The American, Kansas City, Missouri – CLOSED

UPDATE: The American closed to the public at the end of 2016 and is now only open for private functions.

On a recent visit to Kansas City (my first) we had cocktails in the gorgeous American Restaurant in Crown Center, designed by Warren Platner in 1974. We enjoyed the view, the design, the drinks, and the wonderful singer and pianist in the lounge, then moved on to have steak dinner in the Plaza III Steakhouse. There just wasn’t enough time in a long weekend to dine at every classic restaurant. Unfortunately, Le Continental has just learned that The American, Kansas City’s only classic fine dining restaurant, will be closing at the end of the year. Plans are to use it for “pop-ups” and special events in 2017, but there is no word on if it will stay the same or be remodeled.

 

The American Restaurant

dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Crown Center, a mixed-use redevelopment project just south of downtown, was the vision of Joyce C. Hall, Hallmark’s founder. Headquarted in Kansas City, Hallmark’s main office looked out on a little used area of land with old warehouses and parking lots. On the site Mr. Hall built a complex with office space, a shopping center, condos, two hotels (a Westin and a Sheraton), and large fountain (in the city of fountains), and an office building. In 1974 a restaurant was opened on the top floor of the office building that would be the world-class midwest dining destination south of Chicago. Joe Baum, known for the NYC restaurants Tavern on the Green, The Rainbow Room, and the Four Seasons (which just closed this month), was a consultant on the project. James Beard, “The Dean of American Cookery”, was hired to conceptualize and create the modern American menu. And Warren Platner, who had designed modern wire furniture for Knoll and a restaurant for Eero Saarinen’s 1965 CBS building, was hired to design the interiors (he would later design the Windows on the World).

 

image by Dwell.com

image by Dwell.com

 

Platner created a cathedral-like space with high ceilings decorated with fan-shaped bent wood light sculptures facing a view of the city through huge glass windows that could be shaded with wooden shutters. The furniture and carpet were done in fuschia with brass lamp fixtures for lighting and brass railings along the staircases from the foyer and bar into the lower-level dining room.

 

image by designobserver.com

image by designobserver.com

 

Today the restaurant is mostly the same except the brass light fixtures, banquettes, and fuschia color scheme are gone. It’s still a spectacular space. I was there in daylight. I imagine it’s even more striking at night.

 

The American Restaurant

the bar – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Over the years several locally famous chefs helmed the kitchen at the American including James Beard award-winning chefs Debbie Gold, Michael Smith, and Celina Tio. The menu these days, under executive chef Michael Corvino since 2013, has been updated (he is leaving the restaurant in August). They recently dropped table-side prepared dishes from the menu, which were still offered in 2010 (according to a blog post I read). The menu  consists of a prix-fixe three-course menu at $65, with a tasting menu at $110.

If you can possibly make it to Kansas City, you should visit the American before the end of the year.

 

The American
Crown Center, 200 E 25th St #400, Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 545-8001
Open Wed-Thu 5:30pm – 10:00pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm – 11:00pm, live music starts at 6:30 on Fridays and Saturdays

 

 

Stroud’s, Kansas City, Missouri

Who makes the best fried chicken in the U.S.? In 2006 I thought I found the answer when I ate at the original Gus’s in Mason, TN, outside Memphis (since 1973). I love Gus’s spicy, crispy skin (the chicken soaks overnight in spicy batter and is cooked in custom cast iron fryers) so I will go back again. I only hope their expansion into 14 locations in 8 states hasn’t hurt the quality.

Now I’m not so sure if Gus’s is still the best, after having recently been to Stroud’s in Kansas City!

 

Original Stroud's - photo by stroudsrestaurant.com

Original Stroud’s – image by stroudsrestaurant.com

 

In 1933 when Prohibition ended Guy and Helen Stroud opened a bar-be-que shack at 85th Ave. and Troost St. in Kansas City. In WWII beef was hard to get so Helen Stroud started making pan-fried chicken dinners, which sold for 35 cents. The roadhouse’s popularity grew and grew until 1977, when Mike Donegan and Jim Hogan, 2 young bartenders at Kelly’s Westport Inn (the oldest bar in town), bought Stroud’s. In 1983 the partners, along with Mike’s brother Dennis, bought Sandy’s Oak Ridge Manor, a German – American restaurant in a historic house in north Kansas City for a second Stroud’s location, often called Stroud’s North. A third location opened in Wichita, Kansas, in 1992.

 

Sandy's Oak Ridge Manor postcard

Sandy’s Oak Ridge Manor postcard – image by the Kansas City Public Library

 

The original roadhouse location, with its creaky wood floors and piano players, sadly closed in 2006 for the widening of 85th Street, relocating into a new building in Fairway, Kansas in 2008 (go here to see some of the signage from the original Stroud’s). In 2013 the KC Hopps restaurant group partnered with Mike Donegan to open the newest Stroud’s in Overland Park, Kansas in 2014. Jim Hogan sold his share in 2000 and Dennis Donegan passed away in 2004, but Mike Donegan continues to run Stroud’s, keeping the same home style food, friendly service, and old-fashioned country atmosphere in all Stroud’s locations.

