations made from local meats, fruits and vegetables. The menu is quite small and changes regularly. It features four or five starters, about four salads and about 10 entrées with specials each evening. The wine list is reasonably priced and has super choices. all of the dishes has a wine pairing if you are stuck for a decision. We started the evening with some fun cocktails. They infuse all their own liquors on-site and have some very inventive libations on offer. The bartender looked like he had just walked off the movie set with James Dean! He absolutely belonged behind the original malt shop/pharmacy counter. After perusing the amazing creations on the cocktail list, I decided to go for the “Chocolate Malt.” Definitely not a drink for children I might add! The Chocolate Malt contains House-infused malted-barley and coffee vodka, house made chocolate syrup, sherry, fresh local cream; shaken and served up. It took me about five seconds to drink it! It was so amazing!I had already been warned that we were in it for the whole evening. This is a full dining experience and not for the faint-hearted or for those that want a quick bite. They make every single dish to order and they don’t even start your next dish until you have finished your first. We sat down at 8.30pm and were not done until around 12.15am! This, my friends is cross-country leisurely run and not a sprint and absolutely worth every minute! This is a true celebration of food!We all started the evening with a starter/salad each and with the expectations that every dish would be passed around to share. On our list was the Mushroom Gnocchi, Goose Carpaccio, Berkshire Pork Tail Fritter, Farmer’s Platter and Goat Cheese Salad. All were presented as works of art and I have to say, tasted just as good. If I had to choose, I would say the Mushroom Gnocchi was my favorite. The mushroom sauce was absolutely delicious and the gnocchi just melted in your mouth. My second in line was the Goat Cheese Salad. The cheese, jam and bacon just exploded in your mouth as an incredible flavor sensation. I have never had Goose Carpaccio before and I have say it was very interesting. Very gamey, with a strong flavor, but still quite light.
More time to chat and catch up and drink more wine while we waited for our main dishes to arrive. I decided to go with the special of the evening… the Pork Loin, bone removed, and stuffed with Polenta and Gruyere over warm bitter greens. The dish was incredible. I was so full I couldn’t even begin to eat it all but I did give it a really good go before we had to have it boxed up for take home. There was no way anything was going to waste. I will definitely have to try to recreate the polenta – it was quite marvelous.
Towards the end of the evening, and even though we were all quite full we still ordered a couple of desserts, which again were like visual masterpieces. They were so decadent and almost immoral. We ordered the Chocolate Mint Decadence, Coffee Bomb and the Rum & Coke Ice-Cream. Every taste of the desserts was like a little taste of happiness. The ice-cream was quite possibly the strangest thing I have ever tasted. I much preferred the Chocolate..
The Chef, Jonathan, came over to chat to us for a while, regaling us with stories of his time in France and talking about his upcoming nomination for the “James Beard Award.” We wish him luck!
The whole evening could not have ended more perfectly. Over-full, satiated and hold your tummy happy. What a fabulous evening of indulgence.
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Westport Cafe & Bar
419 Westport Road, Kansas City, MO
Upon walking into the Westport Café we were greeted by almost everyone that worked there. Everyone just seemed happy. It might have been the gorgeous, sunny day we were having, but it still made me smile. This is what brunch should be about… happy people, smiling faces and a leisurely meal with friends.
The restaurant itself is very bright with large windows at either end of the restaurant. It has fully exposed brick and white-washed walls. We were seated at the back of the restaurant against a floor to ceiling window that overlooked a courtyard.
Our waiter came over and offered us all coffee, which we happily accepted and then proceeded to drink copious amounts… truly, fabulous coffee. I loved the big white round cups they served them in as well. They were like small soup bowls. You almost needed two hands to pick one up.
The menu offers very French bistro cuisine and is a little reminiscent of Gaslight in Boston. Many things I would choose. However, for me and brunch, it is usually a no-brainer as I always go with the Eggs Benedikt. This time I did change it up just a little and ordered Eggs Norweigan, which is basically Eggs Benedikt with Smoked Salmon J . I also ordered a Mimosa, which came free with the brunch – I mean, it would be offensive to them to say no! The eggs were done to perfection – not to runny or to firm, and the hollandaise was creamy with the right amount of tang. Restaurants can definitely get hollandaise very wrong. This was super.
Our waiter came over regularly to serve us more coffee and to check in on how we were doing. Not rushed, not pushy, just friendly and happy.
My friends all ordered the French Toast, Croque Monsier, Mussels in Blue Cheese and Bacon. Everyone seemed very happy with their orders and all plates were completely cleaned. I did try the mussels and they were amazing. I must try to recreate this dish also. It can’t be that hard?
What a happy, long, leisurely brunch and a fun place! This is what it is all about