As a little born and bred Canadian girl, I never thought I’d say this: but man do I love Kansas City, Missouri.
I have a weird life. I got lucky enough to audition for a show ten years ago (Firefly) that turned into a little cult hit with the most dedicated orange hat-wearing, Hero Of Canton-singing, aiming-to-misbehave Browncoats any actor could ever hope to wish for. They still come out in droves to pop culture expos and conventions all over the world to hear us tell the same stories, to tell us their own stories about meeting their Browncoat partners through various fan message boards and having little Browncoat babies, and basically keeping the tiny glimmer of hope alive that the show will somehow find a place in the ‘verse once again. I love them. A lot. And it’s because of them that I get to keep traveling the world, talking about the show that changed my life. Which means I get to eat and drink in some pretty obscure places.
So I found myself recently in Kansas City at Planet Comic Con, a huge and wacky convention featuring all walks of life (seriously, I’m pretty sure I saw Run DMC there) and yours truly. I usually get to bring a friend to these things, so for this venture I brought my actress pal Sarah Smyth so she could pop her proper sci fi expo cherry once and for all. Plus she’s the sensible one in the relationship and not easily phased, so I thought it would be rather humorous to see her surrounded by wookies and trekkies and bronies (google that please, omg). And plus she’s also a fellow unicorn– an actress who eats food.
And Toto, had we ever gone to the right place for good food.
Who would’ve thought Kansas City was a little baby foodie mecca? Sure, it has its BBQ joints (and everybody has their own rather hostile opinion on which one rules), but it also has farm-to-table restaurants and delectably innovative cafes in the middle of nowhere and speakeasies and WINERIES?! I got mighty lucky this trip and my buddy CB Cebulski was there, who’s a travel scout for Marvel (his food blog eataku.com), and any time he’s in the vicinity I know my foodie adventures will be well-planned before I get there. Here’s what two chicks and a group of big burly hungry Marvel artists/authors hit up while we were in town.
This place is just stupid. It’s like eating in your friend’s lovely restored home out in the country complete with claw foot tub if your friend was an insanely talented chef obsessed with cooking seasonal and local as much as possible. Chef Ryan Brazeal calls his cooking “Novel American Cuisine”, which is his own refreshing approach to “New American”, which always sounded rather vague to me. Whatever you want to call it, it’s delicious, and covers the gamut of all things original and satisfying. Spicy octopus with saffron, broccoli salad with devil egg vinaigrette, acorn squash gnocchi with chestnut and cranberry in brown butter, smoked potatoes with poblano peppers and sour cream, rabbit sausage with escargot.. I mean how dare you. My favorites were the hamachi crudo dotted with trout roe, and the pig head ravioli with pancetta. And everything else. EVERYTHING.
Are you kidding me?
This here is a real speakeasy. I love a dark and smoky speakeasy, a place tucked under the rustic wood floors of somewhere else, moody and boozy and screaming VIP. The best part about Manifesto is it treats everybody like a VIP, so it’s first-come, first-serve, no matter how many sci fi movies you were in. Fair warning about these speakeasies: the cocktails are usually mighty strong and teeming with tinctures and specialty ingredients to keep your palate guessing. Which also means your palate might get a wee bit tipsy. But as long as you keep it classy, they’ll keep you comfortable. Kudos to one of them apparently being a Happy Opu reader because champagne that was not on the menu started to mysteriously appear right in front of me. Champagne and specialty cocktails! I wanted to lay down in front of a bus the next day!
This little gem sits on the outskirts of downtown, but we heard it was worth a cab ride. It looks like a little gas station/car garage in the middle of nowhere (I am not kidding you when I say I saw a tumbleweed roll by), but it is oh-so-good. It’s like going back in time once you enter the door, pretty girls in long flowy white dresses serving plates of sandwiches and glasses of fresh-squeezed lemonade, wildflowers on the tables, old timey music and a rustic looking bar. But don’t judge it by its country cover; the food is expertly crafted, complex, interesting, and off the charts delicious. If you’re lucky enough to get there early for breakfast (we weren’t, thanks a lot, speciality cocktails), they have things like waffles with pistachios and strawberries, fried chicken and biscuits, even a grapefruit sprinkled and caramelized with sugar and served with vanilla ice cream. We were equally stoked to get to sample the lunch menu, which has a smattering of unusual sandwiches like a roasted squash with arugula and sheeps milk cheese, roasted pork loin with provolone, and a fancy grilled cheese with apples and braised onion. But we went for the most popular items to share, and I’m so damned glad we did. The best chicken salad sandwich I ever had topped with thick-cut bacon and slices of green apple and cheese, and the “torta”: breaded and fried chicken breast with queso fresco, shredded cabbage, and house-made salsa on a ciabatta bun. And that lemonade? It put the fire out.
Which lead us to Amigoni right across the parking lot, an honest-to-goodness tasting room pouring Kansas-grown wines. Right there in the middle of the tumbleweeds. It was like seeing a mirage. The whites they were pouring were our favorites, but all in all I was impressed at what that region could produce, and especially impressed with the cheese-crusted tortilla chips they had to cleanse your palate between sips.
Now before you get all high and mighty about me choosing what might not have been your favorite BBQ place, cool your jets. I for one was so pleased with the mound of BBQ we had at Jack Stack’s, I would happily return. Yes, it’s a chain. But it’s a chain that knows what’s up, and consistency seems to be the theme here. First of all, they do a mean onion ring, crispy and not at all greasy and piled up into a tower with dipping sauce on the side. Their sides are traditional but out of this world: creamy coleslaw, perfect potato salad just like my grandma used to “make” (I know you bought that shit down the street, Tutu), excellent saucy baked beans… But the BBQ? The mounds of baby back ribs and sliced brisket and fiery wings and prime rib all served with a BBQ sauce so good I contemplated drinking it out of a champagne flute? Whoa. It’s impossible to try everything, but did we ever try our best. And then we went back to the hotel and blasted the air conditioner and laid in bed with the meat sweats. Sexy actresses!
To quote our driver who picked us up from the airport when we arrived: “No one expects much out of Kansas City. But they sure are sad to leave.” The best part about these crazy trips I get to take is the surprises that wait for me over the rainbow. I honestly can’t wait to go back. Thanks for showing these two pigs a great time. Love you, KC.