The Kansas City metro area has come a long way in the past several years in terms of satisfying vegetarian tastes. Many people these days prefer to eat healthy, which has spurred chefs to make vegetables a main consideration rather than an afterthought. No longer do we have to suffer through steamed vegetable plates.
Here are some of my favorite veggie dishes around town:
1. Mushroom ramen at Columbus Park Ramen Shop in Columbus Park. The mushroom-charred leek broth with miso, black garlic oil, roasted and marinated mushrooms, seasonal veggie, nori, and scallion has an intensity that is incredibly rich and satisfying.
2. The kale and shaved Brussels sprouts salad at Westside Local is one big bowl of crunch. Tossed with slivered almonds, fried shallots, Parmesan and an addictive maple-tahini dressing, the salad is typically gilded with crisp brown sugar bacon, but you can easily ask your server to leave it off.
3. Another lovely vegetarian option at Westside Local is the quinoa bowl. The vegetables are changed up seasonally; my favorite highlights spring veggies. Non-vegetarians can add salmon or chicken for a heartier meal.
4. At barbecue restaurants, vegetables other than coleslaw or potato salad, don’t typically grace the menu, but at the Char Bar the Roots & Fruits salad will have you reconsidering that pulled pork sandwich. Beets, Brussels sprouts, roasted parsnips, goat cheese are finished with goat cheese and blackberry wine vinaigrette. Pass it around the table or keep it for yourself, but do give it a try.
5. Pizza may not be considered healthy vegetarian food, but it certainly can be vegetarian. If you want to expand your repertoire beyond a Margarita with just tomato sauce, moaazarella and basil, check out the Potato pizza at Pizza Bella. Thin coins of roasted potato and melted Gorgonzola are smothered with thin strands of radicchio for a lively taste treat. The mushroom pizza with rich taleggio cheese is another great option.
6. Chef Craig Howard of Howard’s Cafe spent weeks/months developing a veggie burger that would rival any beef burger, even going so far as to make his own cheese for it. The burger is made with French green lentils, red beans, rehydrated porcini, brown rice, quinoa, carrots, garlic, nutritional yeast and vegan Worcestershire sauce. After much trial and error, the final product doesn’t fall apart and is a exemplary entry in the veggie burger sweepstakes, along with Room 39’s, Westport Local’s and the Beer Kitchen.
7. Plate, the new modern-Italian eatery in Brookside, serves up a Brussels sprouts crostini that had me questioning why I had never come up with the idea…it’s such an obvious and idyllic combination. Crispy Brussels sprouts leaves sit atop grilled bread and are complemented beautifully by creamy ricotta, honey and preserved lemon.
8. I am a long time fan of Princess Garden. Sam and his family treat their guests like family, and brother Robert serves up my favorite Chinese food in the metro. My go-to vegetarian dish there is the Harvest Vegetables. It’s an off-menu item, but it’s the non-meat version of Harvest Pork, with the same fragrant and flavorful garlic-ginger, and black bean sauce coating broccoli, snow peas, and peppers.
9. The Magic Mushroom sandwich at Classic Cup is as much of a mainstay on the menu as the Thai Chicken pizza. While I don’t think the pizza is nearly as good as it was 20 years ago, the sandwich has stood the test of time. It’s stacked with portobello mushroom, pepper, lettuce and tomato and slathered with goat cheese aioli. Order extra aioli on the side so there’s enough for each bite.
10. I haven’t sampled the grilled pimento cheese sandwiches at Urban Table or the Char Bar, but it’s a trendy riff on the traditional grilled cheese, and worth a try. Same with Mac & Cheese. The renditions at Q39, Char Bar, Extra Virgin and Westside Local have a loyal following, though I’ve only tried the Poblano Mac & Cheese at Extra Virgin, and I’m a fan.
