I love this time of year. It is a chance to look back at the entire year and ponder what was really new, and noteworthy in food in Kansas City. The sad fact is, the economy forced many restaurants into taking very little chances with their menus and their expansion plans. I don't blame them. This was a survival year, after the crappiest year on record in 2009. This was a great year to play it safe, while planning for the future, if you owned a restaurant. Safe, solid and sound advice.
In spite of the economic buzz-kill on the restaurant industry as a whole, there were significant movement and trends coming from the comfort food category. You will notice many of the examples I give in my short list below, come from restaurants that are more quick casual than fine dining. These folks had concepts or cuisines that were wholly understandable and affordable, while keeping it tasty.
Because money was tighter for most of us in 2010, it became the year in KC we started looking for good food at a small price. We also got more adventuresome in our interest in ethnic cuisines because of the flavor/taste/price equasion. Even fine dining got into the act, with almost every place in town offering some sort of incredible cheeseburger or slider on their menu. We saw places like Aixois in Brookside start serving delicious Taco Tuesdays in their high-end French restaurant.
There were certainly many more bright spots to the KC dining scene in 2010 than just what I mention below, but they were just that, bright spots, not sustainable, newsworthy trends. It takes more that one restaurant to make a trend.
I had a whole list of predictions for restaurant trends in KC for 2010, but many of them I was a little early on. I'm saving them for next year, perhaps those trends will hit our fly-over state in 2011, as predictions for the health of the restaurant industry look much brighter in the new year.
1) Burger, Burger, Burger, Dog - The back-to-basics, Americana comfort food trend that has swept the United States in the last two years continued in Kansas City this year. We saw a plethora of local burger joints and a few notable hot dog joints fly on our radar. Our local favorite, Blanc Burgers + Bottles, opened their second burger concept in Lee Summit called B:2, and moved to their Westport location to a more high profile position in the Country Club Plaza. B.R.G.R. Kitchen + Bar opened this year in Prairie Village serving the neighborhood community “Juicy Lucy” burgers and sweet potato fries along with a hopping bar scene. Beer Kitchen opened in Westport giving us great beer and burgers stuffed with burnt ends, while others were topped with duck confit. Five Guys Burgers & Fries and Smashburger were notable chains with a good little burger that rapidly expanded across the KC metro. In the hot dog scene, the biggest splash was made by Chef Marshall Roth, and business partner, Harry Blasco, when they opened Dog Nuvo in the old Souperman location on Main Street. Big City Hot Dogs on Grandview Road made a name for themselves with their “city style” hot dogs. Serving everything from Chicago to Boston to Detroit and even Santa Fe-style dogs. The Kansas City dog is topped with pickles, bacon, diced onions, BBQ sauce & blue cheese.
2) Kicking it in KCK – I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago called “What’s Wrong with KCK?” wondering why people seemed so hesitant to go over the bridge to enjoy of the most authentic Mexican food in the city. The heart of Mexican food in this town no longer sits exclusively on Southwest Boulevard, it can be found in “The Dot”. This year Kansas City woke up to that fact, with food bloggers and the local press beginning to give the truly authentic Mexican restaurants in Kansas City, KS the props they so richly deserve. Like El Camino Real for $1.50 street tacos filled with pork, beef, chicken or some of the nasty bits that taste so good, like brains or tongue. El Pollo Rey on Kansas Avenue is another place serving a wonderful ½ a grilled chicken and serving it with beans, salsa and tortillas for under $10. Paleteria Chihuahua on Kansas Avenue serves wonderful Mexican snacks, fresh fruit popsicles, like tamarind and mango, and authentic Mexican flavored ice creams.
3) KC Chefs & Restaurants Represent – We were lucky enough to have two Chefs, one wine shop owner, a cupcake guy and a host of other local restaurants featured on Food Network or other nationally broadcasted shows this year. This was our opportunity to show the nation the kind of food culture we have here in KC. Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives paid us another visit this year featuring BBQ joints along with other local favorites like Happy Gillis. Man vs. Food also made a stop through town this year with the Travel Channel. But it was Executive Chef Debbie Gold from The American Restaurant on Season 2 of Top Chef Masters and Executive Chef/Owner of Julian, Celina Tio, who admirably competed on Food Network's Season 3 of The Next Iron Chef, that truly showed the nation the kind of culinary talent, cool under pressure, classy with a “c” kind of Chefs we have in this town. Girl power. Booyah!
4) Egg was the new Bacon – Bacon has certainly been the single most important ingredient in the last few years on the KC food scene, but this year the scale tipped to bacon’s breakfast counterpart, the egg. Whether fried or poached, we saw eggs on everything, and it’s not just for breakfast anymore. Happy Gillis has them on their redonculously delicious “Keller-eque BLT”, Succotash features one on their Cobb Salad, the running yolk making the most rich and delicious salad dressing. Blue Grotto in Brookside puts it on their breakfast pizza and Blanc Burgers + Bottles has one on their Brunch Burger.
5) Sous Vide Me - French for "under vacuum", sous vide is a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath for long periods of time—72 hours is not unusual—at an accurately determined temperature much lower than normally used for cooking, typically around 140 °F. The intention is to maintain the integrity of ingredients. The result is a juicy, moist, tender cut of meat that can be held and served at the perfect temp. It gives Chefs much more control in the kitchen of what their finished product will look and taste like. We saw many of these machines being shared in KC a few years ago with Chefs swapping one or two machines between themselves. Now, even places that serve simple hot dogs, like Dog Nuvo, are using these machines to make their lives easier. There is even a home cook version of a sous vide that you can buy for around $500, or if you use the Google there are plenty of websites telling you how to make your own sous vide MacGyver-style. Sous Vides are everywhere making them a permanent piece of equipment in many Chefs kitchens and home cooks kitchens in KC.
I had the opportunity to discuss my Top 5 Restaurant Trends in KC in 2010 with Carolyn Long from KCTV 5 on the 4 pm news yesterday. Here's the video of my first television appearance. (Woot!)