Going from football to food is not nearly the stretch you might think for hometown Kansas City boy Joe Perez, a retired wide receiver for the Chiefs. In addition to owning a marketing company, Perez is a co-founder/partner in The Jacobson restaurant and bar in the Crossroads and creator of the Hangar 9 New Year’s Eve party that will be hosted this week at the Downtown Airport. Promoting good food and drink -- and the party that goes along with it – has become second nature.
These days, Perez has pizza on his mind, as two weeks ago he opened the doors to Artègo Pizza on 39th Street. The pizza and pasta restaurant’s next-door neighbor is the new barbeque hotspot Q39, owned by pitmaster/chef Rob McGee and his wife.
“Rob has come in several times to check on me, and sometimes stops to have a quick drink at my bar after he closes his restaurant,” Perez says. “Being new to the neighborhood, many customers have discovered us from referrals from Rob and the good folks at Q39, which I really appreciate.”
This idea of a rising tide lifting all boats is important, as both Q39 and Artègo Pizza are located on the far east end of 39th Street’s “restaurant row.” But what the location lacks in foot traffic, it makes up for with a large parking lot, something coveted by other eateries on 39th Street.
To open Artègo Pizza as quickly as possible, Perez did much of the handiwork himself, using recycled wood from a friend to cover the walls, and wrapping the bar in reclaimed steel panels for a warm and casual vibe. But it is the larger-than-life murals by Perez’s long-time friend, local artist Alexander Austin, that really give Artègo Pizza its personality.
Staring at diners from every wall are some of rock’s biggest legends: Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Bob Marley and The Beatles . . .even Madonna. Austin did all the paintings himself during the restaurant’s three-month renovation.
“We worked and worked on our crust. My chef and I were like mad scientists back in the kitchen, trying to figure out how to make a puffy chewy crust that could still flatten out and hold the toppings,” Perez says.
Available in thin or thick crust, the pies come in small, medium and large sizes, as well as the Mezzaluna, which is basically half a small pizza, or two slices --- a brilliant solution to the age-old problem of how to serve a customer pizza for lunch.
For those who like it spicy, the Artègo Spice pizza delivers with Scimeca’s spicy Italian sausage, salami, sweet red pepper, jalapeno, red onion and Romano cheese.
For appetizers, Perez recommends The Artègo Meatball, which is an 8-ounce house-made meatball served with marinara sauce and garlic toast. It is plenty to share, or enough to make a solo meal out of it with a glass of wine.
The menu also has a nice selection of Italian sandwiches and some pasta dishes. In fact, the runaway sleeper hit on this menu is the Pasta Angelina, which features tender rigatoni tossed in a rich, slow-cooked Bolognese sauce made with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, carrots, sweet red peppers and garlic and a heart-healthy amount of red wine. It is simply a standout.
You can find Perez at the restaurant every day, visiting with guests, entertaining at the bar or checking in on the kitchen. He stands at his desk, a giant wooden spool that sits on its end in back of the restaurant next to the kitchen entrance, facing the front door. With his laptop booted-up in front of him, he is the master of his domain, simultaneously keeping an eye on the front door, the kitchen, the dining room and the bar.
“I still like to see every pizza that comes out of that kitchen before it goes to a guest’s table,” says Perez. “I just want to make sure everything is right.”
900 W. 39th Street
Kansas City, MO 64111