11. The Potatoes Bravas at Extra Virgin are perhaps more bar food than what would typically be considered a vegetarian dish, but they don’t have meat and I can make a meal out of them! Thin and crisp slices of potato are smothered with romesco sauce and served in a cast iron skillet, presumably to be shared at the table. They are addictive and I have trouble not inhaling them and ordering another batch.
It’s nice to have fans. In the past few weeks, several people have asked me why I don’t write on my blog anymore. I have found that my followers seem more interested in pictures than the written word and it admittedly takes less time, so I have primarily been utilizing Instagram (msbloch), Twitter (@aroundblockkc) and Facebook (Around the Block).
However, in an attempt to keep faith with you loyal readers, I am going to start posting lists from my radio gig. As many of you know, I am on KCUR’s Central Standard’s Food Critics show every other Friday morning (89.3 FM at 10am), and each time we tackle a different theme….best vegetarian, best bar food, best sandwiches, best pizza, etc. It’s hard to sufficiently cover that topic in such a short period of time, and I don’t often get through my whole list on the air. So why not carry on the conversation right here?
Please chime in and let me know what you favorites you would add…we can learn from each other!
Potatoes Bravas at Extra Virgin. A plate of those with a glass of wine or beer at the bar is all I need.
Bluestem–I love their entire lounge menu but am partial to the great burger and fries (at Rye, too), shrimp and grits, and the hangar steak frites.
Hangar steak at bluestem.
Shrimp and Grits at bluestem.
Port Fonda–Queso fundido, either the one with grilled mushrooms, huitlacoche, chihuahua and goat cheese, or the chorizo with chihuahua cheese, poblano rajas, and oregano. Slathered on soft tortillas instead of the ubiquitous tortilla chips, it’s easy to make a meal out of these.
Steamed Buns are perhaps my favorite bar food of the moment, essentially a meal in your hand. At Novel these soft Chinese buns are filled with crispy pork belly, cheek & jowl, and smoked tomato, served during Happy Hour only. Extra Virgin’s riff on them always has pork belly, though the toppings vary from ramp kimchi to cucumbers and hoisin. The most unusual (and on my “Favorites list” below) is Michael Corvino’s twist on these buns in the American‘s lounge, using homemade English muffins with pork belly, XO sauce and homemade pickles.
Spicy Pork Buns–the American
While you’re at the American’s lounge, don’t miss the spicy crab fried rice with an egg on top. We’re talking real crab here, not crab sticks.
Crab fried rice at the American lounge.
Brookside’s newest haunt Plate focuses on modern Italian cuisine. One of my favorite dishes on the menu is the Brussels sprouts crostini with ricotta, honey, and preserved lemon, served at the bar or the table. When I first saw it on the menu, I had one of those I-could-have-had-a-V-8 moments…it’s such an obvious and lovely combination, I couldn’t believe I’d never thought to make it at home…but I certainly will soon.
Of course, there are any number of restaurants serving up French fries that pair perfectly with a beer, but I’ll leave those for another “best of” list!
I ate very well in 2015. Here are the dishes that were the most memorable, in no particular order but the first two, both of which I submitted as my favorite dishes of 2015 in the January issue of KC magazine.
The Spicy Pork Buns in the lounge at the American Restaurant. Instead of using the more traditional soft Chinese bun, Chef Michael Corvino tucks a slice of luscious pork belly into an adorable, pillowy and chewy homemade English muffin that has been perfectly toasted, which he then tops with an addictive XO sauce, and homemade bread & butter pickles to cut the richness of the pork. There are three sublime little sandwiches to an order, and it is ridiculously hard for me to share with my table companion.
2. Chef Ryan Brazeal often has octopus on the menu at Novel, but the one last spring that I begged him to never take off the menu was the Spicy Octopus with dried shrimp, polenta and red miso. Octopus is braised with lemon and chiles until tender, then charred with a torch to “blacken” it Cajun style. Served with soft pieces of polenta, a mix of local greens, and popcorn that has been tossed in a red miso butter, the dish is pulled together by a dried shrimp XO sauce. The polenta tempers the heat while the popcorn is totally captivating and unexpected. Each bite is a revelation and invariably has my rapturous attention.
