At Rye, 1,200 pounds of fried chicken a week says something

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03/19/2014 2:27 PM

05/16/2014 9:52 AM

Back when Colby and Megan Garrelts were still pitching Rye

, their bustling Mission Farms outpost, investors kept asking: “Is this a nice restaurant or a fried chicken joint?”

And perhaps it was a fair question when you consider that the fried chicken quickly became one of the most talked-about dishes at Rye. Every week since the restaurant opened in late December, 1,200 pounds of chicken have undergone a 48-hour brining process before being dipped in a slurry, dredged in seasoned flour and fried to create a delectably crispy coating.

The end result is so golden and homespun that it landed on the August/September cover of

Saveur

magazine.

While such praise is bound to draw comparisons with that other iconic chicken joint, Stroud’s, that’s where the similarities end. Well, except for the equally long weekend waits for a table. (And it’s quite possible the lines have grown longer since May, when Colby won the coveted

James Beard award for best chef of the Midwest

.)

Since opening

Bluestem

in Westport in 2004, the Garreltses have won national acclaim for their brand of New American cuisine. A meal at the 35-seat Bluestem typically starts out with a sprightly amuse-bouche followed by a multicourse, fixed-price menu of highly composed delicacies that could hold their own with those of chefs from across the country.

Rye is a radical departure in both style and volume, but even Grandma’s recipes get a chef-inspired interpretation.

Diners will have no trouble recognizing panko-encrusted fried green tomatoes sitting atop a pool of cool ranch dressing and frizzled with a leafy green salad; or hot wings with crumbles of artisan blue cheese doused with house-made hot sauce and accompanied by carrot and celery curls; or the very finely chopped, ruby red steak tartare topped with a raw egg and accompanied by a nest of arugula and hearty slices of grilled farmhouse bread.

Everyone can relate to the unctuous mac and cheese topped with bits of bacon. Indeed, crocks of the stuff dotted nearly every table in the dining room, even though sides are sold a la carte for $7.

My teenage daughter, whom we good-naturedly tease for her intense love of comfort food, indulged mightily one night, finishing the mac and cheese and most of the sour cream mashed potatoes. Anyone would be happy if the latter were served rustic, but instead the potatoes were put through a ricer and a tamis, then pushed through a second time with a metal scraper for a silky, lump-free puree.

Despite the menu’s appeal to a more casual, mainstream consumer, dinner at Rye can still add up to a pricey evening out if you choose to eat off the “reserve” menu. That one features several dry-aged steaks from Foster Family Farms in Imperial Valley, Calif., ranging from $41 to $46. But most diners are sure to find Rye a good value, since they also can order three pieces of chicken for $12.

The menu is anchored by fried chicken made from free-range Amish birds from Ohio, then quickly moves on to barbecue, steaks, pork and freshwater fish, such as walleye pike from the Great Lakes, catfish and Missouri trout. Many of the kitchen’s ingredients are sourced from nearby farms, including Flatrock Fields, the Garreltses’ family farm in Parker, Kan. And the staff has planted several raised garden beds just outside the restaurant’s door.

An ever-changing list of soups, salads and sides typically show off those seasonal ingredients. On one visit, I was impressed by the brilliant green pea soup, poured out of a teapot at tableside. The soup turned out to be a less fussy version of the Pea Soup, Preserved Lemon and Creme Fraiche featured in

“Bluestem: the Cookbook”

and so elegantly garnished with edible flowers and micro pea greens.

The Rye version is a sweet, pure and uncomplicated snippet of spring swirled with sour cream, sparked by a dash of lemon juice and finished with a grinding of pink peppercorns. Spring peas also show up next to two silver-skinned fillets of trout moistened with almond butter and topped with a tangle of slightly bitter frisee and a sprinkling of chives.

All three times I dined at Rye, the place was packed, the mood festive. When seated in a booth, I had to keep myself from joining in my neighbors’ conversation — but I couldn’t help eyeing their meals.

The gentlemen next to us went with reserve steaks and a bottle of wine; the women nearest me with rose sangria and brisket. The young couple that followed them went for the chicken fried pork steak and the Duroc pork rib chops with a side of mac and cheese and cottage fries.

