"I absolutely love living in Kansas City and proudly play the role of cheerleader for my new Midwestern hometown," says Murphy.
The freelance writer, who has been writing travel guides primarily about Italy for the past decade and is currently penning several titles for Frommers, released her book on the KC eating scene last month. Fat City caught up with the Waldo author to discover what's inside her latest guide.
What led you to write the book?
An editor I knew from a previous project was assigning authors for a new series of books, the Food Lovers' Guides published by Globe Pequot Press. She knew I was relatively recently transplanted to KC and asked me if there would even be enough material beyond BBQ and beef to work with in KC. I responded with an enthusiastic, probably over-eager YES!, and she signed me up to do the book. I'd been anxious for a while to write about Kansas City, anyway, and had already begun some investigation of the local food scene. Having the book contract just gave my investigation more structure — and of course the mandate to eat and drink as much as I possibly could — in the name of, you know, getting to know the food scene properly. I'd found that a comprehensive, opinionated guide to restaurants and food businesses was lacking in KC, so here was my chance to lend my two cents.
Thoughtful, personalized reviews of carefully selected independent food businesses that are doing good things for the local food scene. It's not a restaurant directory full of bland platitudes, nor is it formal food criticism. It's conversational and opinionated, but I don't bash anyone. If a listing is in here, it's because I like the place. Within each review I've tried to paint a picture of the vibe at that particular place, and point out each restaurant/market/whatever's strengths, weaknesses, and unique features. Hopefully this book can actually be a helpful tool for food-loving readers contemplating a new restaurant, a farmer's market outing, an ethnic dive, etc.
In the back, there are also handy appendices listing restaurants and food businesses by cuisine type and by atmospheric attributes such as "It" Restaurants and Outdoor Dining. The book definitely carries my perspective as a recent transplant to KC who has spent most of her life eating in the traditionally-accepted food capitals of the world — San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Italy. As critical as that may have made me, I have been floored by the talent and gusto in the food scene here — again, well beyond BBQ, which I adore and always will — and that reformed-coastal-snob appreciation for the epicurean delights in KC shines through in each page. On the whole, it's a lively read with a positive tone.
What's one market that you wish was a secret, but is too good not to share?
You can't keep too many secrets from the true Kansas City food lover, but Krizman's House of Sausage is a great example of a high-quality KC food tradition unchanged by trends and success. It's just this unassuming storefront on a backstreet of Strawberry Hill, KCK, where in a handful of small production rooms, they make the best sausage I've ever tasted. Most of it is sold wholesale for the big-name BBQ joints around town, but they also have a retail counter where you can walk in 5 days a week and stock up on this insanely tasty, reasonably priced kielbasa, bratwurst, andouille, and about a half-dozen other types of artisanal sausage.
The friendly service is like something from another era, and Krizman's is such a venerable institution of KC gastronomy that longtime customers still refer to Krizman's by its previous name, Grsnic's, which it hasn't carried since the 1970s! The KCK location is part of what keeps it out of the mainstream — as well as a charming lack of marketing, retail distribution, website, etc.; because they don't need it — but sausage lovers need to seek this place out if they haven't already.
What's your favorite place to dine in Kansas City and what do you order?
Fundamentally, I judge restaurants by how memorable the meal was—the taste of the food, the service, the ambience all play a role. And I am wholeheartedly in love with the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange. I've eaten from every seasonal menu there since it opened last winter, and it just keeps getting better and better. Chef Howard Hanna has amazing instincts, and I love that the menu is restrained in its scope while still giving different palates and budgets plenty to choose from. The stellar staff at the Rieger is also a big part of what makes dining here so enjoyable: collected here, in one room, are the most knowledgeable and warm servers anywhere in the city. If I'm by myself or with another person, I'll always sit at the rear chef's counter, facing the open kitchen. As for what I order, I tend to go for whatever mouth-watering homemade pasta they've cooked up (recently, a smoked-beet malfatti with oxtail, Swiss chard, and creme fraiche had my eyes rolling into the back of my head). Pastas are smallish portions at the Rieger, so I'll round out my meal with something involving pork. Hanna has a major flair for pork— you can't go wrong, as in the Rieger's already iconic Pork Soup. But the Rieger is a place where you should most definitely ask a waiter if you're in doubt—they know what they are doing.