Restaurants

Summer dining: Savor the season’s fresh flavors

Updated: 2013-05-23T01:21:17Z

By KIMBERLY WINTER STERN

Special to The Star

Summertime has arrived in Kansas City — finally.

Although the calendar doesn’t officially reflect the solstice until June 21, that delicious season of “spummer,” when spring runs headlong into summer, has us firmly in its languid grip.

Restaurant patios around the city are abuzz with al fresco diners eager to sip and sup under the stars. Festivals are in full swing, serving up barbecue, cotton candy and street food. Farmers markets on both sides of the state line supply shoppers with local produce for bountiful dinners on the grill.

The season is fleeting, so plan to take advantage of KC’s tasty summer cuisine scene. And to whet your appetite, here are some KC summer food events to enjoy from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

• Farmers markets: No matter where you live in the metro, chances are you’re close to a farmers market where fragrant, fresh-picked basil beckons from a pile right next to juicy peaches that bump into ruby-red heirloom tomatoes. Half the fun of frequenting markets and their festival-like atmospheres is following the rhythm of the seasons and perhaps spying your favorite local chef rummaging through jewel-colored veggies for tonight’s chalkboard special.

For more than 30 years vendors have stocked the Overland Park Farmers Market with earthy goodness, while across town the historic City Market boasts more than 150 years of tempting shoppers in a huge European-like open-air venue. Brookside Farmers Market features farm-to-fork organic produce and chef demos.

Downtown Lee’s Summit Farmers Market was named the No. 1 market in Missouri for the second consecutive year in the America’s Favorite Farmers Markets contest. Perhaps Kansas City’s funkiest farmers market is the Friday celebration of farm freshness at Bad Seed in the Crossroads Arts District. With locations in Minor Park and Leawood, Kansas City Organics sells food grown through sustainable practices and eco-friendly products.

Independence Farmers Market, Liberty Farmers Market and Olathe Farmers Market round out our favorite stops. Many operate through November.

• Festa Italiana at Zona Rosa, May 31-June 2: Sponsored by the Kansas City chapter of UNICO, the largest Italian-American service organization in the country, Festa Italiana has been a summer tradition for more than 30 years.

Celebrate Kansas City’s robust Italian culture with an intoxicating blend of music, heritage, kids activities, drink and, of course, the centerpiece of any self-respecting festival: good eats. Sample cuisine from local Italian standbys like Garozzo’s, Scimeca’s, the Copa Room, Cascone’s and more.

This energizing Zona Rosa street party is a must-do on anyone’s summer-in-the-city checklist. Mangiare bene — or to those of us non-Italian-speaking Kansas Citians, “eat well.” For more information, visit ZonaRosa.com.

• Powell Gardens Barn Dinner Series, June 2, July 14, Aug. 25: Wrap your mind around this food trivia nugget: Powell Gardens’ magnificent 12-acre Heartland Harvest Garden is the nation’s largest edible landscape. With more than 2,000 plants, the garden is an educational journey tracing food from seed to plate.

Powell Gardens capitalizes on the verdant land with several culinary adventures starring some of Kansas City’s most prominent chefs. The Barn Dinner Series highlights innovative menus using ingredients grown in the Heartland Harvest Garden. The chefs: Bluestem’s chef de cuisine Joe West on June 2; Port Fonda’s chef/owner Patrick Ryan on July 14; and the River Club’s executive chef Linda Duerr on Aug. 25. For more information on tickets and other culinary events, visit PowellGardens.org.

• Winesong at Riverfest at De Soto Riverfest Park, June 8: The second annual Winesong at Riverfest recognizes Kansas’ burgeoning farm-wine industry. Enjoy the fruits of 15 Kansas wineries, browse the works of 25 artists and sample goodies from food stations serving up grilled sausages and vegetables, summery salads and Mexico City shrimp cocktails under three giant tents.

Tap your toes to the live music and purchase your favorite bottles of wine to take home. A fundraiser for the De Soto Rotary Club, Winesong at Riverfest is a 21-and-over event. Tickets are $20 and sell out fast. For more information, visit WinesongAtRiverfest.com.

• Fiesta Kansas City at Crown Center, June 21-23: Kick up your heels and enjoy the 14th annual Fiesta Kansas City at Crown Center. Presented by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City, this three-day funfest features live entertainment, a family fun zone, ice-cold beverages including margaritas and beer, and delicious food at the Crown Center Pavilion.

