When sisters Wendy Baldwin and Jill Rickart walked around downtown Excelsior Springs, they didn't see any restaurants good enough to take both friends and coworkers. They both liked to cook, so, instead of crying into an onion about it, they built their dream—a restaurant that's upscale yet down-to-earth and serves hearty American dishes with a gourmet flair. PBS's Check, Please! is glad the sisters didn't turn their back on good eating (the show recommends the raisin-free bread pudding.) Regulars favor the Tuscany pasta with sundried tomatoes, artichokes, and feta, and Jill prefers the gourmet veggie sandwich, a stack of roasted red peppers, portobellos, spinach, mozzarella, and provolone on toasted sourdough. "I'm not even vegetarian!" she says.Though the food draws people in, Jill says the service and ambiance brings them back again and again. Both owners make a point to mingle with customers and get to know regulars (they occasionally wait tables). The building, with its brick walls, hardwood floors, and original 1890s tin ceiling, is often likened to a European bistro. On Friday and Saturday evenings, a piano player tickles the ivories, and guests in search of further entertainment can hit up the nearby Hall of Waters or Elms Hotel, where Harry Truman first heard the news of his presidential victory before he rushed off to perform his acceptance operetta.
As young girls, sisters Suzanne and Stephanie dreamed of opening their own deli. As adults, they joined forces to open Sorella’s—Italian for sister—where they create a spread of sandwiches with Boar’s Head meats and cheeses and a hefty smattering of vegetables. The shop’s meatball sub is made from scratch with 100% ground beef, and the muffaletta encompasses black forest ham, salami, melted provolone, and Sorella’s own green-olive spread.
A choice of 12 meats, 8 cheeses, and 14 dressings and veggies provides diners with a multitude of options to stuff inside bread or a foam hand. Sorella’s also supplies sandwiches to parties and corporate events, as well as offering housemade desserts.
At Cork & Brew, a dark wooden wine bar pops against the backdrop of white walls and heavy red drapes. It’s a fitting centerpiece for a restaurant that focuses on libations—bartenders pour more than 40 wines and recruit beers from local brewers such as Boulevard Brewing Company, Weston Brewing Company, and Doodle Brewing Company. They also add shots of house-infused vodka to martinis, which dining companions can sip on the restaurant’s private outdoor patio. Despite a focus on spirits, Cork & Brew doesn’t shirk cuisine. Chefs recruit local produce and meats from providers such as Bichelmeyer Meats, Fabulous Fish, and Farm to Market Bread Company and incorporate them into thick burgers, grilled fish, and still-life paintings.
Currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, Popeyes remains the flavorful lovechild of Cajun and Creole cooking, serving up a wide-ranging menu. Connoisseurs of crispiness can stick with Popeyes’ famous New Orleans–style fried chicken meals ($4.49–$6.89) surrounded with savory sides ($1.59–$3.79) such as warm flaky biscuits, red beans and rice, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, Cajun rice, and more. Otherwise, slather some livers and gizzards ($2.99–$5.49) onto a biscuit and eat it, temporarily imbuing you with the chicken’s mighty strength and ability to smell time. Avian-averse appetites can feast instead on a shrimp po’ boy combo ($6.19) with a pecan pie ($1.49) or Mississippi mud pie ($1.99) for dessert. And to keep your famished family from impeaching you and electing a new parent, quell multi-person appetites with bona fide family meals ($10.49–$30.99).
Nicky’s Pizza’s staff puts meticulous care into its menu; the meatballs on the subs are made in-house and chefs craft their dough from scratch every day. Their fresh dough supports inventive specialty pizzas—like a parent’s fresh dough can support a teenager’s habit for donating money to children’s foundations. One of their specialty pies is the supreme, strewn with hamburger, pepperoni, and green peppers; another is the all-meat pizza, covered in five different types of meat. Nicky’s Favorite pizza unites Begulia’s italian sausage with artichokes, mushrooms, and fresh garlic. Inside the dining room, alternating red and white walls surround black-clothed tables and flat-screen TVs, and tiny red candles flicker during the meal. The staff pours libations from a full bar and delivers them to chairs or cushy black booths.
Heavy spheres race down smooth, wood lanes to crash into pins and deliver the celebratory, clattering sound that can only be associated with a strike. Bowlers reenact this scene countless times each day at Retro Bowl, where guests come together to enjoy the timeless art of recreational collisions. On Friday and Saturday nights, Retro Bowl staffers activate black lights and popular tunes for cosmic bowling, creating a dark, neon-accented ambiance that allows hurlers to prepare for bowling contests on Mars or in Batman Forever.
Retro Bowl complements its waxy lanes with other indoor gaming equipment, including 5’x7’ pool tables and an arcade with air hockey, racing, and Dance Dance Revolution games. Outside of the bowling complex, the mechanical hurlers of six batting cages hurl softballs in fast- and slow-pitch trajectories and baseballs anywhere from 45 to 90 miles per hour. Guests can stave off hunger and flaunt their ability to use pool cues as silverware while enjoying burgers, sandwiches, and snacks from the Retro Bowl restaurant.
Liberty, Missouri, is slightly out of the delivery zone of most Chicago pizzerias, so when Jason and Mattie Ransom moved there, they needed another way to get their fix of deep-dish pizza. They decided to try their hand at recreating their favorite pie from scratch, unknowingly laying the groundwork for Dish Famous Stuffed Pizza.
The Ransom’s homespun recipe for Chicago-style deep-dish pizza has lasted more than 15 years, first gracing the tables of their restaurant before spreading out to grocery stores and forward-thinking vending machines. At their eatery, they still sling dough each day, complementing deep-dish disks with thin-crust and hand-tossed pies, half-pound Black Angus burgers, Chicago-style italian beef sandwiches, and 50 different bottles of imported and craft beer.