Brown & Loe is one of the newest additions to the thriving City Market, bringing a stylish destination for drinks and dining to the former Merchants Bank building on the corner of the market’s entrance.
Owner Harry Murphy, who also owns Harry’s Country Club just up the road, has transformed the building into an upscale, modern space evocative of early- to mid-20th century’s classy chic. The restaurant, which opened in August, is ideal for everything from a weeknight meal with friends to drinks on date night before catching the streetcar that hums by just outside.
On a sunny Saturday morning, I stopped in for coffee with out-of-town guests and family. Browsing through the drink menu I found a welcome array of nonalcoholic options, a few of which reflect the updated yet nostalgic balance that runs through the core of the restaurant.
My father — a former soda fountain “jerk” himself — found the old-time offerings of phosphates, limeades and sodas a refreshing blast from the past. The tastes were authentic without being cloying. The 40-foot-long wooden bar pairs with black-and-white tiled floors and dark woods to create a lively bistro vibe.
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In the daytime, the tall, crown molding-lined ceilings and large windows bring vibrant sunlight to the large dining room and bar area. At night, the room becomes more intimate, with the soft glow from the white orb lamps giving the space the celluloid sheen of a 1940s film.
Brown & Loe serves lunch, dinner and a weekend brunch, and each has a slightly different personality. The menu tends toward modern comfort food with the Southern-rooted trend that’s on display at many American restaurants these days.
Think biscuits and short rib gravy at brunch or shrimp and grits at lunch. The lunch and dinner menus share many dishes, with sandwiches featured more during the day and plates of steaks, a fine pork chop and a fish-laden Lisbon stew highlighted as evening fare.
Oftentimes, when you hear the term comfort food, rich, meaty flavors come to mind. But Brown & Loe offers a number of vegetarian options, from standards like soup and salad, to entrees like supple dumplings of spinach and ricotta cheese with shiitake mushrooms and a tomato ragout.
In the era of the ubiquitous charcuterie board of various cured meats and pickles — which is present on the dinner starter menu — they also have a garden block, consisting of samplings of butter bean hummus, lentil salad and mushroom pate. It is a good example of the mix of skill and a modern approach to classic food and drink that permeates most of the restaurant’s offerings.
One weeknight, my group popped in for a late dinner to find the dining room still fairly crowded. The bar area was populated with younger patrons, mostly having drinks and lively discussion. At the tables and booths lining the window walls opposite the bar, there was a diverse range of ages and group sizes enjoying dinner and conversation.
The dinner starter menu is a nice mix of items like flatbreads, mussels and the aforementioned meat and vegetable boards, but I couldn’t resist the delicious-sounding pierogi. The plate came out with two large, half-moon-shaped dumplings sitting on top of a small bit of thick apple butter, with a dollop of sour cream and a nest of crispy fried shallot and chopped chive garnish.
The fork-tender pierogi oozed with a creamy cheddar filling that blended with the mix of apple butter and sour cream to create a lovely combination that balanced the sweet, sharp and sour flavors. The crispy shallot added just the right amount of texture and hint of bitterness to complement. At $6, it’s just the right size and price for a small plate.
Another standout starter was the lamb sausage grilled flatbread. It’s a more substantial dish, an oblong, pizza-like flatbread topped with lamb sausage, mint pesto, olive and feta cheese with a nice trace of spice from a harissa (a spicy Middle Eastern/African chili paste) vinaigrette. Each of the flavors stood out on its own, yet they came together with a nice harmony from the faint funk of lamb and feta playing off the bright, herbaceous mint pesto. Paired with a salad, it could easily make a lighter dinner.
But I also found plenty of enticing entrees. With colder weather here, Brown & Loe’s comfort fare was inviting. Entrees on the dinner menu are composed with the sides, but you can also order many of the sides a la carte.
The grilled short rib dish with root beer jus and collard greens with cornbread was a not-so-subtle nod to Southern cuisine. The thick slabs of boneless, grill-marked short rib had all of the rich, robust, beefy flavor you would expect of that cut, while having a sturdier texture and bite than you find in many braised preparations. The cornbread was more dense than crumbling, which meant it held up nicely for sopping up the faintly sweet root beer jus. My only problem was finding a bit of grit in the braised collard greens.
You don’t find beef stroganoff on many menus these days, but Brown & Loe has a lovely version. I found the creamy braised beef and mushroom sauce folded into perfectly cooked pappardelle pasta particularly comforting.
There are lighter options, from a nice selection of salads or entrees like Wild Isle salmon with peas, leeks and coconut milk. But on another chilly evening I found myself drawn to the hearty-sounding dry-aged, large bone-in pork chop served over baked red peas — a small bean found in traditional Southern dishes like Hoppin’ John — and bourbon braised apples.
The nicely grilled chop had a rich, smoky tenderness that spoke of the quality of the meat and its preparation. The chop paired perfectly with the sweetness of the bourbon and apples and the al dente red peas provided a nice textural contrast. The dish was finished with a spiced honey butter, although I could have used slightly less of it since there were already enough notes of rich and sweet.
The sweetness of bourbon shows up throughout Brown & Loe’s menu, from the bar to the desserts. And speaking of desserts, Brown & Loe has a nice array of house-made ones, from ice creams and key lime pie to Dixie pie (bourbon chocolate ganache, pecans, vanilla ice cream and a bourbon cherry compote).
From the approachably upscale design and atmosphere to the pleasing food and drinks, Brown & Loe is a comforting addition to the Kansas City food scene.
Brown & Loe
429 Walnut St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. Sunday
Entrée average: $$$
Vegetarian options: A nice array of choices
Kids: No separate children’s menu, as the restaurant is more skewed toward adults.
Parking: Street and City Market parking
Handicap accessible: Yes
Noise level: Medium to high.
Food: ☆☆☆ Modern spins on classic comfort fare with a Southern influence. The menu has a nice balance between its lunch, dinner and brunch menus.
Service: ☆☆ 1/2 Service is welcoming and professional without being pushy.
Atmosphere: ☆☆☆ The beautifully restored Merchants Bank building has a modern vibe with a classic atmosphere, which is pleasant in the brightness of daytime or the more intimate vibe at night. Ideal for casual dinner, drinks or date night.
Lamb sausage flatbread, $9
Ricotta and spinach dumplings, $14
Grilled short ribs, $21
Dry-aged pork chop, $26
Dixie pie, $7
What to drink
Brown & Loe’s long wooden bar has plenty of space. Diverse drink offerings range from bourbons, whiskeys and craft cocktails to craft beer (an out-of-town beer nerd was impressed by the brews on tap). There are even a some very nice classic nonalcoholic offerings such as chocolate phosphates and cherry limeades that feel at home in the restored, historical bank building.