The Bite

Taking their cue from West Coast restaurants that have been serving Asian fusion sandwiches (ever heard of Roy Choi and his Kogi Korean tacos?), owners Bryan Merker,  Brian Thorne, and Carlos Mortera have started a little sandwich shop in the City Market. Open just a month, they will be ready for primetime when the Farmer’s Market opens and they get increased traffic from passers-by.The BiteThe Bite

My friend and I made a special trip to sample the unique and creative sandwiches. Build-you-own tamales are also on the menu, but we chose to split two sandwiches instead.The Bite

The Señor Chang has Slow Roasted Beef Short Rib – cilantro – queso fresco – pickled onions – candied – jalapeńos – sriracha crema, and the Kicking Chicken is filled with Braised Chicken – Korean BBQ Sauce – Queso Fresco – Radish – Cucumber – Pickled Onions – Sriracha Crema.Kickin Chicken--The Bite

The Kicking Chicken was a bit bland considering it was topped with Korean BBQ sauce, but it had a nice flavor. I really enjoyed the Senor Chang–it reminded me a bit of the Korean tacos from the now-defunct Westport Street Fare truck that Aaron Confessori used to run and I loved.

We also shared a side of delicious Sesame Slaw with Red Cabbage – Red Onions – Sesame Seeds – Cilantro – Sesame Vinaigrette, and used some of it to add  crunch to the chicken sandwich. It also provided additional filling, which was the one thing these sandwiches needed more of. My friend and I both thought the sandwiches were a bit skimpy on ingredients; had we not been sharing I would have piled the meat onto one side of the sandwich. The good news is that the roll was fresh, soft and chewy, so I had no problem eating the whole thing.Sesame slaw--The Bite

We sampled one of the Abuelita Chocolate Chip cookies, which had a touch of cinnamon and chile powder in it and was quite good. Other choices include a bourbon bacon chocolate chip and a  white Jalapeño chocolate chip. They also serve up homemade ice cream sandwiches.Abuelita chocolate chip cookie--The Bite

 I counted six totally vegetarian items on the menu, all of which were quite innovative, so it’s clear they aim to please. And it’s quick. Order at the counter and expect them to call your name within 5 minutes.

The Bite is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, and will expand the local color and flair of City Market.The Bite

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BRGR in the Power and Light District

BRGRBRGR, one of the Bread & Butter Concept restaurants, just opened a second location downtown. Their first, in Corinth, has been successful since the day it opened. The new one, in the Cordish-owned Power and Light District, is one of the few independently owned retail establishments in the mix.BRGR

The new space is gorgeous, and just what you’d envision when creating a burger joint that appeals to sports fans. Flat screen TVs abound, but there are booths and tables in the dining room where those who don’t want to take in a game aren’t forced to. Like the original, this has a warehouse motif, with lots of wood and metal throughout the vast space.

The menu is similar to the BRGR in Corinth and focuses on burgers and sandwiches, with a few tacos, pork shoulder and BBQ shrimp thrown in for good measure. (Bread and Butter also owns Taco Republic, Gram & Dun and Urban Table.)Salmon sandwich--BRGR

I had the salmon “Not-So-Burger”, a blackened filet sandwich with chipotle aioli and onion marmalade. I asked them to top it with some spicy slaw instead of the mixed greens that were listed, and I had a winner. The salmon was cooked to order and I enjoyed every bite. My husband had the veggie burger, which is made with lentils, black beans and beets. I always enjoy it, but I wouldn’t rank it as high as the veggie burgers at Blanc or the Burger Stand in Lawrence, but it’s certainly a nice alternative to their many beef offerings.P1020315P1020318

We shared fries, which come with a multitude of homemade sauces, and Brussel sprouts, both of which we had no trouble polishing off.Brussels Sprouts--BRGR

We sat at the bar and enjoyed talking to the bartender, who provided good service in addition to good conversation. The only disappointment of the evening was that the restaurant was not very busy. There wasn’t a concert or sporting event at the Sprint Center, nor was there a convention in town, all of which usually drive traffic to their door. I’ve heard comments about it being a bit pricey, but remember that they have to pay the rent. I  hope Kansas Citians will appreciate the risk the Gaylins, owners of the Bread & Butter Concepts, made in opening downtown among the big boys in the District. This is just the type of restaurant the P&L District needs, and I hope it gets the support it needs to stick around.BRGR Power and Light

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Despite recent pieces in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Chef Alex Pope is not about to rest on his laurels. Last month he rolled out a new food truck called Pigwich, that will be permanently parked behind his Local Pig butcher shop. Located in a secluded part of the East Bottoms, you would not think this is a hot destination…but you would be wrong.Pigwich

Since opening a year ago, the Local Pig has attracted carnivores in droves; it’s rare for there not to be a line to buy cuts of beef, pork, duck, rabbit, lamb or chicken, as well as eggs, a wide range of homemade sausages, and even tamales. All meats are hormone, steroid and antibiotic free, the quality of which is reflected in every bite. Purchases are attractively boxed and come with cooking instructions if requested.P1010205

