WINING AND DINING
We hate to start out by repeating last year’s winners, but KC ’cue royalty, it seems, is royalty for a reason: Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue smokes for the Gold. This perennial winner will even share the recipe for their cheesy corn and can ship its ribs almost everywhere. Next in line, and usually it’s a long one, is Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue, served up on a Silver platter. Their sandwiches, fries, and pulled pork especially delight barbecue carnivores. The Bronze belongs to Gates and Son’s Bar-B-Q—its six locations have been helping KCers understand sauce and great meat since 1946.
Best Business Breakfast
First Watch, with nearly 100 locations, more than 10 of them in the metropolitan area, apparently brews a mean cup of coffee to go with a great breakfast as our Gold champion. Maybe it’s that entire pot of coffee just waiting to energize sleepy business folk, along with pleasant wait staff who know when to interrupt, or not, that makes it such a favorite. The Classic Cup on the Plaza wins the Silver, its pancakes alone enough to satisfy devotees. Panera takes the Bronze for the first time, with free Wi-fi and toast-your-own bagels supplemented by tasty breakfast entrees and delicious pastries at their 20 local locations.
Best Business Lunch
There’s just something about white table cloths, walnut trim and subdued lighting that makes a business person look successful. All that, and just great lunches, make The Capital Grille your Golden choice. The Silver is newly awarded to another Plaza restaurant, Brio Tuscan Grille, whose broad menu and chattery buzz lets you know the time is now and so is the food. Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue serves up the Bronze as suits compete with shorts for heaping platters of renowned barbecue—and remarkably excellent salads.
Best Business Dinner
May as well spend the entire business day at The Capital Grille. To excellent service and delicious steaks (great fish, too), add a substantial wine list. The business talk expands as the Gold standard is achieved. Plaza III-The Steakhouse, across the street, is our hometown Silver version of a great steak place where corporate types feel at home ordering buttery hash browns with their perfect steaks. Not every business person is on the Plaza, nor do they eat red meat alone. The Bristol Seafood Grill shows up as another new Bronze winner, as both of its location, Downtown and in Leawood, cater to perhaps healthier tastes.
Lon Lane’s Inspired Occasions must truly have inspired our readers—they selected this venerated but innovative institution as their first choice again for the Gold. Inspired Occasions handles events for crowds from two to 6,000 with flair and ease—and herbs from their own garden. The Silver is awarded to Bonterra Catering & Events, formed when Eddy’s Catering was purchased by Treat America Food Services in 2005. Above & Beyond Catering touts its “perfect marriage of experience, a passion for food, presentation and a flair for event planning” and wins the Bronze this year.
Best Ethnic Restaurant
While the term “ethnic food” may be somewhat ambiguous, we know what we like: authentic, maybe exotic, definitely different. La Bodega takes our Gold prize for the third year in a row, its newest location on 119th in Leawood no doubt adding to the fan base. Reflecting the power of another move, Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop enlarged its space but kept the same great spicy (or not) Thai street food they’ve served for 14 years for the Silver prize. Bo Ling’s Chinese Restaurant, our Bronze star, has
six locations to serve ever ything from authentic dim sum to custom Chinese cakes—who knew?
Best Grocery Store/Chain
What’s unique about Kansas City is that we like our grocery stores local—no national chains for us. Iowa-based regional grocer Hy-Vee bags the Gold with a still-pertinent goal of “good merchandise, appreciative service and low prices,” not to mention a helpful smile in every aisle. Price Chopper for the Silver and Hen House for the Bronze medals prove that one family can run two different neighborhood grocery stores in 28 locations, all beginning with one tiny store in 1923 in Kansas City, Kan. Their mantra remains founder Sidney Ball’s: “Our grocery store is only as good as the people who work there.”