3. Carne Adovada Burrito Christmas styleat Tecoloté Cafe in Santa Fe. The pork is spicy and tender, and probably the best rendition of the dish in the city. The crispy potatoes are a bonus.
4. Summit Bar and Grill. This Reuben is madejust like I love it. Thick slices of house-braised corned beef brisket, lots of melted swiss and 1,000 Island dressing on griddled rye.
5. Tuna Two Ways from Geranimo in Santa Fe. Ahi tuna sashimi and tartare with Buttermilk Scallion Pancakes, Wasabi Crème Fraiche, Avocado, Soy lime Syrup, Shiso Leafs & Tobiko Caviar. Finger food for adults.
6. Roast chicken and mashed potatoes at Blvd Tavern. It’sthe perfect comfort food, done flawlessly. Beautiful meat, smooth mashed potatoes and a lovely gravy.
7. The Heuvos Rancheros Cafe in San Miguel de Allende. The poached eggs are picture perfect.
8. Beefsteak Burger at Cleaver & Cork. Topped with cheese curds, sweet onion mustard and porcini aioli, and serve with awesome crispy fries. Can’t go wrong with Local Pig meat.
9. Seafood Paella at my house. A shout out to Broadway Butcher Shop for the gorgeous tuna, the sweet scallops and shrimp, the mussels and the spicy chorizo…and service with a smile.
All of us have experienced the weariness with turkey that sets in after the holiday has come and gone. Why not mix it up and take the family to Pizzeria Locale?
A partnership with Chipotle and the two restaurateurs behind the highly acclaimed Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder, Pizzeria Locale is exactly what fast casual should be. Neapolitan pizza made to order, cooked in minutes and ready for pick up, practically before you’ve had a chance to pay your bill. And the pizza is the way I love it, with a chewy, flavorful and slightly charred crust, and light toppings that play nicely with each other.
Diners go through a line that slides along the open kitchen, so everyone can watch the dough being formed into balls and then stretched. A few salads are offered, as well as beer and wine. But this is not a place to linger. There is limited seating and, considering how long it takes for you to get your pizza, you can dine and dash in 30 minutes or less.
I found the pizza pick-up to be a bit awkward when it’s crowded, but everyone just mills around waiting for their name to be called. But because it is so quick, the flow is pretty good.
My favorite part of this experience is that red pepper flakes and red chile oil is there for the taking, to your table along with utensils, etc. One of my favorite pizza shops, Pastaria in St. Louis, features that same oil, and I love to dunk each piece in it. I wish Il Lazzarone would loosen its “authentic” purity and at least offer red pepper flakes for those of us who like it hot. I like the scene there, and the pizza, but try to remember to BYOPF to the party:)
Pizzeria Locale in Waldo is the group’s first foray out of Colorado. While it may seem like a competitor to our hometown Spin, I hope to see more of them sprout up. After all, you can never have too much pizza.
I expected Upland to be good after reading the rave reviews. But I didn’t expect it to be THIS good. Our table of four shared 8 dishes and each one was noteworthy. I would order them all again…and we thought of ordering some of them again that very evening! Thinking with our heads instead of our stomachs we restrained ourselves, but it wasn’t easy.
We started with the soppresseta flatbread, which had a chewy crust that was ever so satisfying. We devoured the whole thing rather quickly.
Though we were just days from the start of October, the menu still had an heirloom tomato salad on it. Trusting that they would have replaced it had the tomatoes not been up to par (and getting confirmation of that from our server), we took a leap of faith and were richly rewarded. Visually stunning, the tomato salad was paired with a sesame dressing that made the dish both unusual and addictive.
The seared squid appetizer with fava beans and Calabrese sausage was another winner and quickly disappeared.
Though the chicken liver pasta is the restaurant’s signature dish, we opted for the spicy sausage ragu with pappardelle noodles. The noodles were homemade, had just the right bite, and the sauce was spicy and thick.
