A good meal can take you on a journey. Sometimes those travels take you around the world, and sometimes they take you just around the corner — which is the vibe when you step into the newly opened Journeyman Cafe.
The restaurant sits on the corner of a strip of shops tucked between houses and apartments in the West Plaza neighborhood, and the three-month-old eatery has the familiar and welcoming feel you would expect from a neighborhood haunt.
To look at the fully remodeled interior, you would never know the building was once the home of a yarn store. The stylish restaurant is broken up into two different areas — the daytime cafe area serves coffee and lunch while dinner is served in the dining room and bar area. Natural light pours through the large windows of the dining room and bar, making the wood, copper and brown tones pop under summer’s rays. It gives the bar area a soothing air.
The bartenders are helpful and willing to share insights on methodology or give a recommendation, and many people I’ve talked to find it a good place to stop by for a casual drink with friends. The drink menu, which arrives on a clipboard, stretches for four pages and features a multitude of offerings, including house-bottled cocktails and highballs, an eclectic mix of wines, whiskeys and rotating seasonal beers.
The one page dinner menu — a work of brevity that presents two to three options in each section of “snacks,” “mids,” “entrees” and “afterwards” — stands in stark contrast. I find it refreshing to see a new restaurant start out executing a smaller menu rather than attempting a novel-length menu to appease every diner’s whim, but portion sizes and variety — only two entrees and few vegetarian options — can be an issue.
All dishes by chef Chance Hurst trend toward smaller, composed plates featuring seasonal produce. Although I wouldn’t label Journeyman Cafe as part of the “small plate sharing” movement, a smaller number of overall menu items means hungrier patrons should take note and order accordingly. Entrees are not much bigger than the “mid” courses.
Hurst, who attended local culinary programs at Shawnee Mission’s Broadmoor Technical Center as well as the sustainable agriculture program at Johnson County Community College, is a local boy bringing a local flair to his sustainable, farm-to-table fare.
As with many new restaurant menus, there are stronger and weaker points as well as what are likely a few works in progress. Among the “snacks” selections is the Journeyman pickle plate, which on the night I ordered it was a mix of lightly pickled cauliflower, carrot, green pepper and onion. My dining companion said there was a cucumber slice, but if there was, I never saw it. The vegetables carried a nice acidity, but overall the dish felt more like a slightly large condiment than any kind of starter.
The quinoa salad was a better choice, featuring diced golden beets along with citrus segments and shaved fennel underneath a tangle of lightly dressed arugula. The peppery arugula and the anise-scented notes of fennel and a tarragon vinaigrette played foil to nutty quinoa. It was refreshingly light on the sweltering summer evening, and it’s one of a couple snack options — including barbecue-seasoned nuts and bread with basil-honey butter — that would pair nicely with something from the cocktail and highball menu.
The “mids” section of the menu ramps up to three dishes with heavier, bolder flavor profiles. When the heat index is near triple digits, you might not consider ordering a rich pasta dish in a creamy cheese sauce. But the house-made cavatelli pasta I had on one visit –— fragrant with smoked Gouda cheese and earthy notes of cauliflower and oyster mushroom — was a case where the smaller portion made the dish work.
The pasta dish was served in a small ceramic crock, but in colder months I could eat a bowl twice that size. You can add chicken for $3, which I would advise if ordering the $9 dish as your primary meal. Two other “mids” showed strengths and slight kinks to be ironed out for the new restaurant.
The pork belly lardons was a crowd pleaser, as was one of the personal favorite bites I had at Journeyman Cafe, though its ingredients changed between my visits. The version I had was full of crispy bits of pork belly strewn atop a mound of arugula and stone-ground grits with a lovely pickled corn relish and red pepper coulis finishing the dish. Even a non-pork belly fan at the table couldn’t help but stab at the last remnants of the crispy yet unctuous porky cubes. At $10, it packed a formidable punch in flavor and value.