Healthiest Restaurant Menu
Every year, the American College of Sports Medicine ranks the 50 healthiest and fittest metropolitan areas in the United States. Kansas City ranked 22nd, but that’s not the fault of these restaurants; they’re trying their best in a community that’s had a lifelong love affair with some foods that might not be the healthiest everyday fare. The Mixx was voted a Gold for its efforts, with respondents favoring both locations for the healthy, delicious salads and sandwiches. Eat your greens and then splurge on their coconut cream cookies. (in*gre*di*ent) in Leawood, Downtown, and on the Plaza, wins the Silver for its pizzas, custom salads and soups. And they don’t allow tipping—what a concept! Venerated Eden Alley, healthy and vegetarian before most of us knew what that was, offers “divine flavor for the conscious eater” for the Bronze.
Best Outdoor Dining
Remember those nice days last spring? Both of them? When you lazed outside in the warmth, your jacket on your chair, a slight breeze barely caressing your skin? When Ingram’s connoisseurs thought back, they remembered The Classic Cup, awarding it the Gold for a varied menu and excellent people-watching opportunities. But Lidia’s also has a train! Its Silver designated patio is the perfect place to sip some prosecco and pretend to be in Laglio, waiting for George. If Mexico is more to your liking, hike out to Los Cabos in Leawood, our Bronze victor. With its fire pits and lounge areas outside, its fresh fare and big margaritas, this KC Hopps’ restaurant caters to our hidden “sustantivo.”
Best Place to Eat With a Group
Group eating is tricky—the restaurant has to have large enough tables, you have to be able to hear one another, and the food must be good and arrive at the same time. The four locations of Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue have all that mastered, and thus deserve the Gold, according to our readers. Next is Nick & Jake’s, in Leawood or Parkville, new on the list. It snags the Silver due to its broad menu, with something good for everyone from a “fatty melt” to calamari. And Stroud’s, our Bronze favorite, wins awards for its pan-fried chicken (but try the catfish) and home-style veggies—all served family-style.
Best Place to Take Out-of-Town Guests
If they’re visiting Kansas City, you’re pretty much required to take them for barbecue. Fiorella’s Jack Stack Batrbecue is your Gold ticket for the TSI (Tourist Satisfaction Index). But, should you wish to prove that KC is not just barbecue, head straight next door to Silver winner Lidia’s. Even the frico there is freakishly fabulous. Want that barbecue in less stylish headquarters? Then Bronze winner, Oklahoma Joe’s, will show them what Kansas City cooking is really all about.
Most Romantic Restaurant
White tablecloths, sparkling glass, elegant wine decanters (and Jamie’s superb sommeliering), soft music, spectacular view, perfect food and divine service . . . we could go on and on about The American Restaurant, where even the most challenged Lothario could shine with Gold fervor. The Silver saunters upstairs to Starker’s Reserve, one of the very few non-chains on the Plaza. For nearly 40 years, this intimate setting, with congenial chef/owner John McClure, has been creating contemporary favorites. The Melting Pot, also on the Plaza, serves up both atmosphere and closeness for the Bronze—it must be the co-mingled dipping into pots of cheese or chocolate that brings young and old lovers together.
Bristol Seafood Grill again snags the Gold. Both Downtown and Leawood locations offer a broad and perfectly prepared selection of seafood of all kinds. And again, McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood reels in the Silver—its fish is delish and that “Chocolate Bag” dessert is alarmingly good. And wow! A steakhouse wins the Bronze: 801 Chophouse in the Power and Light District (and coming to Leawood this October) due to its weekend lobster special and very fresh oysters and fish from all over.
Best Sports Bar/Grill
Noun: A bar where televised sporting events are shown continuously. Patrons don’t have to eat/drink, but do. Patrons don’t have to talk, but may. Patrons don’t have to scream and yell and cheer frenetically, but should. Voted the Gold by those patrons: 810 Zone on the Plaza, at Leawood Town Center, and at Harrah’s Casino. Buffalo Wild Wings clucks its way to the Silver, both the TVs and menu offer lots of choices, especially if you like sauce. The Bronze: Tanner’s Bar and Grill with its seven local restaurants where the burgers, fries and TVs complete the sports-bar food pyramid.