We shared two entrees; skirt steak with romesco and smoked chicken with roasted corn, mimolette, quicos + tajin seasoning . The skirt steak was cooked perfectly and was incredibly flavorful and tender. I’d rather have that particular piece of meat than a ribeye. The chicken was so moist, and the hash that accompanied it was brilliant. Remember the salty corn nuts that we used to snack on? They added both crunch and interest, in the same way that Josh Eans of Happy Gillis used them in his ham shank and grits dish. I had never seen them in an upscale dish until this year.
As a side, we ordered roasted carrots with salsa verde. Caramelized, tender and spicy. Yum.
We ordered a nectarine and blueberry galette, and the server also brought a peanut butter chocolate cake with milk chocolate ganache + peanut butter mousse, compliments of the house for my son’s birthday. Both hit the spot, but the galette’s crust was really special. Sugary, chewy, and light.
The space is contemporary and very attractive. Though the hard surfaces contribute to the energy, we were lucky enough to be in a booth and had no trouble enjoying our conversation.
Last May, 6 couples banded together to buy an auction lot at ShuttleCork, a food and wine event benefiting the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Chef Debbie Gold, Julep owners Keely Edgington and Beau Williams, and ReGina Cruse of Green Dirt Farm all donated their services and talents (and GDF cheese and lamb) to put together an awesome experience, and I was one of the lucky bidders.
We started the evening with a quartet of cocktails, all expertly prepared by Beau and Keely. They each smelled and tasted of autumn, which was ideal considering the chill in the air. Every drink was made to order, and the full array of bartending “instruments” had been transported to GDF to enhance the experience. With our drinks, we enjoyed grilled oysters with kimchi (my favorite) salmon tartine, and guanciale palmiers.
Though it was a cool October evening, GDF recently bought table heaters, so no one needed more than a heavy sweater to be comfortable.
Once we took our places at the table in the gorgeous barn, Debbie treated us to an exceptional dinner. Each dish at least kissed the grill that is the focal point of all the cooking that happens at Green Dirt Farm, and all but one of the courses used either cheese or lamb that had been donated by GDF.
The menu is below and you can read the descriptions. I would be hard pressed to say which course was my favorite, though I don’t remember eating a better lamb dish, and it was the first time I’d ever had lamb confit. The Tuffet cheese and cornmeal pound cake with honey jam was a brilliant combination, and the group alternated moments of stunned silence and loud appreciation.
The wines had been donated as part of the auction lot, and Debbie’s pairings were spot on. Keely and Beau also mixed up a dessert cocktail as a fitting conclusion to an incredible meal. Needless to say, we were all glad we had arranged to have a car drive us to and from Weston.
If you have an opportunity to attend ShuttleCork next year (disclaimer:I am a co-chair of the event!), gather your friends and bid on an experience like this one. I promise it will be memorable!
in the barn
Debbie preparing the apps
lamb and onions on the grill
Red Beets and Fennel with ewe milk yogurt and saba
Homemade Cavatali and Crab
dry aged, confit of GDF lamb, buckwheat polenta and charred onion
GDF Tuffet Cheese with cornmeal pound cake and honey jam
Just as I enjoy making bread, I love making pizza at home. Because I don’t have an oven that heats to 800 degrees, I typically grill my pizza. My favorite time for pizza making is in the summer when I can top it with fresh tomatoes and basil.
I have always wanted to go to Roberta’s in Brooklyn for pizza, so when I saw a recipe for the restaurant’s pizza dough, I decided to give it a try. It’s quite easy to make, and uses a combination of all-purpose and 00 flour. Rather than using a mixmaster, I kneaded the dough by hand and then let it rise in the refrigerator overnight. The dough was very easy to work with and I had no trouble shaping it.
One of my combination of toppings is pesto, mozzarella and fresh tomatoes, the latter added after the pizza comes off the grill. I’d rather have the tomatoes at room temp than hot. Just so I could get my greens, I finished the pizza with a handful or arugula, torn basil leaves, olive oil, salt and pepper. From garden to plate, nothing finer.
