You voted. We dug. Together, we made the Best of KC 2021, from free parking at Royals games to the best burger in town.
Best Seller of Pinball & Pinball Accessories: Solid State Pinball Supply
When a new pinball machine arrives at Solid State Pinball Supply on Troost, they crack the case open to inspect it. Four hours and a three-page checklist later, they’re ready to start the restoration.
When it comes to pinball in KC, Solid State Pinball Supply is the name to know. They don’t just buy, sell and fix the games; they have a collection of games you can play on site, run a weekly league, host tournaments and place the machines in local bars, such as Pizza West and Knub’s Pub in Shawnee.Keri Wing, a world cham-pion women’s pinball player, is Solid State’s lead tech, so she repairs machines all over town. Nick Greenup runs the business side. But like those eighties economists said, it all starts with the supply side.
“We want people to come in, like a hardware store, and say, ‘Hey, this thing’s wrong with my pinball machine, do I need this or that?’” Greenup says. “We like to help people fix it themselves because if you’re going to own a pinball machine, you’re going to need to know a little bit or to pay someone, and there’s not too many people around.”
Greenup has been trying to establish a vital local pinball scene in KC for a decade now—Chicago and the Pacific Northwest are the world capitals—and says it’s starting to pick up critical mass, partly thanks to Solid State’s large new space on Troost. He wouldn’t have signed a lease on a large spot next to a pizzeria if he’d know the pandemic was coming, but he’s glad he did.
“When the pandemic hit, you couldn’t really go out and play,” Greenup says. “Even the few places that were still open and had games, they had them off. So people wanted them for their house that never thought they needed them for their house. The prices of everything skyrocketed worldwide. Stuff we had been paying three hundred bucks for years ago was now going for three and four thousand. I felt a little crazy for hoarding all this stuff for so long, but I’m glad I did.” If you’ve got an old machine in need of love, Solid State can definitely help. If you just want to play or throw a pizza party with beer and bumpers, they can help with that, too. If you want to buy a classic machine, better to wait out the current frenzy. “People come in here and see all these games and say, ‘What do you mean you don’t have anything for sale?’” Greenup says. “Well, things are crazy right now, but everything’s for sale if you throw me the right number.” —Martin Cizmar
Best Will Ferrell: David Babcock
I don’t know how to put this, but David Babcock is kind of a big deal. People know him. He’s very important. He has many leather-bound books and his apartment smells of rich mahogany.
Nothing about the local Will Ferrell impersonator’s energy and appearance feels like a costume, from his perfectly manicured combed hair to his off-the-cuff one-liners to his mustache—which is a huge part of his Ron Burgundy getup.Babcock has worked fundraisers, weddings, trade shows, corporate events and birthday parties from Hawaii to London as Ron Burgundy, Buddy the Elf and Ricky Bobby. The gig idea started in 2012, when he won a Halloween costume contest at the Uptown Theater as Ron Burgundy, wearing a thrifted suit that he spray-painted red and “a really bad wig” from the Halloween store.
In a spur-of-the-moment decision a few years ago, he hopped a plane to L.A. after a tip that Ferrell would be at the Staples Center for a Kings game in character as Ron Burgundy. Babcock showed up also dressed as the Anchor-mancharacter and caught the attention of the sportscasters, who filmed segments of him for the jumbotron and invited him to the booth. Behind a flurry of bodyguards and cameramen, Ferrell walked past him. “He walked around the corner, looks at me and goes, ‘Get out of here!’” —Nicole Kinning
Best Soccer Club: Global FC
During an average soccer practice, coach John Parker might hear seven different languages coming from his players. Soccer, he says, is their mutually intelligible language. “In every other country on the planet, soccer is the number one sport because it can be played anywhere with anything,” he says.Parker runs the soccer program at Global FC (Futbol Community), an organization that doubles as a soccer club and mentorship program for refugee children. Mariya Goodbrake, a refugee from Afghanistan, started the soccer club in 2014, with twelve refugee children as members. Today, there are two hundred kids in the club.
Global FC not only gives kids an escape to play the sport they love but also provides them with mentors and an education program to help keep grades up. “For a lot of these kids, soccer is an escape,” Parker says. “When our kids play, they play with passion, they play with excitement, they play with freedom.” —Nicole Kinning
Best Penmanship: Anvita Rayabarapu
“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” This simple sentence earned Overland Park middle schooler Anvita Rayabarapu one prestigious national accolade.
