Kansas City’s urban core has made great strides when it comes to welcoming smaller craft breweries, but we are still lacking in one area: breweries with great food.
The 2016 addition of Brewery Emperial in the East Crossroads was a step in the right direction. And now that evolving neighborhood is home to City Barrel Brewing Co., which opened in February at 1740 Holmes.
City Barrel is the love project of three founders, James Stutsman, Grant Waner, and Joe Giammanco. They focus on crazy IPAs and aged sour beers.
Their four flagship brews offer a bit of fun and a whole lot of flavor. Cashmere Lightning is an IPA blended with Brut Champagne, and Ahoy! is a rotating “tiki beer” brewed with fresh guava, which lends a pink hue and juicy tropical flavors.
City Barrel’s chef, Ben Wood, is a self-educated culinary professional who has worked at The Dining Experience at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, The Corner Restaurant in Westport and Happy Gillis in Columbus Park. The menu he crafted for City Barrel accentuates and incorporates the brewery’s beer.
City Barrel is open for lunch and dinner. Their lunch menu features hearty sandwiches, burgers and salads. The dinner menu adds entrees to the mix and offers beer pairing suggestions.
The brewpub’s selection of shareable appetizers and charcuterie boards makes it easy to stop by for a drink and a nosh after work or spend more time with friends at one of the communal tables over dinner.
For my first visit, I had to try the Ahoy! Sour Beer Ceviche. I’m addicted to ceviche in general — the zesty lime and verdant flavor of cilantro get me every time. In this iteration, the curing process is accented with their tropical Ahoy! Gose, which has a tart sour flavor.
I enjoyed the inventiveness of the shrimp dish, but the flavor was a bit lacking. I wanted more of the beer flavor, but it was overpowered by the lime juice needed to properly cure the shrimp.
The Pig and Fig featured two fluffy slabs of spent grain focaccia with Missouri prosciutto (dry-cured ham) and fresh sliced figs. The bread repurposes grain from the brewing process. The creamy burrata cheese and arugula tossed in fig-infused balsamic vinaigrette that finished the sandwich was even better. My only complaint was that there was a little too much bread for the filling; a thinner slice would have allowed the figgy goodness to shine through.
All sandwiches are served with Crossroads fries, which are perfectly crispy outside and fluffy inside, and served with your choice of house or 1740 seasoning, which is a bit spicier.
At dinner, I had to order the Flaming Cheese Dip, because if you light it on fire, I will order it. What could have been a complete gimmick was, in fact, a lovely twist on fondue — the creamy Taleggio cheese had the perfect melting texture, and was not too gooey or stringy. The dip was finished with a sour fruit jam for balance. It’s an appetizer to fight over.
I also indulged in one of the three charcuterie boards. While the menu advises that each board serves two people, I found the portions to be generous and easily accommodated my party of four. With a Brewers Board, Cellerman Board and Vegetarian Board, there was something for everyone. We enjoyed the Brewers Board, loaded with generous portions of linguica (smoke-cured pork sausage), mild salami, chicken apple sausage, peppered salami, Kansas-made Cottonwood River Cheddar cheese, Taleggio, Boursin and Manchego. Each board was accented with quick pickled veggies that offset the fatty salami and creamy cheeses.
For dinner, there’s a variety of entrees — Steak Frites, Beurre Blanc Shrimp, Crispy Skin Salmon, and a Thick Cut Pork Chop, which I ordered. The pork chop was flavored with Ssam-inspired seasoning made with Korean chili paste, scallions and soy sauce.
Those flavors meld beautifully, creating a delicate spiciness that was noticeable but not overwhelming. The honey glaze that finished the chop was the kicker: The sweet and spicy chop arrives glistening atop perfectly wilted Swiss chard and a pile of creamy Yukon Gold whipped potatoes. I have to admit that after I had exhausted my skill with a knife and fork, I picked up the bone to get every last bit of meat. It was that good.
Wood says that as the brewpub finds its footing, he will become more adventurous, swapping in seasonal vegetables and starches and experimenting with specials. It’s exciting to think of what will come out of the glass-windowed kitchen with Wood at the helm.
City Barrel excels at more than just blending food and beer. The brewery offers something for everyone, even when it comes to cocktails.
Their cocktails like to twist expected recipes into new animals like the Earl Grey French 75. Instead of letting prosecco make the bubbles in this classic cocktail, City Barrel’s bartenders sub in Cashmere Lightning. The beer is blended with Earl Grey tea-infused simple syrup, fresh lemon juice and Bright Gin distilled by City Barrel’s East Crossroads neighbor, Lifted Spirits. It’s a great reimagining of one of my favorite cocktails.
City Barrel serves its drinks and food with a dose of humor and style. The space is polished and sleek, with wood paneled walls, pops of vibrant color and quirky additions like a geometric unicorn head and T-Rex mounted on the walls.
The founders plan to keep that fresh attitude coming with events such as March’s Coolship Freeze-out Party, which invited guests to participate in making a new beer by using atmospheric yeast for spontaneous fermentation, a technique developed in Belgium.
Their dedication to embracing unique flavors is a welcome addition to a city that knows all about beer and all about food. Now we can enjoy it all together.