Since Kelly’s Westport Inn opened in one of Kansas City’s oldest buildings at the intersection of Westport Road and Pennsylvania Avenue in 1947, the district has seen many iterations of its identity—from family-friendly shopping destination (Pryde’s has operated since 1968) to hip restaurant harbor (RIP Prospect of Westport) to late-night party precinct (Johnny Kaw’s and the other Johnny Kaw’s). Lately, the neighborhood seems to have more appeal to out-of-town developers than locals: Denver-based Atomic Provisions took over the former City Ice House building in the summer of 2020. This spring, Nashville-based Tin Roof, an indoor-outdoor music venue, will open where Sailor Jack’s used to be. And of course, there is the new Taco Bell Cantina at the bottom of the Westley on Broadway apartments.
There is no reason to mourn: These new businesses should help reenergize an area that is still feeling the effects of the ongoing pandemic. You’re going to feel a lot less depressed walking past a brightly lit building than you will catching your reflection in its darkened windows. And there are still locals who are willing to put some skin in the game. This month, we check in with three new, locally owned Westport operations.
Guy’s Pizza and Deli
If your heart broke when Joe’s Pizza shuttered in December after twenty-four years of feeding Westport’s drunken slobs, there’s good news for you: You can still get a slice of Joe’s original pepperoni (drizzled with honey, of course) from the new tenant, Guy’s Pizza and Deli, which opened in the same location in January. Owner Andy Miller obtained Joe’s original pizza recipe but opted to upgrade all ingredients, changing the finished product for the better. He also retained the entire Joe’s staff.
But there is one very important addition to the space: sandwiches. Guy’s offers several classics. You will find a glorious Italian sub loaded with no fewer than five cold cuts—prosciutto, pepperoni, mortadella, finocchio, salame—plus provolone, giardiniera peppers and all the other vegetables you’d find in an Italian kitchen. There’s a Reuben, of course, and a PLT, which is basically a BLT but with thick-cut pancetta instead of bacon, which is pretty genius. There are the basics to appeal to the masses, including a hot ham, beef and cheese or veggie panini.
Sandwiches do not automatically come with a bag of Guy’s chips. And if you are one of those wise, cultured few who appreciates the absolute glory of a crunchy potato chip on a sandwich, well, do yourself the ultimate favor and go for the PB&J Crunch. Imagine: peanut butter and grape jelly slathered on wheat, layered with perfectly crisp and liberally seasoned barbecue chips. This combination is crushed together in a panini press, delivered to you in a basket with a pickle spear and, of course, a bag of Guy’s chips. You are drinking something cheap—a yard beer you would never order anywhere else, but somehow that PBR is as refreshing as you need it to be when you bite into the so-bad-it’s-good, sweet-savory unholy matrimony of warm peanut butter, gooey jelly and Worcestershire-imbued fried potato shavings. It does not look all that appetizing—just a sort of smushed, skinny earth-toned triangle with brown panini press lines—and it shouldn’t make sense. But the flavors come together in your mouth, and it’s not PB&J with BBQ chips: It’s bite-sized nostalgia, some long-lost childhood afternoon that you taste and remember and feel, like the sensation of running through a sprinkler or chasing down the ice cream truck. And you get to tear into it while you throw back an adult beverage, which is the kind of full-circle experience everyone needs once a lifetime (or once a week, depending on how often you find yourself at Kelly’s).
Miller keeps Guy’s as local as possible. Meats are sourced locally, bread is from Farm to Market. You can order slices and sandwiches from the walk-up window on Pennsylvania Avenue, or you can enjoy them from a stool at Kelly’s.
Westport Fish & Chips
If you were going to illustrate joy, it might look like a funnel cake: a chaotic scribble, some powdered sugar pointillism, maybe a squiggly flourish to suggest a drizzle of hot caramel or berry sauce if you were at one of those fancy state fairs that had a line around the cart. Sure, it’s a chaotic mass of deep-fried dough that retains no life or flavor five minutes past its birthdate, but if it lasts longer than five minutes, you’re eating that funnel cake wrong, loser.
The nice thing about Westport Fish & Chips is that you get all the benefits of carnival favorites without actually having to go to a carnival. There is that joyous funnel cake, and you can enjoy it at this eatery’s four-seat counter when it’s hot from the fryer. Of course, most people go to Westport Fish & Chips for the fish, and it’s very good here. You can get cod, catfish or shrimp, beer-battered and deep-fried and served with tangy tartar sauce. Order it spicy—with chili powder and Old Bay mixed into the batter—for a satisfying kick. Fries are bulk-ordered and frozen, but they’re crispy and salted, and they’re not meant to be the star of the show, anyway.
Westport Fish & Chips opened in July, and it shares a kitchen with Chick-in Waffle, located next door. Both fast-casual eateries are owned by Farid Azzeh, who has also owned and run Westport mainstay Jerusalem Cafe since 1990. Farid’s son Anas Azzeh manages both Chick-in Waffle and Westport Fish & Chips. He’s added a handful of other state fair staples to the menu—mozzarella sticks, honey-battered corn dogs, fried Oreos—that should help sponge up any of the poor decisions you made at one of the bars down the street.
Some things sound like they have no chance of working—like a warm peanut butter-jelly-barbecue chip panini—and end in harmony.
Other things sound good in theory but fall apart in practice, like me with bangs—or the items I ate at two visits to the Peacock two months apart.
The new restaurant from Jeffrey Schmitz and Gene Switzer, owners of Bistro 303 next door, opened in the former Ragazza space in December. The layout has not changed since its days as an Italian taverna. There are still just forty-eight seats, including the slender bar, behind which hangs a television permanently displaying a bright male peacock in all his glory.
Befitting the peacock theme, this is a place that wants to show off its plumage in aggressive and sometimes bizarre ways. Chef Brian Mehl (formerly of Plate in Brookside) has plucked elements from global cuisines and smashed them together with a strange confidence. There are some perplexing options, such as hummus whipped together with beet puree and goat cheese and garnished, inexplicably, with paper-thin taro chips and crunchy brittle candy pieces. The tom kha gai—coconut broth soup from Thailand—contains gluey shiso noodles and smoked duck. On the happy hour menu, perfectly crispy calamari is served not with aioli for dipping but atop a bitter brown mole. The happy hour salmon was particularly baffling: Cooked, shredded and chilled salmon is mixed with mayo and sprinkled with olive tapenade and fried potatoes. Why?
Peacock’s vegetable dishes rise above the fray. Fried Brussels tossed in a beet-molasses syrup are quite tasty, and the chilled happy hour broccolini is uncomplicated and flavorful. And the bar is fully stocked with beer, wine and cocktails.