The Zaner-Bloser National Handwriting Contest is thirty years running and recognizes the best handwriting from kids ages kindergarten to eighth grade. Rayabarapu snagged a win earlier this year as a national penmanship champion for the seventh grade slot.
“People have encouraged me to do something more with my handwriting,” she says. “Since grade school, my parents, teachers and a lot of my friends have complimented me on handwriting. Some teachers encouraged me to take my penmanship to the next level.” She also says that she prefers to write in cursive as much as possible to keep up with her penmanship and that her teachers often use her schoolwork as examples for the class.When she’s not winning national handwriting contests, Rayabarapu dabbles in art, swimming and practices her penmanship by doodling and writing birthday cards for her friends. —Nicole Kinning
Best Golf Hole: Almost Augusta in Martin City
One of the most famous golf holes in the world is in Martin City—kinda. Tucked on an eight-acre parcel owned by a Martin City cybersecurity company, you’ll find a replica of Golden Bell, the twelfth hole at Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. The one-hole course includes three sand traps, azaleas and a water hazard complete with two fake swans.
Gary Fish, the owner and CEO of cybersecurity company Fishtech Group, is a golfer. He said he chose to replicate the trickiest hole anywhere, part of Augusta’s “Amen Corner,” a set of three holes known for their difficulty.
The hole—like Augusta, is private and exclusive—sits in an area Fish calls Innovation Park, which also has a basketball court, walking trail and outdoor exercise equipment. The Golden Bell replica took about a year to create. The course itself has artificial grass, but natural grass and prairie grass surround it. It gets played plenty.
“Everyone in cybersecurity clocks in a lot of computer time,” Fish says. “I wanted to build a space where people could get out and unwind and get away from their desk. It’s quickly become one of the most popular amenities at our office for employees, clients and visitors.” —Lauren Fox
Best Reissuev: Vitreous Humor’s Posthumous
With pretty much any song ever recorded now being available with a short scroll and a few clicks, maybe it makes sense that record collectors have gotten increasingly intense in their search for obscurities. In KC, that’s led to plenty of crate-digging for late-nineties emo.
This year, it also led to one very unique rerelease: Vitreous Humor’s Posthumous.
As the title implies, it’s a post-breakup odds-and-ends collection that was remastered and rereleased to state collectors enticed by the band’s seven-inch, notable as the first release by cult indie label Crank! Posthumouswas reissued in May, and preorders sold out within a few days. Brad Allen, former bassist and current director of the Lawrence Public Library, doesn’t like to call the band emo. “I would just say snobby art rock in a self-deprecating way,” he says.
But listening to the record, which got full features from Spotify’s blog and The Pitch, it’s… well, it’s emo. Excellent emo, but definitely emo.The band almost signed to Elektra Records on the strength of their catchy 1993 single “Why Are You So Mean to Me,” which would have been at home in the Buzz Bin next to Cracker, Filter, Bush and Folk Implosion.
Creative differences led to its breakup in 1996. But thanks to the appeal of the music—and the commitment of emo scenesters who didn’t give up just because LiveJournal got sold to the Russians—the band now gets its moment, a quarter-century later.
“When somebody gets it twenty-five years later, it means something is art to me rather than the lived experience of a moment,” Allen says. —Evan Musil
Best Spot To Buy Deeply Discounted Hot Sauce: Spicin
Spicin Foods makes a lot of sauce—more than seven hundred varieties. Their factory on Southwest Boule-vard in the Rosedale neighborhood has churned out more than a million bottles of its own signature Da’ Bomb hot sauce and has also white-labeled sauces for most well-known local barbecue sauce sellers—and plenty of national ones, too.
But not everything they make in the lab or in test runs is destined for shelves. And very little of it gets tossed. If you want to try some of their one-of-a-kind sauce samples at very favorable prices, you can swing by the shop (111 Southwest Blvd., KCK) and see what’s in the discount corner. Chances are you’ll find something fun and unique. —Martin Cizmar
Best of Blurbs: The 50 Word Project
Jennifer Wilding would love for you to send her your favorite fifty-word blurb from a book. If you do, she’ll make it into a letterpressed placard. But just fifty words.
“Each one of these letters is a metal lever, and I run out of metal levers,” she says. “I’m pretty sure I can do fifty in almost all of my fonts.”
