It would be easy to dismiss The Grille at Park Place as a chain. The sleek, booth-lined dining room and streamlined American contemporary fare menu feel familiar. Tie-clad servers work together to expedite food and check in on tables.
That feeling is the result of five months of planning by co-owners Mitch Kerns and Kevin Clayton. They want you to feel like you know The Grille, which opened this June. And then they want to show how contemporary American fare can be done better with fresh ingredients.
“We’re an independently owned restaurant,” co-owner Mitch Kern says. “It may be a menu you’ve seen before, but our food is prepared fresh every day.”
Kerns will tell you that he’s been in the restaurant business for 50 years. He started at the Glenwood Manor and Convention Center. His father was the general manager, in charge of food and beverage, and Kerns was a 13-year-old kid delivering room service to the Kansas City Chiefs’ players that used to stay in the hotel on the nights before a game at Arrowhead Stadium.
The food and beverage world suited him. He owned and operated nightclubs and was the third franchisee in the nation for TGI Fridays. By his count, The Grille marks his 25th restaurant, but this is the concept he’s been thinking about for the past decade.
“I’ve had it in mind to do American fare of this type since Houston’s at 95th and Metcalf closed,” Kerns says. “It’s classic, contemporary American fare with some twists on it. We don’t want to be a trendy restaurant.”
All Kerns needed to execute the idea was the right location and the right chef. The former Mestizo space in Park Place became available and shortly thereafter Kerns was introduced to his future co-owner and executive chef Kevin Clayton through a mutual friend.
“We’re about 30 years apart, but we saw the restaurant in the same way,” Kerns says.
Clayton grew up in Overland Park and graduated from the culinary program at Johnson County Community College. He spent four years at Lidia’s Kansas City before taking a job with J. Alexander’s. Over the next decade, he served as executive chef helping to open restaurants on the East Coast. But Clayton was eager to return to his hometown and the idea of building out a contemporary American menu was appealing to him.
“It was a concept that I wanted to do and was familiar with executing,” Clayton says.
The partners made a few small, but key changes to the space. They removed the tortilla station and took out the freezer. [The only freezer in The Grille is a small icebox for holding ice cream.]
“For us, it’s about everything being fresh,” Clayton says.
Earlier this year, the two men laid out the menu on notecards that stretched 30-feet long. They drew inspiration from across the country. Their hot dog special – they offer chili dogs on Saturdays – was inspired by a Palm Beach restaurant that offers Kosher hot dogs on the menu.
“We sell a ton of them,” Kerns says.
Their seafood offerings from market fish to Oysters Rockefeller stems from Clayton’s time in Florida. The Grille’s fish is flown in over night, often after Clayton has consulted with the captain of a boat about the catch of the day.
They also rooted their menu in the Midwest. The restaurant features Kerns’ espresso-rubbed ribeye, duroc pork chops from Iowa topped with an apple chutney sauce and served over a bed of mashed potatoes, and their bread is delivered six days a week by Bagel Works Bread Company in Kansas City, Kansas.
Over the first five months, The Grille has begun to develop a regular clientele that come on Monday nights for the white bean and ham soup (there’s a daily chef’s special and soup special) and the deviled eggs with sugar-crusted bacon and a sweet pickle relish.
In the coming months, The Grille will likely introduce a rooftop menu of hot drinks and snacks for when the ice rink opens. They’re also adding Spanish wines and shifting the cocktail specials toward fall warmers. They’re currently playing around with rye whiskey cocktails and infused spirits that will be on the bar top.
The heart of The Grille is a massive 800-pound, white marble-topped table that sits just in the front of the open kitchen. It’s there that you’ll find Kerns or Clayton every day and night of service. Each plate is presented to the dining room on that table before the servers swoop in to carry it to its destination.
“We have a show kitchen,” Clayton says. “You can see me working. You can see the cooks working. My hand touches every plate before it goes out to the dining room.”
“We do everything,” Kerns adds. “We’re the handymen and the HR department. But the thing that sets us apart is that you’ll always see us serving real, fresh food.”
Find Your Flavor is a series of sponsored posts on The Recommended Daily. Over the course of the next year, we’ll explore the menus, cuisine and folks behind dishes at the restaurants in Leawood’s Park Place. We talked food loves with 801 Chophouse’s chef Jeremy Kalcic, visited chef Leo Santana’s scratch kitchen at Carma, looked at how Gordon Biersch pairs food and brews, saw how Pickleman’s is reinventing the sandwich shop, learned about t. Loft’s evolution into a health cafe, discovered cake made daily at Cupcake a la Mode, created a pairing guide for the case at Paciugo, delved into the raw bar at 801 Fish, found out just how far BurgerFi will go to make a better burger, got a peek at RA Sushi’s fall menu, learned about the ingredients at Ingredient True Eatery and dove into the pumpkin patch with Parisi Cafe.