The Rockhill Grille

American cuisine marries French technique, and the partnership is divine

The corner of 20th and Grand Blvd. looks a little different these days. The Cashew, a dive in the best sense of the word, is gone. But in its place is a sleek, elegant space with its new moniker in lights—The Rockhill Grille has arrived.

The Back Napkin Group has been busy lately. With successes in Lawrence with the RND Corner Grille and in Westport with the Westport Ale House, the small but focused company is looking forward to making a name for itself as the go-to place for well executed American cuisine, according to Danny White, the culinary director.

The transformation from slightly grungy watering hole to sleek dining establishment is an astonishing one. Before you ever taste a bite of White’s and executive chef Daniel Duran’s well-executed menu, you’ll be delighted with the reimagining of the space. The bar has been moved to the center of the room, and where it once stood, a beautiful banquette of plush upholstered bench seating lines a pale wood chevron wall. Low backed club chairs hug diners, and simple floral arrangements grace each table. With ample light streaming in from the large windows on two sides, the space is airy, bright and refreshing.

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But you can’t eat beauty. Luckily, the menu is as clean and uncluttered as the space. Featuring what White calls American cuisine through a French technique glass, the lunch and dinner options are focused and innovative, featuring unexpected pairings that really work. Heritage-beef steaks are listed side by side with blackened cauliflower steaks along with a handful of seafood options.

My first visit was during a soft opening, so I was prepared to reserve judgment. Soft openings are always tough. The surprise was how smooth the entire experience was. Service was prompt and friendly despite a learning curve, and the small touches were appreciated. The attention to aesthetics extended all the way to the tableside water bottles that were etched with the restaurant’s name.

The duck confit stood out. Instead of just shredding the meat as many chefs might do, the Rockhill Grille’s version features a whole duck leg, achingly tender and served atop a pile of roasted Brussels sprouts alongside spiraled hash browns dotted with lardoons. The duck was moist, but not greasy, and the slight bitterness of the Brussels sprouts complemented the meat.

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On a subsequent dinner visit, we were seated near the windows overlooking the street. While the table was intimate, the location away from the tufted banquettes meant that noise levels on that side of the restaurant are significantly higher. If you want to chat unimpeded, request a table on the interior of the restaurant.

The noise level didn’t dampen our enjoyment, however. The smoked trout rillettes, a creamy yet crunchy mix of smoked trout, celery, lemon aioli and green onion smeared across impossibly thin, crisp crostini, were a refreshing starter.

My dining companion and I stayed in the water for dinner. The crab cakes and the scallops were our entrees. I have a love/hate relationship with scallops in Kansas City. The line between perfect and rubber is a thin one that too many rushed line cooks ignore. This dish, however, was perfection. Five sizeable diver scallops had a perfect golden brown crust, the result of a bath of butter in the skillet. The crustaceans were paired with a savory French toast and the last of the season’s heirloom tomatoes provided by Kurlbaum’s Heirloom Tomatoes. The toast was indeed savory—rich with butter, garlic and onion and offset with the slight acidity of the green zebra and other heirloom tomatoes.

Grilled salmon is served on a cedar plank with basmati rice, peperonata and green onions and drizzled with a balsamic vinegar.
Grilled salmon is served on a cedar plank with basmati rice, peperonata and green onions and drizzled with a balsamic vinegar.

The meaty crab cake was accompanied by a flavorful heirloom tomato gratin, ginger and baby kale with lemon butter. It was a tasty, light dinner that didn’t leave one wanting.

Much of the lunch menu is the same as dinner, but there are a few additions, including the grilled cheese sandwich topped with tomato and avocado. With layers of havarti, aged cheddar and fresh mozzarella, they definitely aimed for the ooze with this one and ooze it did. This will be an easy winner in colder temps.

The open-faced steak sandwich was topped with an addictive tomato jam, melted havarti, a pile of thin, fried onions and drizzled with pan jus. This is a knife and fork sandwich. Instead of thinly shaved steak, this sandwich features substantial slices, perfectly cooked to your preference.

A new spin on an old favorite, Tater Tots.
A new spin on an old favorite, Tater Tots.

Feeling virtuous, I took the server up on the offer to try a salad instead of the obligatory side of fries. The shaved Brussels sprouts salad was crunchy and flavorful, dotted with sun-dried cherries, arugula and pecans and accented with dollops of creamy chevre. A brown butter dressing supplied just the right hint of fat to finish it off. Ordering the full-size salad topped with salmon or ahi tuna would make a delicious lunch.

The banana cream pie is topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream and toasted almonds.
The banana cream pie is topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream and toasted almonds.

Of course, no dinner (or lunch, ahem) is complete without the appropriate beverage, and the cocktail menu at The Rockhill Grille doesn’t disappoint. The emphasis is on innovative versions of the classics. An early favorite and one that I’ll likely crave when I’m missing the beach is the El Caribe. While it may sound like a boat drink, this balanced cocktail combines Plantation pineapple rum with fresh pineapple juice, lime and ginger demerara. The fruitiness is pleasant, but it’s not cloying or overly sweet. For something on the more savory side, the Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire is a hit. Combining Del Maguey crema mescal with a melon shrub, lemon and Hellfire Habanero Bitters, this is a smoky, slightly spicy cocktail that can stand on its own.

Four Roses bourbon is the base for the hand-crafted Southern Sling.
Four Roses bourbon is the base for the hand-crafted Southern Sling.

For those who miss the view from the second floor, never fear. The upper lounge has also been revamped, echoing the masculine yet refined touches of the main dining room. It feels like an old-fashioned gentleman’s club, complete with dark paneled wood and plush chairs. The lounge is open Wednesday through Saturday at 5 p.m. for appetizers and sandwiches and appreciation of a stunner view of downtown Kansas City.

Culinary director Danny White in the kitchen.
Culinary director Danny White in the kitchen.

The Rockhill Grille is refined and elegant, with a focus on excellence in both the menu and the service. In a part of town that’s ripe for a place where the business world can connect over great food and drinks, and where Crossroads residents can have a local hangout, The Rockhill Grille is hitting the scene at precisely the right time.

For reservations or to see menus, visit therockhillgrille.com.

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