Kansas City Restaurant Week presented by US Foods, starts this Friday, January 15, and runs through Sunday, January 24. KCRW is a prime opportunity to try food at a restaurant that has attracted recent acclaim or visit a tried-and-true staple in the culinary scene. With multi-course lunch menus for $15 and dinner menus for $33, restaurants around Westport and West 39th Street such as Jazz, Port Fonda, Q39, and Char Bar offer great value and tempting dishes to try.
Port Fonda (4141 Pennsylvania Avenue), 816-216-6462
Last year, Port Fonda in Westport participated in Kansas City Restaurant Week for the first time. Since then, owner and Chef Patrick Ryan has recently opened a second location in Lawrence, Kansas. While the Lawrence location won’t be involved with that city’s restaurant week, long-time fans and curious first-timers can make reservations (highly recommended) to dine for lunch or dinner at the original restaurant.
“We are a smaller, independent restaurant. I didn’t know if Restaurant Week was the right fit for us,” says Chef Ryan. “Turns out we are a perfect fit. Our food comes out fast. We don’t dumb down the menu. We offer dishes from the regular menu but in courses. It’s a huge opportunity to try our food. Rather than specials, we give up the hits.”
Some of those hits include the enchiladas suizas, a vegetarian-friendly enchilada made with spinach, garlic, chihuahua and Swiss cheeses, and poblano cream with a radish salad on the side. The popular chimichanga is another dish available for dinner only. Also on the menu is the must-order trio of salsa, guacamole, and housemade tortilla chips or chicharrones (fried pork rinds).
For those inclined, try Port Fonda’s classic margarita, made with plata tequila, agave, lime and salt, or one of their specialty versions.
Char Bar (4050 Pennsylvania Avenue #150), 816-389-8600
Westport got a taste of the South when this restaurant and entertainment venue opened. The regular menu, devised by BBQ competitor Mitch Benjamin, unites Southern smokehouse dishes with an updated take on Kansas City barbecue. Chef Jeremy Tawney expands on this meat-centric approach by offering some specials that still channel the essence of smoke and spice. Notably, the Restaurant Week menu includes items that are gluten-free or vegetarian.
“Some of these specials are new menu ideas that we’re trying out,” says Chef Tawney. After being open for about a year, “we want to keep things fresh. Our food is an expression of Southern influences and a smokehouse, but I also wanted to play with different ingredients like duck and game meats.”
To that end, the two-course lunch includes tempting options among the three available courses. For the first course, guests can steer toward chipotle-pineapple pork lettuce wraps with charred papaya, coconut rice and slaw, or consider wood-fired vegetable kabobs with a smoked pepper fondue and charred toast. The second course forces a decision between the Char Bar hot link sausage with spicy ghost pepper cheese and pickled jalapeno or a falafel shawarma. The third dessert course is a commitment to rocky road cheesecake with moonshine caramel or devotion to smoked sour apple spice cake and rum raisin sauce.
The three-course dinner menu similarly presents choices. In addition to the aforementioned kabobs and lettuce wraps, the first course adds the option of smoke bone marrow with cherry chutney and charred toast. Second course is a tossup between smoked duck two ways (grilled and confit) served with rosemary goat cheese gnocchi, mushroom ragout and wilted spinach, cioppino, or jerk pork shank with red beans, rice, and crispy plantains. Dessert course options remain the same.
Char Bar knows that a good seasonal cocktail can bring out warm spirits during brisk winter. The Ginger Snap is a heady sipper made with Bulleit rye whiskey, ginger beer, burnt syrup, and bitters. Or flock to the Snowbird’s blend of Captain Morgan rum, creme de cocoa, cream, cinnamon, and toasted coconut.
“We’re trying to break the mold and bring exciting new ideas to the restaurant,” says Chef Tawney, regarding the Restaurant Week menu and forthcoming spring menu changes. “We’re constantly evolving. Customers can see something fresh here besides Kansas City barbeque.”
Jazz (1823 W 39th Street), 816-531-5556
For Cajun and Creole cuisine, Jazz has been the go-to choice ever since the restaurant took up residence on West 39th Street. Many other restaurants have opened and closed along the busy Restaurant Row over the past two decades. Jazz endures by sticking to its roots. Fast, friendly service with a funky neighborly feel, hearty dishes, live music, and the spirit of New Orleans have become a timeless expression of this gritty eatery as much as its can’t-miss graffiti left by generations of patrons.
Regarding Restaurant Week, Assistant manager Marty Elton says, “Jazz has participated every year since it began. The owner and I are very involved with the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association and Restaurant Week.
