We start off with perhaps the signature category in our annual Best of Business Kansas City listings—this is a barbecue center of excellence, after all—and the one that makes the biggest news: Oklahoma Joe’s Bar-B-Que takes its first Gold in 2014, riding a wave of fans enamored with its award-winning lineup of flavorful offerings (including the legendary Z-Man Sandwich). That development breaks an astonishing 14-year gold rush by Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, which brings home the Silver and retains its title as the most-recognized barbecue joint in the history of these awards. And Smokehouse Bar-B-Que, founded in the Northland with four hickory-smoking locations metro-wide today, brings home the Bronze.
Who plates the best burger in Kansas City? For our readers, Blanc Burgers + Bottles, in Westport and Leawood, is the Gold standard, not just for beef on a bun, but for what it does with pork, poultry, fish—even bison. At Silver-winning BRGR Kitchen + Bar, all due respect is given this American classic sandwich, but it doesn’t end with pickles and ketchup: Check out the beer, wine and craft cocktail complements to that burger. Bringing home the Bronze: Five Guys Burgers and Fries, with 10 liberally dispersed area locations.
BEST BUSINESS BREAKFAST
There’s a reason why breakfast is the most important meal of the day: Killer deals can take place before a lot of people are out of bed. And First Watch, which garners yet another Gold, has a traditional business breakfast truly deserving of that name: The Traditional, with two eggs, English muffin, seasoned potatoes and a choice of four breakfast meats. Silver winner The Classic Cup Cafe offers a spectacular outdoor breakfast and venue in the spring, summer or fall, and a warm indoor retreat from early-morning chill in the winter. Breaking into the Best of Business line-up for the first time with its made-from-scratch meals is Bronze-winning Kate’s Kitchen.
BEST BUSINESS LUNCH
When you want to impress a prospective client, ambience is always nice, but nothing seals a deal like a fabulous lunch. You get both at The Capital Grille, our all-time No. 1 Gold-medal winner in this category. How? With a selection of wagyu beef burgers, not just one presentation. And don’t miss the Parmesan truffle fries. Silver here goes to Nick & Jake’s, now accessible to the central city with its new digs (their third location) at 50th and Main. And Urban Table, home of the nap-inducing KC Butcher, combining hanger steak and a short-rib meat blend, gets its first Best of Business recognition here with Bronze.
BEST BUSINESS DINNER
Ahh, the business dinner: The soup d’grace, if you will, in case the deal didn’t get done over lunch. Once again, quality wins out, as The Capital Grille grabs another Gold with seafood appetizers that nearly count as dinner themselves, all the way up to the 22-ounce rib eye or 24-ounce(!) Porterhouse steak. Yum. The folks who brought you 801 Chophouse as a signature steak joint also offer 801 Fish, bridging the gap between Leawood and the ocean with a range of fresh maritime catches that capture Silver honors. J. Alexander’s—casual, contemporary and cooking with wood—sizzles with Bronze from its Overland Park location, one of nearly 30 in 12 states.
Some caterers prepare food, and it can be great. At Lon Lane’s Inspired Occasions, Lon and the crew create edible art that will make your mouth and eyes water at the same time. Be sure to take photos first, to savor the memories of this Gold-winning enterprise long after the main dishes, appetizers and desserts are gone and your wedding, corporate event or social engagement is over. Brancato’s Catering, our Silver winner, will grace your table with menus tailored to the event, whether it’s a wedding or a corporate event that commands barbecue fare, buffet-style dinner or ethnic selections. And plating up this year’s Bronze is Above & Beyond Catering, standing ready to address your needs with corporate breakfast or lunch, wedding, holiday parties—even high tea.
How good is the food in Kansas City? Beyond the barbecue and the steaks, that is. Good enough that we have a sweep of James Beard award winners in this category, launched just last year to recognize that we’re not all about just smoke and sizzle when it comes to fine dining. Leading the pack again with Gold is Colby Garrelts, who teams with wife Megan at a pair of restaurants—bluestem (remodeled this year) in Kansas City, and rye in Leawood. Michael Smith, whose name adorns his Crossroads establishment, is our Silver winner, while Bronze goes to Celina Tio, who opened another Crossroads fixture, Belfry, at the start of the year.
BEST COFFEE HOUSE
As a rule, Best of Business Kansas City is dominated by local favorites, but you have to hand it to the crew from Seattle: They brew a mean selection of coffees at Starbucks. Then again, with all the time they get to spend indoors because of the rain, they’ve had lots of practice. Regardless, they’re good for Gold with our readers. Hometown selection The Roasterie, powered with beans personally selected by founder Danny O’Neill, wins Silver. Bronze goes to Mildred’s Coffeehouse, waking up the Downtown area with two locations.
