Famed local chef Jonathan Justus has plans to make his hometown a restaurant destination

Gizmos Tavern is scheduled to open in Smithville mid-July, in the remodeled Humphrey’s Bar & Grill space.

“We’ll have burgers with a little bit of flair – using a proprietary blend from a local farm with sirloin, brisket, chuck and bacon,” says Dustin Racen, partner in Gizmos Tavern (111 N. Bridge St.) with Kyle Squires. “I think we are going to strike a good balance between a local bar hangout and also a destination.”

Racen had owned and operated the Tank Room in the Crossroads before moving to the Ozarks in 2017. He has since opened Lake House 13 (on mile marker 13 in Sunrise Beach), and The Cuddy Cabin, a bar and grill on the Bagnell Dam strip.

His longtime friend and college roommate, Squires, lives in Smithville and proposed taking over the Humphery’s space. They brought in Justus as a consultant for the menu, as well to help in hiring and training. 

Justus’ chef-inspired pub menu will include:  

  • Appetizers: Sesame seared tuna, shrimp cocktail, hand-breaded fried cheese curds with seasoned mozzarella, loaded spiced pork rings with tajin jalapenos, charred wings, crispy calamari with Thai slaw, and bacon-wrapped chicken livers.
  • Spreadables: Shallot and herbed cheese spread, and hummus.
  • Salads: Caesar; fruit and nut, and Niçoise.
  • Handhelds: Reubens (made with cultured sauerkraut and housemade Thousand Island dressing), fried chicken sandwiches (honey and soy glazed with Asian slaw, lemon lime soda pickles, and chipotle aioli on a brioche bun) and Tuna Conserva Sandwich (Niçoise salad on a bun). Burgers will have the proprietary blend, or wagyu from Paradise Locker Meats in Trimble, Missouri.  
  • Wraps: Chicken bánh mì with sriracha aioli, and salmon with tzatziki.
  • From the Grill: Rib-eye, pork chops, chicken skewers, grilled chicken breast with tarragon roasted mushroom cream broth, and half rack of lamb with cheese stuffed and herbed yellow corn grits.
  • From the Oven: Half roast chicken, macaroni and cheese with chorizo scented braised pork and garlic citrus shrimp, and braised beef short ribs.
  • From the Pan: Seared salmon, shrimp scampi, sea bass, mussels and fries, and cioppino.

“For people weirded out about seared tuna or bacon-wrapped chicken livers, if that is too fancy for their tastes, we do have the pretzel bites and cheese curds,” Justus says. 

Racen and Squires also signed a lease for an old movie theater next door. After remodeling, they hope to open a high-end bourbon bar and lounge with golf simulators in the fall.  

Chef Jonathan

Justus, who worked at top restaurants in such cities as San Francisco and Paris,  gained national fame after he opened Justus Drugstore on Smithville’s Main Street in 2007, with his wife, Camille Eklof. 

The restaurant, in his grandfather’s former drugstore, was on a mission to use local, seasonal, nose-to-tail, root-to-stem, foraged and fermented ingredients. It was featured in Food & Wine magazine several times, along with a story in The New York Times Magazine, and it snagged a No. 1 spot for the Kansas City area section of Zagat’s Survey of Best Restaurants.  

It temporarily closed in 2018 so the couple could concentrate on opening their Black Dirt restaurant south of the Country Club Plaza.

But they soon got an offer for the Smithville building that they couldn’t refuse. Black Dirt later closed.

Justus has since been doing pop-ups in his rural Clay County home, while resurrecting Justus Drugstore in Midtown.

Plans call for a 12-seat restaurant with a modern decor. The bar, with 30 seats, will be in a separate room with a vintage English library decor and serve as a staging area for restaurant customers. It will be open to the public later in the evening.  

COVID first slowed down Justus and his investor. They have done some infrastructure work but are now waiting for interest rates to come down. 

The bar’s antiques are stored in a barn, as well as Justus’ formerly clean basement –  antique couches, chairs and chandeliers, as well as a 170-year-old stone fireplace, and walkable glass floor that will be over the basement wine cellar.  

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