A trip through the garden starts at home
Kansas City has never been shy about its pork fixation—or beef for that matter. In the home of undying love for the art of barbecue, life for those who love vegetables can be a challenge. Sure, there are outposts of veggie love—Füd, Eden Alley or Café Gratitude spring to mind—but for a mixed group of carnivores and herbivores, choosing a dinner spot can be tricky. Luckily, The Homesteader Café has arrived as a celebration of seasonal cuisine that welcomes both flora and fauna.
The restaurant, located at 100 E. 7th St. in the space formerly occupied by The Thai Place, offers diners a stylish yet homey place to enjoy brunch, lunch and dinner. The concept, a labor of love by married couple Megan Kendall and Jeremy Lane, presents dishes that will change with the availability of seasonal produce. Right now that means a menu rich with sweet potatoes, mushrooms and potatoes and hearty proteins like pot roast, pork chops and steak.
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Kendall and Lane are not farmers themselves but are trying to live out their ideals of locally sourced and grown foods. Kendall says they live on their own city ‘homestead’ complete with large garden and fruit trees, but when it comes to the restaurant, they stick with the experts—growers like Stony Crest Urban Farms, Gibbs Road Farm, and Herbivore, with proteins from Windhaven Farms.
The menu lists a variety of rustic dishes that hone in on what is most flavorful right now. When the restaurant opened in October, they faced a difficult task—finding the brightness and flavor in the cold winter months of the Midwest. Luckily, they do this with aplomb.
Because of the very seasonal menu, it tends to change quickly, so if there’s a particular dish you’re craving, a call to check on its availability is wise. On each visit I found a few things had come or gone, often in the appetizer or dessert lists, but every day features new soups and specials as well.
On one such visit, I was tempted by the daily special, the Roman Chicken. While chicken can be a tricky dish on which to assess a restaurant, this dish was a beautiful sum of its parts. Served over orzo, the chicken was pounded thin and seared and topped with a sauce of chunky fresh tomatoes and capers. Taken together, it was a great way to get the best flavor out of a non-tomato season (by stewing) and leveraging the piquant flavor of capers. The bison burger appears on both the lunch and dinner menus. While serving bison isn’t revolutionary, it’s fairly rare, especially now that Ted’s Montana Steakhouse has taken its leave of the K.C. area. The burger was thick-cut, cooked to a perfect rosy medium and served on a fresh Farm to Market bun. With a side of sweet-potato fries, it was a satisfying and filling option for meat lovers.
For vegetarians, choices are varied. On the lunch menu, veggie lovers have more than just salads to choose from, although the roasted beet and goat cheese salad was certainly tempting. A grilled portobello sandwich topped with roasted-garlic herbed goat cheese, spinach and balsamic caramelized onions could be vegan with the removal of the goat cheese. The sweet-potato burrito bowl was a hearty mélange of roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, peppers, onions, tomatoes and corn over rice with crème fraiche.
On the dinner menu, a winter squash stuffed with walnut wild rice was intriguing, but as a carnivore I had to indulge in the blackened catfish. The generous filet was suitably seasoned and crispy on the outside and was served with a black bean “salsa” that was reminiscent of succotash. Served with smashed red potatoes, the dish was filling but not heavy.
During the week, The Homesteader Café’s happy hour means half off the rotating list of appetizers, $2 off the cocktail list, and $1 off beer and wine. The most enticing appetizer was also my favorite—scallion fries. Green scallions were lightly coated in a spicy batter and fried, then served with a horseradish dipping sauce. While a bit messy to eat, they were crunchy and addictive.
The roasted Brussels sprouts were another vegetarian-friendly appetizer alternative, as long as one forwent the hot bacon mustard dipping sauce. (Which I find hard to believe anyone could.) The Brussels sprouts themselves were lightly roasted, but the sauce was really the star of the show. Crimini mushrooms stuffed with herbed goat cheese were another hit, warm and satisfying on a bleak day.
The downtown area needs more Saturday morning brunch choices and the Homesteader delivers. The brunch menu lists a few of the usual suspects: biscuits and gravy with a mixture of Woodland Heritage sausage and bison sausage, huevos ranchero, hot cakes and a farmers’ breakfast, but it also features a few twists, such as a Croque Madame made with French toast, stuffed with ham and cheese and topped with a light béchamel sauce.
The Croque Madame is a delicious combo of two great things—French toast and Croque Madame. It also revealed how servers respond to special requests. When our server, James, delivered our entrees, I realized I forgot to order my egg the way that I preferred due to a dietary restriction. With grace and kindness, he whisked the plate away and had a new order in front of me in fewer than five minutes. The dish was akin to a Monte Cristo sandwich—a bit of sweet with a lot of savory goodness.
Although the portions at The Homesteader Café are generous, they are not preposterous, leaving room for one of Kendall’s irresistible desserts. After training at Johnson County Community College’s pastry program and working at several area restaurants, she has turned her attention to creating homey favorites that hit the sweet spot.
On one occasion, the pecan pound cake called my name. The generous slice was moist but not greasy, and drizzled with a light crème anglaise. Candied pecans sprinkled over the top added a pleasant crunch.
On another day, my dessert of choice was a chocolate and coffee mousse cake. A thin slice of brownie was topped with a firm, subtly coffee-flavored mousse. The entire slice was lacquered with a sleek ganache and topped off with whole coffee beans. It was decadent but not cloying.
The cocktail list is also going to be seasonal according to Kendall. She and Lane are currently collaborating on the bar menu, in lieu of having a head bartender. Their concoctions are true to the vision of the restaurant; fresh fruits and vegetables play a prominent role. She expects to employ rhubarb in some of the early spring cocktail drinks.
The Good Vision is an unexpected but tasty trip through the garden. Carrot, ginger, thyme and lemon are mixed with tequila and Montenegro for a refreshing cocktail that proves that a Bloody Mary is not the only way to drink your vegetables. Local spirit provider J. Rieger makes frequent appearances on the cocktail menu as well.
The beer list also skews toward local breweries with Torn Label, Cinder Block and Boulevard taking over the tap wall. Even the wine list features local selections whenever possible, with Amigoni Wines and Hermannhof making an appearance on their carefully curated wine list.
The Homesteader is rustic food executed well. While they aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, they are attempting to remind diners where the wheel started—in the garden and on the farm. Subtle touches here and there—bushel baskets as lighting fixtures, cozy curtains to keep out the winter chill at the door—remind diners of the theme without being preachy. A series of quirky and inspirational quotes in chalk line the dividers of the restaurant. It is, in a word, homey.
According to Kendall, paired dinners are on the horizon, with the possibility of partnering with Torn Label or Amigoni. But in the meantime, they have plenty of work to do. After all, spring is here and a new crop is emerging to inspire them.
The Homesteader Café is located at 100 E. 7th St., Kansas City, Mo. Parking is available after 5 p.m. in the lot across from the restaurant on Walnut St. They are open from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. for lunch Tuesday through Friday, 4 p.m.-9 p.m. for dinner Tuesday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Brunch is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit thehomesteadercafe.com.