Now Pope has parlayed this success into a sandwich shop on wheels (or a pedestal to be more precise), putting his mouth-watering products between slices of fabulous bread in innovative and delicious ways. Staples on the menu include a double cheeseburger (the truffle aioli kills it), cheesesteak, a Banh Mi with Thai meatballs, and even falafel for non-meat eaters. Daily specials run the gamut from a pastrami reuben and porchetta to a cuban sandwich.P1010208P1010207P1010209

Courtyard seating is available for those who can’t wait to dig into one of Pope’s luxurious creations, or who just want to enjoy some fresh air before hightailing it back to the office.
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First Taste: Louie’s Wine Dive

Louie's Wine DiveMy first visit to Louie’s Wine Dive in Waldo was a very pleasant one. From the owners to the servers and bartenders, everyone was incredibly friendly and helpful, and they all wanted us to be happy with our experience.

We were there on a Monday evening, during Happy Hour. I had heard that the noise in the restaurant can be deafening when full, but Chalk board at Louie's Wine Divefortunately we were there at a time when it wasn’t packed, and they were playing great old tunes from the 70s and 80s. We could also see their unique wine program in action. They have a printed wine list, but also sell many bottles that are only listed on the big blackboard display.

Unlike most restaurants that sell certain wines by the glass and others only by the bottle, at Louie’s they will open any bottle even if not typically offered by the glass as long as the diner/sipper commits to buying two glasses. Every Monday they have a Fire Sale with discounted glasses of wine that they need to move after a weekend of popping corks, and those are posted on the board. I noted that many of the wines on the list were marked up pretty high, but my discussion with the owner indicated they were aware of that and are in the process of making the prices more reasonable.Louie's Wine Dive

After deciding on a glass of wine on tap (a growing practice that keeps the air out better than replacing the cork on an opened bottle), I ordered a Reuben. It was quite good, made with slaw not kraut, and the corned pork was quite tender and moist. The fries were thin, but not particularly crisp.Reuben and fries--Louie's

My husband had the wild mushroom ragout with root vegetables over quinoa and, after a bite, I agreed with his assessment that it was not exciting or particularly flavorful, but had potential.Wild mushroom ragout--Louie's

The staff has also set up a room in the basement, called the Bubble Room, where they will feature live music several nights a week. The food menu will be available downstairs.

Kansas City is home to one of three Louie’s Wine Dive restaurants and, according to our server, each has a vastly different personality. Ours has all the makings of a comfortable neighborhood hangout. There may be no real Louie, but he’s making his presence felt here anyway.

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Pig & Finch

Pig & Finch is the area’s latest gastropub, a term defined broadly to encompass a restaurant that has a pub-like atmosphere serving high-end beer and wine, paired with upscale comfort food. Pig & Finch is owned by the 801 Chophouse folks and is located next door to the 801 Chophouse in Park Place. P1010081Pig & Finch

Relatively sedate during the day, Pig & Finch comes alive at night. It feels fun and energetic, and the lighting is extremely effective, allowing the numerous pig wall paintings to pop. And though there’s a definite hip factor, happily the noise level in the dining room is manageable. If you go with a group, consider booking the community table. Positioned right in front of the kitchen, it’s a great perch from which to watch the cooking and dishes being plated. Don’t miss the clever wine bottle chandelier that hovers above the table.The community table at Pig & Finch

I’ve had several very fine meals at Pig and Finch, grazing through a menu that ranges from a Kale Caesar to an oversized and fall-off-the-bone tender lamb shank. The only loser in the mix was the Gruner salad. It was quite bland, with unexciting ingredients; more befitting of a coffee shop than what I would think possible considering the chef’s creativity in all other parts of the menu.Kale Caesar--Pig & Finch

Those readers who follow me know I’m a sucker for good French fries, and the Finch fries satisfy my requirements–not too thin, not too thick, crisp, with the skins on.Finch Fries and Gruner Salad--Pig & Finch

The short rib grilled cheese is heavy on the meat, rich and delicious. This seems to be the new “it” sandwich. I’ve had renditions of it at both Gram and Dun and Anton’s. It’s served with housemade chips, but I recommend ordering the appetizer of potato chips with a blue cheese sauce for the table. Though the chips were a bit greasy, it didn’t stop all of us from devouring them.Potato Chips and Blue Chese--Pig & Finch

Flatbreads are also good for sharing. The toppings were better than the crust, which wasn’t all that impressive. It was nice and thin, but missed on the density. I did love the balsamic glaze on the tomato mozzarella flatbread.Tomato and mozzarella flatbread--Pig & Finchlamb burger-- Pig & finch

The lamb shank is the restaurant’s specialty and it’s easy to see why. It’s expensive, but you’re treated to a huge piece of meat. Tender and moist, it went well with the smashed potatoes and root vegetables.Lamb Shank--Pig & Finch

I loved the duck cassoulet. It’s not a dish you see on menus around town, so it was a treat. The duck was tender, the pork belly added another layer of complexity to the dish and the white beans were lovely.Duck Cassoulet--Pig & Finch

The menu also features two burgers, one with lamb and the other that’s all beef.

