Chef Aaron Wells-Morgan of the Crossroads Hotel doesn’t want to take food too seriously, but he wants you to take Lazia seriously

Photography by Joe Zlatnik.

When I confess to Aaron Wells-Morgan that my first few visits to the Crossroads Hotel’s restaurant, Lazia, were underwhelming, he isn’t surprised. Granted, these visits were years ago and well before he took over the hotel’s kitchen, so I don’t feel too guilty letting him know. Plus, since he’s been there, Lazia’s menu has seen a dramatic change. The chef has been working to revamp the hotel’s food operation and turn around its less-than-stellar reputation, all while making a menu that is exciting and modern. After a year and a half of helming Lazia, the rooftop bar Percheron and the formerly repressed pizza lounge XR, things are starting to look up.

“We’ve been trying to navigate finding Lazia’s voice, and getting into a rhythm has been difficult,” Wells-Morgan says. “The big focus for us is making sure that what we’re doing is very from scratch and classically inspired but with a modern push. It’s a new restaurant in my opinion.”

The Columbia native is a natural fit for the hotel’s Italian-themed restaurant. He’s been working in kitchens since he was 14, he attended the Culinary Institute of America, and he’s worked at some big-name restaurants (Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro in Napa and Jean-Georges in New York City, to name a few). All the while, he’s been a “psychopath” about pasta, he says. His pasta menu at Prairie Village’s beloved Verbena turned heads, getting him noticed by those in charge at the Crossroads Hotel.

“[Pasta] takes a lot of finesse,” Wells-Morgan says. “It’s time-consuming, but it’s also cathartic to stand there for seven to 12 hours making pasta all day. It’s rhythmic, it’s fun.”

Despite his intensity for the quintessential Italian fare, the chef is humble, self-deprecating and would sooner refer to himself as a janitor before calling himself a chef. 

“Some of the chefs at [the Culinary Institute] were the old-school types that yelled, screamed a lot and ran Q-tips up the side of your face to see if you were shaved enough,” Wells-Morgan says. “I’ve always run my kitchens more lackadaisical. I like great food. I just don’t need to yell at people to get it.”

Maybe Wells-Morgan was what the hotel needed all along—someone consistent but loose enough to experiment. Sort of like pasta-making.

Lazia is beginning to find its identity as a modern Italian restaurant that serves the classics while still taking some liberties and keeping it contemporary. For instance, by the time this article comes out, they’ll be serving the cracked pepper-adorned classic cacio e pepe but tossing it tableside with truffle butter. 

Percheron, the hotel’s rooftop patio with one of the best views in town, is also beginning to draw folks in not just with its drinks but also its impressive small-plate Mediterranean menu. And the pizza lounge XR, which has yet to make a name for itself, is now beginning to show up as confidently as its counterparts with comfortable yet experimental wood-fired pies.   

Aaron Wells-Morgan’s Perfect Day in KC

Coffee: If I’m on my bike, I love Blip down in the Bottoms. It’s really nice to bomb down there on my bike and sit with all the like-minded humans. I also love Café Corazón. That horchata latte is ridiculously great. Oh, and The Saigon from Café Cà Phê

Dining: My favorite restaurant in town is hands down Antler Room. Nick and Leslie are some of the most wonderful people in this town and this industry. Their programming is brilliant. The food that they make is incredibly intelligent, thoughtful and really, really exciting to me every time I go.

Bar n’ Burgers: Dodson’s in Waldo is a mainstay for me for melon balls and dirty whiskey. Of course, I’m grabbing Cosmo Burger. Their pickles are perfect, the special sauce is tangy and sharp, and obviously I’m getting tots. 

Westport: I love Harry’s Bar and Tables. I grew up on that patio, so on a nice day, I grab a whiskey and get a cigar from Fidel’s.

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