Food News

Just a Bite: March 2014

Tacos de calabaza at Port Fonda. Photo by
Tacos de calabaza at Port Fonda. Photo by

What’s in the water in Westport? New drinking and dining destinations are developing so quickly I can barely keep up.

Port Fonda, chef Patrick Ryan’s widely publicized and greatly anticipated Mexican-ish restaurant, landed with a huge splash in 2012, bringing a level of expectation and relevance to an area that was generally still in thrall to intoxicated youth and ne’er-do-wells. It was/is a reason for food-focused suburbanites and victims of foodie peer pressure to revisit the area.

The latest opening, and one to keep an eye on, is Cucina della Ragazza by Laura Norris. Part Pollyanna, part idealist with a strong romantic Italian-American heritage, Norris is bringing her Southern Italian family recipes and some Jewish deli favorites together with top-notch Italian wines—some of the best deals by the glass and the bottle in Kansas City—to create a new and welcome addition to the neighborhood. In addition, specialty cocktails like the Sicilian Sunshine, Scroppino, and the Ragazza Bellini feature housemade infusions (think Limoncello), top-notch liqueurs, and a generous dash of genuine hospitality. This new intimate spot is getting rave reviews and I understand why: an intensely flavored Italian sausage and artichoke soup, a selection of panini and subs including their house-smoked pastrami, the Giant Ragazza Meatball, Bresaolo roll with arugula and lemon oil, salads and more. 301 Westport Rd.,

A few blocks west at the corner of Westport Road and Mill Street, a craft beer bar and retail venue is scheduled to open in this month. Bridger’s Bottle Shop will thrill area beer enthusiasts with 600-plus beers slated for the menu. Within the beer shop, chef Alex Pope will open Preservation Market, featuring Pope’s charcuterie and other spectacular products from his original shop, Local Pig, as well as high-quality local breads, artisan cheeses and pickled vegetables—in short, all things preserved. Bottle Shop executive chef Andrew Heimburger and beer expert/general manager Erica Pyles will oversee the lunch and dinner. They will also host frequent beer dinners. Food and drink will be available for immediate or delayed (take away) consumption. 510 Westport Rd.    

Fans of Ernesto Peralta’s original Blanc Burgers + Bottles will be happy to hear of its return to Westport. Soon, bison burgers, blue cheese and tiny shopping carts filled with crispy fries will be back in the ’hood. On the northwest corner of the Californos/Thai Place parking lot on Pennsylvania, the new space (larger than the original but smaller than the Plaza space) will be open any day now.  

If you get thirsty on your way to Blanc, stop in at Julep, a grand new bar by Beau Williams and Keely Edgington, owners of Hawthorne & Julep Cocktail Club, a cocktail catering service. Williams is one of the movers and shakers (pun intended) in the Kansas City cocktail scene and has been involved in some of the best bars and restaurants, developing some of the most creative drinks in the city. Their plan at Julep is to specialize in whiskey and whiskey-based potables, but they will cater to every thirst. Wine and bottled beer, classic cocktails (with their own spin, I’m sure), and house cocktails will all display the couple’s attention to detail. I would expect to see lots of local ingredients and specialty ice cubes. With only a “cold” kitchen, their food menu will focus on cold dishes, especially cured meats, fish and vegetables, pickled everything and cheeses. If you can’t wait until Julep opens, follow them on Facebook (at Julep KC) and perhaps you’ll luck into a pop-up event. Located directly behind Port Fonda, the entrance faces south. Once inside you’ll be surprised by a whole new view of Westport. 4141 Pennsylvania St., Ste. 104

If you’re still thirsty and feeling a bit peckish, just a few steps south on the same street will give you reason to celebrate—Ça Va, a champagne bar by Howard Hanna, co-owner and executive chef of the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange. Everyone knows that champagne is perfect for every occasion and celebration, but did you know that there is a sparkling wine or sparkling wine cocktail to go with every food? It’s absolutely true. Between effervescence and acidity or sweetness, you’re bound to find the perfect foil for every sweet, salty, rich, bitter, or sour flavor. Fortunately for this space—which has essentially no kitchen—there is a skilled chef to provide simple but high-quality accompaniments for the bubbles. 4149 Pennsylvania St.