A new bistro in the heart of the city
When you hear the term café, a certain image comes to mind—outdoor terraces, broad Parisian streets—with table upon table of onlookers sipping espresso and nibbling salade au chevre chaud. Kansas City has been called the Paris of the Plains, and while our climate doesn’t necessarily allow for year-round outdoor dining, we have our own takes on café style.
One notable example is Cafe Europa. The Crestwood Shops location has been serving up fresh, seasonal fare to the ladies (and gentlemen) who lunch and their evening counterparts for years. But as the city grows, so does the need for places to congregate, to converse and to simply be. Such was the case with the up-and-coming Union Hill neighborhood, and Café Europa has filled that need.
The restaurant is sort of everything to all people. Located at 2876 Gillham Road in the McGee Building, it begins the day with a coffee shop open at 7 in the morning that serves breakfast seven days a week until 10 a.m. On Sunday, that breakfast extends into brunch with an expanded menu complete with cocktails and service until 2 p.m. And every day of the week, the all-day menu offers up appetizers, salads, sandwiches and hearty dishes from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The space is a fresh, light room with separate areas for the coffee shop/full bar and the dining room. Chef Nate Feldmiller has expanded the menu compared to the Crestwood location, providing options that would be well-priced and sized for either lunch or dinner, along with daily specials, such as fish and chips, Korean-style pork ribs and even a Sunday roast chicken with mashed potatoes.
The breakfast menu is small but carefully considered as well. In addition to the expected egg sandwiches, egg combos and sides, it features two more innovative dishes—chilaquiles and the rice bowl. Chilaquiles, or tortillas soaked in chili sauce and topped with soft eggs, are gaining popularity as the new huevos rancheros. But to my knowledge, Cafe Europa is the only place in town serving a rice bowl—steamed rice topped with a thin egg omelet and slivers of ginger, carrot and broccoli—a very Japanese way to start the day.
On the all-day menu, several items are standouts. Ordering from the appetizers and platters selection could constitute a full meal among friends. The platters range from smoked salmon, meats and cheeses to one of all relishes and even a steak tartare.
Two appetizers appealed on this occasion—the Brussels sprouts and the patatas bravas. The sprouts were quartered and deep-fried until just crispy on the outer leaves and tender in the heart. Drizzled with an emulsified red-wine vinaigrette, they were a delectable way to start the meal.
Patatas bravas are a frequent visitor to tapas menus but these paired the smoky flavor of paprika with a tangy vinaigrette. The crispy roasted potatoes were drizzled with the sauce, finished with Parmesan and served in a rustic wooden dish.
For a quick lunch, the spinach and feta quiche is a classic. Quick, tasty and satisfying, the rich, custardy quiche is served with hand-cut fries, salad or the soup of the day. For a heartier appetite, look no farther than the pastrami on rye.
Few sandwiches have reached the fame of pastrami on rye. A staple at classic Jewish delicatessens, the pastrami on rye is more than just a sandwich. The Cafe Europa version is made with their own house-made pastrami, cured and roasted for ten hours. Sliced thin, the tender, robustly spiced pastrami is piled high on house-made rye bread and slathered with grainy, tangy mustard, stretching the boundaries of how lofty a sandwich could be. Served with fries, it’s too much for one meal, but it’s just as good cold the next day. And no need to make it an open-faced affair on day two—the rye bread holds up.
The scallop risotto is available sans scallops, but why turn down these succulent, sweet, and more importantly, exquisitely cooked mollusks? The risotto is dotted with marinated artichokes, creamy and perfectly soft without crossing over into mushy.
Although Cafe Europa has a decidedly French angle in technique, the flavors are international. You’ll find lamb kofta with Israeli couscous, preserved lemons and Greek yogurt, a pasta dish, hanger steak and an all-American burger. The daily specials also trend international with options of smoked sausage with sauerkraut, mussels and frites, duck confit mole, fish and chips and the aforementioned Korean pork ribs with rice and pickles.
As with any good European affair, dessert abounds. The coffee shop offers cookies, cakes and tarts to go, but additional sweets can be ordered in the dining room. The pistachio tres leches starts with a pistachio sponge cake soaked in rum. The booze is out front with this one but still tastes more dignified than grandma’s rum balls. Likely because it’s tempered generously with freshly whipped cream. The crunch of the roasted pistachios sprinkled on top contrasted with the rum- and cream-soaked cake.
The crown for wildly hedonistic dessert goes to the coconut cream donut. Is there a donut there? Yes, but that’s just the base of this indulgent dessert. The coconut cake donut is fresh and warm with a crisp crust and moist, tender crumb inside. Placed on a bed of coconut cream, topped with flakes of toasted coconut and drizzled with chocolate, the mélange of textures and flavors should feel tropical, but instead it just felt delightfully decadent.
The menu rounds out with a small but carefully chosen wine list and a house-made cocktail list, composed by Lazer Avery, husband of the Crestwood location’s bartender, Susan Avery. Bourbon, mexcal, tequila and gin all figure prominently on the list. One favorite was the Southern Lights, a surprisingly light and refreshing concoction of 100 percent agave tequila with apricot liqueur, Aperol and lemon, topped with sparkling wine.
Although it didn’t make an appearance on the brunch menu, it could certainly be a great breakfast cocktail for those serious about a.m. alcohol.
Another standout was the Gin Jinn, a take on the New Orleans classic, the Ramos Gin Fizz. This cut the cream but kept the egg white along with gin, genepy (an herbal alpine liqueur) and Big O Ginger, all finished with a touch of lemon and bitters. It was frothy and light with a serious flavor punch.
At home on the first floor of a building filled with young professionals, and ideally situated in an area ripe for expansion, it’s no surprise that Cafe Europa is doing quite well. It will only get busier as they launch happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Cafe Europa has the feel of a place where the baristas will learn your name and the servers will know your favorite cocktail after a few short visits. It’s a neighborhood spot in exactly the neighborhood it’s needed.