Despite the Great (and So Persistent!) Recession, plenty of new restaurants opened in Kansas City in 2010. They came in many forms, from stylish hot-dog shop (Dog Nuvo) to the much discussed partnership between bon vivant bartender Ryan Maybee and chef Howard Hannah (The Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange) to the return of short-order cook Jerry Naster, this time as the proprietor of Jerry's Café.
Not every new kitchen was a welcome addition: The Louisiana-influenced Fat Fish Blue in Zona Rosa has more clinkers than lagniappes. And a combination Mexican restaurant and sports bar, Mi Oficina, wasn't enticing enough to hold its own against the formidable competition on Southwest Boulevard.
But many new operations brought something new and fresh to the scene, especially these five, my favorite new restaurants of 2010.
BRGR Kitchen + Bar
4038 West 83rd Street, Prairie Village, 913-825-2747
Safely stowed away in a JoCo strip mall, BRGR Kitchen + Bar is clearly a prototype for a national gourmet-burger operation. But while prototypes often backfire (one is actually called Backfire), BRGR won't for one simple reason: It's working off a damn good blueprint.
The concept is the brainchild of three owners, including Alan Gaylin, who has a background in corporate restaurants. But don't let those ambitions put a pickle on your desire to try this upbeat, casual dining room, which puts a classy spin on the classic burger. That includes a dramatic reinvention of the Big Mac as a truly upscale creation: The "Big Mock" has all the components of the 42-year-old McDonald's double-decker. But instead of little disks of sadness, BRGR swaps in thick, juicy meat patties, Swiss cheese and its own "special sauce."
Other burger creations also are winners, especially a more stylish take on a patty melt called a Knob Hill and the hard-to-handle Pittsburger, topped with cheese, hot french fries and cold cole slaw. The service is snappy, the ambience is vivacious and the tots are truffled. And unlike its popular local rival Blanc Burgers + Bottles, BRGR serves real diner-style desserts, including cream pies.
813 West 17th Street, 816-785-3454
Heidi VanPelt-Belle, the waiflike vegan behind Füd, was once best-known for inventing a cashew-based cheese product and surviving a messy divorce from a former child actor. But these days, she's best-known — at least among those adventurous enough to sample totally vegan cuisine — for pulling off her dream project.
Vegetarian restaurants are generally perceived as well-intentioned but humorless dining experiences. (Amber Waves Café, anyone?) But VanPelt-Belle and her husband, Jerimiah Rozzo-Belle, have infused their 17th Street café with a sense of fun, color and vitality.
Because VanPelt-Belle began cooking vegan dishes in California, her culinary inspirations are primarily Mexican; the Füd menu, printed on a chalkboard near the counter, includes meatless but satisfying versions of chalupas, tacos and tostadas.
A jackfish chalupa tastes as if it were prepared with fresh seafood, but the ingredient in question is a fishy-tasting Asian delicacy called jackfruit. And that meaty note in the delicious tacos? A wild-rice mixture that VanPelt-Belle serves with a generous spoonful of her bright-orange, cashew-based "cheese."
There were some glitches in its opening summer months, when the coolest spot in the place was the frigid bathroom. And Füd isn't a large space. But even unashamed carnivores have discovered the glories of meatless dining in VanPelt-Belle's vibrant venue.
101 West 22nd Street, 816-283-3234
Grünauer is a case of the perfect culinary concept (a sophisticated Viennese restaurant) moving into a location (the former City Tavern) that fits like a glove. The dark woodwork, distressed wood floors and antique mirrors of the freighthouse space evoke the 19th-century sensibility — some might say decadence — of pre-World War I Austria.