Kansas City Star Restaurant Guide

Now that I’ve built up the Star’s restaurant guide to more than 150 restaurants, please give it a look. While a rotating list of 25 or so is  included in the Preview section each week, the entire compilation is available online at http://www.kansascity.com/living/food, and includes a more extensive description of each restaurant than can be found in the print version, including type of cuisine, vegetarian options, strategies for eating cheaply, whether reservations are accepted and the Star’s rating (which is assigned by Steve Paul or Jill Silva, not me).  Just scroll down the Food page to “Find a Restaurant” and use the pull-down menu to customize your search.

Please let me know if there’s a restaurant you’d like me to include. The list is evolving and I’m trying to keep it current, but I would appreciate your suggestions!

The Beer Kitchen

The Beer Kitchen is a reincarnation of One80, a restaurant that was housed in the southeast corner of Westport and Pennsylvania for several years. The Beer Kitchen has the same owners, but they devised a new concept and revamped the decor. It now resembles more of a gastropub with a strong emphasis on, you guessed it… beer, but serving quality bar food.

The Beer Kitchen reminded me of a less frenetic BRGR. It’s smaller and not as loud, and it serves burgers and beer in an industrial setting. But it may have broader appeal, owing to the depth and breadth of its menu selections.

In addition to a vast array of burgers (made with a McGonigle’s blend), including the Classic, Tur-Duck-En, the Creole Chicken and the Smokestack, the menu includes flatbreads, salads, soups, sandwiches, Build Your Own Mac & Cheese, as well as several entrees and breakfast any time.

Happy Hour runs from 4:00-6:00 PM Monday-Saturday, and features some awesome food and drink specials. We had an excellent mushroom flatbread with brie, pesto and red onion jam for $4, homemade potato chips with a too mild gorgonzola fondue/sauce for $3 and a bottle of Boulevard Wheat for $3. Sliders, corn dip, black-eyed pea hummus and cheese fries round out the selections.

Though not on the HH menu, we also shared a veggie burger made with quinoa and mushroom, and topped with hummus, avocado, micro-greens & cucumber tzatziki relish. It reminded me of Blanc‘s lentil burger, which I have always loved. We of course had to try the hand-cut fries which, though too salty, were a worthy vehicle for the homemade ketchups–traditional, whiskey BBQ and chipotle.

The beer list (which appears in catalogue form as well as on a wall) is extensive and educational. Its tasting notes include the percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV), and whether a particular beer is smoky,  funky, tart and tangy or stiff and sweet, along with more typical adjectives. Tap beer is available in two sizes to allow diners/drinkers to sample a variety.

We were lucky to be there during a shift change. Our first server was unfriendly and not particularly accommodating. She took it upon herself to veto our requests/questions without checking with the kitchen, whereas our second server couldn’t have been more helpful and answered those same questions in the affirmative.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the fare, and would suspect that the Beer Kitchen will have a longer life than its predecessor.

Beer Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Food Apps and Podcasts

photo by Robert Scoble

In case you missed the article I wrote in Wednesday’s Kansas City Star‘s Food section, below is a link to it. The print copy is more fun to read, but this gives all the information you need to start using food apps on your phone or iPad. And for those of you who listen to podcasts, I listed some of my favorites.

Farmer’s Market bounty

Farmers’ Markets have their full complement of produce this month, so hopefully this will inspire you to be creative with your favorite fruits and vegetables.

–Make a summery salad of watermelon chunks and cherry tomatoes with feta or goat cheese, topped off with chopped mint and pistachios, and tossed with red vinegar and oil. It’s an unusual combination, but surprisingly refreshing. (Use the leftover watermelon to blend up killer margaritas or gazpacho!)

– Steam fresh green beans and mix with a warm dressing of sautéed chopped red onions or shallots, Dijon mustard, dill, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

– Slice a French baguette lengthwise and spread with basil pesto. Pile on fresh slices of mozzarella, tomato and a fistful of basil or arugula. Have plenty of napkins handy!

– Corn is at its peak right now. Instead of preparing it in the traditional style, try rubbing each cob with olive oil and grilling it; the flavor will be incredible. Or, cut the kernels off the cob and make a salsa — put the corn in a bowl, add chopped red onion, red or green peppers and basil or cilantro. Squirt with lime, add a splash of red vinegar and oil and a bit of chile powder and cumin. Spice it up with jalapeno if you like the heat and cherry tomato halves if you can’t resist an extra taste of summer. Stir and spoon over a piece of grilled chicken or fish for a simple and colorful seasonal dish.

