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

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 wine cabinet--RyeThe chef's counter--Rye

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. RyeIn 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. Beet salad--Rye

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. Smoked ribs--Rye

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. Macaroni and Cheese--RyeThat’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.Table sauces at Rye

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.Buttered Hot Shrimp--Rye

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."Cool Pop" Burger--Rye

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. Meyer lemon meringue pie-RyeMegan’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.Apple crisp--RyeMo Kan pie--Rye

In addition to evening hours, Rye is open for lunch during the week and brunch on the weekends.Rye

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Coopers Hawk Winery and Restaurant

Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant is the new kid on the Plaza, taking the space previously occupied by 810 Zone. Fortunately, no remnant of the former tenant remains. CHW executed a total redo and introduced a new concept in the process. Walking into the building, one first encounters a retail store. I was a little surprised by the commercialism, but was later told that the idea is to replicate a Napa winery, complete with tasting room and outlet to buy wine and accessories. The Napa theme isn’t far fetched. I interviewed corporate winemaker Rob Warren last month and he explained that while the wine itself is made in Illinois, most of their grapes are sourced from vineyards on the West coast, as well as some from Michigan. Perhaps Missouri grapes will be added to the lineup at some point?! P1000834

Before we had a chance to check out the merchandise, we were greeted by a server offering us a glass of bubbly from her tray. And because it was the first week of operation, staff members were swarming, some in training and others undoubtedly on loan from other CHW operations around the country. While roaming we noted that wine-tastings are available for a small fee, and all 15 varietals of Coopers Hawk wine are available for purchase. There were also a number of pretty cool wine accessories that would have made great stocking stuffers.Coopers Hawk

The check-in desk for a table is located behind the store, at the base of the steps which lead to the dining room and in front of the bar area. We were led upstairs to our booth, which was in one of many small dining areas, making the cavernous space seem more intimate and quiet than I would have thought possible. I did note that a couple of the rooms were too brightly lit, but we were seated in a room that was more appropriate for evening dining.Coopers Hawk

My visit had been set up by the CHW public relations firm and we received a complimentary meal. Our server was a college student who loved everything on the menu, making her recommendations a bit suspect, but she was attentive, friendly and well-intentioned.

We started with a bottle of Cabernet/Zinfandel which is described in the menu as being “full-bodied and jammy with aromas of black currant, pepper, and cherry.” Ordering a bottle of red wine triggers somewhat of a production–while our server went to get the bottle, another server brought to our table a huge decanter with a tap for releasing the wine into a glass. After opening the bottle, the server poured the wine over a glass ball which aerates the wine, cools it and releases the bouquet. Looking around the room I noticed one of those decanters on almost every table. Gimmicky? Perhaps, but it was a fun touch.Chicken Lettuce Wraps--Coopers Hawk

Word to the wise, many of the apps are for sharing; we ended up with way too much food. The lettuce wraps could have been a full meal on their own, and definitely a good item to share among 3 or 4 people. There were 5 individual tuna tacos to that order, again a fun appetizer to pass around the table.Tuna tacos--Coopers Hawk

The menu is huge. It’s one of those “something for everyone” type of menus. Salads, sandwiches, burgers, chicken, pork, beef, pasta and fish specialities fill the pages.

Though it’s probably a throwback to the 90s, I love fish with wasabi mashed potatoes, so I couldn’t resist the grilled salmon with those potatoes and Asian slaw. I like my salmon medium rare and it came to the table just as I requested. Visually, there was too much wasabi butter floating on top of the potatoes; I’d rather not see just how many calories I’m consuming, but the end result made me banish that image and just enjoy them.Salmon with Wasabi Mashed Potatoes

My husband had the Angel Hair Neapolitano with Fresh Garlic, Chili Flakes, Rotisserie Roasted Chicken, Broccoli, San Marzano Tomato Sauce, and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. For someone who loves pasta as much as he does, he was happy, but it wasn’t exceptional. He did have to ask for Parmesan, but he’s not shy…Angel Hair pasta with chicken--Coopers Hawk

