Downtown KC's Banksia serves Australian meat pies, sausage rolls and sweet treats
In 2012, Rob and Kate Joseph moved from their native Australia to Kansas City.
The Josephs found a lot to love in the Midwest — good quality of life, friendly people — but missed the European-style cafe culture of Sydney. So when Rob retired from his job running a veterinary pharmaceutical company in 2012, they decided to bring a taste of Australia to their new home.
Their bakery and cafe, Banksia, opened quietly late last year in the former Sasha's Baking Company space at 105 W. Ninth St. in downtown Kansas City.
The Josephs wanted to ease into their new business, so they kept a low profile by operating under the Sasha's name until a couple of weeks ago.
Here are five things to know about Banksia, which is named after a spiky Australian wildflower.
1. The menu features sweet treats from Down Under.
Peek into the glass bakery case, and you'll see all kinds of goodies that the Josephs grew up eating: Pavlova ($4.50), a gluten-free meringue dessert topped with chantilly cream and fresh berries, cubed lamington sponge cakes coated in chocolate and flaked coconut ($4) and Anzac cookies ($3) made with oats and golden syrup.
Banksia also serves a housemade version of Iced VoVo biscuits ($4), a nostalgic sweet treat striped with marshmallow-like pink fluff and berry jam. They look as good as they taste.
2. The meat pies are amazing.
Banksia also serves savory meat pies ($8) and sausage rolls ($6) with golden, flaky crusts.
"A hotdog is to an American what a meat pie or sausage roll is to an Aussie," Rob says.
The sausage rolls contain a variety of fillings: pork and fennel, lamb with spicy Moroccan harissa paste and a Greek-inspired roll with spinach, feta and pine nuts. Kangaroo sausage rolls are coming soon. No, seriously — the Josephs say the meat is lean, with flavor similar to venison.
The beef brisket pie ($8) is made with beef braised in red wine and spices for 18 hours. Rob Joseph recommends it with ketchup, or as Aussies say, "tomato sauce," which sounds wrong until you try it. The ketchup brings out the sweet flavor of the meat, which tastes like really good pot roast.
3. Sasha's favorites are still served here.
Sasha's regulars can breathe a sigh of relief, because Banksia kept the bakery's pastry chef, baker and bestselling items. Customers can still get their ham and Gruyere croissants ($4.50), chocolate chip cookies ($3) or a Lulu salad ($10), which tops greens with chicken salad, poppy seeds and dried cranberries.
Banksia also sells a variety of breads, from sourdough to wheat, rye and challah. For $4, you can try toast with a smear of Vegemite, an infamous Australian spread made with leftover brewer's yeast extract. The stuff looks like black tar and tastes super-salty. The first bite takes bravery — especially if you're expecting a sweet, fruity jam — but Vegemite grows on you, particularly if you like the taste of beer.
4. Sunday brunch is happening.
In Australia, brunch is not just a meal, it's a lifestyle. Banksia general manager Erika Vikor, who also hails from Down Under, says "Sunday sessions" involve "going out for brunch and drinking the day away."
Banksia doesn't have its liquor license — Vikor says she hopes to have it by the end of the month — but the breakfast and brunch menu is good to go, and the cafe is now open on Sundays.
That's good news for downtown dwellers frustrated with the lack of nearby weekend brunch options. If you go, don't skip the ricotta hotcakes ($10) topped with caramelized bananas, fresh strawberries and butter sweetened with crunchy bits of Australian honeycomb candy.
5. Longer hours and more locations are in the works.
The Josephs are already talking about serving small plates in the evenings and expanding Banksia to Brookside, the Country Club Plaza and 119th Street in Overland Park. So if you crave everyday access to the kind of food served at their favorite Sydney cafe, stay tuned.