Out & About

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Prospect Avenue evolves into a dining destination

Posted By on Wed, Dec 17, 2014 at 10:33 AM

E& J's Soul Food's Michelle Walker has smothered pork chops for you. - ANGELA C. BOND
  • Angela C. Bond
  • E& J's Soul Food's Michelle Walker has smothered pork chops for you.

It’s easy to find lots of good things to eat on Prospect Avenue. Last week’s Pitch cover story, “Comeback Street,” detailed the restaurant resurgence going on along the historic East Side thoroughfare, which was the racial dividing line in Kansas City for decades, until the late 1960s. A new generation of restaurateurs has taken over — even on the most forlorn stretches of the avenue — and created one of the most vibrant dining environments this street has seen in years.

There is a caveat: Because of the avenue’s slow decline (precipitated, many believe, by the long construction of midtown freeway Bruce R. Watkins Drive, which razed and disrupted properties east and west of Prospect), it’s still not easy to find a good cup of coffee.

Starbucks and Kaldi’s haven’t landed on Prospect. If you want to find anything resembling a cappuccino, you’ll have to use the self-service machine at the Pick ’n Save Market at the corner of 58th Street and Prospect. There you’ll find the sweet, foamy brew, sold by many big-name convenience stores, that has more in common with hot chocolate than it does with coffee. But the Pick ’n Save — which sells cigarettes, prepaid phones, and a couple of green peppers that have seen better days — is as close to an upscale coffeehouse as you’ll find on this street, even if you have to pay a cashier who sits behind a thick pane of bulletproof glass.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Luigi's Italian Restaurant in Liberty: great food, good prices

Luigi's Italian Restaurant in Liberty: great food, good prices.

Posted By on Mon, Dec 15, 2014 at 1:55 PM

Ari Dreshaj is both owner and chef of Luigi's Italian Restaurant in Liberty.
  • Ari Dreshaj is both owner and chef of Luigi's Italian Restaurant in Liberty.


A lot of new restaurants opened in the Kansas City metro in 2014, including the eight-month-old Luigi's Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar at 8 East Franklin in downtown Liberty. I'm sorry that it took me so long to stumble into owner Ari Dreshaj's Italian bistro. It's truly one of the restaurant discoveries of the year.

Why? The Italian cuisine is quite good — Dreshaj makes almost everything, including the hot, yeasty herb rolls, from scratch — and the prices are well worth making the 21-minute drive to Liberty from Kansas City. The costliest dish on the menu, a fruti de mare pasta with shrimp, calamari, scallops, mussels and clams, is less than $20. The excellent Luigi's Special — spaghettini tossed with chicken, sausage, peppers, ham and black olives in a soothing white-wine cream sauce — costs $13.95.

Dreshaj, who was born in Sicily, is half Sicilian, half Albanian: "But the cuisine of Albania is very much influenced by Italian cooking," he says. "The countries are so close to each other. I make the dishes that I grew up eating."

The 36-year-old restaurateur opened the Liberty location after running the original local Luigi's in Leavenworth with his family for six years. "We had so many patrons from Liberty who would drive to our Leavenworth restaurant and ask us to open a branch in downtown Liberty," Dreshaj says. "After I found our location, I knew I had to go ahead and do it."

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  • Luigi's Italian Restaurant in Liberty: great food, good prices.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Grate Spatula is Vijay Malik's latest invention...but wait, there's more

Posted By on Tue, Dec 9, 2014 at 1:07 PM

Vijay Malik has a spatula for you.
  • Vijay Malik has a spatula for you.


Yes, I do own a vintage Veg-O-Matic. And a set of Ginsu knives. Hell, who could live without them?

But a local inventor, Vijay Malik, has a new kitchen tool that, while it may not have as many uses as a Veg-O-Matic, fits more comfortably in a kitchen drawer. Malik introduced his newest kitchen device, the Grate Spatula, at a launch party last Saturday at Mike Kelly's Westsider in Westport.  He hired the Tres Diablos band to play, and he gave away 50 hamburgers that afternoon; he grilled them behind the saloon using his newest product.

"It's designed to use on an outdoor grill. It keeps meat and fish from falling apart and sticking to the grill," Malik says. "It's slightly larger than a traditional spatula and has these spoonlike indentations right on it for any kind of sauces. I call them super spoons."

