Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Looking back at the most newsworthy openings and closings of 2012

Remembering the restaurants that arrived and departed in 2012.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 26, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Port Fonda has met its pre-opening hype.
The number of iconic Kansas City restaurants that closed at the end of 2011 was poignant, including beloved dining spots like the Peppercorn Duck Club, Skies, Benton's Prime Steakhouse and the Peachtree Buffet.

In the waning days of 2012, about the same number of restaurants in the metro ceased operations - but far fewer familiar favorites were among the casualties, unless you count Gomer's Fried Chicken and the 60-year-old Dairy Queen on Independence Avenue.

Still, tears were shed by many over the January 15 shuttering of Sharp's 63rd Street Grill, which had attracted a diverse mix of gay, straight, young and old patrons for more than two decades. Less than a month after Sharp's closed forever (along with its inexplicably popular and tasteless cream-of-water-chestnut soup), it reopened as Michael Forbes Bar & Grille, itself a revival of a Waldo restaurant that had its last rites in 1999. You see, in the restaurant world, as in TV soap operas, it's always possible to come back from the dead.

The year 2012 had many notable beginnings and endings in the dining community, but we'll focus on the most newsworthy openings and closings here, all local operations and reasonably worthy of our giving a damn.

TOP 10 OPENINGS OF 2012

Affäre (1911 Main): German-born Martin Heuser, a longtime Westin Crown Center executive chef, opened his German restaurant - it's really more continental cuisine - in the old Bar Natasha space last spring to mostly rave reviews.

Café Gratitude (333 Southwest Boulevard): Good intentions aren't on the menu of this Crossroads restaurant; they're free and in abundance. Not everyone is seduced by the warmth, uplifting messages and vegan cuisine served at this first Midwestern outpost of a California-based restaurant group, but it has its own appeal.

The Reserve at the Ambassador Hotel (1111 Grand): The Reserve is the back half of the imaginatively designed lobby restaurant of a stylish boutique hotel inside a 1924 bank building. It serves three meals a day, created by talented and imaginative chef Geoffrey Van Glabbeek.

Remedy Food + Drink (500 West 75th Street): A smart, appealing bistro (overseen by clever chef Max Watson) has taken the space formerly occupied by a traditional Waldo beer-and-burger bar. The food is fresh and sophisticated.

The Jacobson (2050 Central): This well-done urban hangout features an impressive outdoor bar, interesting local art and a compelling menu from chef John Smith. Smart cocktails are served in glass flasks cooling in silver bowls. The whole place has a cool vibe.

The Boot (415 Westport Road): Chef-restaurateurs Aaron Confessori and Richard Wiles have created a highly likable Italian trattoria concept. The Boot has a vivacious personality and excellent food - and one of the sexiest brunch menus in the city.

The Plaza Bo Lings (4701 Jefferson): When restaurateurs Richard and Theresa Ng closed their longtime location in the Board of Trade Building for sleek new digs in the Skelly Building on the other side of Brush Creek, they spared no expense in fashioning the fanciest, most visually arresting dining room in their restaurant mini chain. The food, as always, is superb.

Magnolia's Contemporary Southern Bistro (2932 Cherry): Chef-owner Shanita McAfee serves excellent and creative Southern dishes in a tiny building previously occupied by two failed vegetarian restaurants.

Port Fonda (4141 Pennsylvania): One of the most eagerly awaited new Kansas City restaurants of 2012, chef-owner Patrick Ryan's Port Fonda is a raucous, loud and extremely entertaining room, serving delectable cocktails and a menu of outrageously good Mexican cuisine.

Anton's Taproom Restaurant (1610 Main): Anton Kotar had a vision for this space (formerly a dark and gloomy gay bear bar) and pulled off nothing short of a miracle in devising a combination saloon, steakhouse, art gallery and butcher shop. And the food is damn good.