– Take advantage of the abundance of mint to make a pesto to serve with lamb. Start with a basic pesto recipe –- replace half of the basil with mint, and the other half with Italian parsley. Then substitute walnuts for the pine nuts to enjoy a delicious alternative to mint jelly. And to make the meal even more special, ask the butcher to bone and butterfly the lamb so it can be grilled. Mint pesto is also great with corn. After taking the kernels off the cob, toss with the pesto, a touch of lime and some feta cheese.

The great thing about using summer produce is that you are limited only by your own imagination, so get thee to a farmer’s market and start creating!

Check out Around the Block’s Facebook Page!

Many of you subscribe to my blog (thank you!), and I don’t want to flood your email boxes on daily basis. SO, I have started a Facebook page, and will be posting fun links, food findings, recipes, and ideas that I hope will be of interest.  You can continue to read my blog for restaurant reviews and more general food posts.

Please check out my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Around-the-Block/121015404588562. If you like it, please give it a thumbs up on my page!

Cancun Fiesta Fresh

Cancun Fiesta Fresh in Westport may not be a place to linger or even have a beer, but it’s definitely a spot for  quick, no frills, satisfying Mexican fare.

The menu focuses on street tacos, with a choice of marinated beef (asada), BBQ beef (adovada), carnitas, chicken, ground beef, beef tongue or beef cheek. Each is served on a homemade corn tortilla and topped with cilantro and onions. Mild, medium and hot salsas can be added from the simple salsa bar–the medium is a tomatillo salsa, the other two are tomato based, and all three are fresh and lively.

I particularly enjoyed the carnitas bowl, which was actually just a plate of carnitas, beans and rice, with a bit of guacamole and pico de gallo. The pork was extremely lean, tender and properly crisp. The platter is served with hot corn tortillas for making your own taco–with the tomatillo salsa it hit all the right notes. The rice was perfectly prepared and nicely flavored, the beans were the typical refried variety.

There are six tables inside and several more on the parking lot patio, but the bulk of Cancun’s business comes from carry-out and delivery.

Cancun Fiesta Fresh on Urbanspoon

Spin Pizza

Spin is one of those places that would be easy to frequent on a regular basis. Want a quick salad at lunch? Go to Spin. Pizza before a movie or basketball game? Go to Spin. Gelato after the movie or game? Spin. Can’t decide where to go? Spin. You get the idea. It’s easy to get in and out, it’s reasonably priced, you can have a different salad and/or pizza combo every time and there’s a location near you, no matter where in the metro you reside. Did I mention that Spin makes awesome pizza? Maybe not the blistering, bubbly crusts of my Pizza Bella dreams, but thin and chewy, with high quality toppings.

The menu is on the wall to peruse while you wait your turn to place an order with the cashier. I like the small pizza and salad combo, which could formerly only be ordered at lunch–now it’s available at dinner as well. My favorites? For starters, the Sonoma salad with blood orange vinaigrette, goat cheese, apples and candied pecans, though I can easily be talked into the spinach salad. I love the #13, a white pizza with caramelized onions, fig marmalade and Gorgonzola. (You can tell from the picture how much I enjoy it–I took a piece before I remembered to snap the picture!). The pizza is normally made with goat cheese, but I prefer the pungency of blue cheese.

Twenty wines picked by the experts from Cellar Rat are displayed up front so you can study them while you are in line. The menu suggests wines that pair well with the signature pizzas, which takes the guesswork out of the selection. The other plus is that the wines are all under $20 a bottle.

Once you place an order, your work is done. All that’s left is to pick out a table, where a server will find you (by the number on the wood block the cashier gives you), and do some people-watching until your salad is promptly delivered. The pizza will follow at a proper pace. (At lunchtime they are delivered on one plate to hasten your return to work.) The Lozoffs (remember Bagel and Bagel?)are experienced restaurant operators,  they’ve got this thing figured out.

SPIN! Neapolitan Pizza on Urbanspoon

Sustainable Seafood

There is a limit to the number of fish in the sea. The world’s supply is being threatened by over harvesting, in spite of what would seem like infinite capacity in our vast oceans.

Consumers vote with their  pocketbooks, so it’s important to be well-informed.  By being aware of what species are threatened, we will know what  not buy  in grocery stores or at restaurants. And if we stop purchasing endangered species, fish mongers and restaurants  will have to follow suit and make more appropriate choices. Wild is usually better than farmed, although there are farms that are raising fish in ecologically acceptable circumstances–in general it depends on the practices used, the location and the species.

The best website I have found is the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. It lists recommended fish, alternatives and species to be avoided, and is constantly updated. You can even use a mobile guide on your cell phone as you peruse options at the fish counter. Or just print out the lists and take them with you. I have provided a link below for your convenience.