It's been several years since Kansas City has had a Filipino restaurant. The most recent attempt was the La Filipina Cafe on North Oak Trafficway, which closed several years ago. But Theresa Spencer, the charismatic bar manager of the Uptown Arts Bar, is planning to change all that. Spencer is in the process of turning the intimate little dining space at 3605 Broadway into the Pinoy Cafe, a restaurant serving classic Filipino cuisine.
If the address sounds familiar, this space was, for many years, Nabil's restaurant and then was restaurateur Sean Cummings' popular Grille on Broadway (which advertised as "Dangerous neighborhood, killer food" until the neighbors complained). The last tenant in the space was Messy's Birds & Brews, which was not offered a renewal of its lease and closed in February (and is moving to 3228 Troost).
Theresa Spencer, a native of Manila, will be running the Pinoy Cafe with her uncle, Rod Valentin. They plan to serve only family recipes in the restaurant, which will serve lunch, dinner and a Sunday off-menu brunch. Spencer is hoping that the restaurant will be open by early May, but to give her future customers a taste of coming attractions, she'll be serving a selection of dishes on April 13 at the Uptown Arts Bar, 3611 Broadway, when she hosts Filipino Karaoke Night.
"There's a $3 cover, but we'll be serving a buffet at 7 p.m. If people want to taste everything, they need to get there early. The last time we did Filipino Karaoke Night, the food didn't last an hour!" Spencer also plans to begin producing a talent competition at the Uptown Arts Bar, "Pinoy Cafe Idol," with a $100 first prize.
Spencer says the name of the restaurant comes from the colloquial term used by early Filipino expatriates to the United States to describe themselves. "I see it more as street slang," Spencer says. "It's a term of endearment, a way that Filipinos refer to a close friend. A homie."
Spencer is currently juggling two jobs: her role as bar manager of the combination saloon-and-performance arts space, the Uptown Arts Bar, and rehabbing the restaurant at 3605 Broadway. The Pinoy Cafe will be small: four two-top tables and four four-tops. A buffet will be served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and dinner will be offered from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
"We'll serve a Sunday brunch featuring Filipino dishes like longsilong, which is Spanish sausage, fried rice and a fried egg, and tapsilog, which is garlic-fried rice and fried egg," Spencer says. "We'll serve them with a bowl of pan de sal bread."
The dinner menu and the lunch buffet will feature a selection of vegetarian dishes as well as traditional Filipino pork, beef and seafood offerings, influenced by the culinary traditions of Spain, Malaysia, Indonesia and China.