Food News

Just a Bite: May 2014

Ah, Spring

Asparagus, fava beans, artichokes, sweet peas, baby greens—all it takes is a glance at many Kansas City restaurant menus to tell you that spring is in full swing.

Lidia’s, on the east end of the Freight House in the Crossroads Art District, has made the largest change to their menu in almost eight years. If you need a spring tonic to wipe away any vestiges of the winter dietary doldrums, this is a tempting place to start. A crisp salad of shaved baby artichoke, celery and grana padano cheese over paper-thin slices of prosciutto di Parma, or a nest of roast asparagus and crunchy breadcrumbs with grana fonduta, a poached egg, and truffle salt is sure to reset your culinary calendar. Melt away the last of your icicles with warm cakes of Swiss chard and spring herbs wrapped in a Montasio cheese crust with a salad of maché and crispy smoked speck (imported from the Alto Adige), or new crop vegetable frittelle (fritters) with mint pesto and pecorino Toscano.

Some of the Lidia’s classics have been freshened up like the polipo (octopus) with a warm salad of fingerling potatoes, fava beans, lemon and olio verde. If you need some pasta comfort, try the new garganelli, a hand-rolled quill shape of fresh egg dough, dressed with wild boar ragu and sweet peas, or a light and refreshing risotto with orange, fennel and rock shrimp that will hug you from the inside. The grilled quail with roasted cipollini, spinach and tart cherry agrodolce is on the lighter side, but for a heartier appetite, try the Milanese-style (breaded and fried) pork chop. Served with braised spring greens, the chop is topped with a sunny side up egg which provides all the luscious sauce you need.

Don’t forget to check out pastry chef Danica Pollard’s new torta featuring a ginger and brown sugar crust, filled with toasted almond custard and rhubarb gelatine, with rhubarb sherbet and candied almonds. 101 West 22nd St., 816-221-3722,

Ale Fellow, Well Met

The tidal wave of exciting new options in Westport just keeps on growing with the new Westport Ale House (you may have noticed the cheery bright lights at 4158 Broadway). In the space formally occupied by Streetside Records, Zach Marten and Bret Springs (of Coal Vines pizza and wine bar on the Country Club Plaza) have opened what they call Westport’s only kitchen and sports lounge.  The “lounge” is spacious—by that I mean cavernous—with enormous wall-to-wall-to-wall-to-wall-and-some-in-the-middle televisions for spirited sports viewing of multiple events at any time of day.

Ale House definitely has a kitchen as well. Bearded and tatted executive chef Jayson Eggers created a classic bar menu with innovative little details. We expect to see chicken wings, burgers and quesadillas, but how many sports bars cure their own bacon for their Alaska iceberg wedge salad, coat their onion rings in house-made Blue Moon beer batter, or individually top their nachos with hickory-smoked beef or chipotle chicken, queso blanco, pico de gallo, avocado tomatillo salsa, cilantro lime crema, and house-pickled jalapeños?  The thoughtfully composed menu includes appetizers, salads, burgers, dogs and sandwiches, but I really like the look of the standing Weekly Specials:  Sunday fried chicken, Monday prime rib and Tuesday 50-cent wings. Boulevard Tank 7 donut holes with vanilla ice cream, bacon and pale ale caramel, or the Jack Daniels apple pie will satisfy your savory sweet tooth. In good weather, the lounge opens to a balcony on Broadway, and later this summer the rooftop is slated to open. 4158 Broadway Blvd., 816-756-5277,

Whiskey a Go Go

I don’t know if it’s a whiskey- and bourbon-inspired casual American restaurant, or a casual American restaurant inspired by drinking whiskey and bourbon, but Kansas City has a new all-scratch kitchen in Union Hill. Barrel 31, at Martini Corner is in the newly remodeled rustic-chic multi-level space formerly occupied by the Velvet Dog.

Executive chef Austin Carpenter oversees the menu with offerings like gouda and ale fondue with house-made kettle chips and a Bavarian pretzel, duck confit chicken wings (why didn’t I think of that?), deviled oysters—deviled eggs topped with a fried oyster and bacon, and the PBLT (I’ll let you figure it out, but it starts with Pork Belly). Salads like the Heirloom Beet-Nik with heirloom beets, kale, candied walnuts and orange vinaigrette topped with a crispy disk of warm, fried goat cheese, and various burgers made with the Barrel 31 blend (ground brisket, chuck, steak trimmings and duck fat), and chef Carpenter’s take on the Shepherd’s Pie and short-rib Osso Buco round out the menu. Brunch on Saturday and Sunday features, among other things, the Wake the F’Up (cornbread coffee cake, black coffee and a shot of Jameson), the Big Boy Breakfast Burrito, and Eggs Ben-Addiction (bacon fat biscuits, seared pork belly, fried eggs, hollandaise, and roasted potatoes) and seems to cater to those who perhaps had too much fun the previous night.

With the look of the Barrel 31 cocktail menu, it seems very possible that an excess of fun could certainly happen here. The menu is heavily influenced by whiskey and bourbon (approximately 70 varieties) from around the world. Bourbon and whiskey flights are available for those seeking an education, as well as single malt Scotch, moonshine (really), barrel-aged cocktails, and thoughtfully paired Boiler Makers. (Never thought of a Boiler Maker as a cocktail but now I have to.)  Happy Hour from 3 to 6:42 p.m. is a special experience, especially for fans of Jack Daniels. I’ll let you find out for yourself. 400 East 31st. St., 816-569-3801,