The Italian term al fresco -- meaning "in the open air," to refer to a mode of dining -- dates back to at least the 16th-century, although the term is firmly rooted in ancient Latin al (to or in) and fresco (fresh). The concept of dining outdoors -- particularly in an urban setting -- is sometimes more romantic than the reality.
Even a beautiful outdoor dining space, like Lidia's Kansas City -- pictured above -- can seem a little less charming on fiercely hot summer evenings. Other urban patios might also feature the less-than-alluring possibility of mosquitoes, car fumes, the pungent aroma of cigar smoke (particularly now that non-smoking policies have driven the tobacco-loving crowd outdoors) and maybe a few raindrops.
But to dine al fresco suggests something sophisticated and European -- even in Kansas City. The reference book Italian American Heritage: A Companion to Literature and the Arts offers this: "Conflating the idea that Italian cuisine is admirably suited to be eaten in the open air and the image of the Mediterranean climate, al fresco has become a signifier of the pleasurable way in which Italian life is conducted."Here are Fat City's top ten outdoor dining spaces, chosen by Charles Ferruzza and Jonathan Bender:
9) The Farmhouse, 300 Delaware Street. This restaurant is the newest entrant to the River Market area. At night, string-lights ring the massive shade tree in the center of the patio, making it feel like a nicer version of someone's backyard.
8) Woodyard Bar-B-Que, 3001 Merriam Lane, Kansas City, Kansas. When the smoker is going, the smell wafts over to the enclosed pavilion filled with mismatched diner chairs and picnic tables. Ceiling fans spin slowly overhead, in a place that makes it easy to extend lunch beyond the requisite hour.
7) Aixois, 251 E. 55th Street. A quiet corner in Crestwood with just enough people-watching, thanks to the nearby Trolley Trail. Glasses of wine always seem to last a bit longer here.
6) Lil's on 17th, 815 W. 17th Street. This eclectic restaurant, located in a 19th-century house, boasts not one, but two outdoor patios where patrons are permitted to bring their dogs. Now that's love, baby.
5) Justus Drugstore, 106 W. Main Street, Smithville. The "Eastside" patio is a nice little outdoor space that sits in the fabric-covered shade of a wooden pergola. Best of all, it's right off the bar, which means your ice should never touch the bottom of your glass.
301 W. 47th Street. There's a pretty fenced-in patio at the back
of this popular Plaza restaurant, but the real fun is sitting in the
sidewalk cafe in front, watching people stroll by and catching
some tantalizing snippets of conversation. Invariably you'll see
familiar faces, so it's not the best place for an intimate, adulterous meal.
3) The Westside Local, 1663 Summit Street. Oversized picnic tables encourage conversation in this well-appointed beer garden. When it's busy, the hum of the party invites that first step onto the patio.
2) Cafe des Amis, 112 1/2 Main Street, Parkville. The patio in back of this cozy French restaurant on a very steep hill is shaded by trees and bedecked with festive little lights in the evening; it feels a little like dining in a treehouse.
1) Lidia's Kansas City, 101 W. 22nd Street. The patio overlooks the parking lot, but it's been so artfully planted with vines and herbs that it's easy to pretend it's anywhere but the Crossroads -- until the trains rumble by.