A few years ago, Kansas City chef Alex Pope opened a series of pop-up restaurants called Vagabond.
Since then, a couple of other temporary restaurants have popped up, including Concept One, Überdine and The Waffle Iron, a pop-up waffle shop inside Lawrence’s Decade coffee shop. And now Dinner Lab, a national organization that plans pop-ups in cities across the country, is expanding to Kansas City.
Dinner Lab is a membership-based social dining platform that aims to connect up-and-coming chefs with customers, who are encouraged to provide honest, detailed feedback on every course. The rapidly expanding 3-year-old supper club has been featured in the New York Times, The New Yorker and Yahoo! News.
Here’s how Dinner Lab works: Members pay an annual fee of $100 to $175, depending on the city (Kansas City membership costs $125; sign up here). Membership gets you invites to Dinner Lab events in 26 cities — not just those in KC — but you have to pay to attend meals, which usually cost $50-80 with drinks included. Each member can bring up to three guests to an event.
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Last week, Dinner Lab CEO Brian Bordainick visited Kansas City to lay the groundwork for coming Dinner Lab events. Over chilaquiles and pozole at Port Fonda, he said that Kansas City Dinner Lab members can expect about one pop-up restaurant experience per month to begin with.
As membership grows, so will the frequency of events. Dinner Lab pop-ups are never set in an actual restaurant space — they’re in warehouses, parking garages and other unlikely areas set up to operate as a restaurant for one meal. The location is announced 24 hours before the event.
About half of Kansas City’s Dinner Lab pop-ups will feature food made by local, up-and-coming chefs. The other half will be hosted by chefs from other cities who are hired by Dinner Lab to travel around and host these pop-up restaurant events. That’s because the goal of Dinner Lab, Bordainick says, is to bring the best of what’s happening in the national restaurant scene to Kansas City.
“We also want to bring the best of what’s happening here to the rest of the country,” Bordainick says. So Kansas City chefs who host successful Dinner Lab events here might be hired by the company to host events in other cities.
Kansas City’s first Dinner Lab event on May 8 is a dinner by Chicago chef Danny Espinoza called “Anomar: Modern Mexican Cuisine.” The five-course meal costs $60 per person, which includes gratuity and unlimited drinks. Here’s a peek at the menu.
Ensalada de Calamar
Chorizo | tomatillo & orange | saffron
Tostada de Puerco
Guacamole | carnitas | jicama | queso fresco
Milanesa de Pollo
Fried chicken | spicy maple | cilantro grits | pickled carrots
Dorado a la Talla
Mahi mahi | mole verde | pico de gallo | pepitas
Flan de Ruibarbo
Rhubarb flan | white chocolate | roasted peanuts | strawberry espuma