Time for a repost of what was one of the first stories I wrote. It was originally published in 2007.
Heinz seems proud to boast of 57 varieties of ketchup, but did you realize that there are actually 10,000 varieties of tomatoes? My favorite is the Sungold, a tiny, orange sphere of heaven. Popping them in my mouth like grapes, they burst with summer and a profound sweetness not found in common cherry red tomatoes. While most recipe books and magazines focus on large, beefy tomatoes, which now grow in a myriad of colors and sizes, the cherry tomato always seems to be the less favored relative. The month of August is the perfect time to pay homage to these little jewels.
No matter the size or the type of tomato, there is one unwavering rule — NEVER put any of them in the refrigerator. Storing a tomato under 55 degrees will zap its flavor. If you have a big batch and they are going to rot, eat them quickly. Make a tomato sauce, salsa or gazpacho. Give them away to your friends or neighbors. Just DO NOT put them in the refrigerator.
To make a cherry tomato even sweeter, try drying them in the oven to imitate the sun-dried version found in the store. Cut in half, (horizontally, not through the stem), put each half side by side on a cookie sheet, and roast in a 200-degree oven for 5-6 hours, or until dried (but not completely shriveled). It takes twenty pounds of fresh tomatoes to make one pound of oven-dried tomatoes, but even having a few on hand to throw into pastas or salads makes it worth the effort.
For a luncheon or light supper, put together an orzo salad with mint, basil, feta, olives, cherry tomatoes, and scallions (add shrimp for a complete meal). Toss with a light red wine vinaigrette or, to dress it up, make a Kalmata olive vinaigrette.
An old favorite among the Silver Palate crowd, the tomato and Brie pasta dish is a winner, exploding with an array of flavors on the tongue, from the soft, melted texture of the cheese to the powerful bite of the raw garlic. The earlier in the day you make the sauce, the deeper and more flavorful the result. Chop lots of garlic (8 cloves is not too many!) and three to four shallots and put them in a big serving bowl. Add a cup of olive oil, cover with saran wrap and set aside. An hour or so before you want to eat, halve dozens of cherry tomatoes and add them to the bowl along with oven dried tomatoes, torn basil leaves and bite-sized pieces of Brie cheese. At dinnertime, cook a batch of your favorite pasta (I like to use cavatappi (corkscrew), farfalle (bowtie), or linguini) and, after draining, toss with the room-temperature sauce. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan at the table.
For a striking presentation, spread a variety of heirloom tomato slices (yellow, orange and purple, not just red) on a platter, sprinkle with cut cherry tomatoes, goat or blue cheese crumbles and leaves of basil (a common theme at this time of year). Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and oil and season with salt and pepper.
Bruschetta is a terrific party food and it’s fun to offer your guests a choice. (When their mouths are full, it won’t even matter if they don’t know the proper Italian pronunciation of this appetizer.) Toast or grill slices of pain de campagne (Farm to Market makes a French Farm bread that works beautifully and is available in most grocery stores) that have been brushed with olive oil. Top with olives, feta and oven-roasted tomatoes. Or try one with pesto and fresh mozzarella. Warm in a 350-degree oven until the cheese melts, and add cherry tomatoes on top before serving.
The best way to eat a cherry tomato is, of course, “straight up”, freshly picked from the vine and warmed by the sun. If one isn’t enough, which it certainly isn’t for me, try one of the other 10,000 varieties!
Though typically thought of as a vegetable, the tomato is botanically a member of the fruit family. However, in 1893, as vegetables and fruits were subject to different import duties, the Supreme Court was asked to rule on the tomato’s classification. Because the tomato was commonly eaten as a vegetable, the Court unanimously decided to give it that designation. (This was undoubtedly one of the juiciest decisions in the Court’s history.)
