STORY AND PHOTOS BY Pete Dulin
It’s a grievous gaffe not to take advantage of the rays and vibrant city life by dining indoors. Local restaurants help you enjoy the very best food and drinks without missing a moment of summer.
When summer arrives, diners, drinkers and socialites seek out a patio or deck in Kansas City’s culinary scene to enjoy the outdoors. Think of it as a seasonal land grab. Ample space and open air is relaxing, especially with an appetizer and cold drink close at hand.
A courtyard table at Gram & Dun (600 Ward Parkway) is prime real estate. This gastropub serves refined cocktails, wine and craft beer for discerning drinkers. Executive Chef Bradley Gilmore produces adventurous, seasonally inspired food. The outdoor patio, outfitted with firepits to ward off chills on cooler evenings, is a splendid place to pass time, especially for weekend brunch.
On a sunny Sunday morning, start with a classic cocktail updated with a contemporary flavor profile. The Old Fashioned Breakfast ($9) infuses Maker’s Mark bourbon with bacon and adds coffee liqueur, maple syrup, Bitter Tears bacon bitters, an orange slice and Luxardo maraschino cherries. It’s liquid breakfast in a highball.
With drink in hand, consider the sweet and salty French toast ($13), prepared with eggs stuffed inside plump bread slices and topped with sesame bacon brittle and fruit syrup. Not So Huevos Rancheros ($14) arrives as a bowl of chorizo stew loaded with jalapeno, cilantro and a perfect Scotch egg soft-boiled, wrapped in chorizo and fried. A quartet of potato chips stand ready to soak up the broth. Gator sausage and eggs ($13) is one of many nods to chef Gilmore’s southern heritage. Savory gator sausage pairs nicely with fried egg, bacon, breakfast potatoes and mustard jus that will make taste buds dance.
Head to the upper deck at The Well (7421 Broadway St.) in Brookside for a commanding rooftop view of the neighborhood. A fleet of blue and red table umbrellas reinforces the impression of being on an ocean liner. Reggae-tinged notes of Blondie’s “The Tide is High” drown the city noise. Set sail with a glass of Sangria or blueberry lemonade vodka. The only thing that’s missing is an ocean current.
Chef Terry Barkley’s made-to-order menu surpasses standard bar fare. Ease into port (or lounge chair) with seafood specials such as the fresh Nantucket lobster meat sandwich (price varies), flown in fresh from the bay. Tossed in lemon-pepper mayonnaise and set on a butter-toasted roll, this lobster sandwich beats anything I’ve eaten in Boston or along the north shore.
Honey-brined smoked salmon dip ($11.99) with capers is served with flatbread crackers. The dish’s presentation is reminiscent of a sundial. Other light summer fare includes Asian Sakuri rare tuna salad ($13.99) laden with fruit, greens and spicy peanut-honey dressing, and tequila-lime house-smoked chicken nachos ($9.99).
Chef Barkley gets creative with his fish of the day entrées (price varies) such as pan-seared Florida mahi dressed with cilantro lime butter, avocado and salsa atop lemon-spinach orzo. The Well also serves up plenty of steak, chicken, pasta and sandwiches for the landlubber in your crew.
The patio at Aixois (251 E. 55th St.) is a perfect vantage point to watch life pass by. Think of the adjacent Trolley Track Trail as a mise-en-scène in which joggers, parents pushing strollers and dog-walkers promenade along the verdant path in a suburban stage production. A glass of Merlot or two will carry the illusion until food makes an entrance.
The cheese board ($14) is a tour de fromage suitable for nibbling on imported cheeses, fruit, nuts, a dab of jam and crackers. For another option, order le crepe au jambon de Paris ($13), which is a fancy way of saying ham and cheese crêpe. Colloquially speaking, it’s damn good (pardon my French) for a light meal eaten outdoors in hot weather.
Roquefort cheese, toasted walnuts and beets are a classic salad combination ($9) prepared atop baby spinach. Seared ruby trout ($18) with lemon juice, shallot and almonds is difficult to resist. Suit a sweet tooth with profiteroles ($6), airy cream puffs sliced in half, loaded with vanilla ice cream, almonds and drizzled with decadent chocolate sauce.
Service by Dennis Collins, the manager of Aixois’ new second location in the downtown Commerce Bank building (1000 Walnut St.), and the other charming staff make patio dining and lounging an alluring way of life.
Cafe Trio’s (4558 Main St.) deck is one of the Country Club Plaza area’s most sought-after outdoor watering holes and dining spots year-round. Because availability is first-come, first-seated on the patio, many guests request outdoor seating on their reservations. The elevated deck overlooks Mill Creek Park and the famous J.C. Nichols Fountain. Covered and heated in the winter, the deck’s canopy is removed in late spring as temperatures climb, to allow air to circulate with the assistance of ceiling fans.
To cool off further, order a glass or pitcher of Sangria or Trio lemonade, a specialty martini or cold beer from the custom-built bar. Trio’s menu offers plenty of outdoor dining fare prepared by Chef Leon Bahlmann. Seafood ceviche ($12) is a colorful mix of citrus-marinated scallops, shrimp and tilapia with Napa cabbage, cilantro, fresh pineapple and mango.
Lamb lollipops ($13) are a fanciful moniker for a dish made of applewood-smoked Colorado lamb rib chops served with apricot, date, grape tomatoes, couscous, feta cheese and lemon vinaigrette. The smokiness of these chops is subtle and mouthwatering. An alternate small plate selection is the blue cheese bistro ($15), with grilled filet tips with melted gorgonzola cheese, veal demi glace and skewered vegetables.
Chef Bahlmann’s menu ranges from cracker crust pizzas ($11) to wild mushroom ravioli ($19) to grilled salmon Nicoise salad ($14). His culinary repertoire offers something for everyone and can accommodate gluten and vegetarian dietary needs as well.
Many other Kansas City restaurants, such as Julian, Nara, McCoy’s Public House, NoRTH and Trezo Mare, offer outdoor dining with pleasing views. Our diverse culinary scene offers myriad options for fine dining and imbibing; the only decision left is where to claim a (temporary) parcel of paradise in the Paris of the Plains.
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