I must have had pretzel rolls at 3 or 4 restaurants the week I dined at CHW. They certainly are the “it” bread of the moment. Here, they bring one large round loaf on a cutting board to the table for sharing.Pretzel Roll--Coopers Hawk

Of course we had to try dessert, so we picked the warm chocolate chip cookie in a skillet that had Reeces peanut butter cups baked in. Naturally it was topped with vanilla ice cream. Not a bad way to finish the meal before we rolled ourselves to the car.warm chocolate cookie with ice cream--Coopers Hawk

When dining at Coopers Hawk, the word “formulaic” comes to mind, but it works so I guess that’s something. If you’re looking for a nice meal, competent service and some good wine on the Plaza, add this to your list. It’s not a small, cozy independent restaurant but, except for a few restaurants like Classic Cup, you pretty much need to leave the Plaza to have that experience these days.

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Anton’s Taproom and Restaurant

Originally built as a grocery store, the building at 1610 Main now houses Anton’s Taproom and Restaurant. The name is a misnomer because the owner’s vision encompasses so much more. Upon entering the building for the first time I was greeted by a waiter who offered us a tour of the “grounds”. We visited a second floor art gallery, a basement aquaphonic tank for raising tilapia, an outdoor bar and garden, a butcher shop and, oh yeah, the dining room and bar.

The bar runs the length of the room with more than 65 beers on tap, 2 wines on tap and a whole array of bottles lining the wall.

Meats on the menu come from the butcher shop which offers seating for overflow from the dining room, or perhaps for those who want a somewhat quieter ambiance.

Protein dishes come unadorned. No sauce, no sides; just the meat, chicken or scallops. Steaks are ordered by the ounce, though there is an 8 ounce minimum. There’s a choice of grass or grain fed beef, and dry aged in-house from 14 or 28 days.

I’m not much of a meat eater, but perusing the menu the short rib sandwich looked too mouth-watering to pass up. Piled high with meat, arugula, mushrooms and balsamic reduction on Texas toast style bread, I intended to only eat a half, but couldn’t resist finishing it. The French fries were better than they looked, but I always prefer a fry that still has the skins on and is a bit crisper than these were.

The pulled pork sandwich was very tasty and was slathered with a homemade BBQ sauce that could dance with the big boys in town.

We also ordered an arugula salad with apples and truffle vinaigrette that was fresh and crisp. Adding chicken confit made it a complete meal.

The only disappointment was the wedge salad, which was smaller than the oversized heads of lettuce I’m used to seeing at Capital Grille. That would have been fine had it not seemed small for the price as well.

We were very impressed by the very friendly and helpful staff. On our first visit, the bartender was more than happy to let us sample a variety of beers before settling on our favorite of the evening.

Anton’s is a hotspot of the moment, appealing to those wanting a full on meal or simply a drink in a “Cheers” kind of atmosphere.  As more menu items are added and the butcher shop opens, I suspect that will continue.

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The Jacobson

The Jacobson, the Crossroad’s newest hip restaurant, shares space with Lulu’s Noodle shop. Both occupy the old A.D. Jacobson Heating and Plumbing Company building. It’s a very cool space with glazed cement block walls, a mix of high and low tables, secluded boothes and plenty of bar counter seating. Some of the cocktails come in flasks to the table, sitting in an ice bucket so diners can pour their own or share.

The menu is large, and diners can choose to go light with flatbreads and salads, or heavier with entrees, both day and night.

On my first visit I indulged in a rich and decadent Banh Mi with sliced pork belly, cilantro and carrots, and a spicy mayo. I loved every bite, but it’s definitely not an every day kind of sandwich. If it were sliced pork loin or pulled pork shoulder I could pretend it wasn’t too bad for me, but pork belly is by definition fatty.

The Ahi tuna salad may be a standard on many a menu these days, but this is a good one, with good quality rare tuna and a very pleasant miso vinaigrette dressing up the greens.

On another go around we started with a wild mushroom and ricotta flatbread. The flatbread was crisp, with plentiful toppings, but the dough could have benefited from perhaps a bit more salt (which I hardly ever recommend!).

