Kansas City’s food scene is in a weird place right now, but local business owners are handling it with grace and artistry. Here are the latest happenings in the KC’s culinary sphere.
Brisket and Antlers
How’s this for a silver lining: Two of our absolute favorites in Kansas City have been collaborating on Fridays and Saturdays. Harp Barbecue, which we named the best ’cue in town back in October, and Antler Room, which we named Kansas City’s best restaurant overall in December, have teamed up. On Fridays, they’re making mish-mash menus with items like pastrami reubens and brisket banh mi featuring Harp’s smoked meats and Antler Room chef Nick Goellner’s deft hand with balancing acids, fats and spices. On Saturdays, pitmaster Tyler Harp sells slabs of his world-class ribs while Antler Room does its carryout menu. Collaborations and restaurants making comfort food have been the trend nationally, and KC was lucky to get two of its best working in concert.
Little Asia, Big Response
Likewise, a curbside pickup collaboration from prominent local Asian restaurants has KC extremely excited. Little Asia is a “virtual Asian district” that takes the form of a pop-up to-go meetup. The first one featured chefs like Waldo Thai’s Pam Liberda and Korean eats from Sura Eats chef Keeyoung Kim, and the food sold out instantly. In the next round, volunteer Danielle Lehman says they will look to implement preordering. “We were really overwhelmed with the amount of support we received at the first pop-up and were shocked when we sold out in just 15 minutes,” she says. “For the next pop-up, we’re working on a number of ways to streamline operations.”
Not all restaurants that have closed for the coronavirus pandemic plan to return when stay-at-home orders are lifted. Cajun eatery Beignet in City Market announced that they were shutting their doors after seven years of service, according to reporting by The Pitch. Just off the Plaza, Nick and Jake’s closed their Main Street location permanently, saying that “recovery over the next six months will be slow” and that this location would remain shuttered to help the rest of the chain “survive and stay healthy.” In Mission, Lucky Brewgrille will also permanently close after twenty years. Owner Greg Fuciu said he’s retiring from the restaurant business.
Good and Good For You
As KC’s economy has been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic, a number of restaurants that normally serve customers have pivoted to serve people struggling to make ends meet. On the same day it closed for business, The Rieger transformed into the Crossroads Community Kitchen, which serves meals to neighbors, guests and staff on a pay-as-you-can basis. Meanwhile, 30,000-plus meals have been delivered around the city by Operation BBQ Relief and Plowboys. The local relief organization is normally dispatched to natural disaster areas to serve up smoked meats after hurricanes and the like, but during the Operation Restaurant Relief pilot program, they’ve instead focused locally on essential workers, nonprofits and other organizations in need of a meal.
The coronavirus pandemic has been uncharted waters for local pizza shops. Waldo Pizza has converted to a seamless carryout business operated by a small army of staffers wearing orange safety vests and wielding portable card readers. “They really did a good job—I was honestly impressed,” says staffer Kat Pearson. “It is like we’ve been doing it forever.” KC-based Sarpino’s has been winning fans with free delivery and by supporting local farmers. The pandemic has also brought about the return of standard-bearing local neapolitan pie makers, Cult of Pi. Pizzaiolo Brent Gunnels is firing up the brick oven in his backyard for his pop-up pizza shop (technically, it’s a church) but now instead of a patio party, you get your pay-what-you-can pies to go. “Weird times call for weird measures,” the church bulletin reads. “Pi is always here to lift your spirits.” Likewise, The Savoy at 21c sous chef Nick Vella is doing a no-contact pizza pickup pop-up at Observation Park on the Westside (instagram.com/observationpizza). Pies are ten dollars and include oddball creations like the European Elvis (Nutella, bacon, Reese’s Pieces).
Lift Me Up
With laws loosened during the pandemic, cocktail kits have been legalized and are available from some of the city’s finest bars and distilleries. The latest to hit the market comes from Lifted Spirits, which is launching a new guest bartender series. Every week, the East Crossroads distillery is offering a new take-home cocktail kit created by a local bartender. The first week featured Eric Schmidt of Dodson’s Bar & Commons in Waldo, with more notable bartenders from around the city to follow.
With the service industry hammered by layoffs and closures, various charity efforts are underway to raise funds. One of the more creative is a custom T-shirt by local graphic artist Frank Norton. The retro-style shirt reads “Kansas City Runs on Hospitality” and retails for $25. The shirts demonstrate solidarity with out-of-work service industry staffers, and all of the net proceeds are donated to locally-owned restaurants to distribute to their employees.