Brent Gunnels is quick to admit he’s “not really a breakfast person.”
Luckily, the breakfast menu he’s serving at Clay & Fire, a new Near Eastern restaurant in the Westside neighborhood, bears little resemblance to the confectionery creations from the American out-to-eat breakfast cannon.
Rather, the breakfast menu at Clay & Fire is built around egg dishes from Azerbaijan and Iran, with special attention to Kahvalti, or Turkish breakfast.
Turkish breakfast is a smorgasbord of fresh cheeses, olives, pistachios and dips of fruit and nuts, served with salads of tomatoes, peppers and cucumber, plus a bounty of bread. As much a ritual as a meal, Turkish breakfast can take an hour or more, the time unmetered thanks to lively conversation and infinite refills of Turkish tea in tiny glass cups.
At Clay & Fire, you’ll find Gunnels’ take on it—jam made from biquinho peppers and feta they find at various markets are highlights. The menu was developed through Skype conversations with the restaurant’s would-be proprietors, who are still stuck in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Before the pandemic, Gunnels was set to open Tree Haus Cafe, a “botanical saloon” serving non-alcoholic cocktails. (Gunnels says any future iteration of Tree Haus Cafe will be different than the version previously reported on.) Clay & Fire, which sits in a little house on top of the hill in the Westside, was set to be run by Turkish restaurateur Orcan Yigit, a friend of the space’s owner, Adam Jones.
If Gunnels’ name looks familiar, it might be because we’ve showered praise on his backyard pizza pop-up, Cult of Pi. Gunnels made Jones’ acquaintance through the Cult in late summer.
“I’ve approached him so many times about this space because I just love this space,” Gunnels says. “It’s one of my favorite restaurant spaces in this city.”
Six weeks later, Clay & Fire was open for breakfast, with plans to add dinner following the completion of a clay oven.
It was, Gunnels says, “an insane six weeks. I was either scrubbing something or reading a book about Turkey or Skyping with the partners in Turkey to understand the cuisine.”
The result has been a marriage of Southern and Near Eastern hospitality, with five novel-to-KC egg dishes and extra flavor thanks to red and green za’atar spice blends sourced from the nation’s capital of Middle Eastern culture, Dearborn, Michigan.
“There is nobody else in town that’s offering any sort of breakfast like this,” Gunnels says.