Tomatoes, which are consumed in higher quantities than any other vegetable or fruit in the United States, are high in vitamin C and also provide beta-carotene. Studies have shown an association between consuming a diet rich in tomato-based foods and a decreased risk of cancer and heart disease, possibly due to the presence of large amounts of an antioxidant called lycopene (watemelon is another good source of lycopene).
An average tomato has 35 calories, 2g of protein and 8 carbohydrates, no cholesterol, less than a gram of fat and 12 mg of calcium. A fresh tomato is 93% water and 100% summer, so enjoy this seasonal treat all month long!
I’ve been saying to anyone who will listen that Kansas City is becoming one of the country’s great food cities. We don’t have the volume of restaurants that one finds on either coast, but we have some very talented chefs who are offering up incredibly creative and exciting fare. My recent dinner in the kitchen of Novel, with Chefs Ryan Brazeal and Jessica Armstrong reaffirms that belief.
Chef Ryan and General Manager Richard Garcia have started offering a special 18 course tasting menu once a month, on Sunday evenings when the restaurant is typically closed. A table is set up in the kitchen, and ten lucky people get to watch the chef meticulously prepare every course. Once each diner is served, Ryan gives a short description of what is on the plate and how it was conceived. Almost all ingredients are locally sourced, and a nod is given to each grower. Richard pairs each course with a beer or wine selection, all of which you can count on being conversation starters.
Aside from the complex flavors, textures and stunning creativity, what impressed me the most about the evening was how incredibly organized it was. With so many courses to plate and serve, there could have been a long lag between them, but there was a lovely flow to the evening from start to finish. Everyone was served at the same time, the pace of the dishes was perfect, clean wine glasses arrived in a timely fashion, our water glasses were never empty, and there was a general calm in the kitchen that was quite extraordinary.
Here’s a photographic lineup of each dish. Feast your eyes and then get yourself on Novel’s mailing list so you, too, can sign up and participate in one of these incredible dinners.
Potato chip, lardo and chive
Chicken skin, foie gras, kale chip
Corn soup, lobster gelée, wasabi, hijiki
Hamachi, ponzu, caviar and oxalis
Roast turnip, turnip ash and XO aioli
Fairytale eggplant, miso, red pepper, rice puff
Grilled zucchini, smoked ricotta, rice puff
tomato ceviche, red onion, cilantro
Quail egg, romaine and anchovy
Salt Cod, lamb chili, malt vinegar
Oyster mushroom, ginger scallion, radish
Poached salmon, black bean and celery leaf
Panzanella with short rib, green tomato and sherry
We recently went with some friends to Sakae Sushi, a sushi restaurant tucked away in an unassuming strip center in Parkville. Despite us all living near the Plaza, glowing reviews of the place were enticing enough to make the drive.
I knew before venturing north that the restaurant’s ambiance is an afterthought and, since I’m all about the food anyway, that was not a deterrent. Walking in to the restaurant and seeing the sushi bar front and center, it’s clear that is the focus of Chef Peter’s attention and the reason for the restaurant’s numerous accolades.
With six hungry table mates, we were able to sample all of the evening’s specials as well as a handful of signature maki rolls, all of which were photo-worthy. But aside from being visually stunning, what set this sushi apart from other local sushi restaurants was the unique and creative flavor pairings. Tuna and orange, salmon and lemon, to name two. Perhaps those don’t seem that special, but on the tongue they were delightfully different.
It’s almost a sin to dip each bite into soy sauce. The fish is so fresh and flavorful that it needs no adornment. In fact, next time I want to try a Sashimi platter just so I can experience the incredible fish as a standalone.
My recommendations? Spicy Salmon Bites, Sizzling Salmon, Hamachi Jalapeno, Lemon Drop, Florida and the Yellowtail Mexicano. This is definitely a place to be adventurous; you can get a California roll at your neighborhood grocery store…
While acclaimed for its sushi, those who prefer more traditional Asian fare will find crab rangoon, fried rice and many cooked entrées.