KC flesh eaters take their steaks seriously. And often rare. For that perfect steak, our readers set the Gold standard this year with The Capital Grille, reversing last year’s top two winners. And yes, the steaks are fabulous—but so is their coconut cream pie, so leave a little room for dessert. An absolute KC tradition, beginning in 1963, reverts this year to the Silver: Plaza III—The Steakhouse where they select prime steaks from their own meat processing facility and age them in their own beef locker. Ruth’s Chris Steak House retains the Bronze, another establishment with prime steaks expertly prepared. Save room here, too, for Ruth’s bread pudding, an original from hometown New Orleans.
Best Wine List
If there is a reserved spot on this list, it’s probably in this category and it’s earmarked for JJ’s—yes, it took the Gold again. With over 1,800 bottles to choose from and an outstanding reputation in the wine world, oenophiles from everywhere congregate here. Next, and new for the Silver, stands The Capital Grille, where discriminating palates are pleased by more than 350 selections. Tannin Wine Bar & Kitchen in the Crossroads tastes Bronze for the first time, its wine flights offering a lovely way to get to know many wines easily. The cheese plates are perfect accompaniments.
The best meal, accompanied by lousy service, rapidly becomes … well, not much more than just another meal, period. But top-notch service will quickly transform great food into an exemplary dining experience, and if our readers know anything, they know what superior service looks like. For the Golden experience, go to The Capital Grille on the Country Club Plaza. For the Silver, plaudits galore go to bluestem, the rising start at the gateway to the Westport entertainment district. And for the Bronze, our readers say, virtually any meal at J. Alexander’s in Overland Park (one of 50 locations overall) will demonstrate the value of great service.
Best New Restaurant (Locally-Owned)
Locally owned restaurants can be tough—it’s a jagged business, especially in today’s rough climate. But Tavern in the Village has won many Gold kudos in its first months of business for its creative drinks and stylish bar. It retains a family-friendly environment, serving twists on traditional favorites. Beer Kitchen on Westport Road is more than about beer: this Silver winner has terrific burgers, fries, even deviled eggs. And 77 South on 135th Street captures the Bronze—try it yourself to see why some folks are raving about this vintage ’70s lounge. Maybe it’s the deep-fried lobster tail.
Best Overall Restaurant
How to choose the best of the best? What magic is required? We know it’s not just a coin toss. Ingram’s discerning readers no doubt looked at food, service and ambiance for starters, then selected The Capital Grille for the Gold; Plaza III—The Steakhouse for the Silver; and bluestem for the Bronze. You’ve seen all those names before, and there is no hype in their reputations; they are considered the best at what they do for very good reasons.
Best Restaurant (Clay & Platte Counties)
Justus Drugstore—if you haven’t yet been to what some consider the best restaurant in the Midwest, make your reservations NOW for this Smithville icon. With special attention to find local ingredients and a healthy appreciation for what it means to invest time into your cooking, the folks at Justus pride themselves in making sure that nothing on the menu can be confused with fast food.
Best Restaurant (Johnson & Wyandotte Counties)
NoRTH—Yes, it’s south (on 119th Street), but this chain does all its Italian dishes very well, indeed. Start with the zucca chips, even if you think you hate zucchini. This American take on the Italian trattoria will give you a new apprecation for what wood-roasting and grilling can do to complement fine pasta.
Best Restaurant (Jackson County)
The American Restaurant ties with The Capital Grill—What can we say? This pretty much nails it. Neither is what you might consider a discount dining experience, but trust us: Both are well worth it. Save room for dessert.
Best Restaurant (Outer Communities–Missouri)
Bates City BBQ—Cruise on out to Missouri Highway Z and try this “hole in the wall” (that’s a compliment, by the way). The sauce and the french fries help give an air of distinction to the fare, but the meats reflect a commitment to both the art and science of smoking.
Best Restaurant (Outer Communities–Kansas)
Pachamama’s—Spend some gas money and go to west Lawrence to sample the primary nod to elegant and creative food in this university town. Embracing a keen appreciation for the seasonal nature of foods, it offers a menu teeming with items that are available on a month-to-month basis.