7 New And Noteworthy Developments In Kansas City Restaurants This Winter

Jan 14, 2017

Happy new year! KCUR’s Food Critics — Charles Ferruzza, Mary Bloch and Jenny Vergara — have been keeping up with the latest news from KC’s restaurant scene.

They shared their picks with guest host Brian Ellison on Friday’s Central Standard.

1. Kansas City Restaurant Week starts today, and according to Bloch, there are two schools of thought about it. “It’s kind of like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve,” she said. “It’s a little bit more crowded and the service is usually slower because they’re slammed.” But she encouraged people to try it for the good deals that benefit local charities.

Ferruzza stressed that reservations are mandatory: “You have to have them,” he said.

And don’t forget to tip, said Vergara. “For $15 for a three-course lunch and $33 for a three-course dinner, you need to include tax, drinks and tip onto that as well,” she said. “If you’re going to go out and take advantage of these wonderful deals, please tip your servers. They’re working so hard.”

2. Kansas City food trends in 2017. According to Vergara, pasta will be front-and-center on local menus. “We’re seeing less and less bread being made in-house, as there are so many other good bakeries that are able to do that,” she said. So, she said, chefs are turning to pasta to put those carbs on our plates.

Vergara also wondered about the state of fine dining in KC now that The American Restaurant closed at the end of 2016. She thinks that no restaurant will replace it since it was so unique.

“But I think what we’ll see now — and we’ve already started to see it with Bluestem, Novel and The Antler Room — are these personal, intimate restaurants without white tablecloths that are a little more comfortable, a little less fussy,” she said. “And the focus is on the food, which is where it really should be when you go out for fine dining.”

3. Movement. Some restaurants have moved or opened second locations. Sweet Siam moved from Lenexa to Westport. Café Europa opened a second location on Union Hill with the Underdog Wine Co. (its partner and neighbor in the original Crestwood location).

4. Jennifer Maloney, the long-time executive chef at Café Sebastienne in the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, recently passed away. According to Ferruzza, the restaurant hasn't decided how to replace her.

“I would compare it to a Broadway show losing its star,” he said.

“Jennifer gave the culinary thumbprint to Café Sebastienne; it is her food and her style of cooking that really has created the legacy of (the restaurant),” said Vergara. “And that’s really fresh seasonal produce sourced from farmers and just really comforting dishes that everyone enjoys.”

“She had a larger-than-life personality,” added Ferruzza. “And it was the perfect restaurant for a museum because it sort of incorporated art and the culinary.”

“I was at her memorial service and somebody representing the museum got up and said that she was the finest piece of art at the museum,” said Bloch.

5. Stock Hill Steakhouse recently opened with executive chef Joe West at its helm. West has been around for a while, said Bloch, at Bluestem and doing pop-ups; this is the first time he’s heading a kitchen in KC. The restaurant is in the old Board of Trade building near the Plaza, and according to Bloch, it’s not a traditional steakhouse; Hill has put a lot of thought and creativity in his dishes, she said.

Stock Hill is part of a larger trend of the return of local steakhouses, said Vergara. “I think when expense accounts finally dried up, we lost an awful lot of our local Kansas City steakhouses,” she said. “We are known for a Cowtown and we’ll never walk away from that tradition, of course.” In addition to Stock Hill, she said, the Golden Ox will probably open this spring or early summer in its original location in the West Bottoms.

6. Brewery Emperial is Ted Habiger’s (of Room 39 and Sasha’s Baking Co.) new place in the East Crossroads. It’s a brewery, but the centerpiece of the new restaurant is the food; he built a huge rotisserie grill in the middle of the kitchen.

“It’s one of my favorite new places,” said Vergara — it’s warm, comforting, has a full bar and a small wine list, she said. She recommended the roasted chicken that comes with hot tortillas (for make-your-own-tacos) and the shrimp with heads on that are fried crispy and comes with chimichurri sauce on the side. They also have good fries, added Bloch.

7. Speak Sandwiches opened up on the Westside, serving deli sandwiches. “Get the pastrami, don’t pass go, you won’t be disappointed,” said Vergara.

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org.