If you like pork, the Pig chop is thick cut, very juicy with a touch of pink, and served with a homemade mustard that marries well with the pork and the brussel sprouts hash that accompanied it.Grilled Pig Chop--Pig & Finch

Pig & Finch is the latest entry in a growing list of interesting and fun independently owned restaurants to open in Leawood. Hopefully, it will have a longer life than its predecessor in the space, Trezo Vino, which started out hot and then fizzled.Pig & Finch

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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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Grand Street Cafe

Grand Street Cafe has been a favorite off-Plaza destination since 1991. At the time, its wallpaper with willow branches protruding in 3D fashion and striped rattan chairs created an imaginative botanical scene which captivated diners. Though originally owned by the very successful PB&J group of restaurants, it was bought in 2009 by Rick and Kristi Ghilardi. Rick had been a partner in the business for 19 years, so the transition was seamless. Fortunately, the couple recognized the need to update the decor because a recent visit revealed a more subtle, neutral-toned atmosphere.

The layout is the same and the original striped rattan chairs remain. The signature grass-green color that has always graced the menus is now tied into the decor through its presence on the back wall, a splash of fun in an otherwise calm setting. It reminded me of Gram & Dun’s decor, and that’s a good thing.

Though the menu is also updated with new additions, it feels very much the same. You can still get that great pork chop; it just has a different twist. Same with the scallops and short ribs. Fans of Bill’s Chicken Salad will not be disappointed–though Bill (former owner Crooks) is no longer a part of the operation, his salad lives on.

We were there for lunch, so we didn’t go for the entrees. We started with their seasonal flatbread, which we both enjoyed immensely. The crust was thin, but with a slight chew. Onion marmalade, Maytag blue cheese, mission figs, arugula, shaved onion, grape tomatoes graced the top (it also came with prosciutto which we nixed) in ideal proportion to the size of the cut triangles, and the marmalade added a touch of sweetness.

My friend had the ahi salad with a marinated tuna steak, butter lettuce, hearts of palm, snow peas, roasted red pepper, hard-boiled eggs, caper vinaigrette. Perfectly pleasant, but not exciting.

I had the cobb which, in addition to traditional ingredients sported cheddar cheese and croutons. It was well-executed and filling.

Service continues to be a hallmark of this well-run establishment.

As word gets out that the restaurant has left the 20th Century in the rear-view mirror, I suspect it will again become top-of-mind for diners considering their eating around town.

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The Pump Room–Chicago

No, it’s not your mother’s Pump Room, the one that hosted celebrities for decades in the old Ambassador East Hotel. Though black and white photos from those halcyon days grace many of its walls, the new Pump Room is a total redo. Ian Schrager (of Studio 54 fame) recently bought the hotel and renamed it the Public Hotel. It has very quickly become THE place to be seen in Chicago. The bar is packed at all hours and the Pump Room is an impossible reservation to snag, undoubtedly due in part to Schrager’s decision to install Jeans-Georges Vongerichten in the kitchen.

Knowing we had to pace ourselves through a weekend of eating, my sister and I wanted to have a light lunch after checking into the hotel, and this was the place to do that without sacrificing excitement or flavor. Perusing the menu, I was delighted to find that JG has imported many of the signature dishes from his wildly successful ABC Kitchen in New York City. While vegetables used to be an afterthought, today’s chefs have relegated them to exalted status. At both ABC Kitchen and the Pump Room, they are the stars of the show.

Ever since my visit to ABC Kitchen last spring, I have been extoling the virtues of the Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad to anyone who will listen. Though it may be hard to believe that this dish could be so memorable, my sister agreed with me that it deserves the accolades it gets because fortunately, this was prepared as flawlessly as the first time I reveled in it.

Another dish on both menus is the Roasted Beets with Homemade Yogurt. The dish was pretty as a picture and the beets were as sweet as candy. But the surprise of the meal was the broccoli side dish. Who knew this green veggie could be so addictive? It was roasted with garlic, jalapenos and pistachio and every bite made us smile.

We almost ordered a pizza, but when we saw the homemade bread and green olive oil that our server brought to the table, we opted to enjoy that instead…and an order of crisp house cut French fries. What a great lunch!

Since the restaurant is in a hotel, one of course can expect the obligatory hotel menu items like a cobb salad or turkey sandwich, but Jeans-Georges gives these classics a new twist. The hamburger is finished with herb mayo and pickled jalapenos, the mushroom pizza (a huge seller at ABC) is finished with a fried egg, and fried chicken comes with sweet corn and a chile glaze.

The hotel, too, is a visual treat. The common rooms are spectacular and very cozy for coffee or people-watching.

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