These industry veterans know what their customers want: Hot deals on tried-and-true dishes. Lunch begins with a choice of appetizers such as gumbo or salad, entrees range from a traditional muffaletta sandwich to half-portion of blackened tuna or chicken fettuccine. For dessert, there’s bread pudding or a plain beignet.
Dinner guests have a multitude of choices with appetizers like fried pickles, hot wings, catfish nuggets, or seafood-stuffed mushrooms. Entrees include a pasta dish dubbed Seafood Little Mamou with half-and-half red sauce and Alfredo sauce, cajun stir-fry, steak frites, and crawfish or shrimp etouffee or a Creole version. Dessert choices make it tough to decide. Plain or stuffed beignet (guests choose up to two of four fillings: chocolate, cherry, blueberry or peach)? Sweet potato cheesecake or key lime pie? Or go with bread pudding? No matter which way you go, the good times will roll.
Meals include a drink (soda, coffee, or tea), or go all in with a glass of house red or white wine, Boulevard Wheat, or a Hurricane cocktail.
Q39 (1000 W 39th Street), 816-255-3755,
With Q39’s debut, co-owner and Chef Rob Magee’s popular barbecue and wood-fired grill offered an update to the classic cuisine that made Kansas City famous. Light dishes share space on the menu with full-flavored barbecue and grilled fare served with a polished presentation.
Chef Magee introduces a few exclusive dishes for Restaurant Week that may appear on Q39’s spring menu. For lunch, the brisket cheese dip sandwich loads tender beef brisket with provolone cheese, smoked beef jus on the side, and a serving of hand-cut fries.
“We reserve the juice from the beef brisket, remove the fat, and season it in a pot,” Magee says.
The au jus adds rich smoky flavor and juiciness after dipping in a portion of the sandwich.
Another “sandwich” option includes the brand new barbecue pulled pork taco with flour tortilla, chipotle mayo, jalapeño-cilantro slaw and a choice of baked beans or bean cassoulet. The tortilla replaces the bun on a savory pulled pork sandwich with fresh, healthy toppings. Also, the popular dinner entree of smoked fried chicken, served with chipotle barbecue sauce, baked beans, and apple coleslaw, makes an appearance on this promotional lunch menu.
“We wanted to see how the smoked fried chicken would sell for lunch,” says Magee, “so we brought it on as a smaller portion. It’s a taste of the South with barbecue.’
Finish off lunch with either Champion Cheesecake made with chocolate ganache, dulce de leche, and pecans; or a warm chocolate brownie with vanilla bean ice cream.
Dinner offers great value by packaging together one starter, one dinner plate and one dessert, plus a choice of locally brewed KC Bier Dunkel or KC Bier Helles, or a soft drink, tea or coffee. Deciding between the starters is a tough call. Smoked, grilled pork belly with white bean cassoulet and onion straws sounds like an automatic yes, but there is also oak wood grilled bacon-wrapped shrimp with served with jalapeño-cilantro slaw.
“Fat drips off the bacon while grilling onto oak wood,” Magee says. “It gets the flame going so you get smoky flavor with the shrimp.”
Tasty pork makes an appearance either way with those two starter options. A mixed green Q39 is a third starter possibility for those craving a lighter bite.
Chef Magee and his kitchen crew don’t skimp on the dinner plates. He says, “The hardcore barbecue lovers will come for dinner.”
Guests may choose between a half-rack of Q39 spare ribs with honey barbeque glaze; the Judge’s Plate which consists of a choice of three: spare ribs, sausage, sliced brisket, pulled pork, or smoked chicken; or the certified black angus beef brisket plate, featuring sliced smoked brisket and cubed burnt ends. Each of these plates comes with cornbread, apple slaw and your choice of baked beans or potato salad. The meal also includes one of the two same desserts offered for lunch. Post-dinner naps are optional, not required, so consider reserving couch time at home in advance.
Fortunately, Restaurant Week lasts a week. That’s ideally enough time to try Port Fonda’s street Mexican-inspired dishes and Char Bar’s traditional Southern grill meets worldly bistro-style specials. On another day, drop into Jazz for Cajun/Creole classics and later head to Q39 for a 21st century take on classic KC ‘cue and wood-fired grilled dishes. Undoubtedly, Restaurant Week diners can’t go wrong and won’t go home hungry.
Kansas City Restaurant Week is sponsoring a series of posts about the menus and food of restaurant week, which runs from January 15 through January 24, 2016. Last week, Pete Dulin covered downtown and the River Market. Stay tuned for future installments in neighborhoods across the metro. The Recommended Daily is a Silver Sponsor of KCRW. The culinary showcase also serves as a fundraiser with 10 percent of KCRW sales going to BoysGrow, Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired, Cultivate Kansas City, Kansas City Regional Development Foundation, and the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.