TOP 10 CLOSINGS OF 2012

Sharp's 63rd Street Grill (128 East 63rd Street): You either loved this neighborhood diner or detested it. There was little middle ground. For years, Sharp's was one of the few gay-friendly venues in the city. In fact, it was friendly enough that a gay couple could feel comfortable holding hands at a table between bites of chocolate-chip pancakes and scrambled eggs. The place always had a sense of conviviality, but the food was hit-or-miss, to put it mildly. (It mostly missed.)

Fran's Restaurant (11 East 14th Street): This 24-hour diner was a chain - and a conspicuous one - from Canada that seemed like a good idea for the Power & Light District but flopped soon after opening three years ago. Why? The food was almost always mediocre - and expensive - and the service was notoriously awful. It says volumes that the highlight of this venue's short life was the morning in 2011 when Kyle James, the son of Mayor Sly James, refused to pay his tab and told the cop who arrested him, "I can have you fired." You can't buy that kind of publicity.

Lill's on 17th (815 West 17th Street): Without a doubt, this was the most eccentric dining spot in Kansas City for several years - dogs were permitted on the patio, and the kitchen operated at a pace best described as languid. Many patrons were enthralled by this bistro in an eclectic 19th-century house, mostly because of the larger-than-life personality of owner LaTrelle "Trelle" Osteen, a former TWA flight attendant who became too ill with congestive heart failure this year to keep the place going. It closed December 22.

Waid's in Prairie Village (6920 Mission): There are Prairie Village residents who still recall their teen years hanging out in this family diner in the 1960s, eating grilled cheese sandwiches, sipping ice-cream sodas and lusting after the Monkees. The problem was that this restaurant remained, perpetually in a Nixon-era time warp whee people still ordered liver and onions, salmon croquettes and a custard cup. This relic was mercifully taken off life support in June.

Mama's 39th Street Diner (3906 Waddell): Something was lost when Jan Imber moved her diner in 2008 from an intimate space at 39th Street and Bell to the more cavernous Nichol's Lunch space. The second location never seemed as warm or friendly, and, frankly, the food quality noticeably declined. It closed for good on Easter Sunday. It is to reopen soon as Sosa's 39th Street Diner.

Fo Thai (4331 West 119th Street, Leawood): This expensively decorated Leawood "Asian fusion" restaurant - featuring a massive Buddha, illuminated with colored lights, in the center of the dining room - didn't last eight months. It reopened for a hot minute as Soy Asian Cuisine, serving a similar (but less costly) menu and unplugging the colored lights on Buddha. That flopped, too.

The R Bar (1617 Genessee): Restaurateur Joy Jacobson's three-year-old R Bar had one of the slowest deaths in restaurant history. It was closing, then it wasn't, then it was open only on weekends. And then last April, the doors shut for good. The venue will open as a new restaurant - no live music on a regular basis - on Valentine's Day as Voltaire, operated by Moxie Catering's Jill Myers and Wes Gartner, serving small plates.

Avenues Bistro, Leawood (10681 Mission): Less than a month after chef-restaurateur Joe Birch closed his
Lakeside Tavern (a second-rate restaurant sitting near a pond) in Leawood's Mission Farms development, he shuttered his suburban version of his Avenues Bistro concept in the very same strip. It's now the successful Kelly Manning's Tavern at Mission Farms.

Esquina (801 Massachusetts, Lawrence): In April, Lawrence chef-restaurateur Robert Krause turned his two-year-old "Nuevo Latino" taqueria, Esquina, into a sit-down dining establishment that kept the name but tossed out the tacos. His new vision for the space involved a Mediterranean menu. Six months later, Krause and his partners sold the restaurant; it has become an Italian restaurant called Intorno.

Dairy Queen (2535 Independence Avenue): When it opened July 4, 1952, the red-and-white building in the old Northeast was the fifth DQ location in Kansas City. Four previously opened stores ceased operating years and years ago, so the little one run by John and Esther McMurray on the avenue became the oldest franchise shop in the metro until the couple was forced to close after a legal dispute with the parent company. A new owner has been working for months to turn the building into something called a Dairy Barn.

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