What’s new in Kansas city food & drink: May 2023

Photography provided by Fern Bar.
Sugarcane and agave spirits, oh yeah!

Bryan Arri has been working in KC’s craft cocktail scene for the past six years. He has been a fixture at such notable bars as Rieger’s Manifesto, Monarch Cocktail Bar and Lounge, Corvino Supper Club and others.

Three years ago he created the cocktail pop-up concept, Fern Bar and now he’s turning it into an official Crossroads drinking establishment (2045 Broadway, KCMO).

Fern Bar, expected to open in August, will primarily focus on sugarcane and agave spirit-based cocktails. The small space will be decked out in earth tones and natural materials. Full-grown agave, cacti and sugarcane plants will provide “physical examples of where [the] spirits come from,” he says.

Arri’s focus on agave and sugarcane spirits is intentional. “With agave spirits, not only do you get a wonderful, delicious spirit, you also get a sense of terroir, a sense of place and time of when a spirit was made. Also, you get these wonderful stories of the people who are producing it,” Arri says.

Agave spirits are becoming increasingly popular and are expected to surpass vodka sales in the ensuing years. 

Working with small, independent spirit producers, who “implement best practices,” is of utmost importance for the bartender turned owner. Due to rum being historically produced through slave labor, Arri is especially diligent with his rum producers, he says.

“Part of it is being comfortable talking about the fact that, yeah, we’re enjoying some of these wonderful products, but they come from second- and third-world-countries where people can get taken advantage of,” Arri says. “So that’s why we support the producers that we do.” 

Customers can expect stellar daiquiris and margaritas along with more creative drinks. For example, The Grass is Greener cocktail is a watermelon basil margarita with salted watermelon basil syrup, tequila and lime super juice which previously sold out at every one of his pop-ups. 

Despite the cocktail bar’s modern atmosphere, Arri says he wants his bar to be inclusive for everyone. “There are a lot of cocktail programs across the U.S. and in Kansas City that are run like a boys club,” Arri says. “We’re trying to make Fern Bar a casual cocktail bar. Come in in your street clothes and have a great drink.” 

During the week, Fern Bar will be a low-key environment. On the weekends, Arri plans to have a DJ and a more energetic atmosphere.

Two James Beard Award finalists right here in KC

Two Kansas City food establishments have jumped ahead of the pack in the 2023 James Beard Awards: Drastic Measures for Outstanding Bar and Yoli Tortilleria for Outstanding Bakery.

Kansas City started off well represented. Seven KC restaurants and bars were announced initially as semifinalists in January: Johnny Leach of The Town Company for Outstanding Chef, The Restaurant at 1900 for Outstanding Hospitality, and multiple chefs (Nick Goellner from Antler Room, Michael Corvino from Corvino Supper Club and Tasting Room, and Pam Liberda from Waldo Thai) for Best Chef Midwest, to name just a few. 

Can’t wait to see if either come out on top—both are more than deserving.

Shawnee’s Drastic Measures immediately became one of my favorite cocktail bars in 2021 when it came on the scene. Its dim lighting, snug atmosphere and strict menu of innovative, yet beautifully balanced cocktails made it an instant hit.

Owner Jay Sanders has managed to create a bar that tiptoes along the line of sophistication but doesn’t step over into pretentiousness (even with the light system at the entrance—green light means knock, red light means wait as the bar is full).

Sanders also pursues philanthropic endeavors, donating the proceeds from the sale of certain cocktails to various causes, such as Planned Parenthood or teachers’ organizations.

Although the national recognition is merited, it’s bittersweet for those of us who enjoyed Drastic Measures in its “hidden gem” days. However, I suppose we will survive.

From its start as a vendor in the Overland Park Farmer’s Market to its first retail location in the Westside, Yoli Tortilleria has been redefining the tortilla game in KC.

Husband and wife duo Marissa and Mark Gencarelli specialize in stone-ground, non-GMO corn tortillas and Sonoran-style flour tortillas. However, if you visit their Westside location, you’ll find a wide variety of delights such as homemade tamales, salsa macha negras and massive chorizo and potato breakfast burritos. The Gencarelli’s culinary creativity is endless. The pair constantly whip up new menu items and seek out collaborations with local chefs and businesses.

Fair warning, if you open a bag of Yoli’s tortillas, be sure to use them within a few days. The tortillas can be as minimal as three ingredients—corn, water and lime. The lack of preservatives means they deteriorate quickly, so enjoy them while they are oh-so fresh.

James Beard winners will be announced on June 25.

Swanky new bourbon bar

Overland Park’s Marriott hotel underwent a whopping $16 million facelift last year that included many of its public spaces. The renovations included such areas as the lobby, fitness center, concierge lounge and, most importantly for locals, a new restaurant and bar, Zephyr Kitchen and Bourbon Bar (10800 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park, KS).

Located on the hotel’s first level, Zephyr was an entirely new addition. The swanky restaurant and bar offers more than one hundred thirty-five bourbons, whiskeys, scotches and ryes. The restaurant’s in-house experts are tailoring flights of whiskeys and bourbons, but customers are also welcome to customize their own.

The kitchen is led by KC native chef Nathan Nichols, who has more than twenty years of experience in kitchens such as Eddie V’s Prime Seafood and Steakhouse and multiple restaurants at Bread & Butter Concepts, LLC.

Bourbon dinner pairings and craft cocktails are consistently featured in Zephyr’s menu. Keep an eye out for the rotating craft cocktail, Cocktail for a Cause, in which a portion of the proceeds go to the nonprofit Give Kids the World.

Authentic French custard ice cream in Brookside
Photography by French Custard.

Husband and wife duo Jessica and Alex Wood have been slinging scoops of their handmade small-batch French ice cream around the metro since 2021. You might have also spotted it on the menu at Billie’s Grocery served alongside a stack of waffles. Now, their ice cream pop-up concept, French Custard, has found a permanent home in Brookside’s Morningside Shops (5905 Main St., KCMO). 

French ice cream, or custard, is traditionally made with a base of milk, cream, eggs and sugar. The result is a super creamy texture that sets it apart from traditional American ice cream. However, unlike fast-food custards where the ice cream is pulled from a machine and isn’t frozen, the Woods pasteurize their own ice cream, allowing them to forgo stabilizers and serve it as frozen scoops.

“Our ice cream is higher in fat and there’s definitely plenty of sugar in there,” Jessica says. “But you get a much cleaner tasting product that is just very balanced.”

Along with creating their own ice cream base, French Custard also makes their own candy for mix-ins, such as honeycomb and toffee. Artisan ice cream flavors will include French vanilla (made traditionally with egg yolks), cereal milk, pistachio and lemon curd with homemade lemon bars, among others, for a total of sixteen rotating flavors. Pints will also be available. The waffle cones will, of course, be made from scratch.

The small ice cream shop will be counter service only, and while it does not have enough space for indoor seating, the Woods hope to have a few outdoor spots. The location is just feet away from the Trolley Trail.

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