The 16-and-a-half-inch tool is manufactured in China ("Walmart is looking at it," Malik says, "so the price point has to be low"), unlike the plastic versions of Malik's other culinary innovation, the Butter Mill.

"It's like a pepper mill for butter," Malik says.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Popeye's: Tearing down, rebuilding, adding new local restaurants

Posted By on Tue, Nov 25, 2014 at 2:08 PM

A new look and a new building for a midtown Popeye's.
  • A new look and a new building for a midtown Popeye's.

The commercial sign in front of the construction site at 6330 Troost still advertises a business that's no longer there: the Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits restaurant that was razed earlier this year. The sign says, "Closed New Look Coming."

That's a mild understatement. There's not just a new look coming but a completely new building under construction, to replace the aging 1980s structure that housed one of the busiest Popeye's locations in midtown.

When Scott Womack, the president and owner of the Indiana-based Womack Restaurants Inc., purchased the 11 local Popeye's venues from Heartland Chicken Inc. — the company owned by the Eddy family, longtime Kansas City restaurateurs — in 2013, he was informed by the parent company, Georgia-based Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen Inc., that the building at 63rd Street and Troost "has got to go," he says.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

The Drop has a new chef and part owner: Hope Dillon

Posted By on Mon, Nov 24, 2014 at 3:41 PM

Chef Hope Dillon wanted to open a cafe and market on 31st Street (and still might do so), but now she has an ownership stake in the Drop.
  • Chef Hope Dillon wanted to open a cafe and market on 31st Street (and still might do so), but now she has an ownership stake in the Drop.

When the Drop — a combination saloon and bruschetta bistro — opened in late 2006, at 409 East 31st Street, the creative team behind the venue was Ernesto Peralta, Eddie Crane and Josh Eans. None of those men is connected with the Drop today, though. It's now operated by restaurateur Chris Ridler (Sol Cantina, Zócalo Mexican Cuisine). And now there's a new, but very familiar, chef in charge of the kitchen.

Eight weeks ago, Hope Dillon — whose resume includes stints at Blue Bird Bistro, Vivilore and Poco's Latin American Grill — took over. She says she was offered an ownership stake in the eight-year-old restaurant, which serves lunch, dinner, and Saturday and Sunday brunch to the Martini Corner faithful.

"I wanted to do a café and market in the Union Hill neighborhood," Dillon says, "so I wrote a business plan and took it to Chris Ridler to talk about possible locations. And that's when the deal for the Drop started."

Dillon immediately started working on the menus.


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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Murray's Ice Cream & Cookies ends season Sunday with big sale

Posted By on Thu, Nov 20, 2014 at 4:06 PM

Ice-cream innovator Murray Nixon will close her Westport store for the annual winter hiatus on Sunday. - A
  • a
  • Ice-cream innovator Murray Nixon will close her Westport store for the annual winter hiatus on Sunday.

For the last 30 years, Murray Nixon has operated Murray's Ice Cream & Cookies (4120 Pennsylvania, 816-931-5646). For most of the last 29 years, she has closed the store in the fall for a four-month hiatus during the cold months.

"The first year, I only closed the shop for two weeks," Nixon says. "It's just gotten longer every year."

Nixon plans to reopen Murray's in March, but she's closing out her ice-cream season Sunday, November 23, with her annual end-of-season clearance sale. She'll sell all the leftover ice creams in stock. The sale has become so popular that Nixon says she's usually sold out of everything in 45 minutes.

"We'll open Sunday at noon and stay open until everything is gone," she says. "People get kind of picky at the end, but when we're out, we're out."

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Foodoo is open, but no longer serving dinner

Posted By on Wed, Nov 12, 2014 at 3:32 PM

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Don't believe those rumors: Foodoo, the five-month-old vegan cafe and juice bar at 3605 Broadway, is not closing. It  has, however, stopped serving dinner.

Co-owner Carlos Mortera, who opened the intimate dining venue in June with help from chef-consultant Bryan Merker, says the dinner business for a meatless restaurant in this stretch of midtown was too hit-or-miss to continue evening hours.

"Our lunch business is very strong," Mortero says. "It's always been much more consistent than dinner. So we're only doing private events and receptions in the dining room doing the evening hours."

So the restaurant isn't closing?

