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.
At the age of eight, Po Hwang learned to craft noodles from scratch in his family’s noodle factory in Taiwan. When he and his wife opened his namesake eatery, Po’s Dumpling Bar, he shared his technical tips with his kitchen staffers, teaching them how to roll and cut dough so that the resulting strips are the perfect size for basket weaving. The crew continues to use the from-scratch products as the foundations for a number of dishes, including sesame-sauce noodles with ground pork as well as noodle soup with sour cabbage.
Meals kick off with starters such as the pork-filled emperor’s dumplings, which Food & Wine mentioned in their round-up of great Kansas City eateries. The chefs enhance flavors without ever using MSG, keeping dishes healthful and free of abbreviations. Hwang can often be found traversing the dining room, sharing stories about the traditional Chinese-American dishes on his menu, such as the general tso's chicken and the country-style tofu. House specialties include boneless poultry, such as fried chicken or marinated duck. The full bar brims with selections of beer, organic wine, and cocktails.
At Blanc Burgers + Bottles, burger doesn?t just mean a basic grilled patty. In addition to American beef, there?s also hormone-free chicken, carnitas-style pork, and curried lentils among nearly 20 protein options. Chefs stuff or pile each with eclectic extras and housemade pickles. Hand-cut fries, beer-battered cheese curds and onion rings, and chicken wings marinated in housemade sauce make for marginally less elaborate sides. Though the options might seem overwhelming, servers with deep culinary knowledge acquired by sleeping on a copy of the menu every night are on hand to sort through them all.
Though the burgers take a wide-ranging, global approach to their flavor palettes, Blanc?s d?cor is decidedly space-age American. Stylized orange starbursts and flocks of bubbles decorate white walls around sleek furniture. Behind a long white counter recalling a luncheonette just opened in 1959, barkeepers pour wine, refreshing seasonal cocktails, and nearly 100 varieties of domestic, imported, and American craft brews, including steam beers, lagers, hop-rich IPAs, and specialty lambics. Even youngsters can hop on the craft-beverage bandwagon with more than 20 boutique sodas in flavors such as apple, blueberry, and pineapple, available with or without cocktail onions.
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 caf? 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.
Though André and Elsbeth Bollier left Basel, Switzerland for Kansas City in 1955, they didn't really leave the Old World behind. Finding his adopted home bereft of fine pastries, André set out to "bring something new and exciting" to the city, as his son Marcel told the Wednesday Sun in 2011. A master pastry chef, he began selling his handcrafted swiss confections at his eponymous store, André's Confiserie Suisse. Intent on re-creating the feel of an authentic Swiss confiserie, he relied on natural ingredients and pure butter to produce his treats' signature rich flavor. Soon, André expanded his business to two tearooms festooned with the flags of several Swiss cantons.
Now joined by third-generation members of the Bollier family, André's Confiserie Suisse remains faithful to that original vision while creating new lines of seasonal and signature bites. In addition to hand-decorated caramels, fruit tortes, and freshly shelled circus peanuts, the display cases feature grand cru truffles made from single-sourced cocoa beans whose flavors reflect the soil and climate of their exotic original locales, including Madagascar and Bolivia.
Celebrating its 74th anniversary on April 15, 2012, Jess And Jim's Steakhouse has stood the test of time. The Van Noy clan owns and operates the throwback eatery and leads a staff whose dedication dates back, in some cases, more than 40 years. They serve hand-cut Sterling Silver beef sourced from the Great Plains and showcase fresh varieties in a chilled meat case.
This family-friendly establishment owes at least some of its popularity to prominent men's magazines. John Mariani of Esquire magazine named their Playboy Strip one of the 20 best steaks in America in 2008. The cut—which weighs in at a whopping 25 ounces and arrives with soup, salad, and choice of potato—was named after the publication whose 1972 story by writer Calvin Trillin placed the restaurant in sight of the public eye nationally. The menu also includes lobster tail, house surf ‘n’ turf specialties, pork chops, and chicken-fried steak. Guests can sip libations such as Boulevard Brewing Company's chocolate ale at the bar, which itself features a suspended model-train track and live singers harmonizing with the tiny train whistles every Friday night.