We all have our favorite places that we love to eat, right? Often it’s because you might have a single dish there that you love ordering over and over.
Well, not for me. At least when it comes to The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange at 1924 Main St. One of the many reasons my wife and I love dining there is that the menu is not the same year after year. In fact, the menu changes four times a year, with the seasons.
When those changes happen, it’s become “an event.” Social media “food circles” start to explode.
“Have you tried the new menu yet? OMG did you see the new desserts? How about that steamed duck egg? Today is NEW MENU day!”
The buzz is everywhere.
And that’s the reason for today’s post. The new Winter menu recently debuted at The Rieger. It’s a really good one. So I just had to tell you about our experience of it the other night.
I want to give full disclosure here: The Rieger and Manifesto (a speakeasy-style bar below The Rieger) carry our product, Savory Addictions Gourmet Nuts. However, that has nothing to do with the quality of food, drinks and hospitality that you’ll receive at both of these places.
This post will only cover what we had the other night. But I’m telling you, you need to check out the complete menu yourself. And fair warning: It will take you a few trips to try everything.
You might be thinking to yourself, “What is a Winter menu? What can be in season?”
That’s a great question that Chef Howard Hanna answers this way: “The Fall menu runs through the holidays because I think fall flavors like pumpkin, squash, apples, pears, etc. There isn’t any new produce to speak of coming on in January, but when we shift to the Winter menu we focus on things that we’ve preserved from summer and fall — pickles, sauerkraut, charcuterie, etc.— things that cellar well — potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, onions, etc. — and cooking techniques like smoking and braising that show off hearty ingredients well and are satisfying in the colder weather months. Also, that allows me to play with some different ingredients such as Passion Fruit.”
And that perfectly describes this current menu. Let’s take you through the virtual tasting, starting off with cocktails.
Seasonal cocktails. I had the KC Gunslinger (Four Roses Bourbon, Cynar, sarsparilla, saline, smoked cinnamon) and my wife, Gay, had the Old Haunt (Auchentoshan American Oak Scotch, Genepi des Alps, Morello-infused Dolin Blanc, No 22 Blistered Lemon bitters).
According to assistant manager Amy Smith, one cool nuance of the KC Gunslinger is that they light a stick of cinnamon on fire and then put the glass over it so the smoldering cinnamon can impart its essence on the glass. The drink was very smooth, had a hint of smoke and the cinnamon essence came through. It really worked for me. Gay loved the Old Haunt because of the refreshing citrus top notes and the smokiness of the peat in the scotch.
Smoked turnip soup. I normally wouldn’t order something like turnip soup. However, I know the way that Chef Hanna cooks, so we gave it a try. We were both shocked. I’ve never had turnips so tasty.
“I love to roast turnips with salt, pepper, thyme and garlic. … Keep it simple, you know,” Hanna said.
Simple roasting maybe, but with the cream and Salsa Verde on top, this humble vegetable became a complex, satisfying and velvety soup.
Cheddar biscuits (located on the sides menu). Why cheddar biscuits you might ask? Well, I know from social media that Chef Hanna is a big fan of the cheddar biscuits at Red Lobster. Don’t laugh, they are really tasty.
So I was sure that his rendition with garlic butter was going to work. And yes, it did. By the way, Hanna does something like this every once in awhile. He’ll re-create a chain restaurant staple. Once, one of the servers referred to an ice cream brownie dessert as “an Applebee’s chocolate brownie sundae — only on steroids.”
I love that thought process.
Bucatini alla Gricia. It’s pasta. Before I get into this dish, let me mention that my top recommendation for people when they dine at The Rieger is to try at least one of the pasta dishes. No matter what it is, the pasta is always fresh, made in-house and delectable.
For example, one of the dishes on this new Winter menu is Brodo in Tortellini, which is a nettle pasta filled with broth. Think about that for a moment: A broth-filled pasta. I’m pretty sure you can’t get that anywhere else in Kansas City.
We’ve had the Brodo in Tortellini previously (on the Specials menu one night), so we opted for the new Bucatini alla Gricia. It’s made with Burger’s Smokehouse jowl bacon and lots of pepper. Classic and satisfying. Almost a carbonara, but not quite.
“I was trying to make something simple, like what you would make for a midnight snack,” Hanna.
Hmmm … midnight snack. Nailed It!
Shortrib confit. Tender shortribs cooked in rendered bone marrow, so they are cooked in their own fat — similar to duck confit. Some of the marrow is used to toast brioche and the shortribs are placed on top. Fresh pickled beets and celery root help cut through the richness, and a topping of micro mustard greens adds a nice brightness to the dish.
I heard that the idea to cook the shortribs in marrow was the brainchild of one of the Rieger’s talented sous chefs, Gray Washburn. Incidentally, that’s one aspect of Hanna that I truly respect: He encourages his crew to get creative and then he lets them shine.
This was so tasty that my wife and I were watching each other like hawks to make sure neither one took more than their share of half. It was that good.
Speckwurst. I was intrigued by the description of this entrée: Sauerkraut, sweet potatoes-chestnut purée with crispy onions. Think of a great house-made, smoked sausage with the most amazing fresh and crisp sauerkraut you’ve ever had (house-made, of course).
Then you contrast that with the smooth, earthy, sweetness of the purée. Then you taste the crunchy onions. I’m coming back to try this dish again, soon.
Bison stroganoff. This was pure comfort to me: Silky egg noodles, tender kale and a deep velvety sauce with beautifully cooked bison, onions and mushrooms. This style is something that Chef Hanna excels at. He can make comfort food using ingredients that might be just out of some people’s comfort zone. This stroganoff was like all the best parts of “home.”
About the time when we were sure that we’d had enough, we glanced at the new seasonal desserts. Our stomachs said no, but then we see Baked Alaska.
Baked Alaska. When was the last time you saw that on a menu? So of course we have to order it. A classic outer layer of toasted meringue hides an almond cake that was filled with Luxardo Maraschino liqueur ice cream. A perfect combination of textures and flavors that satisfied the both of us.
Meyer Lemon Pot au Crème. Normally, Pot au Crème is vanilla- or chocolate-flavored. We really enjoyed the lemon interpretation. The creaminess and the slightly tart citrus was refreshing.
So that was our experience the other night. I hope that you will take the time to head down to The Rieger and taste the Winter menu yourself. Maybe afterward, you’ll go downstairs to Manifesto for some of the best craft cocktails in the US.
But don’t wait too long and miss out on this current menu. As I have often discovered, it will change. You’ll start hearing whispers of “Have you tried the new menu yet?” And it all starts again.
Craig Jones is a live-fire cooking expert, the Grill Mayor for Food Network (2012), and owner of Savory Addictions Gourmet Nuts. He’s also a certified KCBS BBQ judge, a student of pizza crafting and an enthusiastic supporter of the greater Kansas City food scene.