Chow Town

Hey tourists, Kansas City is more than barbecue, says Visit KC

Fine dining is KC’s second most important tourism draw, according to Tourism Economics. Here’s a seafood dish from Trezo Mare Restaurant and Lounge.
Fine dining is KC’s second most important tourism draw, according to Tourism Economics. Here’s a seafood dish from Trezo Mare Restaurant and Lounge.

San Francisco, Portland and Austin may be hip food tourism destinations, but Kansas City is fielding its fair share of sophisticated food-centric travelers.

And increasingly, those tourists’ dining tastes are pushing beyond the burnt ends at Arthur Bryant’s.

“Kansas City has been able to evolve beyond barbecue,” says Ronnie Burt, president and CEO of the Kansas City Convention and Visitor’s Association says in an interview at Visit KC’s street-level office at 1321 Baltimore Ave.

“We’ve started figuring out how to promote farm-to-table, tapas, different chef concepts. It’s not about restaurants anymore, it’s about the experience or creativity of the chef and new ways of looking at something on a plate,” he says.

To that end, Visit KC this week released a video starring chef Lidia Bastianich designed to attract the business traveler.

The 2014 impact study by Tourism Economics ranks fine dining as the second most important draw to our city, after shopping — but ahead of (in order) casinos, historic sites, museums, night life and sporting events.

Increasingly, tourists are seeking out “unique” and “authentic” experiences set around food and shopping rather than a meal at a name restaurant, so Burt says the next push will be to get them to explore neighborhoods like West Side, Crossroads, Waldo and Brookside.

Meanwhile, the image Visit KC is putting out has shifted away from historical references to the plains, stockyards and cattle to fast-paced videos that “bring visibility. That show Kansas City is hip, it’s cool, it’s vibrant, and not what you think it is.”

Over the past year and a half, Visit KC has collaborated with local videographers on a number of food-related topics in a “KC on KC” series, including overviews on barbecue, farm-to-table dining, coffee culture, cocktails, craft beers, pizza and a list of dining options around the city suggested by Kansas Citians.

The efforts to expand the local culinary scene’s reputation appears to be working. Last year GQ magazine rated Kansas City as one of the best cities for coffee, Thrilllist featured Kansas City in its “7 Most Underrated American Food Cities” while Travel & Leisure listed KC as “Best City for Food Snobs.”

Jill Wendholt Silva is The Star’s food editor, lead restaurant critic and the Chow Town blog curator.

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