Kansas City’s canvas is full of broad-brush strokes of all manners of inspiration—world-class art, cuisine, architecture, fashion and robust entrepreneurism. They all contribute to the vibrancy of our Heartland gem.
By KIMBERLY WINTER STERN
A personal inspiration is food — it’s my launching pad to savor so many other things Kansas City offers.
For example, there are times I need to simply sit in Rozzelle Court Restaurant at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and relish the art of the from-scratch Key lime pie paired with a cup of The Roasterie’s Nelson Blend.
That combination alone will fortify my wanderings through the ancient wonders of Egypt.
This summer treat yourself and enrich your appreciation of art tastefully. Plan a field trip to Rozzelle Court in the Nelson-Atkins, Café Sebastienne in the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and Café Tempo in the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art.
It’s an inspirational study of art on the walls meets art on the plates.
Rozzelle Court Restaurant
Don’t tell Julián Zugazagoiti, director and chief executive officer of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, but sometimes I scurry right past the jaw-dropping treasures assembled in the collections and head straight for Rozzelle Court Restaurant.
It’s not because the exquisite folding paper screens in the Japanese collection or the haunting masks in the African collection have lost their luster and intrigue. Quite the opposite — I can’t get enough of the Nelson-Atkins’ hallowed rooms.
I just prefer to browse art on a full stomach. There’s no place for grumblings during an art appreciation excursion in one of the country’s finest museums unless it’s the fellow standing beside you — finger on chin, elbow resting in hand, head cocked to one side — loudly announcing his critique.
And nowhere in town is there a better place to enjoy inspired eats in an artistically spiritual setting like Rozzelle Court’s light-drenched quietude. The fountain that gently burbles in the center of the magnificently weathered space is the oldest in Kansas City — it dates back to 200 A.D. and is thought to have been one of the imperial baths of Rome.
Reminiscent of a 15th-Century Italian courtyard, Rozzelle Court is the architectural and cuisine companion to the art beyond its doors.
Executive Chef Jonathan Pye and his team execute food suited to the Nelson’s elegance. There’s the Nelson Chicken Salad — a menu mainstay and favorite that Chef Pye says will likely never be tweaked. A generous scoop of the salad that features black olives, celery water chestnuts becomes an entree on a bed of mixed greens with fresh fruit and raspberry-balsamic vinaigrette. It could be construed as a ladies-that-lunch type of dish, but served and eaten in Rozzelle Court, the Nelson Chicken Salad is a gender-bending dazzler.
Chef Pye’s lovely daily specials incorporate various proteins — salmon served with a smoky raspberry-chipotle glaze or a mushroom-and-spinach stuffed chicken roulade with a velvety Champagne creme. House-made soups are rich and flavorful; sandwiches are creative and hearty. Sunday brunch is served along with dinner on Friday nights — I know people who play hooky and leave work early to sit in Rozzelle Court with a glass of wine, toast the weekend and be pampered with table-side service.
Rozzelle Court’s menu frequently pays homage to the provenance of the museum’s current exhibits. This summer’s visitors to the Nelson-Atkins much-heralded “Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Masterpieces of Modern Mexico” can sample authentic foods the two artists favored from June 1 – August 18. Chef Pye will recreate dishes from a cookbook with recipes Kahlo used to prepare Rivera’s top dishes.
Right up the street and around the corner from the Nelson-Atkins are the sleek and sexy environs of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. The signature building near the Country Club Plaza features permanent collections, special exhibitions, Museum Shop and Café Sabastienne.
Like any good art museum restaurant, Café Sebastienne is a part of the experience — not an afterthought. The aesthetics are stunning and seductive. Offering great food and drink, the restaurant attracts a diverse clientele including tourists, power lunchers, nonprofit board members, art students and suburban families.
When dining at Café Sebastienne, I’m faced with two dilemmas: in which room to sit (cozy dining room where the walls are plastered floor-to-ceiling with 110 oil paintings by the late Frederick James Brown or the airier atrium enclosed by a glass ceiling) and what to order. The talented, funky and spirited executive chef, Jennifer Maloney, always has something inspiring up her culinary sleeve.
Not one to shy away from bold flavor and technique, Chef Maloney commands Café Sebastienne with visually appealing food. This spring and summer’s Laughing Bird Shrimp Louis Salad and a divine lamb burger on grilled naan are two fine examples of Maloney’s artistic cuisine interpretation.
The restaurant has almost a cult following in KC — many can’t wait for the precise day Maloney puts one of her chilled soups on the menu. One recent spring afternoon I slurped down a bowl of carrot with a hint of orange — and noticed the diners around me doing the same thing.
General manager Keith Goldman told me Café Sebasitenne’s Facebook posting earlier in the day alerted the soup aficionados.
Dessert is an ethereal experience at Café Sebastienne — on my last visit two women appeared to be praying over a panna cotta. As I passed their table on my way out, I observed they were just staring, spoons quivering and poised above the trembling Italian cooked cream.
Like Rozzelle Court, Café Sebastienne serves Sunday brunch and weekday and weekend lunch (except for Monday). Dinner is served on Friday and Saturday nights.
On the other side of the state line, in Overland Park, is one of the country’s most respected community colleges, Johnson County Community College. And located on the campus is the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, an elegant, minimalist building which houses a striking permanent collection and temporary exhibits of works gifted by Marti and Toni Oppenheimer and Jerry, Margaret and Lewis Nerman.
Offering sustenance to museum visitors and college staff and students is the marvelous, upscale Café Tempo.
Executive sous chef Marcel Des Marteau and team serve breakfast (a don’t-miss Orange Maple French Toast Casserole) and lunch (try the popular Sunflower Salad) and dessert and coffee.
Since the Nerman is in my neighborhood, I drop in a lot. The stark, white space and its well-curated collection and exhibits help clear my mind. The Museum Store always has a trinket or piece of pottery that catch my eye.
But it’s Café Tempo’s four-layer coconut creme cake with a seven-minute frosting that calms my raging sweet tooth. It’s a monster slice that tempts you from the pastry case — I always convince myself that I’ll eat half while sitting in the cafe, gazing out at the pristine Nerman lobby, people watching and daydreaming — and take the remaining half home.
Who am I kidding? By the time the last forkful of the tender cake has been lifted to my lips, I tell myself it’s okay.
True art is meant to be drunk in, admired in its entirety. My palate is thirsty, indeed.
Kimberly Winter Stern—also known as Kim Dishes—is an award-winning freelance writer and national blogger from Overland Park and co-host with Chef Jasper Mirabile on LIVE! From Jasper's Kitchen each Saturday on KCMO 710/103.7FM. She is inspired by the passion, creativity and innovation of chefs, restaurateurs and food artisans who make Kansas City a vibrant center of locavore cuisine.