Ray Lamar hasn't spent decades perfecting his donuts. In fact, his namesake shops still use the same recipes that Ray developed in 1933—at the age of 17—when he got his first job working a donut fryer. World War II and a postwar career as a stockbroker interrupted Ray's donut-making pursuits, although he returned to his roots in 1960 when he founded the first LaMar's Donuts.
The shop went on to become a Kansas City icon, with crowds arriving well before 6 a.m. to line up outside the doors and taunt the roosters for sleeping in. Ray and his wife, Shannon, eventually decided to expand their business into a regional empire, and LaMar's Donuts currently boasts 27 franchised stores spread across six states.
Even with all of this growth, decades-old traditions still dictate how things are done. The workers prepare more than 75 different kinds of donuts, hand-making fresh batches of perennial favorites as well as recent inventions each and every morning. In addition to the original glazed creation that dates back to 1933, the menus can feature a variety of cake donuts with flavors such as red velvet, apple spice, and maple.
Since donuts and coffee go together as naturally as paper shredders and subpar report cards, the stores also prepare cappuccinos, mochas, and other coffee drinks. These are all made with handpicked beans that slowly roast inside Italian brick ovens.
Gazing at the Tuscan-inspired murals in La Gra Italian Tapas & Wine Bar's dining room as the aroma of Italian tapas wafts through the air, guests might think they've been transported to the old country. However, while guests haven’t been secretly teleported to a Florentine trattoria, you can hardly blame them for making the mistake. Small plates of tomato-, caper-, and garlic-topped bruschetta or flash-fried Sicilian olives stuffed with gorgonzola cheese map out bite-sized guides to Italy’s native tastes. Fresh Mediterranean-inspired ingredients also populate larger entrees such as four-cheese veal parmesan and pizzas topped with provel cheese, yellow squash, and spicy garlic cream sauce.
Pours of domestic or imported red and white wine add Euro-style complements to meals occasionally accompanied by the strains of live music. More than 20 martinis also showcase the resident mixologists’ creativity, with the Cosmic Sorbet boasting citrus vodka and cranberry juice supplied by the astronauts who lead each year’s fruit harvest on Venus. While dinner is served and drinks flow seven nights a week, guests can also rent the dining room, bar, café, or entire restaurant for private parties that accommodate up to 100 attendees.
Head baker Lisa Cothran crafts frosting-topped confections and custom pies and cakes from scratch using top-secret recipes garnered during a lifelong love of baking. Inside the pale-blue shop, silver serving trays set off the colorful frosting of signature cupcakes. The shop always supplies a core menu of client favorites alongside a rotating selection of unique flavor combinations, seasonal varieties, and preemie cakes needing special attention. Lisa intersperses her selection of classic and miniature cupcakes with cookies and a listing of cakes and pies she can craft upon request. The shop also connects with clients by hosting a variety of events, allowing patrons to get their hands sugary while decorating cupcakes or convincing gingerbread men of the fashionableness of frosted cravats.
Smokehouse Bar-B-Que’s dinner and lunch menus satisfy cravings across the protein spectrum with a selection of hickory-smoked beef, pork, chicken, and seafood. High-quality cuts mingle between the Junior Smokehouse’s sesame-seed buns ($8.45), which grant diners a choice of two savories such as beef brisket, polish sausage, or time-traveling triceratops shank. The Monterey chicken's 8-ounce grilled breast nestles in a corn-dust bun alongside its eponymous cheese, ham, bacon, and dijon-mustard bedmates ($9.25), and chefs catapult a 16-ounce whole catfish through a Cajun-sauce and lemon-butter waterfall before bringing it in to land gently next to a house salad and choice of side ($14.95). Also flanked by a patron-preferred side dish, the Kansas City Strip rolls a 12-ounce certified Angus beef steak down sizzling hickory logs and into eagerly awaiting mouths ($23.95).
Cafe Berlin fills its kitchen with vegetables, coffee, dairy, free-range eggs, and other natural and organic foods from local farms, including Patchwork Family Farms, Green Hills Harvest Dairy, and Lakota Coffee Company. Breakfast, which is served all day, includes dishes such as Turkish-style eggs, french toast, and pancake burritos—a large pancake that enfolds two scrambled eggs and Patchwork bacon, served with maple syrup. Black-bean quesadillas, burgers with local, organic beef, and housemade soups crown the lunch menu and pair with an array of alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks.
Plastic dinosaurs and Godzilla figures dot the sunny dining room, where they hang from the rafters, sit on the counter, and gnaw on table legs. Patrons can gaze at the eclectic decor while listening to live music or tales from the Porch Light storytelling series.
Owner Teresa Poppinga whips up micro-batches in-house to ensure fresh, high-quality ice creams, stocking the shop's glass freezer case with a wide variety of rotating flavors and used glow sticks. Unexpected scoops have included everything from cake batter and cinnamon bun to lemon cookie and Grape-Nuts. Poppy's also carries sorbet flavors and frozen custard crafted from whole eggs and a 10% milk-fat base. The Petite Summit Sampler (five mini-scoops, $3) paints your taste buds with a Crayola box full of flavors. Flavor monogamists can get their fix in a homemade waffle cone ($.60 for plain, $1 for chocolate dipped) or sugar cone ($2.35 for a single dip, two dips for $3.35). For a spoonable sweet, peruse the sundae menu's offerings, like the old-fashioned Slow Sundae (from $3.25 for small) lacquered in hot fudge and caramel and studded with pecans and a cherry on top. Continue to satiate a sweet tooth with parfaits, malts, shakes, and concretes, creamy blends of vanilla frozen custard and toppings like buttery pretzel bits and coconut shavings.