Oprah-backed ‘health-driven’ restaurant chain opens this week on the Plaza

From dark wood to light. Brandy cream sauce to Panang curry. Steak to grass-fed burgers.

The former home of the stalwart Plaza III the Steakhouse on the Country Club Plaza has officially transformed into the airy True Food Kitchen.

The old-world steakhouse with its dark wood, low ceilings and banquette seating was in a vast 13,000-square-foot space that was broken up into cozy dining areas around a central bar. For more than 50 years, customers there dined on a menu heavy with steaks, roasts and chops.

Since taking over the spot a year ago, True Food Kitchen has made a clean sweep in both decor and menu. It opened at 4749 Pennsylvania Ave. on March 27.

The interior walls have been torn down to make for one large space — open kitchen in back, bar to the north side, seating all around with high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to Brush Creek. A small patio area will open up into the restaurant during nicer weather.

It will be able to seat more than 200 people when the patio is open and has been described as a “giant community table.”

The restaurant has a refreshing bright green and white decor with touches of Meyer Lemon yellow.

Instead of Plaza III’s steak in a brandy cream sauce with a side of French fried onion straws or four cheese gourmet mac-and-cheese, True Food Kitchen’s menu is “health-driven, seasonal.”

It features such options as gluten-free, naturally organic, vegetarian and vegan items. It is based on the principles of doctor Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory food pyramid — getting the most nutrients per calorie.

“The overall goal is really to make food be delicious and that you feel better after eating rather than being tired after having a meal,” said Robert McCormick, brand chef for True Food Kitchen. “We want to give you some energy to go home with rather than to bring you down.”

The spring menu’s “starters” include edamame dumplings, kale guacamole with pita chips, seared chicken satay and charred cauliflower.

It has salads (including the Mediterranean quinoa with Persian cucumber, olive, Peppadew pepper, cherry tomato, pole bean, feta, almond and oregano vinaigrette, 580 calories, $12); pizzas such as the fennel chicken sausage (crushed organic DiNapoli tomatoes, roasted fennel and smoked Gouda, 860 calories, $14); and grilled chicken wraps, 630 calories, $14; grass-fed burgers, 860 calories, $16; grilled fish tacos with Mauritius Island redfish, 460 calories, $19; and bowls including the spicy Panang curry (sweet potato, pole bean, bok choy, carrot, Thai basil, and coconut shrimp broth, 560 calories, $14).

Dinner entrees include grilled salmon, pan-seared chicken breast and spaghetti squash casserole. Spring cocktails include the Citrus Colada with lime-infused Matusalem rum, orange, pineapple, coconut and lemongrass.

At brunch, also look for such items as blueberry muffins, banana pancakes, vegan chorizo bowls, scrambles, juices and smoothies.

Hours will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Brunch will be served from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Social Hour will be from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays with $5 appetizers and $5 spicy margaritas, wine and beer offerings, along with a $15 carafe of sangria.

It has a take-out entrance on the Ward Parkway side.

True Food Kitchen was founded in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2008. Oprah Winfrey became an investor in July 2018 and serves on its board. It currently has 27 restaurants in a dozen states with four more scheduled to open by the end of the year.

In a statement, Meredith Keeler, general manager of the Plaza, said: “We are intentional about the brands that we bring to Country Club Plaza and work hard to curate the right mix of local, national and first-to-market retailers and restaurants. From their fresh and flavorful menu to seasonally sourced ingredients, to thoughtful community partnerships, True Food Kitchen is an exceptional brand that will elevate the culinary scene in Kansas City.”

Plaza III opened on the Plaza on Christmas Day 1963, then closed in March 2018. It has since reopened at 12631 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park.

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Joyce Smith has covered restaurant and retail news for The Star since 1989 under the brand Cityscape. She appreciates news tips.