I really enjoyed the unusual Crossroads salad. The crisp romaine is  tossed with bacon, corn, tomatoes, avocado and a creamy oregano dressing, and a soft poached egg sits on top.  Eggs on salads are big right now, with good reason. The oozing yolk mixes with the dressing to add complexity to the salad.

The J has Happy Hour every day. It would be fun to hit the patio on a beautiful autumn day and throw back a few. There’s a full bar with beer on tap outside, and a water and fire element on the patio. It can be noisy with all of the construction going down in the Crossroads, but that’s the price of progress, and that stops in the early evening.

Desserts are definitely worth ordering. If you’re into Dutch Babies (looks like a cross between a huge pancake and Yorkshire pudding), I saw a few of them  pass by and they looked like the real deal. Servers seem to be partial to the Fig Newton, an unusual twist on my childhood fig newton sandwich: squares of bread pudding serve as the sandwich to the fig perserve filling and are drizzled with chocolate sauce. In a cute riff on cookies and milk, the dessert comes with a shot of Shatto banana milk. Adorable lookng, but since I’m not a bread pudding lover, I don’t think I’d get it again. The Brown Sugar cake on the other hand, with peanut butter ice cream and caramel sauce was a winner.

Chef John Smith has some impressive credentials, having worked with some of the great chefs in Chicago, New York and Paris. Based on his resume, I’m looking forward to trying out the dinner menu, which is more extensive and emphasizes fish, chicken and meat entrees.

It’s fun to go to the Crossroads these days. The ability to experience high quality fare from independent restaurateurs seems to be increasing at an exciting pace.

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The Green Room

The Green Room  is located in Westport, fittingly next to a theatre (green room, get it?). It also tries to be green in terms of our environment, thus the double-entendre….

Recently opened, it aims to provide a comfortable place to have a good burger at an affordable price, while also perhaps washing it down with a brew from the very extensive beer list. Though I think it achieves that, it’s probably not a place where you’d hang all night, throwing them back. It’s a bit too sterile to get comfortable,  though I found sitting at the bar to be more appealing than in the dining area.

I had a good veggie burger on a great wheat bun from Roma Bakery. The habanero aioli that I had ordered for my fries gave the burger a bit of pep. The French fries were hand-cut, with skins on just the way I like them, but my batch needed a bit more cooking  and much less pepper.

Everyone is very friendly and eager to please, and two servers asked how I enjoyed my meal. Since they inquired, I told them both that the fries were way too peppery (which was obvious from looking at them), and though they apologized, neither did anything to rectify the situation. Since it’s not meant to be a fine dining experience and the fries were cheap, I couldn’t get  upset that they didn’t offer to make me another batch.

Next time up I had the Brownfield burger, a classic with the traditional toppings. Though I regretfully neglected to take a picture, you can imagine it in your mind….diner style, fresh bun, pickles, ketchup and mustard. The meat comes from Bichelmeyer, and I could tell it was a quality product.

In both cases, the price was right at $5 for a burger and $3 for fries.

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Burger Stand at the Casbah

The Burger Stand first operated in Dempsey’s Pub. About 18 months ago culinary couples Molly and Robert Krause and  Simon and Codi Bates moved it to the old Casbah grocery space. Now called the Burger Stand at the Casbah, it sits next door to the other restaurant the foursome own, Esquina. Esquina recently revamped its menu and switched up its cuisine from Mexican to what they are calling  “Mediterranean Food with a Spanish Flair”.

This is an order-at-a-counter operation, though if you grab a seat at the bar a bartender will wait on you. There’s also a separate line for ordering downstairs that is open on busy nights, which it was the night we visited. I suspect it’s always packed on game nights, but they do a good job of getting the orders out and turning the tables. We stood in line for about 25 minutes, ordered our burgers and a pitcher of beer, and were lucky enough to snag a booth where we waited for our name to be called. The pick up area is in the back, down a few steps, where diners can also  pump their own ketchups into little paper cups for dipping fries.

