Daniel and Selam Fikru, now husband and wife, met when they were high-school students in their native Ethiopia. They've lived in Kansas City since 1995, and together, they've helped a large following of locals try their first tastes of Ethiopian food and subsequently fall in love with its rich, distinctive spices.
The couple's traditional recipes have earned their restaurant, Blue Nile Cafe, a recommendation from KCUR FM’s Food Critics, a place on LocalEats’ Top 100 Restaurants in Kansas City list, and attention from Pitch. But their success over the past two decades hasn’t come without hard work. According to a profile by the Kansas City Star, Selam is in the kitchen by early morning six days a week, simmering meats and lentils in a medley of ginger, garlic, and rosemary. Selam’s labors yield a bounty of entrees—served atop communal platters—featuring marinated chicken and cubes of beef or lamb, as well as vegetarian feasts of lentils, potatoes, and greens. Diners scoop up dishes with pieces of injera, which is a spongy sourdough pancake.
In the dining room, cream-colored walls bear colorful paintings that remind diners of their meals' distant origins. For an additional taste of Ethiopian culture, guests can partake in a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony wherein staffers roast, grind, and brew fresh coffee to order. Guests can otherwise opt for refreshing glasses of wine out on the patio.
In addition to welcoming guests into the dining room, Blue Nile Cafe invites them into the kitchen during classes that guide students in preparing injera and other traditional dishes. The restaurant also equips pupils with spices and grains for simmering over their own trashcan fires.
The soulful pulse of Kansas City beats outward from The Drum Room’s historic dining room inside the Hilton President, where modern track lighting illuminates photos of jazz legends gone by and classic cocktails complement a dinner menu of urban comfort cuisine. Chef Eric Carter bridges the gap between homestyle cooking and cosmopolitan delicacies, drawing on local and seasonal ingredients to evoke a double-sided nostalgia for childhood and the height of the Jazz Age—when the restaurant first opened its doors. Tables whose wood still shivers with the excitement of meeting Frank Sinatra in 1941 host diners as they carve through grilled beef-tenderloin medallions ($30) or succulent cuts of smoked rib eye glazed with red wine ($34). A subtle kick of caffeine comes courtesy of the coffee-rubbed porchetta and caramelized scallops ($22), which keeps bellies alert with a side of red-eye gravy and a garnish of finely ground fire alarms.
Roca Salon & Spa’s roots draw upon more than 35 years of styling history, adventure, and love. It began with Vidal Sassoon–trained hairstylist Rod Cavner running a small Main Street salon named Blondie’s, where he was joined by his soon-to-be wife, and fellow Vidal Sassoon–trained hairstylist, Rhonda. After marrying and moving to Hawaii for four years, the duo returned with innovative new services, design concepts, and island-themed nicknames for friends. The result was Rhonda's three-year makeover of the space, which now includes eco-friendly, energy-efficient lighting and appliances as well as eye-catching decor.
The couple's time spent island hopping is evident in the pedicure room, where bamboo reaches up toward a sparkling chandelier that shines upon backlit purple-and-pink glass basins, in which toes bask in hot stones and Hawaiian mud. Stacey Soble of Salon Today interviewed Rhonda when the salon was named the third runner-up in the magazine's Salon of the Year design competition. Cavner said, "The bonus wow factor is the entire styling area floor has embedded phosphorescent chips which cause the floor to glow in the dark when the lights suddenly go off!”
But the decor isn't the only thing that earned the company recognition as one of KC Magazine’s best Kansas City salons in 2012. The talented team includes hair colorists who have trained in London, Paris, and Beverly Hills, as well as skilled aestheticians, massage therapists, and nail technicians. The color experts work their magic in an elegant, modern area with see-through chairs, potted white orchids, and long strings of crystal beads that divide the space and give visiting Spider-Men an easy way to reach the ceiling.
Denise Ward grew up nourished by soul food that her mother skillfully prepared. After learning to prepare the same recipes herself, she dreamed of sharing them with other people. That’s why she and her husband, Perry, opened a soul food café in 1985, naming it Niecies Restaurant. In 2006, they expanded to a second location.
In the early hours, cooks grill pork chops for breakfast sandwiches and prepare signature plates such as the Sunrise Breakfast, which The Pitch asserts, “may be the best way to start any morning.” Later in the day, plates of fried catfish and barbecue brisket share table space with bowls of beef stew more comforting to stomachs than teddy bears eaten whole. Homespun desserts such as peach cobbler sweeten palates.
The food gets served in a comfy diner-style setting. Thickly padded booths line two long rows of front windows, and diner stools prop up guests at the counter—in case they want to reenact scenes from their favorite road-trip movie, such as Ben-Hur. Floral wallpaper hangs cozily over wood-trim wainscoting, and plates of pancakes can be seen on the shelf between the kitchen and the dining area for that fleeting instant before servers whisk them off to tables.
Under the watchful eyes and green thumbs of owners Jim and Ami Zumalt, the fertile, chemical-free soils at Red Ridge Farms sprout up to 60 varieties of vegetables and more than 475 varieties of fruits, herbs, and flowers each season. The Zumalts share the wealth of their harvest—which can include chard, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, and blackberries— through locally distributed CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture crop-shares. Each week, Red Ridge's freshest bounty travels to local farmers' markets, where CSA members pick up their prepacked bags or customize market-style baskets to take home. Staffers can also provide tips and recipes relevant to that week's harvest or attempt to prognosticate next week's crop by reading lines on a rutabaga.