It’s my personal rule to wait until a restaurant has been up and running for at least three months before visiting. That grace period—industry standard among food critics, which I have not been until now—gives time to iron out the wrinkles that naturally occur when opening. While some people like to beat down the door in an effort to collect social clout from their first visit to a hyped new spot, I prefer to cool my heels and give a restaurant some time to settle in.
Opening a restaurant has always been tough, and it’s only gotten harder as of late. From chef knives to flaming stovetops, seafood vendors and lease agreements, there are so many details that can be potentially fatal—and not just figuratively. There’s the pressure of guests who have decided to spend their hard-earned money at your establishment and the responsibility for staff whose paychecks depend on your success. Any overlooked detail could appear online within seconds.
Wild Rose Bistro, a new dinner concept inside Waldo’s venerable Classic Cookie cafe, has had three months. Husband and wife duo Bryan and Hailey Sparks bought the breakfast and lunch spot in October 2021 after working at Jax Fish House, Rye and Figlio. In September 2022, they started opening for dinner from Thursday through Sunday evenings, serving bone-in pork chops, a delicate scallop crudo and fried green tomatoes. The addition of dinner was inspired by larger cities on the coasts where real estate prices make it common to double-up operations under the same roof.
Wild Rose is also a creative outlet for Bryan, who wanted to serve a chef-driven menu created by a direct relationship with local farms and producers.
In this Instagram-driven era of opening hype, people expect a restaurant to start quickly and flawlessly. That’s not always possible, of course, and my mixed experiences at Wild Rose made me even more aware of how small oversights can plague an overall solid spot. Wild Rose is a great casual dining experience filled with unexpected quirks. If the kitchen can tighten up the details, it’ll be a go-to neighborhood spot for a weekday night out.
Many of the dishes I had on two visits showed a promising vision. Other dishes, however, suffered in the details, including awkward knife cuts, under-seasoned pasta and out-of-season tomatoes.
Adapting to changing seasons will, no doubt, result in the occasional less-than-perfect meal. But on my two visits, I witnessed shortcomings that could likely be avoided with more communication and some basic vetting.
Wild Rose’s menu, which changes weekly, is built around rustic dishes made more refined by worldly flavors. Grilled watermelon and halloumi cheese smothered with a tomato confit and sunflower seed gremolata may be available one week and switched out for a fresh tortelloni the next.
The interior is a reflection of the transitory nature of the space. Wooden floors, tabletops and benches are contrasted with pops of greenery. Hailey’s mom takes care of the green foliage shelved near the ceiling and prepares the fresh-cut flowers for the table centerpieces. Photographers Anna Petrow and Alyssa Broadus’ snapshots of Kansas City are hung in grid-like form on the main wall. It’s relaxed and uncomplicated. The thirty-seat dining room makes for an inescapably intimate dining experience. From Chuck Berry to Beyoncé, the music fit the collective energy of the space both times I visited. Brian says patrons can request a song if they are so inclined. (On my visits, no one did.)
One of the most unique and surprisingly enjoyable aspects of the bistro is how the owners are navigating the arduous process of obtaining a liquor license. With no alcohol on offer yet, the bistro has a BYOB policy. Underdog wine shop in Brookside offers a fifteen percent discount to anyone who shows a Wild Rose reservations at checkout. Guests were using this freedom well on my visits—Chardonnay at one table and a six-pack of Vienna style lager from KC Bier Co. at the next. “It allows a lot of creativity and collaboration from our guests,” Bryan says. “People are bringing stuff into my restaurant that, even if I did have a liquor license, I wouldn’t be able to afford.”
Start your meal with the bread and butter, consisting of a house-made sourdough roll and three compound butters—salted, miso and strawberry. The miso butter is an umami-filled marvel with its inclusion of toasted black sesame seeds and bits of nori. The sweetness of the strawberry butter paired with the toasty, tangy sourdough bread made for a dynamite combination.
Scallops make frequent appearances on the Wild Rose menu. I had mixed feelings about the two scallop dishes I tried. The scallop crudo was garnished with pomegranate seeds and orange slices and finished with a drizzle of lemon-ginger oil. I was advised by the server to take all-inclusive bites, which resulted in a captivating rollercoaster ride of textures and piquancy. The juicy citrus elements blended harmoniously with the crunchy pomegranate seeds and sweet, raw scallops—a powerful and satisfying tapa-sized dish.
The brown butter bay scallops with ricotta dumplings did not leave me with the same satisfaction. The scallops were seared to golden brown perfection on both sides, but the dumplings were bland. The tomatoes were pale, out of season and unappetizing. Even the mustard seeds went nearly unnoticed with their lack of flavor. The dish needed more oomph—something extra to bring it all together.
Two pork dishes were more predictably pleasant. The Duroc bone-in pork chop from Farrar Family Farms was a hefty dish. The chop sat atop a sweet potato Johnny cake splashed with a cider jus and was accompanied with braised greens and apple slaw. The two-day brine made for a juicy loin cut in spite of its large size. The pork belly entree, which sat on a bed of sauteed sweet potatoes and kale, delivered a similar homey satisfaction.
As a Kansas City native, the lack of access to fresh fish made me adverse to seafood in my childhood years. Thankfully, my palette has expanded with food and life experience, but I’ve never loved salmon. The Spanish Ora King salmon at the Wild Rose Bistro is changing that. The rich fish was served over a robust blend of roasted cauliflower and red pepper romesco, teasing subtle hints of garlic and spice. The skin of the salmon was crispy despite its garnish of salsa verde, which packed a zesty punch. The pull-apart salmon was elevated by the influence of the Spanish romesco for a refined and original take on a common fish.
My meals had ups and downs: The house-made fettuccine and lamb ragu needed more salt. It was a shame to see the beautiful tuna in the tartare fall victim to the pungency of too much oyster sauce (Bryan says the oyster sauce has been scaled back). The bread pudding dessert was delightfully indulgent but cold in the middle. On the other hand, the dessert of buttery lemon shortbread with basil strawberries and whipped cream was kind of perfect in its simplicity.
Generally speaking, bistro food is not the type of fare people debate fiercely. In many casual dining environments, you slurp tomato soup while your friend talks about the woes of their insurance job or updates you on the chaos at their daycare. Wild Rose is making an effort to elevate the genre. So far, results are mixed.
The talent and mission of the chef and kitchen staff are evident, and they’re using high-quality ingredients. But when enough small details are left unchecked, a rosebush with roots in excellent soil can be overtaken by weeds.