Sweet smells and a vibrant tapestry of color signal the return of summer in the River Market district, where urban living meets agriculture is known as a way of life.
Stock up on reusable bags and clear space in the trunk for a load of fresh fruits and veggies, because summer has officially arrived in the City Market.
An enduring Kansas City tradition, the City Market is the pinnacle of farmer’s markets in the metro, offering both the largest selection of fresh produce and the deepest roots in the city’s history books. Located just north of downtown, City Market has been connecting farmers and urbanites under its covered walkways for more than 150 years. As the “buy local” movement gains steam, this market has never been busier.
From fresh produce to flowers, meats, canned goods, breads and pastries, the vendors of the City Market offer up their wares in the market’s vast, open-air setting. Lettuce is purchased from the farmers who grew it and honey is sold by the beekeepers themselves.
Organically grown produce, heirloom varieties and tree-ripened or sustainably grown selections are available in abundance, and shoppers have the rare opportunity to ask the growers for tips on everything from storage to preparation of the goods at hand.
In this neighborhood, grocery shopping is a global affair—sample Halal meats and Middle Eastern ingredients from Al Habashi Market, taste the flavors of India and Pakistan at Tikka House, delve into the flavors of old Italy at Carollo’s Gourmet Grocery and Deli or indulge in the sweet sensations of Africa and the Caribbean at Crossland International Market without leaving the embrace of the market’s perimeter.
Not all food in the market has to be prepared at home. City Market is a hot lunch spot for downtowners, and the restaurants located within the market don’t disappoint. Bo Ling’s (20 E. 5th St.), a long-time Kansas City Chinese cuisine favorite, has a location within the market, and warm afternoons offer the tantalizing aroma of Bo Ling’s famous General Tso’s Chicken ($9.95).
No neighborhood in this city is complete without a barbecue joint, and in the City Market, Winslow’s Barbecue (20 E. 5th St.) fits the bill. Their famous dry-rubbed jumbo wings ($6.99 for six) might possibly be the hottest wings in the city, but it’s the sweet bourbon bacon brisket that beckons strongly to visitors.
At nearby Blue Nile Café, (20 E. 5th St.), adventurous palates can travel through samplings of Ethiopian cuisine with Mesob, a traditional Ethiopian dining experience. Although many of the names of dishes at Blue Nile Café are daunting, braving mispronunciations is well worth the flavors, which are often rich, earthy and intricate. After dinner, try the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony ($15) and enjoy coffee that rivals even the best of brews.
Take heed, however, that a venture to the City Market has more to offer than just fresh produce and culinary delights. Saturday diversions abound in this historic, brick-adorned district.
Located just opposite of the market’s main walkway, Dutch Flowers (400 Grand) is an ideal diversion for weekend gardeners and budding green thumbs. Dutch Flowers is steeped in the Dutch gardening tradition (Holland is the world’s leading exporter of tulips), and true to form, they do offer an impressive selection of authentic blue delftware and Klompen, those wooden shoes the Dutch are so well known for wearing. Dutch Flowers sells both cut flowers and potted plants, and their array of houseplants is a delightfully unusual collection of Hawaiian volcano plants, air plants and Venus flytraps, among others.
City Market proper is also home to locally grown boutiques and gift shops, all of which blend almost seamlessly into a sort of modern bazaar. Shops like Urban Trader, Josie’s, So Young’s Fashions and City Market Watch and Jewelry are a maze of handmade, modern and imported goods (and there are more than a few Dorothy-related knickknacks on display for the out-of-towners). A few boutiques, like Africa 2000 and Dalia’s Silver Lining, tap into the City Market’s global flavor with fashions and jewelry as unique as the countries from which they came.
Outside the immediate walls of the City Market, nearby The Planters Seed and Spice Company (513 Walnut St.) delivers the agricultural feel that once permeated this historic neighborhood. Planters continues to operate as an old-fashioned general store, just as it has since first opening in 1924. Here, seeds of any ilk are stored in shelves and divvyed out by knowledgeable hands from behind glass-front counters. During the summer months, the sidewalks in front of Planters are often lined with rows of seedlings in season—peppers, herbs, tomatoes, lettuce and strawberry plants. Inside, anterior rooms are filled with gardening tools, bird houses (including abodes for bats and martins), bird baths, teas and a room of loose spices.
Diversions like River Market Antiques (115 W. 5th St.) call for a more serious time commitment. Located just behind the walls of the famous Lewis and Clark mural, River Market Antiques is a treasure trove of vintage goods, antique furniture, artisan crafts and uncommon oddities. Not to be outdone, nearby 600 Central Antiques (600 Central St.) complements the vintage scene with four more floors of furnishings, clothing and nostalgic decorations.
Few places in the River Market are better for wrapping up a day on your feet than Harry’s Country Club (112 Missouri Ave.). Recently voted one of America’s Best Bars by Esquire magazine, the spot deserves every accolade coming to it. On summer weekend nights, the back patio is often brimming with locals enjoying brews and live entertainment that sounds transported from the 1950s, complete with upright basses, banjos and pedal steel guitars. Whether you come for the produce, the boutiques or the global cuisine, the City Market neighborhood delivers a blend of flavors all its own.