A Brookside restaurant with ingredient-inspired food. Period.
There are a number of one-word declarative statements that could be made about the latest addition to the up and coming East Brookside area, Plate. Chic. Stylish. Elegant. Welcoming. The list goes on. And in a town that likes its Italian cuisine traditional, another word may apply—shocking.
The shock is a good one though, akin to a palate cleanser from Italian-American cuisine that Kansas City is known for. Of course, there is great authentic Italian cuisine (Lidia’s comes to mind) to be had here, but when one thinks of Italian in Kansas City, it comes with a spicy meatball.
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Plate, then, is a revelation. True, it doesn’t claim to be Eye-talian, instead taking on the classification of modern European cuisine, but its roots are still in the motherland of Italia. With a broad menu of hot and cold antipasti, three ravioli options, and a small pasta menu as well as an entrée menu, it has a decidedly Italian feeling, as long as one is classifying Italian as focused on quality ingredients and simple preparations.
That is precisely what owners Andrea and Christian Morrow want. The restaurateurs, with a combined 20 years of hospitality experience between them, have long harbored a commitment to fresh, locally sourced ingredients, as is evidenced by their other business, immediately south of Plate, Season+Square, which specializes in locally produced food items, beverage components, books and more. The focus on artisanal products is clear and welcomed. Combined with the talents of chef Brian Mehl, most lately of an 18-year tenure at The Classic Cup, the restaurant makes the most of what it has at its disposal.
My first experience at Plate wowed. After a friendly reception at the sleek bar, and a well-executed take on a Manhattan, we were seated in the stylish dining room. The whole of the restaurant seats only roughly 50 people, so think intimate when planning your dining party. Taking our places under the mirrored chandelier in front of a textured wall, expertly lit, and the open kitchen, the stage was set for what would be a visually pleasing feast.
While many write a menu as if they are penning poetry, such is not the case with Plate. They offer a clean, streamlined menu of descriptions, confident that the ingredients will sell themselves and they do. Two of the antipasti stood out as truly inspired—the crudo and the beets.
Yes, beets. I know; they are last year’s trend. I don’t care. This gorgeous plate arrived with an mélange of roasted and sliced beets, varying in color from deep aubergine to vivid red and orange. Topped with walnuts, arugula, orange preserves, honey, mint and a smoked gray salt, the beets took center stage as the citrus flavors tried to woo the focus to themselves and failed utterly. Instead the earthy sweetness was enhanced in a balanced, whole satisfying bite that brought no tinge of guilt. It seemed almost healthy.
The other standout from the evening’s antipasti was the crudo. The yellowtail tuna was delightfully rich. Served on a bed of rustico giardiniera, which was comprised mainly of cauliflower, the fattiness of the tuna was balanced by the tangy and acidic giardiniera. A spike of lemon finished the dish that was served with olive crostino.
Sitting so close to the kitchen, we had another advantage. Had we had the presence of mind to look up from our noshing, we could have seen chef Mehl at work. Even without this, owner Christian Morrow was holding court, engaging with patrons, checking on service and suggesting his favorites from the menu. His manner was one of the most Italian parts of the dinner experience, as he circulated, inviting each and every diner to the party.
For the main course, pasta and protein reign supreme. The standout dish of the night was the shoulder. House-made pappardelle wastopped with a slow-braised pork shoulder ragout and finished with local asiago cheese. The ragout’s richness felt decadent after balanced and light antipasti, with large chunks of fork-tender pork practically melting on top of al dente pasta.
The other standout was the loin. Once again, pork took center-stage in what was described as a roasted pork loin with potatoes, cremini mushrooms, carrots and onions in a rosemary jus. It was the proportions of the ingredients that made this a star; the rosemary jus enveloped a loin that more closely resembled a porcine pot roast or beef bourguignon. The dish was hearty and homey; no frills, just perfectly executed.
As we wound down our meal, dessert loomed. There were three options, a chocolate tort, budino, and an apple tart made with a crust of winter squash seeds. I was delighted by the absence of the ubiquitous tiramisu, the bane of Italian dessert menus in my opinion.
We tried each of them, but the standout was clearly the budino. The parfait glass of cool, creamy chocolate mousse was layered with crispy chocolate cookie and salted caramel bits, topped with fresh whipped cream and chocolate shavings. The combination of textures in a single bite was immensely satisfying. This is what every ‘pudding’ wants to be.
Although we enjoyed a fantastic and very reasonably priced bottle of a Tuscan cabernet blend, on a later visit I was tempted by the cocktail list. It is an innovative menu created in collaboration with Christopher Ciesel and Cristin Llewellyn’s The Campground. The list focuses on Italian classics with local twists like the Aristocrat. This take on the classic Negroni uses J. Rieger Midwestern Dry Gin, Campari and Carpano Antica. Cocktail service is done well here, as the bartenders crush ice for each drink and pay attention to garnishes, all with a friendly, conversational manner.
I returned to explore the happy hour menu, offered Thursday through Saturdayfrom 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. In addition to a few favorites from the antipasti menu, such as the white bean purée with Sicilian olives and fresh bread, the arancini, and my favorite, the Brussels sprout crostini, there are a few additional options. My favorite, and one that I’m sure to return for, was the portobello mushroom fries. The thick-cut mushrooms wore the barest whisper of a spicy cornmeal coating and were served alongside a tomato aioli. While the aioli was a bit thinner than I had experienced before, it was the perfect body for the mushrooms, tangy, light and not enough to overpower the crispy breading.
The Brussels sprout crostini was another dish that I would indulge in again. The thick rustic bread was topped with crispy roasted halved Brussels sprouts tossed with a fresh ricotta. Slivers of preserved lemons provided a bitter counterpoint to the drizzle of honey that topped this dish.
Combined with a drink special on select draft beers (all from local favorite Torn Label), wine and a chosen cocktail, this happy hour is one that is sure to draw the neighborhood in. According to bartender Todd Muth, they intend to open up the large windows once the weather warms. Once again, Christian was at the door, welcoming guests, clearing plates and making sure that his ship was on course.
Perhaps it is in Morrow’s manner that the traditional Italian touches come in. Of course the food is delicious; with quality ingredients and wisdom behind the knife, that is expected. But it is the confluence of food, drinks and atmosphere at Plate that creates an atmosphere that is at once neighborhood friendly yet date-night chic. With a focus on quality, not quantity, diners at Plate will leave feeling as if their sophisticated friends invited them to dinner. And they would be right. Their names are Christian and Andrea and they expecting you.