I’ve written here before that I have a soft spot in my heart for hotel restaurants.
It’s a tough slog for those restaurants more often than not as they fight the good fight against their free-standing brethren. Most hotel restaurants have to serve three meals a day to satisfy guests, while those free of that necessity can focus on just one or two meals.
Then there’s the fact that unlike Europeans, Americans don’t generally regard hotel restaurants as serving creative, high-quality food. Well, I come here today to shatter that notion.
My hometown of Chicago has some of the best hotel restaurants I’ve ever experienced. Over the years, I’ve sampled the fare of some of the finest hotel restaurants the world over.
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Windy city restaurants located in The Four Seasons, The Ritz Carlton, and the Peninsula, among others, have been turning out outstanding cuisine for years. I’m not going to tell you that Kansas City’s hotel restaurant scene has reached Chicago’s level, but I will say that it’s pretty darned good.
The Reserve and 12 Baltimore are pleasant new discoveries for me. I have to admit a big part of the appeal of the restaurants are the personalities of their two executive chefs, Frank Lalumia at 12 Baltimore and Shaun Brady at The Reserve. Both men strike me as genuinely nice guys and the food at both restaurants is really good.
Brady hails from Ireland, Tipperary to be precise. He told me he came to work in the states in Chicago, landing at O’Hare on a mid-January day in a short-sleeved shirt and jeans.
He had a rude awakening to what a Chicago winter can be like. After some time at a number of Windy City restaurants, Brady got the job as executive chef at The Ambassador three years ago. Brady’s been doing great things ever since.
“Our menu is composed of dishes that I feel confident standing behind 100 percent,” he said. “I like to call our cuisine honest, local and delicious served in an upscale, welcoming environment.”
Brady acknowledges the challenges of running a hotel restaurant, most notably that they have to be open 24 hours a day to serve guests who often have wildly varying levels of experience and expectations. But Brady, like all successful hotel chefs, faces the challenges head-on by crafting straightforward cuisine using the best ingredients he can find with a big emphasis on fresh and local.
One example is Brady’s use of beef from Tim Hatfield’s High Summit Ranch south of Maryville in Nodaway County. Hatfield raises a herd of Angus steers on his ranch that’s been in the family since 1880. The steers are grass-fed during the growing season and fattened through winter on locally grown alfalfa and a mixture of local grains.
His steaks in Brady’s hands are among the most delicious cuts of beef I’ve had anywhere in the world. Another favorite of mine is Brady’s house smoked salmon, shipped directly to his kitchen and cured in Irish Whiskey. The salmon is jaw-dropping good. Honestly, though, I’ve had about half the items on The Reserve’s menu and have never been disappointed.
I asked Brady to share his personal favorites.
“Lamb, braised lamb shank, Colcannon (an Irish version of mashed potatoes that mixes in cabbage),” he said. “The lamb is served with mint gravy. That, and Shephard’s Pie. Not Cottage Pie. Shephard’s Pie.”
Mere blocks away at 12 Baltimore in The Hotel Phillips, you will find executive chef Frank Lalumia donning the toque. Lalumia is a Kansas City native, who grew up in the Northeast part of the city.
Being a chef is a second career for Lalumia and it’s clearly a good fit. Lalumia is a gregarious man and a clearly self-effacing individual.
“The greatest accomplishment of any chef is when the guests are more excited about the food on the menu than the chef,” Lalumia said. “I hope to inspire and excite the guests of Hotel Phillips with my culinary vision for many years to come.”
Like Brady, Lalumia has been in his post for a little over a year. He was hired in January 2015 from the Argosy Casino Hotel and Spa where he served as chef and restaurant manager for seven years.
As for his cuisine, Lalumia enjoys putting a creative spin on classic dishes. A couple of my personal favorites are the crimini mushrooms, which are stuffed with Ricotta and Gorganzola cheeses, aromatic basil and Italian sausage, and served in a saffron beurre blanc, and the Baha Pork Belly, which is citrus-braised then grilled and served with homemade chimichurri and a flatbread crostini.
An entrée of note is Lalumia’s Cherry-smoked Kansas City Strip Steak, which is hand cut, smoked and then grilled. The strip is served with melted herb butter and crispy Tabasco onion straws.
My wife and I dined at 12 Baltimore over Valentine’s Day weekend, and everything from the appetizers through dessert was spot on. I would gladly revisit our meal at 12 Baltimore anytime.
Great dining and culinary talent is tucked away in two downtown hotels. Both venues are well worth the visit.
Dave Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.