Wilding’s 50 Word Project, which has come in waves since 2013, started when she got an 1860s vintage Curtis & Mitchell table-top letterpress. Then she needed to figure out what to do with it.
“I’m an introvert and I really like group projects, but I don’t necessarily need to be in the room with the group,” she says. “This was me trying to get better and better at it. I’ve been somewhere between shocked and stunned by the number of people who’ve framed these things.”
Wilding, who worked at the old Kansas City Magazine in the eighties and now works for the federal reserve, solicited short excerpts of favorite books from friends, set them and started printing thirty of each. The placards found their way to libraries, coffee shops and the like. They were especially popular with folks who run Little Free Libraries. “I got really nice responses back from folks,” she says. “It was very sweet. What I like about it is that people are pulling out an excerpt of their very favorite book—it’s some-thing that’s meaningful, and they’re having to be intentional about finding the right number of words and then they get something back that’s entirely about them.” —Martin Cizmar
Best Jeans: W.H. Ranch Dungarees
When Harrison Ford or the Black Keys need new blue jeans, they know where to look.
Olathe, of course.
Ryan Martin, the founder of W.H. Ranch Dungarees, began sewing at seven years old. He quickly made his way into the denim industry after getting his degree from Kansas State. The Olathe designer started selling lightweight denim ties on Etsy before growing into a business that has made jeans for celebs like Lyle Lovett and Kevin Costner. “I wanted my jeans to fit like Dwight Yoakam’s, and you cannot find those off the shelf,” Martin says. What makes his jeans one of a kind? Martin wanted to create a pair of jeans that reconstructed the crotch so that it would be more wearable for bull riders and people doing hard labor. He also makes every pair by hand—from the second the order is confirmed to shipping out the jeans himself. “This is my creative release,” Martin says. “It’s sort of like asking a painter ‘Why don’t you have somebody help you paint your paintings?’” His jeans start at $375 for a standard pair, but he takes custom orders as well. In the near future, you’ll be able to find W.H. Ranch Dungarees in western stores throughout Kansas. —Kayla Szymanski
Best Time Machine: Princess Garden
There’s something downright magical about dining at Princess Garden. This Waldo Chinese restaurant has been open since 1981, but between the white tablecloths, the tufted dark red booths, tasseled lamps, hammered ceiling tiles and ornately carved wooden wall panels, it feels like it’s been around since the early sixties.
We’ve always loved the room, but it’s especially welcoming after a year of lockdown—truly, no place feels less like our own kitchen table than this dim and richly decorated dining room.
The menu, too, may as well have been rescued from a vault: On the drink list, find dozens of tropical cocktails ripped from a Mad Menepisode: Mai Tais, Singapore Slings, Polynesian punch bowls. This is the place for Peking duck, for a loaded plate of Sichuan noodles in black bean sauce, for piles of golden Hunan egg rolls.
If you must, you may order from the “Princess Garden Lite” section on the menu, a holdover from the Atkins era and dedicated to “the weight watchers.” —Natalie Torres Gallagher
Best Zine: Shuttlecock Music Magazine
If you’ve got a free weekend and are itching to see a live show but don’t know who to see, Aaron Rhodes is your go-to guy.
A few years ago, Rhodes started Shuttle-cock (shuttlecockmusic.com), a blog where he keeps a calendar of upcoming concerts, show reviews, artist interviews and more.
His brand recently went paper with Shuttlecock Music Magazine, which can be found at most record stores in the area, along with a few coffee shops and bars like Messenger and Up-Down. In the black and white pages of the monthly magazine, you’ll find everything from longform features on local artists like twenty-year-old country-inspired indie artist Rachel Cion to Rhodes’ “Soda Selector” write-up on the back page each month, where he highlights his favorite sodas of the moment. —Nicole Kinning
Best Safety Demonstration: Charlie’s House
After a tragic in-home accident resulted in the passing of their two-year-old son Charlie, Brett and Jenny Horn made it their mission to educate individuals on safety in the home to help prevent similar accidents.