"Listen, if someone came into the place and offered me a pile of cash to buy it," Mortera says, "I guess I'd consider that. But no, we have no plans to close. Lunch business has been profitable."

Foodoo's new hours are 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The restaurant is closed Sunday.


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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Slim Chickens opens first local restaurant in Independence

Posted By on Tue, Nov 11, 2014 at 2:02 PM

The 5 & 5 Plate at the new Slim Chickens features five chicken tenders, five chicken wings, Texas toast and fries -- and two dipping sauces -- for $11.49.
  • The 5 & 5 Plate at the new Slim Chickens features five chicken tenders, five chicken wings, Texas toast and fries -- and two dipping sauces -- for $11.49.


As I discovered last month when writing about the newest Stroud's restaurant, you can never get enough fried chicken in the Kansas City metro. A young entrepreneur, 30-year-old Adam Herndon, is on a mission to make sure that the bird — wings and chicken tenders — is even more accessible in this steak-and-potato town.

Herndon opened his first Slim Chickens restaurant last night at 4641 South Cochise in Independence (at the junction of Highway 291 and Highway 40). But look sharp because it's not that easy to find the brand-new structure built to the specifications of the Arkansas-based Slim Chickens, a chain created in 2003 by Greg Smart and Tom Gordon.

Herndon, a Parkville native, is the local operator and says he'd like to open five more Slim Chickens restaurants in the metro. His next site will be opened next spring.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Bridger's Bottle Shop is back, in name only, for now

Posted By on Mon, Nov 10, 2014 at 2:12 PM

The new Local Pig sign has been temporarily removed, and the old Bridger's Bottle Shop is back up for now.
  • The new Local Pig sign has been temporarily removed, and the old Bridger's Bottle Shop is back up for now.


Yes, it is confusing. Two weeks after restaurateur Alex Pope took over the lease and changed the signage at 510 Westport Road, turning the combination beer emporium and sandwich shop — Bridger's Bottle Shop and Preservation Market — into a new Local Pig, he has put the Bridger's Bottle Shop sign back up.

Inside the venue, it's pretty much as Pope envisioned his newest Local Pig, featuring a butcher shop, an extensive selection of cold beers, and a stylish dining room with sit-down service.

"The Bridger's sign may be up for a few weeks," Pope says. "We're submitting our paperwork to Liquor Control making the change of business name official. We have our liquor license, and we're serving liquor, but until the d/b/a paperwork is approved, we'll be operating as Bridger's Bottle Shop with food by Local Pig."

Pope says he's working closely with Regulated Industries to speed the process along. In the meantime, try Pope's pulled pork burger. It's definitely by Local Pig.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Plantain District: Cuban sandwiches on wheels

Posted By on Wed, Nov 5, 2014 at 4:30 PM

You can't have the perfect Cuban sandwich without the perfect bread, the Cuban loaves made for the Plantain District food truck by the San Luis Bakery in Olathe. - DAVID HUDNALL
  • David Hudnall
  • You can't have the perfect Cuban sandwich without the perfect bread, the Cuban loaves made for the Plantain District food truck by the San Luis Bakery in Olathe.

Call this my lucky day: After standing in line for five minutes at the window of the one-month-old Plantain District food truck — parked today near Research Medical Center — I got the last Cuban sandwich of the day. The time? 12:30 p.m. The truck had been serving only since 10:30 a.m. 

"It was the first time we've ever run out of anything since we started in October," says Jakob Polaco, the chef who runs the Cuban restaurant on wheels with his girlfriend, Lauren Robertson. "We had a fluke mix-up getting together with our bread purveyor in Olathe. When you're making Cuban sandwiches, you can't just run out and buy Wonder Bread!"

A young woman standing in line eyed my sandwich enviously. "I've been craving a real Cuban sandwich for months," she told me. I gave her half of my Cubano. Even a half of a Jakob Polaco is an embarrassment of riches. It's a glorious Cuban sandwich, certainly as delicious as anything I've eaten in Miami, Florida — a mecca for excellent Cuban cuisine.

It's also a labor-intensive creation: Polaco brines and cold-smokes his own ham, braises and slow-roasts his pork, even makes his own pickles. The ice-cold, quick pickles are steeped in coriander, juniper, peppercorns, fresh dill and garlic. Even the bread is made to his specifications, from a recipe that includes lard. ("The rich flavor comes from the lard," Polaco says.)

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