Eating your way through Kansas City

Funny how a handful of celebrity chefs and mom-and-pop global joints can round out a local cuisine. Now visitors in the know—and with a car to navigate the bi-state sprawl—have a new nickname for Kansas City: Chowtown.

Flyover country. Meatheads. Cowtown. They’ve heard it all in Kansas City. Until recently, the town’s well fed would have silenced such talk with a forkful of burnt ends, which of course only fueled the meat-and-potatoes rep. Funny how a handful of celebrity chefs and mom-and-pop global joints can round out a local cuisine. Now visitors in the know—and with a car to navigate the bi-state sprawl—have a new nickname for Kansas City: Chowtown.


Bluestem 816-561-1101;
Colby Garrelts was named one of Food & Wine’s 10 Best New Chefs in 2005. Sip a Material Girl (left) or one of 36 wines by the glass, then move to the dining room for anything with clams in it.

40 Sardines 913-451-1040;
A couple years back, longtime KC faves Michael Smith and Debbie Gold opened their own place in the Kansas-side ’burbs. Go for the seafood—the sardines, natch, done several ways—or the always succulent local chicken.

Stroud’s 816-454-9600;
The skillet fried chicken—and the wait—are legend. Order the chicken noodle soup and try the livers. Someone has to get the catfish or KC strip (with cottage fries). And extra cinnamon rolls.

Vietnam Café 816-472-4888
The menu is big so start with fried sweet potatoes and shrimp while you read. Later order the veggie and shrimp-filled Vietnamese omelet and the ultra-thin grilled pork chops.

Korma Sutra 816-931-3475
One of the sexiest Indian restaurants you’ll ever visit. Go for the lunch buffet, where you can sample a little of a lot.

Le Fou Frog 816-474-6060;
The menu is huge, but well executed. You can make a meal from the appetizers (duck confit and greens, mussels in mustard cream).


City Market 816-842-1271;
One-stop shopping and snacking in an old terminal market, right by the river. Inside the square on weekends is a dandy farmer’s market. Permanent shops, cafes and produce mongers line the periphery. Be sure to make these pit-stops as you do a lap: Al Habashi Middle Eastern Grocery (for seasoned pistachios, pita and spices), River Market Bakery (crumb cake), Agento (gelato), The Wine Cellar (Saturday tastings and hard-to-find bottles).

Fervere 816-842-7272
Artisan baker Fred Spompinato is among the top bakers in the country, using Kansas-grown and -milled organic flour. But since he only bakes three days a week (Thursday through Saturday), the bread goes fast. Call ahead to set aside loaves of levain, grain travel or polenta breads.

Elbow Chocolates 816-842-1300;
Christopher Elbow uses chocolate, fruit, nuts and seasonings to create small edible sculptures otherwise known as chocolates. Sounds fancy? They are. But worth every penny.

Holy-Field Winery 913-724-9463;
Just west of town about halfway to Lawrence, near the new Kansas Speedway, a father-daughter team is making some pretty swell wines. They’re a lot of fun, too. Try everything, then buy the late-harvest Vignoles, Seyval or Cynthiana.

The Better Cheddar 816-561-8204
A 20-year-old retailer, with two locations. Visit the cramped original shop, with its open cases of hundreds of cheeses, including obscure American varieties. Browse the shelves for flavored oils, vinegars, relishes and crackers. Then check out the freezer and fridge for specialty meats, pasta and soups.

All ’Qued Up

Arthur Bryant’s 816-231-1123;
Pickles count as a green vegetable and the secret ingredient in the sauce is lard. Ever seen three inches of smoked meat piled between two pieces of Wonder bread? It’s all good, so go for a combo sandwich, like pork and brisket. The skin-on, twice-dipped fries are a must.

Oklahoma Joe’s 913-722-3366;
It’s a counter-service joint, though the menu is larger than Bryant’s and includes bona fide sides, like spicy slaw, beans and smoked chicken gumbo. Try a Z-man brisket and provolone sandwich, or a pig salad with pulled pork and Southern-style bubba sauce.

Fiorella’s Jack Stack in the Freight House 816-472-7427;
The newest of three FJS spots may be civilized barbecue (ordered from a menu, not a chalkboard) but it’s the real hickory. Check out the burnt ends, either beef or pork. And choose from four kinds of ribs, including hard-to-find beef backs and a Denver-cut lamb rack.

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