"Everyone keeps asking me why I'm not open for lunch, and I'd like to be someday," Fries says. "I see so many restaurants in this neighborhood that are slammed at lunch. But right now, I just don't have the staff to do lunch. I mean, I'm doing almost everything here myself."
Fries hopes that when the Sprint Center is finished, it will set off a chain reaction of attracting new business — and lunch eaters — downtown. I couldn't tell him that there was that same hopeful thinking back in 1974, when the newly completed Bartle Hall was supposed to usher in a renaissance for Kansas City's languishing urban center. When I moved here in 1984, downtown Kansas City was probably worse off than it had been a decade earlier.
But before you accuse me of being too cynical, I'll say this: There are more fine places to eat in the area north of Crown Center than I've seen in two decades. Just last week I wandered into J.P. Wine Bar & Coffee House (1526 Walnut), which had doubled in size since my last visit. Co-owner Ryan Maybee expanded into the storefront next door, and the formerly dark, narrow dining room is much sunnier, prettier and more comfortable.
I took a seat at the bar, thinking I'd only order an iced tea, but the lunch menu was so alluring that I couldn't resist sampling just a few things. That soup du jour was an excellent puréed gazpacho of heirloom tomatoes and roasted red peppers with a tangy corn relish stirred in. It was so refreshing, I could have stopped right there, but I suddenly craved this bistro's version of a grilled cheese sandwich, made with toasted sourdough stuffed with fresh goat cheese, French Morbier and Parmigiano-Reggiano and chopped pepperoncini. One delicious sandwich (and one pile of matchstick pommes frites) later, my faith was renewed that downtown Kansas City will, indeed, live again.