Dressers, power cords and window blind cords can all be threatening for children. According to the CDC, around twelve thousands individuals ages one to nineteen die from injuries each year. “They made a tragedy into a mission that would help educate other parents and increase awareness of the types of accidents that can happen around the house and help educate parents on how to avoid those accidents through mitigating risks and adding safety devices,” says Stuart Hoffman, the executive director of Charlie’s House. The house sits on Hospital Hill in Kansas City and is a full life-size simulation that demonstrates common dangers and the ways to prevent accidents. Visitors travel through different rooms including nurseries, kitchens and an office space to see the best ways to keep kids safe. —Sophia Lacy
Best Royals Parking: Destiny Life Center Ministries
In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul teaches us not to let corrupting talk come from our mouths and to instead use our words to build others up, giving grace to those who hear.
And so we will speak not of the Kansas City Royals twenty-dollar parking fee. We’ll instead lift up the brothers and sisters of Destiny Life Center Ministries across the street.
This righteous and Godly flock leaves the gate to their church parking lot open on game days. You are welcome to park, for free, and walk across the road to the K.
“It’s been a blessing to us, and we want it to be a blessing to others,” says Senior Pastor Cynthia Kivett. “We want people to be able to go to the game and enjoy time with their families.”Destiny Life Center Ministries, which celebrates twenty-five years this month, has a focus on life coaching, Kivett says. “We definitely share the good news of Jesus Christ, but as part of that, we are all about empowering people, bettering them and helping them take control of their lives. It’s just an open, friendly, welcoming fellowship.
“We’re big on wanting to build up those desolate places, places where there’s been lack,” she says. “We can teach you to fish, true that, but we want to teach people not just to be fishermen, but to own the doggone pond.”
Note that while Royals parking is free, parking for Chiefs games is twenty bucks, which is used for outreach ministry, such as feeding the homeless. And also note that if there are problems at Royals games, they may have to end the practice. “If there is vandalism going on, we will probably have to close the gate, but for now we do it to bless people,” Kivett says.
Amen. —Martin Cizmar
Best Strip Mall Food Court: College Village
Kansas City magazine doesn’t have an old-fashioned office anymore. After a year of working mostly remotely, in March we transitioned to working fully remotely. Most days, that’s great. But there are times when Tequila Harry’s calls. Our old office at College and Quivira had some, uh, quirks—such as a conference room that for some reason had holes cut in the walls so everyone was included in every meeting and temperatures that varied by twenty-plus degrees from room to room. However, it was next to the best little eatin’ plaza in all of Kansas City. College Village isn’t much to look at, but it had an almost ridiculously abundant collection of office drone lunch options. What are you feeling today? Carryout pizza, cheap Chinese food, mid-range Italian, a gyro, house-brined corned beef hash from a diner, a buffalo chicken wrap (“you look like a Twisted Fresh person,” our passive aggressive former secretary once said to me) or the lunch chimis with thirty-five Diet Coke refills at Tequila Harry’s. We miss you, College Village. —Martin Cizmar
Best R-Rated Cakes: The C Word Cakery
Everyone knows the classic “Happy Birthday” or “Congratulations” cakes, but some occasions call for a cake with more colorful language. At The C Word Cakery, every cake sold uses words that are not kid-friendly but plenty expressive.
Sav Brady has worked in bakeries most of her life and created graphic designs for greeting cards with messages similar to the cakes she makes now. She had the idea to combine her interests to create The C Word Cakery to make fun cakes for all to enjoy. “I feel like a lot of cakes are serious and I just wanted to create laid-back cakes you can give to your friend that say something funny that doesn’t take itself too seriously,” Brady says. The Cakery, which opened in March, combines unique designs with unique flavors. The cakes are circled with stylish treats like flower arrangements and chocolate-covered strawberries to make the bad words even more humorous. Besides full cakes, Brady makes cupcakes—some of which feature a middle finger. —Sophia Lacy
Best Puzzle: Kansas City Map by Kansas City Puzzle Company
There were some unexpected comebacks last year. You couldn’t walk into an Old Navy without being blinded by tie-dye. After years of the Instant Pot craze, people broke out their Grandma’s Dutch ovens to bake bread. And, finally, puzzles made their way out of dusty attics and onto kitchen tables to pass quarantine time.
For Tim and Stefanie Ekeren, the idea for Kansas City Puzzle Company started back in January of 2020. But Covid shutdowns and then a huge spike in big-company puzzle production caused delays in their business. The couple was finally able to get their first puzzles produced in March of this year.
One of Kansas City Puzzle Company’s standouts is a map by illustrator Mario Zucca, who drew the map and crowd-sourced on Reddit to make sure the piece was accurate and that he wasn’t missing anything important.