Lunch on the go should be this good everywhere. And with Gold-winning Jason’s Deli, it is almost everywhere—240 locations in 28 states, six of them sufficiently spaced around the Kansas City region to assure quick access to almost anyone. Silver winner d’Bronx Authentic Deli and Pizzeria offers everything from sandwiches and subs to lasagna—and where else can you find a really good potato latke?—while Bronze goes to Carollo’s Italian Gourmet Grocery & Deli.
BEST FAMILY RESTAURANT
Sometimes, the best business dinner is the one you have while tending to family business. And Stroud’s—the only Gold winner in the history of this category—does it again, building on a foundation of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and sides, all served family-style. Made-from-scratch Tex-Mex fare propels Austin, Texas-based Chuy’s (at home in Kansas City on the Country Club Plaza) to Silver status with its first appearance in Best of Business, and a staple of Kansas City’s rich romance with pasta, Garozzo’s Italian Ristorante, brings home the Bronze.
BEST GROCERY STORE/CHAIN
Why grocery stores? Because they help turn your home or your office event into a fine-dining experience of its own. Let’s start with employee-owned Hy-Vee, with two dozen stores liberally strewn throughout the metro area, and offering much more than top quality groceries—food solutions, dietary suggestions and catering, in addition to the floral, deli and specialty meats. Silver winner is Price Chopper, another flagship in the region’s fleet of grocers, is right around the corner (nearly 50 locations around the metro area). You’ll also find a store from Bronze-winning Cosentino’s Market nearby, offering top brands and fresh meats and produce.
BEST HAPPY HOUR
With special pricing on food and drinks, plus a choice location on the Country Club Plaza, the Kona Grill proudly lays claim to holding the best happy hour in Kansas City. The marketing folks there get no argument from our readers, who concur with Gold. Gold-winning chef Colby Garrelts bags a Silver in this category, for the quality of the fair and the discount pricing at bluestem, while Houlihan’s, a Kansas City institution with six locations, pulls the Bronze.
HEALTHIEST RESTAURANT MENU
Food that’s good for you can also pack great flavor, and proof of that is Seasons 52, the Plaza purveyor of seasonal dishes formulated to capture the raw ingredients at their flavor peak. They combine that strategy with oak-fired brick ovens and turn the routine into the exceptional, earning Gold in the process. The folks at Café Gratitude are as much about the mood as the food, offering a menu that’s sure to return you to harmony with the life around you. That’s good for Silver with our readers. The Farmhouse—distinctive for more than its 365-day-aged hanger steak—earns Bronze.
BEST OUTDOOR DINING
A hugely under-rated quality-of-life aspect in Kansas City is the range of distinct seasons, which make outdoor dining possible for much of the year. Capitalizing on that, Trezo Mare brings Gold to the Northland, offering brunch, lunch, dinner and happy hour. Our recommendation: The En Fuego, a seafood stew, just before twilight. Plaza-based Gram & Dunn brings in the Silver, just a few blocks away from our Bronze winner, The Classic Cup Cafe. If their proximity to one another isn’t the best argument for brunch/lunch and dinner built around a day on the Plaza, we don’t know what is.
Is there any food that inspires loyalty in a diner quite like pizza? Our readers sound off—in capital letters—on behalf of their favorites. And though the voting was intense, Minsky’s Pizza defends its Gold status for another year, proving that pizza, too, can be gourmet. Waldo Pizza, an institution in that part of town, earns Silver honors, and relative newcomer Spin! Neapolitan Pizza, not quite a decade old, but with six area locations and footholds in Orange County, Calif., and Omaha, charges up the voting list to grab Bronze.
BEST PLACE TO EAT WITH A GROUP
Great food is always great, but when you’re with friends and family, doesn’t it become something truly special? That’s why our readers bestow Gold-medal honors on Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, which combines outstanding fare with a casual atmosphere to enhance both conversation and camaraderie. Silver honors go to Oklahoma Joe’s Bar-B-Que, for both the unique setting at the mother ship and its original and distinctive filling-station design, and for the locations in Leawood and Olathe. The Italian offerings and relaxing atmosphere at Buca di Beppo on the Plaza earn Bronze.
BEST PLACE TO TAKE OUT-OF-TOWN GUESTS
If you want to impress visitors from afar, show them the best of what Kansas City has to offer, and what works for your local group works for out-of-towners. That’s why Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue grabs another Gold, with succulent offerings in unique presentations—the Crown Rib comes to mind here. Oklahoma Joe’s Bar-B-Que, with Silver, is also bound to make an impression. And for something distinctively different, have your visitors feast on the bounty from McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks, our Bronze winner.
MOST ROMANTIC RESTAURANT
You don’t have to whisper sweet nothings in the ear of that special someone at The American Restaurant; the setting, the food and the wine will do that for you, as our readers attest with their Gold certification for this Crown Center icon. And really: Where else in town can you find lamb ribeye, done to perfection? Silver medalist Pierpont’s at Union Station performs feats of magic with both steak and seafood, and offers some cozy settings in its lower-level wine rooms for private dining. And Story, set in the Village Shopping Center, earns Bronze for its blend of elegance and exceptional fare drawing on European influences.
