Colby and Megan Garrelts have another hit on their hands. Most Kansas Citians know of Bluestem in Westport, but the Garrelts have branched out…going south to Leawood and changing up the style and cuisine with their new restaurant, Rye. They have taken over a space that had been thrice doomed, but it would appear that the fourth time is a charm.
Rye is all about regional cuisine, employing ingredients from our area and foods we Midwesterners have been comforted by for years. But Chef Colby puts his own creative spin on each dish, making them unique without losing their heritage. Several family recipes grace the menu, having been reinterpreted to match Colby’s sensibilities. Those readers familiar with Husk in Charleston will recognize the concept. Chef Sean Brock was among the first to focus on the regionality of food, which Colby sees as a natural evolution from the farm-to-table concept that has swept the country, and he wanted to be a part of that.
The restaurant itself was crafted with distressed wood, and features a wine storage cabinet that was designed by Megan and constructed by her uncle. There’s a beautiful bar to the right as you enter the restaurant, and an open kitchen highlighted by copper fixtures and subway tiles with a small chef’s counter in the back. In between is a large space with all hard surfaces that is very loud when the restaurant is full. I know restaurants want to create a certain vibe, but when it’s hard to talk to your table mates, I do think it impacts one’s enjoyment of the overall experience. A little baffling might be in order here to tone it down just a bit.
Perhaps the hope is that the food will be good enough that diners will endure the noise. For the most part, I would say that’s true although, like Bluestem, I consider this a special occasion restaurant. Not because it’s fancy or expensive, but rather because it’s not the type of food that you should eat every day. This is hearty and heart-clogging fare, finger-licking good though it may be. Since opening, they have tweaked the menu and now offer salmon prepared simply, but there are not many healthy options other than the salads. The beet salad with arugula and Green Dirt Farm sheep’s milk was a nice way to start, but unless you get a double order it would not be enough to order for your entrée.
Having sampled much of the menu, I have developed my favorites, including the smoked ribs. Stacked like Lincoln logs, they are brushed with homemade barbecue sauce and served with creamed greens and delightful homemade pickles that remind me of the classic pickled cucumber salad of my youth. Fried chicken is clearly the biggest seller as evidenced by seeing at least one order of it on every table as I have wandered to the bathroom or been ushered to my own table. With good reason I might add. I am not a fried chicken lover, and I would guess that it’s been at least 5 years since I’ve had any. But the baskets here are for sharing, so I did try a chicken leg on my initial visit, and I can easily see why it gets so many raves. The skin is crisp and entirely devoid of grease, and the chicken is moist and flavorful.
The mac and cheese was another winner, made even better by our waiter’s suggestion to perk it up with some of the hot sauce that sits on each table. That’s not a combination I would ever have considered, and I was very pleased with the result. In addition to the bottle of XXX hot sauce, there’s a Royal Steak sauce and a BBQ sauce for the taking as well, a gesture that I love and is also employed at Port Fonda.
If you’re ever been to the Garrelts’ Bluestem Lounge, you may recognize the shrimp and grits dish that’s on the menu. Different name, slightly different rendition, same deliciousness.
The hamburger was excellent. It was quite hefty with caramelized onions and mushrooms, and a fresh, soft bun that didn’t overwhelm the burger. It was very flavorful and, despite the fact that I ordered it rare and it came medium with barely a hint of pink, I still enjoyed it, which has to be a reflection of the quality of the meat itself. The burger comes with an order of the cottage fries, which are addictive.
There’s a separate steak menu, running the gamut from rib eye and porterhouse to lamb and pork chops from Arrowhead Meats and, though I haven’t yet ordered from that list, I would bet they are on a par or better than what you’d find at any of the steakhouses in our area.
And then there is that basket of homemade breads–the cornbread muffins melt in your mouth, no butter required.
Of all the dishes I’ve sampled, the only real disappointment was the Brussel sprouts. They were roasted to a proper doneness, but they weren’t particularly exciting or interesting.
The desserts, on the other hand, were awesome. Megan’s talents as a pastry chef shine here. Unlike at Bluestem where each dessert is a work of art, at Rye it’s all about the taste. They look good of course, but it’s the flavors that wow. The Meyer lemon meringue pie is tart and will definitely make your mouth pucker. The Mo Kan Pie is her riff on pecan pie, with an assortment of nuts and a chewy decadent filling. A trip back to one’s childhood comes free with a milk float and assorted cookies.