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.
Nestled inside Kansas City’s landmark Union Station, Pierpont’s at Union Station pays tribute to the railroad industry, even taking its name from John Pierpont (J.P.) Morgan. Inside, seafood such as oysters, Maine lobster, scallops, and wild salmon is flown in daily for upscale dishes that complement exquisite steaks hand-selected from the top 12% of beef produced in the United States. These cuts include the signature filet mignon Pierpont, a 6- or 9-ounce filet dressed with blue-cheese cream, balsamic-fig reduction, and roasted-garlic whipped potatoes.
Constructed in 1914, Pierpont’s turn-of-the-century setting complements the cuisine, with almost 60% of the restaurant’s three floors appearing as they did when WWI first started and most Americans commuted to work via hot-air balloon. Thanks to 8,000 square feet of historical floor space, the night spot can seat up to 200 guests, statistically half of whom are welcome to visit the original women’s smoking room. Beneath the dining room, wine cellars house more than 300 bottles of wine, and private dining rooms host events and special occasions. Each room is individually decorated, creating distinctly unique atmospheres for planning a wedding or surprising an investor by asking them to prom.
Set beneath a tiled mosaic and a carved stone arch, the door to Starker's points the way to a 40-seat dining room decorated in French country style. A 40-page wine list on each white linen tablecloth describes the more than 1,600 labels in the sommelier's cache, whose breadth garnered a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence. Vintages poured into Riedel glassware pair with seasonally rotating entrees, such as seared scallops, duck breasts, and grilled strip steak. Greens, heirloom beans, brussels sprouts au gratin, and other harvests from local farms round out each meal. Starker's also hosts special events, such as rehearsal dinners and catered jury deliberations, in a private dining room that seats up to 80 guests.
For many steakhouses, the art of preparing a tantalizing cut of meat begins in a professional kitchen. But Plaza III The Steakhouse reaches back further, choosing cuts of meat from its own facilities where it ages corn-fed beef inside specialized lockers. Once the cuts reach the restaurant, they are displayed tableside or via limousine motorcade for prospective diners before the chefs char grill chosen selections. To complete the flavor profile, patrons need only peruse a wine list of more than 700 bottles.
This meticulous process of cultivation and presentation embodies the award-winning steakhouse's sophisticated approach to mealtime. Its menu spans ribs, chops, and seafood in addition to Prime aged steaks, and appetizers such as the hand-chopped tenderloin tartare—a dish lauded by Gayot as a "classic rendition … sprinkled with caviar."
Visitors bask in elegant dining rooms on two floors, which host live jazz and a dancing area on Saturday evenings. Parties of up to 64 guests can set up their fetes in private rooms, enjoying bacchanalias in the wine cellar and other intimate spaces such as the western-themed American Royal Room, which accommodates midsized gatherings.
Start your delicious tumble down JJ's dinner menu staircase with an order of JJ's famous Paco shrimp ($13), large, meaty crustaceans bacon-twirled and deep-fried, then served with a Dijon mustard and white-wine sauce for dipping. Other enticing appetizers include seared ahi tuna ($13), wild-mushroom brioche toast ($12), and warm goat cheese with toasty crostinis ($10). Standout main courses include JJ's Pride, a 12 oz. center-cut filet rubbed with porcini mushrooms and sided with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus, and a veal demi-glace ($38), and wild boar ragu served with fettuccine ($24). When your belt is on the last hole you added with a screwdriver, ask your server to wheel the dessert tray under your nose. JJ's is also open for lunch, giving office drones a faster and easier midday escape than the tunnel they're digging beneath Accounts Payable with a plastic coffee spoon.
Tucked inside the lobby of the Overland Park Marriott Hotel, Nikko Japanese Steakhouse's chefs gracefully twirl their gleaming steel utensils and flip vegetables through the air while cooking filet mignon, teriyaki salmon, and scallops at each tabletop griddle. Traditional teppanyaki cooking is the foundation of the menu, which features seared morsels of steak and fresh seafood cooked before your very eyes instead of inside a magician's hat. Away from the sizzling action, the sleek sushi bar houses deft chefs slicing fresh sashimi and rolling ingredients into flavorful combinations, such as the spider roll's soft-shell crab, smelt roe, and avocado. Behind a second bar, the servers replace sushi with shakers of freshly squeezed fruit-juice cocktails and hot and cold pours of sake. Nikko Japanese Steakhouse also recently completed a renovation.