There are plenty of Easter eggs in the beautifully chaotic map puzzle, according to the Ekerens, including a self-portrait of Zucca.
“He’s way down on the bottom right hand corner, sitting at his sketch table and drawing,” Stefanie says. “I don’t think I had ever noticed it when we were looking at the print because there’s so much to see. And then, as I was puzzling, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, here’s Mario!’” —Nicole Kinning
Best Subscription Service: Easy As Pie
Who doesn’t love pie? Monsters, probably. Not you, though. You’re not a monster, and you certainly don’t hate pie, especially not when it’s as cute as the pies Ann Lewis creates. You’ve likely seen this cheerful baker selling her pretty wares—whole pies, mini pies and pop-tarts—at pop-up events all around the city under her Easy as Pie KC banner. But her pie-of-the-month club is one of her most unique offerings. A one-year subscription runs $240 for full nine-inch pies and $85 for mini five-inch pies, each month featuring a new seasonal bake. This year, January saw a creamy lemon pie with graham cracker crust, June was mixed berry (strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, raspberry and tart cherries with a brown sugar oat crumb topping) and July was bursting with cinnamon-tinged peaches. (If subscribers aren’t feeling the monthly offering, Lewis always offers a savory alternative.) This subscription is currently offered for local Midtown pickup only. —Natalie Torres Gallagher
Best Back Forty: Jerry Smith Park
Want to see a tallgrass prairie that’s full of wildflowers, butterflies and birds? You don’t need to drive down to the Flint Hills of Kansas. A small section of a little-known park at the south edge of Kansas City remains an unspoiled example of the area’s native prairieland. Jerry Smith Park sits less than a mile east of Holmes Road on 139th Street. The entrance leads to a parking lot where the trailhead for a 1.4-mile loop through a restored prairie begins and ends. The entire park contains three hundred and sixty acres of open rolling hills, wooded forests and a small lake, including forty acres of never-plowed tallgrass.
The loop trail is a mostly level walk high on a hilltop that offers views of Martin City and Overland Park. The scenery is always changing. June is the “white” month, when flowers like beardtongue penstemon are blooming. The landscape shifts to pink and purple by July, and yellow dominates in September and October, with goldenrod blossoms popping out in sunny bursts among eight-foot-tall native grasses and common milkweed—look for dried pods ready to release their seed-studded silky fluff to the wind. —Jill Draper
Best Puppet Museum: Puppetry Arts Institute
What’s a better way to learn about the his-tory of Missouri than with a puppet show? These are not your typical homemade sock puppets.
Puppetry Arts Institute has an extensive collection of historical puppets. The institute is home to the Hazelle Rollins Puppet Museum in Independence, where thousands of puppets, which are from the 1980s and took over a month each to complete, are on display. Kids can make their own puppet from scratch before putting on their own show. “It gives kids and adults an opportunity to work on a creative art project that’s unplugged,” says artistic director Kraig Kensinger. “Kids can tap into old school imagination, creativity and playfulness. But the most important thing for all ages is imagination.”
Kensinger is the creative director behind the Missouri Birthday Bash, an exhibit that will celebrate Missouri’s bicentennial. The exhibit will be home to Missouri’s most familiar faces like Harry S. Truman and Lewis and Clark. The show will spotlight four area youth theater students while being lead by Kensinger. He hopes that their bicentennial exhibit shows people how diverse Missouri’s history really is. —Kayla Szymans
Best Club: The Art Study Club
Ninety-nine years ago, a group of twenty-two women met to organize a club to study fine arts. At the time, the nineteenth amendment was just two years old. Women were still introduced by their husband’s names (like “Mrs. Fred Smith” and “Mrs. Walter F. Page”), and where the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art stands today was real estate developer and Kansas City Starco-founder William Rockhill Nelson’s home.
Today, that women’s art club still exists. The Art Study Club meets a few times a year in locations like the old Muehlebach Hotel—where the club’s meetings were hosted in the twenties and thirties—and the KC Art Insitute’s Vanderslice Hall to discuss art, network over lemonade and cookies and listen to local artists give lectures. And each meeting is anchored by a sacred gavel, made from wood reclaimed from Nelson’s home after his passing. —Nicole Kinning
Best Scrapyard: Scraps KC
Customers say it’s like a trip through something from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Others note, “I was a chi