There’s a viral meme that shows “The Notebook” stars Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams arguing in a pivotal scene.
“What do you want?” he hurls at her.
“It’s not that simple!” She throws back.
The video’s title: “Every time I ask my girl what she wants to eat.”
Well, welcome to 2018: the year of the food hall and the end of all your “What’s for dinner?” problems.
Parlor, Kansas City’s first dedicated food hall, opened in September at 1707 Locust St. in the East Crossroads. The self-described “food court for grownups” features independent chefs doing what they do best — experimenting.
The two-story space features seven concepts: Mother Clucker, Derrick Foster’s hot chicken joint; Sura Eats, Keeyoung Kim’s brick and mortar version of his popular Korean pop-up; Karbon, Rachel Rinas’ fusion of the Yucatan and the Middle East; Vildhast, Josh Rogers and Katee McLean’s Swedish street food; Yaki Ya, Patrick Curtis’ version of a Japanese grill shop; Providence Pizzeria Co., the second location of brothers Luke and Aaron Salvatore’s homage to Rhode Island-style pizza; and Farm to Market Sandwich Co., where carb lovers can binge on John Friend’s fabulous sandwiches.
Oh, and there are also two bars operated by Parlor’s ownership group. Beverage director Tuesday Smith, beverage director focuses on agave and whiskey drinks as well as off-the-beaten-path wine and beer selections. Oddly Correct provides coffee service.
So, basically, if you can’t find something to eat at Parlor, you’re not hungry.
With so many moving parts, it would be easy to say that Parlor is overwhelming. In reality, it’s not. Space is split into seating areas with unique atmospheres — a calm and quiet coffee shop vibe next to the electric fireplace near the entrance, a covered and heated patio on the second floor, and two communal indoor seating areas where customers can dine. At Parlor, you choose your own adventure.
Smith says the food hall concept focuses on incubating potential stand-alone restaurants. Leases for each kitchen are for one, two, or three-year increments. After three years, the concept must change, or the chef must move out.
But is the food good? In a nutshell, yes — with one caveat. Just like any good choose-your-own-adventure story, there are great endings and mediocre endings.
In my three trips to Parlor, I discovered that each of the seven concepts has its strong points. My favorite was Sura Eats. The flavors were bright and bold, and the presentation — although on recyclable plates and bowls — incorporated great texture and color so that each bite tasted as good as it looked.
Vildhast was another standout. Of course, sausages are an easy favorite, but the menu captures the diversity of Swedish street food, which incorporates pickling flavors, curries and fresh dill in the salads that accompany many of the sausages. Plus, it’s one of the only restaurants that offers its own drink menu.
While those two concepts stood out to me, I found great dishes to recommend at most of Parlor’s restaurants. Stop at Karbon for incredibly moist and flavorful chicken picadillo empanadas. The buttery yet durable crust pairs perfectly with Karbon’s assortment of sauces.
Karbon also offers one of my favorite nostalgic Central American dishes, platanos maduros, which is hard to find in Kansas City. The fried sweet plantains are drizzled with crema and topped with cilantro.
My favorite dish at Sura Eats was the beef japchae — a bowl full of sweet potato glass noodles marinated in sesame oil and soy sauce and topped with lightly cooked shredded carrot and steamed cabbage for a good bit of crunch to offset the soft noodles. You can add whatever protein you like (beef, tofu or pork) but the cashier who served me recommended the beef, as its marinade complements the noodles. The kimchi pancake was another favorite.
Parlor’s other Asian restaurant, Yaki Ya, cashes in on the okonomiyaki trend. The dish is a savory pancake served in two styles: Hiroshima or Osaka. Both are filled with vegetables and topped with your choice of proteins and a variety of sauces — such as Kewpie mayo and a sweet teriyaki-style sauce called okonomiyaki — and textural toppings such as furikake, a seasoning that consists of crunchy seaweed, sesame seeds and dried fish.
I tried the Osaka-style pancake, which was a bit heavier than I expected. The flavors all blended well, and the chasu (pork belly) on top was tender and flavorful.
Yaki Ya also offers yakitori, marinated and grilled skewers of chicken. Those make a perfect appetizer, and so do Yaki Ya’s skewered shishito peppers. Just watch the peppers — it’s a bit of a roulette game when it comes to their heat level. When they are mild, the flavor of the blistered peppers is outstanding.
Vildhast’s Curried Korv was a beautiful dish. The paprika sausage is sliced and served bunless over thinly cut curried fries drizzled with curry ketchup and mayo. Add a Klubb Sallad if you want to feel virtuous. It includes hard-boiled egg, radish, cucumber and Jarlsberg cheese over crisp greens topped with a creamy dill dressing.
Craving whimsy? Order Vildhast’s blue Swedish Fish soda — the eponymous candies swim in the drink.
Mother Clucker offers six heat levels for its chicken breasts and wings, but be wary of the names. As a spice novice, I chose the Weak Sauce, which claims a “teensy” bit of spice — but the chicken breast on my sandwich had a real kick. The breast was very juicy and moist, although the buttered roll that served as the foundation for the sandwich was a bit stale and crunchy.
Mother Clucker redeemed itself with the Cap’n Crunch milkshake, an over-the-top monstrosity that I just had to try. The milkshake blended the sweet breakfast cereal with whole milk and ice cream, taking its crunchiness away and leaving only the sheer delight of cereal milk flavor. The shake is topped with whipped cream, a Rice Krispies treat, and a powdered donut.
Farm to Market Sandwich Co. is probably the most lunch-friendly option, with a wide selection of sandwiches and salads and shareable appetizers like pretzel sticks. The grilled cheese sandwich is a knockout hit. Picture Green Dirt Farm Fresh Nettle cheese, provolone, and Swiss melting between fresh slices of Grains Galore bread, with one side topped with a layer of crunchy caramelized cheese.
The only real letdown was Providence Pizzeria Co. As a solo diner, my only option was the slice of the day. On my first visit, that slice came with a thick crust topped with sausage, mushrooms and olives. But it was barely warm and had been sitting too long. On my second visit, the slice of the day was thin crust with spinach, bacon and goat cheese. The flavor combo was good, but again, the slice wasn’t warm enough. Those experiences left me unlikely to go back for a whole pie.
Parlor’s bar options complete the food hall experience. When I went, two cocktails were available on tap: A house Old Fashioned and The Ginger Daisy, a refreshing mix of lemon juice, ginger, and Tapatio Blanco tequila. The bars also offered several made-from-scratch seasonal cocktails.
Don’t see something you like on the drink menu? Ask the bartender to make something special — it lets them stretch their legs and find a new favorite that might make its way onto the menu.
Parlor is more than a restaurant, it’s a concept — and one that’s been a long time coming for Kansas City. We have fantastic fine dining options in the downtown and Crossroads, but variety in the fast casual realm has been relatively sparse.
It will be exciting to see how Kansas City’s first food hall evolves in the coming years.