The Burger Stand offers several vegetarian options, but we opted for the black bean burger (as opposed to lentil or tofu) and it now has a prominent spot on my list of favorite veggie burgers. The poblano salsa and pepper jack cheese gave it some spice and my addition of cactus-habanero jam (which comes with the Fire Burger) kicked it up a notch.

I rarely eat a real beef burger, so when I do I want it to be really something special. The Black and Blue obliged on all fronts. It was incredibly flavorful and juicy, a perfect medium rare as ordered, the big chunk of bleu cheese impacted every bite and the apple chutney added a bit of cool. I realized when I was nearing my last bite that I hadn’t added ketchup or mustard, which is as natural a motion to me as people who salt something before tasting it. The burger was perfectly composed as it was.

The Burger Stand offers a ton of  homemade sauces for dunking the burger or fries…. cherry-pepper ketchup, guajillo-chili dip and parmesan-roasted garlic aioli, and  a variety of mustards.

The french fries were my least favorite part of the meal. I thought the sweet potato fries were better than the duck fat fries or the truffle fries. I’m a skin-on lady, so these didn’t do much for me, but my dining companions were less picky and enjoyed them. I’d have to give Blanc Burger the nod on the fries, but I’d drive back to Lawrence for those burgers.

The Burger Stand recently opened a second location in Topeka. I know there are plenty of burger joints in Kansas City, but I’d love to see the next expansion eastward so I don’t have to drive so far for one of those black bean burgers…..

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The Spotted Pig–New York City

The Spotted Pig is somewhat of an institution in New York City’s West Village, which I’ve concluded is my favorite area in Manhattan. Small, winding streets, some cobblestoned, are lined with quaint retail storefronts and attractive Boston-like townhomes. The Pig has been on the scene since 2003, certainly not as long as many beloved New York icons. But it was one of the first gastropubs so it has a unique spot in the city’s food lore.

Gastropubs are popping up all over the country, but what are they really? A gastropub is a pub that serves high quality food, and no one does it better than chef/owner April Bloomfield, which only makes sense since she hails from England. The Spotted Pig also has a quirky and fun vibe. Walking through the door, it’s hard to know where to look first, there’s so much to take in. An attractive bar is situated in the first of two rooms, rooms that are barely separated by an arched, punched-out brick wall, and all of the tables are crammed close together.  The ceiling is lined with pressed tin, and small porcine figurines dot the restaurant. The restaurant is bigger than it looks at first glance; there’s a second floor full of tables and another bar.  Potted plants overflowing with herbs and flowers cover the walls outside to complete the charming scene.

The menu only has a handful of entrees, but the large assortments of “Plates” (considered first courses or appetizers) range from roasted beets and smoked haddock chowder to soft shell crab and ricotta gnudi.

I was there for lunch, and decided to listen to all of the reviewers who have raved about the hamburger with blue cheese. It was  huge, juicy and heavenly. I don’t eat meat, much less a burger, very often, so when I do it has to be something special, and this was. It definitely lived up to the hype.

We also enjoyed a wonderful pressed Cuban sandwich with slices of pork tenderloin and swiss cheese. I think I detected ham as well, which is a traditional ingredient, but it was definitely heavy on the pork. It didn’t have mustard as a Cuban typically does, but it was loaded with pickles and I got mustard on the side so I was a happy camper.  The burger came with a huge mound of shoestring fries, the ideal accompaniment for both sandwiches.

The Spotted Pig doesn’t take reservations, which is why I went for lunch on a Monday, figuring I wouldn’t have trouble getting a table and I didn’t. I’d love to go for dinner or brunch sometime, but I’m not especially fond of waiting for a table. I suspect it would be worth the patience to go back. If our two dishes were any indication, there’s a reason the Spotted Pig has achieved cult status.

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Hickok’s Bar and Grill

No surprise that Forbes Cross and Michael Peterson* are a winning combination. If you mention their names in the same sentence, people assume that whatever they are working on will be successful.