The space had been the home of two previous restaurants. The Garreltses gutted it and divided it neatly into a bar, a dining room with tables and booths, a special event dining space and doors leading to a spacious 80-seat patio. The open kitchen is large enough to handle a smoker, and barbecue is prepared daily and served until it is sold out.

My husband tried the ribs, which were satisfying enough, but what I really wanted to share from his plate was the creamy white-bean succotash.

Rye’s decor is urban farmhouse chic with lots of rustic wood. Menus are presented on clipboards, which is actually a bit clunky. Pottery dishes, wooden bowls and gingham napkins are clever touches, as are the half-pint jars used to present some sides and garnishes. Servers were knowledgeable and professional, in fact, some of the best I’ve had in Kansas City.

There were a few bumps: the fat on the Shepard’s Pride free-range, bone-in lamb rack from the reserve list was unappealing, and my teenage son did not enjoy the “taste of grill marks” on his Duroc pork rib chop. When the woman sitting next to us was displeased with the temperature of her pork rib chop, the kitchen was quick to amend its initial efforts.

“All our desserts are made in-house,” the server tempted our table, even as we asked him to box up half of our generous meal portions.

And, of course, why would you not make room for pastry chef Megan’s pie crusts made with — drumroll please — lard? The tangy lemon meringue and strawberry rhubarb pie do not disappoint. So deal with it, folks. It’s probably better for you than foie gras.

Rye

10551 Mission Road, Leawood

913-642-5800

RyeKC.com and Facebook

.

Star ratings

Food

: ★★★½ Down-to-earth Midwestern fare executed by an award-winning chef who learned his trade in the theater of fine dining.

Service

: ★★★½ Knowledgeable and efficient wait staff makes the dining experience a pleasant one.

Atmosphere

: ★★★ Comfortable urban farmhouse chic.

Hours

: Lunch (Monday through Friday), 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; happy hour (Monday through Friday), 4-6 p.m.; brunch (Saturday and Sunday), 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner (seven days a week) 5-11 p.m.

Entree average (including nightly specials)

: $$$

Vegetarian options

: Soups, salads and seasonal sides offer some options. A request to the kitchen for something made from seasonal produce covers all the bases.

Handicapped accessible

: Yes

Noise level

: Concrete floors and high ceilings can make it challenging to hear conversation with tablemates when the restaurant is running full tilt.

Reservations

: Highly recommended. Available online or by calling the restaurant. The patio is first-come, first-serve.

Star code

: ★ Fair, ★★ Good, ★★★ Excellent, ★★★★ Extraordinary

Price code

: $ Average entree under $10; $$ under $20; $$$ under $30; $$$$ over $30.

Code of ethics

: Starred reviews are written after a minimum of two visits to a restaurant. When required, reservations are made in a name other than the reviewer’s. The Star pays for review meals.

What to drink

Want a good stiff drink? About half of the artisan cocktails on the menu are whiskey-based. My favorite was the Barrel-Aged Boulevardier made from Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, aperol, Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth and Angostura orange bitters. The orange garnish for the cocktail was flamed tableside to release its volatile oils. The robust cocktail made the Rye Rose Sangria seem pretty weak by comparison.

If your tastes fall to the lighter side, try the Spring Shrub, a vinegar-tinged mixture of strawberry, pineapple, Tres Agave Blanco Tequila and Stiegl Grapefruit Radler.

Domestic draft beers include such mass market pours as Coors, Miller and Bud. There are also a number of local and regional beers on draft and in bottles, including Boulevard, Mother’s, Schlafly, Tallgrass, Free State and Little Apple. Wines by the glass include 6- and 8-ounce pours.

Recommended

↑ Fried green tomatoes Burger’s country ham |

$10

Whipped goat cheese |

$6

Fried chicken |

three piece $12, half chicken $18, whole chicken $34

Grilled Duroc pork rib chops |

$20

Slow-roasted Missouri trout |

$22

Reserve Vintage choice dry-aged rib-eye | $44

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