Kansas City Cool

Our picks go way beyond the typical tourist hangouts. KC boasts some of the country's most innovative cuisine.
Morgan Murphy

Top-Rated
A restaurant snob might suppose Kansas City lacks elegant French cuisine. Au contraire! I wish Le Fou Frog were in my hometown. The atmosphere is relaxed, casual, and even playful. (After giving the restaurant a name that means "The Crazy Frog," how could the owners not have a sense of humor?) Glowing ceiling fixtures softly illuminate cozy booths and bistro tables. The friendly staff smiles often and knowledgeably explains unfamiliar menu items.

Begin with the warm goat cheese salad ($8.75). Few get worked up over a salad, but this one, served with a honey-and-fig compote, made me want to order three more. Each bite of tangy field greens and roasted sweet peppers delivered big-time taste. For a main course, try Le Fou Frog's fish selections. Though le poisson here varies daily, if you happen by when the sautéed Chilean sea bass ($27) is on the menu, order it. Their sea bass comes with another compote, this one of bacon and roasted tomato. It gives the fish a smoky, rich flavor that will send you into French orbit. 400 East Fifth Street; (816) 474-6060 or www.lefoufrog.com. Entrées: $19-$42.

1924 Main
Though this restaurant has been open only 18 months, it is already a fixture among the city's bright and beautiful set. The best reason for 1924's popularity may well be its $30 prix fixe dinner menu--a real steal for the quality of what you get. I was impressed by two entrées. The rich pumpkin-apple risotto is a delicious medley of Gruyère, apples, mushrooms, and creamy rice, and the roasted pork comes with chorizo (a spicy sausage), Brussels sprouts, and truffle oil. End your meal here with a port flight accompanied by Christopher Elbow's gourmet chocolates. The renowned Kansas City chocolatier's goodies blend beautifully with the four ports, which range from 5 to 20 years old. 1924 Main Street; (816) 472-1924 or www.1924main.com. Prix fixe dinner: $30.

Bluestem
The charming interior of this intimate restaurant gives no warning of the big flavors it dishes out. Chefs Colby and Megan Garrelts, married co-owners, have brought a pair of amazing culinary résumés to Kansas City. Their experience in the kitchens of some of the most famous restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Las Vegas shows on the creative menu and presentation here. The appetizer to try, if it's available, is the foie gras with grapefruit marmalade ($17). The grapefruit cuts tartly through the rich fat. Another don't-miss appetizer: the scallops ($12). I normally don't order scallops in a landlocked state. But these were shipped in fresh that day and topped with butternut squash and prosciutto. My favorite main course here was La Belle Duck, a heavy dish made heavier by fig, sweet potato, and red wine ($32). It was worth every calorie. 900 Westport Road; (816) 561-1101. Entrées: $20-$32.

Where The Locals Go: Arthur Bryant's BBQ
I really hadn't intended to eat here. The day I went, I'd already consumed four meals for this column. But only a fool would set foot in Kansas City and not eat at Arthur Bryant's. So I ordered the beef brisket sandwich ($9). The pit master piled about a pound of beef between two pieces of white bread, doused it with barbecue sauce, and added a side of fries cooked in lard. I ate every bit of it. 1727 Brooklyn Avenue, (816) 231-1123 or www.arthurbryantsbbq.com. Entrées: $7.65-$11.30.

"Kansas City Cool" is from the March 2006 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.