The latest updates in Kansas City’s growing food and drink scene
When Bluestem restaurant owners and James Beard Award winners Colby and Megan Garrelts announced earlier this year that they were going to open a second location of their successful Leawood venue, Rye, on the Country Club Plaza, the reaction was immediately positive.
For one, the Plaza—once a mainstay of locally owned restaurants—had become dominated by chain operations over the last two decades. Also, the cuisine served at Rye is proudly Midwestern (steaks, fried chicken, freshly baked pies) and not easy to find in midtown Kansas City.
“The Plaza wanted us very badly,” says Colby Garrelts, noting that the concept would be as popular with local diners as the tourists drawn to the Country Club Plaza.
Located in the space at 4646 JC Nichols Parkway formerly occupied by the M&S Grill and Morton’s Grille, the new Rye will boast an interior by designer John O’Brien and architect Christine Dietze and feature John Brogan as executive chef. Colby Garrelts says the footprint of the new Rye will be the same size as the Leawood restaurant, but will not have an outdoor patio. “We are planning, instead, to offer a weekday breakfast as well as Saturday and Sunday brunch,” he says.
The restaurant is tentatively scheduled to open before the 2017 holiday season and will offer valet parking. The entire space, including the kitchen, is being gutted for the new venue, which Colby Garrelts says will be “more refined and a lot more finished than the Leawood location.”
Nine years after local restaurateurs Ernesto Peralta and his wife Jenifer Price opened the original Blanc Burgers + Bottles restaurant in Westport, the gourmet burger concept that started with such great promise quietly closed its last venue in Leawood in June.
The idea of putting an “artisan” spin on a traditional diner sandwich garnered a bit of novelty at first—but there probably hasn’t been a truly revolutionary hamburger since the founders of the McDonald’s chain, Richard and Maurice McDonald, introduced the “Speedee Service System” in 1948.
But for fans of the classic, old-school diner burger, Kansas City’s Jim’s Diner at 6901 Prospect still serves what is possibly the best cheeseburger in the metro in three generous sizes: a single, double, and triple burger. The double cheeseburger is well over three inches tall and made with freshly ground beef patties, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and mayonnaise.
Jim’s Diner, operated by Dave Crane for the last decade, isn’t a true diner since there’s only one table in the joint (the business is nearly all carry-out), but it has an elaborate menu, heavy on the burgers (as well as chops, chicken wings, catfish, and fried shrimp baskets). The double cheeseburger—wrapped in wax paper and held together with a toothpick—is roughly the size of a Chevy carburetor.
Crane’s burgers aren’t nearly as fancy as the late Blanc burgers, but they’re delicious and a lot cheaper. And still in business.
Down Home Cooking
There aren’t that many iconic restaurant locations left to renovate in the West Bottoms, but veteran chef John C. Smith—who plans to open his own venue in September with local partner, entrepreneur Erik J. Gaucher—found one: the 100-year-old former factory building at 1414 Ninth Street that has operated, over the last three decades, as the Old Hickory Bar & Grill, the Woodswether Café, and most recently as the Screaming Eagle Bar & Grill.
When Smith and Gaucher open the door to EJ’s Urban Eatery, the remodeled building will bear little resemblance to its past incarnations. (“For one thing,” says Smith, “we’ve added a few windows.”) The concept, which is new to Kansas City, will evoke nostalgia for the South by specializing in “A Meat and Three”—a meal featuring a signature meat dish—roast chicken, pork chops, catfish—and a choice of three home-style, but inspired side dishes from a constantly rotating list including, says Smith, braised local greens with pork, onions, and jalapeño; summer succotash; and roasted Brussel sprouts with green apples and honey.
“We’ll be changing the menu weekly,” says Smith. “Every day we plan to offer two soups, two salads, four sandwiches and our “Meat and Three” specials. We’ll also have desserts: pies, cakes, cobblers, bread pudding.”
E.J.’s Urban Eatery will serve breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinners will be offered Friday and Saturday nights from 4 to 9 p.m. Smith has already obtained a weekday liquor license, but has applied for a weekend license so he can serve Sunday brunch.