Chow Town

Steakhouses and restaurants beef up KC’s cow town reputation

Anton Kotar’s bone-in rib-eye steak is served at Anton’s Taproom and Restaurant in Kansas City.
Anton Kotar’s bone-in rib-eye steak is served at Anton’s Taproom and Restaurant in Kansas City.

Kansas City has long had a reputation as a terrific steak town.

The lineage undoubtedly goes back to the city’s stockyards and restaurants. But the stockyards are long gone, and recent visits to some long running Kansas City steak emporiums have failed to impress.

I started wondering if our steakhouse restaurant rep had expired. After quite a bit of research (It’s a tough job but somebody has to do it), I’m pleased to say that while we might not live in the rarefied air of Chicago (with its David Burke’s Primehouse, Gibsons Bar and Steakhouse, RPM Steak, Chicago Cut Steakhouse) there are some really good steakhouses in Kansas City. Beyond that, there are myriad other restaurants where you can get a terrific piece of meat, seasoned expertly and prepared to perfection.

I’ll touch on some of those restaurants in just a bit, but first, I’d like to sing the praises of two Kansas City Steakhouses that appear to be a cut above — Anton’s Taproom and Restaurant and J. Gilbert’s Wood-Fired Steaks and Seafood.

I most recently dined at Anton’s, which is located on Main Street in the Crossroads District. I had eaten lunch at Anton’s on several occasions but had never taken the plunge on one of their steaks. After sampling both the grass-fed and grain-fed bone-in rib-eyes, I can honestly say they were some of the tastiest steaks I’ve had in some time.

Owner Anton Kotar, who was an opening partner in Grinders, specializes in dry-aged, grass-fed beef. Though he offers corn-fed steak options “because he has to,” the grass-fed steaks outsell them 4,000 pounds to 200 pounds a week.

“The grass-fed beef we sell is big and bold and full of terroir and freshness,” Kotar commented. “I co-owned Grinders for seven years, and in that time, no one ever said our Philly cheesesteaks (a Grinder’s signature) were the best they ever had. I hear that from our customers about our steaks all the time.”

I don’t like numbers assigned to my wine, and I don’t like top whatever lists when it comes to restaurants, so I’m not going to rank Kansas City’s steakhouses. But, suffice it to say, if I were given the chance to try Anton’s porterhouse, fillet or even strip (his least favorite cut), there would be no hesitation.

For a totally different but equally delicious experience, check out J. Gilbert’s. Open for more than two decades on Metcalf not far from downtown Overland Park, J. Gilbert’s has managed to maintain its quality and customer base even as many of those customers moved farther south to the restaurant clusters on 119th and 135th.

I got the chance to chat with managing partner Bill Cusick and Executive Chef Ruben Rosales during a recent meal, and I thoroughly enjoyed both the conversation and the food. Cusick weighed in on J. Gilbert’s ability to maintain consistency through its 21 years in business.

“It’s really because of our people. We have a great staff with very little turnover,” Cusick shared.

Cusick said the rib-eye is the most popular cut, and Rosales says his personal favorite is the strip. I tried a bone-in, grass-fed version that was on special for the night.

The strip, cooked over a grill using mesquite, was quite good, not as rich as the bone-in rib-eye at Anton’s, but packed with plenty of flavor and cooked to a perfect medium rare.

I especially liked the mesquite-grilled aspect of the steak, which really added to its flavor and complexity.

Another way to find a top-notch steak in Kansas City is to “follow the beef.” In recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to meet great local ranchers whose beef is as good as it gets — Kenny Barham of Barham Cattle Company and Family Farms in Kearney, Mo., and Tim Hatfield of High Summit Ranch just south of Maryville in Nodaway County, Mo.

Hatfield’s hangar steak (likely the tenderest I’ve had), can be sampled at The Oliver. His tenderloin is featured at Rosso in the Hotel Sorella, and the rib-eye (my personal favorite) is on the menu for Chef Shaun Brady at the Reserve in downtown’s Ambassador Hotel.

As for Barham, he tells me Renee Kelly from Renee Kelly’s Harvest dishes up his scotch fillet, Affare serves his strip and Liberty’s Morning Day Cafe offers his sirloin. Not a steak house in the bunch, but a bunch of great steak options.

Lastly, I reached out to the folks at Hardcore KC Foodies for some of their thoughts on KC’s best steaks. Anton’s and J. Gilbert’s got plenty of mentions, but there was also effusive praise for chef Howard Hanna at The Rieger for “perfectly prepared cuts served with inventive sides.” I haven’t been to The Rieger in a while. I’m just waiting on an invite from my buddy and fellow blogger Craig Jones. Let’s hope he reads this.

Maybe the great steak town reputation is still deserved after all.

Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.