Polaco opened Aep at the end of 2016, in the former Thomas restaurant location, serving dinner only. As he prepared to launch a new lunch menu, his homework consisted of traveling to western Thailand and Myanmar to eat street food, scour food markets and track down new dishes and ingredients he could introduce to Kansas City.
“I don’t think I have ever eaten as much, as I did on this trip,” Polaco tells Feast. “It is true, I went to Thailand this time looking for items to add to my lunch menu, but also I specifically went to places that had similar climate and terrain as Kansas City, making note of the produce and plants I was eating over there, in the hopes of having someone grow them for me here.”
He reached out to Cultivate KC as a resource, hoping to identify some ingredients in Thailand that he could have the New Roots for Refugees farming initiative grow for him to purchase for his restaurant, when he returned.
New Roots for Refugees is a farming program that is a partnership between the Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and Cultivate Kansas City that takes women refugees, many of them coming from Myanmar, and helps resettle them in Kansas City, teaching them how to start their own small farm business to earn a living.
“When I came home with all of these new melons, squashes and vines, and showed them what I wanted them to grow for me, I received great enthusiasm because these are items they are already very familiar with, but nothing they would normally grow because they would never sell in a regular farmers market setting,” explains Polaco.
Much like the dinner menu at Aep, Polaco has added a small list of sharable plates for $5-$7 you can order from at lunch, including Muu Ping or grilled pork skewers, Naem, a Isaan-style sausage with pickled cabbage or Som Tum a green papaya salad with a peanut and tamarind dressing that is punched up with tart limes, delivers a sweet red heat from the chilies.
The lunch entrees are all around $10 each, and feature delightful and flavorful take on Shrimp Pad Thai, he calls Phat Thai, along with his favorite dish on the new menu, the Moo Krob that has crispy pork belly with gravy, jasmine rice and stir-fried greens that has a slight heat from red curry paste.
The 19th Street Barbecue is a new dish made for vegans, and it is Polaco’s take on a pub crawl through downtown Yangon he conceived of during his travels. It features charcoal grilled mushrooms, fingerling potatoes and veggies served with a sweet chile sauce, cucumbers and jasmine rice.
Pork Kanom Jin is a stir-fried pork and vegetable dish over kanom jin noodles, there is also a chicken and rice dish called Gai Gra Pow and he offers a mushroom-based Phat See Ewe to round out the new lunch menu.
The three desserts on the lunch menu are inspired by Thai favorites. He has a traditional mango sticky rice, and a Burmese semolina cake with raisins and poppy seeds. Then there is this interesting dessert called Chinatown Tincture, a creamy but light, soup-like dessert whose subtle flavors come from the pearl sago, seasonal fruit and ginkgo milk. None of the desserts are overly sweet, and all are available for $5-$6 at lunch.
Laura Wagner has joined Aep as head bartender, and her cocktail expertise will be felt next month, as she plans to roll out her new selection of Thai-inspired crafted cocktails like a Thai milk punch.
These aren’t boat drinks, these are something of a more serious affair, but a pleasant discovery along with the wine and beer that is also served from the bar.
Lunch is now served Monday-Saturday from 11 am – 4 pm.
Aep, 1815 W. 39th Street, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.832.8866, aeprestaurant.com