Sipping ice-cold lemonade — like roasting the perfect marshmallow, playing hooky to go swimming, or cussing out the Royals — is an essential ingredient of a Kansas City summer. And I don’t mean a cup of the powdered stuff you buy for a dollar from a cute child sweating in a driveway — you do that to be nice, not to quench your thirst. (The last time I did that, I saw the boy use his finger to stir when he couldn’t find a spoon.) When I went looking for fresh, sophisticated local lemonades, I wanted actual lemons and some surprising complementary flavors. These are what I found.
Sparkling Lavender Lemonade
(5245 West 116th Place, Leawood; Union Station, 30 West Pershing Road)
Infused with locally grown lavender, the lemonade at Parisi Café is as delicious as it is beautiful. With lavender syrup splashed on top, the drink starts off a pretty, soft shade of purple, kind of like a glowstick or a white T-shirt under a black light. The sweet beverage has a pleasantly floral undertone without being too intense. For the most colorful snack in town, try it with some of the café’s neon-hued macarons.
(435 Westport Road)
The tangy, bubbly lemonade at this lively Westport restaurant is made in-house and flavored with the exact right amount of savory rosemary to lend complexity to the drink’s sweetness. If you want to cool down without hanging around for happy hour, the bartenders will make it to go, complete with a rosemary garnish. But then you’d have to forgo the vodka you might want to add to the second round.
Little Freshie Soda Fountain & Espresso Bar
(811 West 17th Street)
Little Freshie does many things, all of them well. The adorable West Side café is a snow-cone stand, a coffee shop and a soda fountain, and it stocks locally made pastries, gifts and snacks. The minute you walk through the door, you pretty much feel the love. Owner Lindsay Laricks doesn’t half-ass anything, and that goes double for the lemonade. The bright-yellow beverage is fizzy, tart and refreshing, and the to-go cups come with old-timey striped straws that dare you not to feel like a kid again.
(7337 West 119th Street, Overland Park)
A timesaving tip regarding the drive-thru at Unforked: Meals are made fresh (the Sheridan’s people call it “honest, clean food”), so the line moves a tad slowly. If you go just for the limeade, you might want to suck it up and go inside. The made-from-scratch drink contains honey and sugar but yields a sweetness that’s closer to that of iced tea. It makes a hot rush-hour drive bearable.
I Am Refreshed
(333 Southwest Boulevard)
In a restaurant where all of the menu items double as personal affirmations, Café Gratitude’s I Am Refreshed easily lives up to its name. The bubbly lemonade is fresh-squeezed and sweetened with agave instead of sugar, giving it a caramel-tinged flavor that’s unusual but satisfying. The only downside: I paid $7 for a large and unwittingly tried the café’s other special: I Am Broke.