Tuesday, September 24, 2013

James Beard Award Winners in the Southland (Pt. 1)

You may know the names Megan & Colby Garrelts from their critically acclaimed (and award winning) restaurant Bluestem; They recently (less than a year ago) decided that only one awesome local restaurant was not enough, enter Rye. Rye is a trendy, locally-sourced, Midwestern focused restaurant with a large number of meat based dishes (i.e. fried chicken, pulled pork, burnt ends, roast beef) that you would expect to see at any restaurant that can truly call themselves "Kansas Citian". You will, however, also find some surprises on the menu too (but I am getting ahead of myself).

Taking its "locally sourced" theme to another level, Rye grows a lot of the herbs that they use right outside of the restaurant in planters that you can see when you drive up. But one thing that you will not find, naturally occuring, in Kansas City is the menu item that I chose to indulge in (the Southern favorite, Shrimp & Grits). It is incredibly hard to find good S&G (no, not "poops" & giggles, Shrimp & Grits) in the Midwest, so I had to give it a try. Fye knocked it out of the park! The grits were nice and creamy, with cheddar cheese and only a few of the tiny pieces of hominy were crunchy (forgivable). The shrimp were seasoned well, with a hint of smoke. The S&G were garnished with a few pieces of very good, smokey, tender, pulled pork (yes, meat as a garnish, it was wonderful). The creaminess of the grits and the smokiness of the shrimp/pork were tied together with the dark, smoky sauce that you see in the picture. Which brings me to my next point: Rye must employ the best restaurant ventilation system ever, because despite the smokiness of the dishes, you will not go back to work smelling of smoke (no need to dry clean those pants). The Leawood neighbors probably appreciate the lack of smoke coming out of the building as well.

Rye has a huge patio, overlooking their herb gardens and a pond, that you can enjoy your meals (or drinks) on while the weather is still warm enough for it.

Speaking of knocking things out of the park: Another fun aspect of my trip to Rye was a Billy Butler sighting. He appeared to be dining with family and friends, so most of the crowd left him alone. Although I did observe that his "Hit it a Ton" BBQ sauce was unmistakably absent, coincidentally (or maybe not) Billy did not "Hit it a Ton" in that night's game. So... let that be a lesson to anyone of you that is not superstitious.

One thing to note about Rye, it is very good food, and as with anywhere that has really good food, they are very popular and you may experience a wait. They even take lunch reservations, and it is not unnecessary to make them either.

Rye on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Reserve at the Ambassador Hotel

Sunny Black & Brown Bread
Farm to Market Bread is turning 20 years old (Think back 20 years ago, if you will. Think back to where the farm to table movement was, no where. Visionaries) and they are celebrating by re-releasing an old favorite, the Sunny Black & Brown Bread. The SB&B is a hearty loaf that is made with sunflower seeds, black beans, and brown rice (hence the name). Before I tried it, if you had told me that those ingredients would make such a delicious bread, I would have called you a liar (but this is FTM we are talking about here). The SB&B has not been produced in 8 years, to celebrate it's return Reserve at the Ambassador Hotel (a restaurant partner of FTM) is putting together a special menu of items featuring this limited release bread.

Ambassador Hotel
(Sprint Center in background)
The Ambassador Hotel is a locally owned hotel that is close enough to the Sprint Center that I could granny toss a basketball from one to the other. This would be a great place to stay for any suburbanite with kids that wants to leave their kids with Grandma & Grandpa, watch their favorite local college basketball team at Sprint Center, take their spouse for a nice dinner and drinks afterwards, and spend the night downtown. This is your type of place.

Reserve is a locally sourced (well, as much as reasonably possible anyways) eatery that serves upscale menu items at reasonable prices. They also find themselves trying to shake the stigma of "hotel restaurant". Although, they do have a couple other like minded hotel restuarants helping them to squash the idea that a hotel cannot have a killer restaurant: Providence New American Kitchen and The Savoy Grill (which has been touted by many, including the legendary Anthony Bourdain), this is still a tall order. That being said, the only thing that it is going to take for The Reserve to break out is putting people in the seats (once you try Chef Shaun Brady's creations, you will be a believer).

King chair
(Reserve Dining Room)
Before I get into the cuisine, I would like to say a quick word or two about Chef Shaun. He is an Irishman that comes to Kansas City by way of Chicago. Writing this blog, I have had the opportunity to meet some pretty awesome people, and Chef Shaun is right up there with Chef Aaron Sanchez and the mad scientists that are the KC food truck scene. He is a lover of authentic street food and told me an amazing story about the time that he told a Tuk-Tuk driver in Thailand that "I want to eat where you eat", the Tuk-Tuk driver then took Chef Shaun to his mother's house for a real Thai meal featuring meal worms and fried cockroaches. This even topped my Guadalajara story, that I used to think was cool, until I heard this one.

Now, for the SB&B menu (some of you shout "FINALLY!!", others got impatient and stopped reading long ago):

SB&B Crouton Salad
SB&B Crouton Salad: SB&B bread tossed in basil pesto before being baked into croutons, spinach, heirloom & cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, white truffle oil, reduced balsamic. Incredible starter.

Ultimate Grilled Cheese w/ Tomato Bisque Soup
Ultimate Grilled Cheese: Grilled SB&B bread, white cheddar, swiss, and brie inside, topped with melted yellow cheddar. When I saw this plate come out, a smile came over my face that I had no control over. I knew exactly what was forming that yellow crust on top of the bread, this sandwich is like cheese Christmas.

Smoked Salmon BLT
Smoked Salmon BLT: Open-faced BLT (on SB&B) with a sizable piece of smoked salmon and caper berries. For anyone who has never had a caper berry (like myself), you are in for a treat, they are like a traditional caper crossed with a pepper. These are a favorite of Chef Shaun and an excellent touch to an already awesome sandwich. The bacon was extra crispy, my mother would have approved. You may even notice some roasted, peeled red peppers in the salad; It's this attention to detail that you will find across the board at The Reserve.

Sunny Side Up Brunch Sandwich
Last, but certainly not least; the Sunny Side Up Brunch Sandwich: SB&B bread, bacon mayo, heirloom tomatoes, crispy pork belly, sunny side up eggs, arugula salad w/ more roasted, peeled peppers. The crispy pork belly was like a bunch of thick bacon steaks and the eggs were perfectly cooked (perfectly cooked eggs should never be overlooked). This sandwich is some kind of wonderful, I was not going to let a single morsel of this sandwich by left behind. 

Once the SB&B is out of production and these special menu items are gone, I will be back to Reserve to try other menu items made with local ingredients. One that I am particularly pumped to try: Bread Pudding made with FTM Challah bread, Roasterie Coffee, and Bailey's Irish Cream. If I weren't as stuffed as the Man v. Food guy after eating all of this food (yes, I ate every single bite on every plate, it was that good!), I would have ordered a bread pudding to-go.

Reserve on Urbanspoon