I love the word brasserie. It sounds brassy, upbeat, cheery — particularly when it's spoken by an actual native of France, like chef Emmanuel Langlade. A co-owner of Brookside's Aixois Bistro, he reminded me recently that brasserie translates as brewery. Unlike a bistro (another word I like), a restaurant calling itself a brasserie traditionally serves beer.
And there's beer at Emmanuel and Megan Langlade's three-month-old Aixois Brasserie. "We have Bud Light, Stella Artois, Kronenberg 1664, Boulevard Wheat, and Tank Seven on tap, and eight bottled beers," Emmanuel Langlade says. That's more beer, he points out, than can be had at the Brookside Bistro.
I'll admit that I'm one of the people who wondered whether the Langlades had drunk too much of their own beer when they decided to open an outpost downtown. Their new space is a former pizza joint inside the Commerce Bank arcade, at 10th Street and Walnut, a spot that hasn't been the most viable for restaurants. The last time a horde of hungry patrons prowled this stretch of Walnut, there was a Myron Green Cafeteria in the 1100 block — and Richard Nixon hadn't yet been elected president.
But someone has to be the pioneer. People called restaurateur Steve Cole crazy for opening an elegant restaurant at 1815 West 39th Street, back in the 1980s. The conventional wisdom was that people who ate on the Plaza would not go to 39th Street. Well, Café Allegro became the anchor of an area we now call "Restaurant Row," a thriving dining district, and Cole was successful there for many years.
The Langlades have heard plenty of similar arguments from naysayers. Downtown Kansas City, particularly north of the Power & Light District, is a long way from Brookside, not just in miles but in style. "I'd be afraid to get out of my car there," a friend complained to me. "There are junkies in the park at 12th and Walnut. I saw someone fall down there when I was driving by."
Maybe my friend saw a businessman trip over a pigeon. I've eaten at Aixois Brasserie four times now — day and night — and I've never even seen anyone in that pocket-sized park (which is two blocks away from the restaurant).
The first time I tripped into the sunny, L-shaped dining room, I was alone for lunch. The service was great, the mood congenial and the food delicious. Dennis Collins, a veteran server from the original Aixois, is one of the managers here. He told me that he was eager to move downtown. "There's a great energy here now," he said. "Our lunch business is great."
Breakfast business, however, was not. The Brasserie threw its all into a
petit dejeuner as lovely as anything you'd find on the Avenue Montaigne in Paris. There was a bubbly, cheese-topped croque monsieur (still on the lunch menu), as well as quiches, omelets and brioche French toast. But after two months of petit business, Emmanuel Langlade sent mornings to the guillotine.
There's no opting out of dinner, though, and that troubles me because evening business at the downtown Aixois hasn't taken hold yet. Of course, many people still don't know that Aixois has raised the tricolor in this once-forlorn neighborhood. To those people, and to the holdouts and skeptics, I'll say this: I'm a longtime fan of the Brookside restaurant, but I honestly prefer the downtown space for dinner. The room is sleeker, more intimate and less chaotic, and at least one of the evening servers, Sean McGuire, is that rare breed of waiter who is both theatrical and unobtrusive. At the end of one meal I ate here, I didn't know if I should tip him or give him a standing ovation.