The chicken roulade was less impressive. The single piece of rolled and seared chicken — one person at the table mistook it for a seared scallop from its appearance — was perched over steamed green beans with a white bean puree and trace amounts of chicken skin crackling as garnish. Even with the crackling, the dish just left me wanting more seasoning and depth.
If you are going to have only two entrees on the menu, it seems logical to have one fish and one meat to satisfy different palates, although a vegetarian option would have been welcome as well. Fortunately, chef Hurst dealt winning hands with both the hanging tender steak and seared tuna offerings.
Large strips of seared ahi tuna were fanned out over a light, crunchy mélange of sesame seasoned bok choy, cabbage, radish and carrot. The outside sear was perfect, allowing the quality of the tuna to assert itself. The bok choy lent a balance of texture, alternating between crunchy stem and sesame-dressed leaves.
The seared tuna was a lovely, light summer dish, but some people just need something meaty for dinner. Those voracious carnivores will find the beef shoulder tender capable of satisfying their cravings. The shoulder tender had a lovely beefy luster enhanced by a nice sear, then cut into strips and served over faro, asparagus and a caramelized onion puree.
Each bite of the dish brought out another layer of flavor in the dish, and the al dente farro added just the right punch to complement the softer elements. Although the beef shoulder tender may not be as big as the steakhouse portions some Kansas Citians have come to expect, I found the portion size — and $16 price tag — spot on.
For dessert, the pistachio and chocolate came highly recommended by our friendly server, and my dining companion signed up immediately. Little pieces of chocolate cake made for an indulgent base on which a heap of pistachio ice cream, rosemary ganache and Alchemy coffee caramel.
Even for a non-chocolate person such as myself, the intoxicating mix of rich chocolate and ever so slightly salty pistachio ice cream were perfect, with the Alchemy coffee caramel adding a hint of bitter sweetness to each bite. The other options was a strawberry-rhubarb compote.
Not all menus have to go on for days, and Journeyman Cafe is smart to find its footing with a few strong, if not enormous, selections, but a few vegetarian options seems almost obligatory when dining these days.
Tyler Fox is a personal chef and freelance restaurant critic: tfoxfood@gmail, @theshortandlong
1121 W. 47th St.
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; Dinner, 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; Brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday; Breakfast and coffee, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Entrée average: $20 or less
Vegetarian options: Quinoa salad, cavatelli pasta, lunch options include salads.
Kids: No separate children’s menu.
Parking: Street parking in the neighborhood.
Handicap accessible: Yes
Noise level: Low to medium. The restaurant can be intimate as well as lively, but rarely loud. A nice music selection playing at proper levels.
Food: ☆☆ 1/2 A smaller menu has fewer options, but already features a few strong rotating dishes with value to be found along with smaller portions. The new American food is composed and stylish, without being pretentious.
Service: ☆☆☆ Both servers and bartenders are knowledgeable, helpful and friendly, without being overbearing. Don’t hesitate to ask questions on food or especially drinks, where there is a lot to choose from and guidance can be helpful.
Atmosphere: ☆☆☆ The new restaurant already has an ambiance that is at once stylishly modern but welcoming and approachable. Definitely fits the bill for a cozy neighborhood haunt, which is always welcome whether you live near or far.
Star ratings: ☆ Poor, ☆☆ Good, ☆☆☆ Excellent, ☆☆☆☆ Extraordinary
Pork belly lardons: $10
Housemade cavatelli: $9 + $3 with chicken
Seared ahi tuna: $17
Beef shoulder tender: $16
Pistachio and chocolate: $7
What to Drink
Journeyman Cafe has multitude of drink options, with a multi page drink menu to peruse that highlights a rotating and extensive array of beers, wines, craft cocktails and eclectic spirits. Some unique offerings stand out such as their signature bottled cocktails, which they make and bottle daily to ensure perfect, equal measurements for each pour. They also have non-alcoholic cocktails at night, with craft coffee and smoothies to enjoy during the cafe hours earlier in the day.