Kansas City area eateries such as Jerusalem Café, Marrakech Café, Teocali Mexican Restaurant and Palomino’s Mexican Restaurant will serve signature dishes, and Paleterias Tropicana will dispense fruit ice pops and other homemade frozen delights, among other vendors.

Celebrate summer Latino-style with this popular, family-friendly event that’ll leave your palate shaking the maracas. For more information, visit FiestaKansasCity.com.

• Cultivate Kansas City Urban Grown Farms & Gardens Tour, June 15-23: The winning equation of food + farms + community = healthy lives is Cultivate Kansas City’s calling card. And the locally grown nonprofit’s fifth biennial Urban Grown Farms and Gardens Tour is cause for locavore celebration.

More than 60 sites — including market and urban farms, community and home gardens, an aquaponics farm and an eclectic trophy garden — will be available for exploration this year. Mark Bittman, nationally acclaimed food writer and author, will deliver the event’s keynote address, “The Future of Food,” at 7 p.m. on June 20 at Unity Temple on the Plaza.

Mini-events throughout the week include ; a seminars on topics such as urban beekeeping and a luncheon with Bittman at Webster House on June 21. The week concludes with a wine dinner at Renee Kelly’s Harvest in Shawnee, where Kelly and Steven Meese of the PBS documentary “A Chef’s Journey” will prepare a seven-course meal using organic produce from Cultivate KC’s Gibbs Road Farm in Kansas City, Kan.

For more information on all events during the weeklong celebration, visit CultivateKC.org.

• Soul Food Festival at E.H. Young Park, July 13: One-half music extravaganza, one-half comfort food chow-down, the sixth annual Soul Food Festival is a hearty blend of national R&B acts and Mama’s mac and cheese, greens and ribs.

Presented by the nonprofit Kinfolks Foundation, KC’s festival will celebrate the marriage of good music with downhome cooking on the grounds of E.H. Young Park in Riverside. Tickets range from $35 to $75. Visit ILoveSoulFood.com for more information on this rib-tickling, tummy-tantalizing event.

• FoodNow: Eat With the Locals Dinner on the 12th Street Bridge, Aug. 17: This fourth annual celebration of local goodness sets a festive scene in an unusual site: among the elegant stone arches of the 12th Street Bridge in Kansas City. The magical evening incorporates small bites, wine, a silent auction and mingling with farmers, producers and chefs and raises funds to help provide awareness of healthier eating in Greater Kansas City.

An all-volunteer force designs this casual gala in the West Bottoms — the location is significant because the so-called roots of Midwest agriculture sprouted here. Pull up a chair to one of the crop tables spanning the bridge and enjoy a unique summertime cuisine celebration. Tickets are $125; for more information, visit FoodNow.org.

• Ethnic Enrichment Festival at Swope Park, Aug. 16-18: This 34-year-old festival near the Band Pavilion in historic Swope Park boasts tastes of the world with more than 40 food booths, lots of great music, crafts, dance and an overriding theme of cultural diversity.

Organized by the Ethnic Enrichment Commission of Kansas City, the affordable three-day event (admission for adults is $3, kids 12 and under are free) offers food for purchase. Indulge in dishes like Indian fry bread, Brazilian pork and black bean stew, Croatian strudels, Gambian Benachin rice, Japanese rice balls and much more. For information, visit EECKC.org.

• Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival, Aug. 21-25: Get in a cocktail state of mind at this annual shaken, not stirred, multi-day celebration showcasing Midwest spirits, food, history and culture. Also known as PoPFestKC, the festival features all manner of festivities, from fancy-schmancy soirees to spirits tastings, cocktail parties and educational seminars.

PoPFestKC highlights the convergence of modern cocktail culture with Kansas City’s rich history of jazz and drink. Thanks to King Cocktail Ryan Maybee, co-founder of PoPFestKC (along with Doug Frost) of Manifesto and Imbibe’s 2013 Bartender of the Year, the city that loves its barbecue, Kansas City Strips and award-winning cuisine now prefers to wash it down with well-executed cocktails, good wine and hometown brew.

The festival culminates with the high-energy Kansas City Bartending Competition. Study up, cocktail lovers: mix up one of Maybee’s blue-ribbon Pendergast cocktails, now considered a contemporary classic. For more information on tickets and the schedule of events, visit PoPFestKC.com.

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