Kansas City is blessed with establishments that do seafood right. Here, we have the best of two culinary worlds, and taking Gold honors for the seafood side of that ledger is Bristol Seafood Grill, where they take advantage of the freshest premium selections available from any one day’s catch, so be prepared to try something unexpected at either of their two locations. Silver winner McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks dazzles with its array of both seafood and steak selections. And Bronze winner Bonefish Grill offers distinctive treatments (do try the Dynamite Style King Salmon), with two area locations.
BEST SPORTS BAR/GRILL
The Big Game. Beer. Bar Food. When they come together, it’s a memorable experience, and making those memories solid Gold at any of its three locations is the 810 Zone: Burgers, barbecue, steaks and seafood; if you can’t find something tasty here, you aren’t trying. Johnny’s Tavern pulls in the Silver with nine locations stretching from Lawrence to the Power & Light District. And the venerable Granfalloon, a Plaza institution since 1977, brings home the Bronze.
Steak: The original comfort food. Kansas City is absolutely brimming with places that transform choice cuts of beef into delicacies, and none more gifted at it, in our readers’ eyes, than The Capital Grille and its Gold-winning selection of porterhouse, sirloin, ribeye and filet mignon cuts, as well as seafood, lamb and chicken. Multiple generations of Kansas Citians by now have regaled in both the sizzle and the steak at Plaza III–The Steakhouse, a local tradition and treasure for half a century and our Silver winner. Another long-time favorite, the Hereford House, has been cooking with charcoal for more than 50 years, and the results—our readers’ Bronze votes—speak for themselves.
BEST NEW RESTAURANT
The food shares top billing with the wine at Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant on the Plaza, where all kinds of tastes will be at home with a wide-ranging menu featuring beef, pork, chicken, seafood, pasta, burgers and more. And with wines to match most every entry, our readers say: “Gold.” Silver goes to Newport Grill, the PB&J Restaurants concept that pairs seafood and sophistication with its new location in Prairiefire, while Rosso, at home in the new Hotel Sorella Country Club Plaza, specializes in Italian fine dining.
BEST ASIAN RESTAURANT
For 33 years and now at six locations in the area, Gold-winning Bo Ling’s has not just talked the talked, but woked the wok. The possibilities are many and varied at Silver winner Blue Koi, with two locations serving noodles, dumplings and rice with beef, chicken, shrimp and duck, among others. And Jun’s Authentic Japanese, in Prairie Village, takes the Bronze, with lunch, dinner and sushi.
BEST FRENCH RESTAURANT
Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner—indoors or on the patio—Aixois features dishes inspired by the local fare that Emmanuel Langalde grew up with in Aix-en-Provence. They translate well in the Midwest, and at either the Brookside or Downtown locations, our readers say in awarding Gold. Langalde has been recognized by Best Chefs in America, as has Mano Rafael, of Silver winner Le Fou Frog, in the River Market. What are the odds that two natives of French towns 20 miles apart would both operate top-tier restaurants in Kansas City? A third Frenchman by birth, Patrick Quillec, founded Café Provence in Prairie Village, this year’s Bronze winner.
BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT
A distinctive Chicken Spiedini help-ed make a name for a small Italian restaurant that opened in the Columbus Park neighborhood in 1989, and a quarter-century later, Michael Garozzo has four Garozzo’s Ristorante locations with Gold-level Italian cuisine, a title his operation claims for a second year. Silver goes to Plaza-based Osteria il Centro, which adds that honor to recognition by both Zagat’s and Wine Spectator. And Jasper’s, steeped in three generations of mozzarella magic and pasta perfection, brings in the Bronze.
BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT
There are very good reasons why Ponak’s Mexican Kitchen & Bar has been able to sell 6 million tacos and 260,000 gallons of margaritas since 1975: Take a bite, take a sip, and it will all be clear to you. The Southwest Boulevard fixture is as good as Gold with our readers. Just a tortilla toss away is El Patron, winner of Silver, where Margarita/Mojito Mondays and Taco Tuesdays keep the Boulevard hopping into the work week. The flavors of Old Mexico aren’t limited to the West Side as Bronze winner Mi Ranchito Cocina & Cantina Mexicana shows, with six locations.
So you take all the pieces: The food, the atmosphere, the drink menus—add it all up, and it’s still not a complete picture of a top-shelf experience. Service is the final determinant, and once again, The Capital Grille is recognized with Gold for a standout experience. It says something about the level of dining on the Plaza, which is also home to our Silver service honoree, Seasons 52, and our Bronze winner, Fogo de Chao.
BEST OVERALL RESTAURANT
We’re only presenting the Gold here, and it goes to The Capital Grille for a very impressive 10th year in a row. The steaks may be at their tastiest when they’re served rare, but everything else about this place is exceedingly well done.