Published January/February 2014

Kansas City's Cuisine Scene

Take your taste buds on a culinary tour, from award-winning and innovative concepts to classic barbecue culture

BYRich Warren
Nearly two years ago, when Saveur — a magazine celebrating the world’s top cuisines — cited Kansas City, Mo., as America’s next great culinary destination, it raised more than a few eyebrows.
Kansas City? The capital of barbecue, yes, but a mecca for foodies of all types? Yes indeed. From James Beard Award winners at the helm of its trendiest restaurants to the New York Times regularly taking note of its culinary hot spots, there is no doubt: Kansas City is very up-to-date, gastronomically speaking. And the city’s cuisine scene probably hasn’t even reached its full potential yet (also read Kansas City: A Culinary Crossroads).
Eating from the Heart
Chef Colby Garrelts, the 2013 James Beard winner as Best Chef – Midwest, now operates two area restaurants. The original, Bluestem, in the historic Westport area, is where he demonstrates the culinary chops he learned at previous jobs in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas prior to moving back home. Bluestem’s “Progressive American” cuisine comes in three-, five-, or 10-course tasting menus, each one as gorgeously presented as gems on a jewelry counter.
But it’s Garrelts’ newer restaurant, Rye, open since late 2012 in suburban Leawood, Kan., that’s bringing even greater accolades, including a nomination as one of the best new restaurants in the U.S. by Bon Appetit. Here, Garrelts prepares the Midwestern dishes he grew up eating literally just down the road.
Rye’s fried chicken is famed so far and wide that the restaurant serves 1,200 pounds of it a week. The side dishes — like fried green tomatoes or heirloom broccoli — may well have been harvested that very day on Garrelts’ family farm or from other local purveyors. Customers would agree that Rye’s menu reads like a love letter from the heartland, and Garrelts describes a meal here as “eating from the heart.”
Trendy Tastes
Michael Smith, another king of Kansas City cuisine, was James Beard’s Best Chef – Midwest in 1999. He honed his craft in venues as diverse as Chicago and southern France, where he learned to make artisanal products with fresh, local ingredients.
Since then, he has worked at a couple other Kansas City restaurants before settling into his current digs in the über-trendy Crossroads Art District with two side-by-side establishments: the eponymous Michael Smith, which features fine dining with French, Italian, and Spanish flair; and his Mediterranean-style tapas restaurant, Extra Virgin, which offers imaginative small plates aimed at adventurous palates. Duck tongue tacos, anyone? Or how about crispy pig ear salad? Even the straightforward Spanish meatballs or poblano mac and cheese are flavor explosions.
Rye celebrates Midwestern favorites
Rye celebrates Midwestern favorites
Michael Smith serves American classics
Michael Smith serves American classics
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