So it is with their latest venture, Hickok’s Bar and Grill. It has taken over the space previously occupied by Dos Hombres in the River Market area. The interior reminded me of  restaurants I have frequented in Portland, Maine, with high ceilings, brick walls and exposed pipes. It consists of several rooms, with an attractive bar in front. Though the menu is heavy with Southwestern dishes, diners will also find burgers, ribs, salads, hangar steak, meatloaf , fish and  pork chops. And everything sounds appealing; it’s one of those places where it’s hard to decide what to order.

Each time I’ve been we’ve gravitated towards the Southwestern choices. The red chili chicken quesadilla was killer–a bit sweet, with pepper jack cheese, grilled onions, poblanos, and tons of flavor. The grilled shrimp tacos are another winner, served on  fabulous corn tortillas, dripping with a red chili mayo. The nachos were substantial to say the least, and though I couldn’t resist plowing through the layers, they could have benefited from more “stuff” besides chicken and cheese. And then there’s the tuna. Tuna “takos”, tuna nachos on rice chips, and grilled tuna with cabbage and a red chili vinaigrette. The vinaigrette shows up often, but that’s a good thing, as it was when it graced the blackened salmon sandwich at Trezo Mare, one of the many restaurants that Peterson helped launch.

Happy Hour offers some great drink and food specials, with more than enough options to make a whole meal.

Word has it that Hickok’s has some awesome handcut French fries, so that’s a reason right there to go back, but there are two pages worth of other reasons.

* UPDATE: Michael Peterson has left Hickok’s and is planning to open his own restaurant. Hopefully, they have a chef in place who can continue what he started.

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Blanc Burger and Bottles

I’m certainly not the first to weigh in on the newest location of Blanc Burger and Bottles, but it’s still worth a mention. The Plaza venue is a big improvement over the original in Westport, which was way too small, and the Mission Farms location, which is way too loud. While this one may not be just right, it is arranged in such a way that some of the sound is buffered and, beyond that, it’s an attractive space with unique dividers and a room-long bar for eating and/or sipping beer.

The menu is basically the same, though there are a few additional items, including fried peppadew peppers, beer battered Shatto cheese curds, and a $100 short-rib stuffed burger with foie gras butter for a mere $15.

On our visit, we stuck to old favorites, all of which were every bit as good as what we had enjoyed previously at the other locations. The Bison burger was juicy, and I like the combination of pepperjack cheese and peppadew jam which tops it off. My other favorite is the Spiced Lentil burger, topped with spiced yogurt and cucumber salad. We shared truffle fries, which were a bit too oily for my taste, and the regular fries. I prefer Blanc’s sweet potato fries, but had no trouble polishing these off.

We didn’t have room for a milkshake, but one of these days I’m going to have to try one of  the liquor based “grown-up” milkshakes. Beer drinkers have more than 100 to choose from, soda drinkers have some interesting options, and even the wine list is far from ordinary.

I suspect Blanc has a gold mine on its hands, situated as it is in the heart of the Plaza. It’s also refreshing that there’s another independent operator on the Plaza–for too long it has been overrun with chains. I hope this starts the reversal of that mentality, back to the way it used to be when the area was known for its unique specialty shops and restaurants.

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Jerry’s Woodswether Cafe

Jerry’s Woodswether Cafe is a longstanding diner in the West Bottoms. If you don’t know where you are going, you could easily drive right by–look for a huge mural on the side of the building, the only identifying mark to direct you.

This is not the place for a trendy experience, and you probably won’t see anyone you know. But if you want good, solid, and cheap fare, I highly recommend it.

Breakfast runs the gamut from humongous pancakes and eggs any way, to biscuits with sausage gravy. Lunch is also light on the wallet, but not the waistline.

We tried the signature hot-pepper cheese burger with grilled onions on Texas toast, a Reuben, fries and onion rings. The burger barely fit in my son’s mouth and he enjoyed every bite. Though I have not eaten every Reuben in the city, this would definitely make my top 5 list. The onion rings were excellent–crisp, with as much onion as batter. And the fries had potential, but needed more time in the fryer.

Woodswether is the epitome of what a diner should be. Hearty, well-executed food. Competent, no-nonsense staff, and a no-frills setting.

It’s not open for dinner, or on Sundays, so keep that in mind before venturing out.

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