 

Stroud's Oak Ridge Manor - photo by Stroud's North facebook page

Stroud’s Oak Ridge Manor – photo by Stroud’s North facebook page

 

On my recent visit I chose the Stroud’s North Oak Ridge Manor location over the other restaurants because it’s the oldest Stroud’s location and because of the building’s history  (the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Sites in 1979). Originally a two-room log cabin built by homesteader David Hale in 1829, the cabin was bought in 1844 by Dr. James Howard Compton, who expanded it into a 10-room house for his growing family and often gave lavish parties for their large extended family and circle of friends (when you enter the foyer of the restaurant today you can see that you are in the original cabin). In 1954 Darwin and Louise Sandstrom purchased the large home from the Compton family, opening a German – American restaurant called Sandy’s Oak Ridge Manor in the house. On the grounds of the restaurant was the statue Justice (see postcard above) from the 1859 Clay County Courthouse, which was salvaged when the courthouse was razed (now on display at the Clay County Museum). In 1983 the restaurant became Stroud’s second location.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

fried chicken dinner with all the fixin’s – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

chicken noodle soup – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Fried chicken dinners are served family-style, brought on large platters to your table. Dinner comes with choice of homemade soup or salad, choice of potato (baked, mashed, french fries, or cottage fries), green beans, and homemade cinnamon rolls.

The fried chicken is simply coated with flour, salt, pepper, and paprika and fried in skillets by hand, which Stroud’s says makes for the juiciest chicken (and provides drippings for their excellent cream gravy). I couldn’t agree more. I’m usually a dark meat man, but I had a breast and found it very juicy and tender. Delicious!

 

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

tower of fried chicken – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

frying the chicken at Stroud's - photo by Stroud's North facebook page

frying the chicken at Stroud’s – photo by Stroud’s North facebook page

 

Stroud's cinnamon rolls - photo by Gareth Imparato in Pinterest

Stroud’s cinnamon rolls – photo by Gareth Imparato in Pinterest

We loved their dark brown french fries and mashed potatoes with gravy, but those cinnamon rolls are out-of-this-world! They are not exactly like traditional cinnamon rolls which are rolled up, cut and baked. These are more like big, fluffy, sweet dinner rolls with a coating of sweet cinnamon goodness and pockets of gooey melted cinnamon-sugar-butter. Best served hot at the restaurant but take some home for breakfast too!

 

Stroud’s menu also includes chicken fried steak, Kansas City strip steak, pan-fried pork chops, and some seafood entrees. But you are going for THE best fried chicken in the U.S., right?

Stroud’s is a recipient of the James Beard Award for Excellence in the “Home Style” category, the first restaurant to win in that category.

 

Stroud’s Oak Ridge Manor
5410 NE Oak Ridge Dr, Kansas City, MO 64119
(816) 454-9600
Open Mon-Thu 5pm-9:30pm, Fri 11am-10pm, Sat 2pm-10pm, Sun 11am-9:30pm

 

 

Plaza III, Kansas City, Missouri

Recently I visited Kansas City for the first time after having wanted to go for the last several years to experience the Paris of the Plains (Kansas City has more public fountains than any city except Rome). I loved it! It was easy to get around (by car), downtown is thriving, there are beautiful homes all over the place, and some fine museums. Then there’s the food! Bar-be-que, burgers, bar-be-que, chili, bar-be-que…you get the picture. And I had to get a Kansas City steak, in a city that was once a major beef producing city. At its peak in the 1920s Kansas City’s stockyards were second only in size to Chicago’s. Following a flood in 1951 they began their decline until they closed in 1991.

 

Plaza III Steakhouse

photo by t-mizo on Flickr

 

In 1961 Paul Robinson, manager of the Golden Ox Steakhouse in Kansas City (now closed but due to reopen later this year), met Joe Gilbert, founder of the Four Winds Restaurant at the Kansas City Downtown Airport (now closed but the TWA Museum there is well worth a visit). They teamed up with Joe’s son Bill Gilbert and opened the Plaza III in 1963 in Country Club Plaza, a lovely Spanish style outdoor shopping center designed by J. C. Nichols and architect Edward Buehler Delk that opened in 1923, which is considered the first planned shopping center in the U.S.

 

Ad from 1971

Ad from 1971

 

In 1972 the Gilbert-Robinson group opened a more casual restaurant next door to the Plaza III in an old clothing store called Tom Houlihan’s, naming it Houlihan’s Old Place. That restaurant eventually expanded in the Houlihan’s chain of restaurants, numbering 79 locations by 2012. The original Houlihan’s relocated in 2003 to nearby Fairway, Kansas. Plaza III ‘s dining rooms (which started out decorated in 60s Spanish) were remodeled in 1986 in a classic steakhouse look with lots of wood, dark brown leather booths, brass lamps, and potted palms. The large downstairs space was a disco in the 70s, then a series of clubs until its remodel in 2005 for use as additional dining space for the restaurant, with live jazz on weekend nights.

 

Plaza III Steakhouse

dining room

 

The Plaza III menu is classic steakhouse all the way. First comes out a chilled relish tray. Their famous steak soup is a must. It’s a rich, thick, dark brown stew with large chunks of tender steak and vegetables. A bowl would be enough for a meal.

 

Plaza III Steakhouse

beef soup – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Steaks are à la carte, USDA Prime, wet aged, and a presented tableside wrapped in plastic before you choose one. I had the famous Kansas City Strip, center cut, because “when in Rome…”, which comes in two sizes (I got the large despite having three lunches earlier. I’m not kidding.). Other options are the ribeye (two sizes), porterhouse, t-bone, filet mignon (two sizes), strip steak au poivre (brandy cream sauce), strip steak au fromage (with Roquefort), tenderloin Oscar, twin filet medallions, and prime rib in two sizes. I’m getting hungry! There are also lamb, veal, chicken, and seafood choices, and many surf & turf combinations available. Steaks come with a choice of béarnaise or au poivre sauce if desired. Sides are extra but come in two sizes, most at $5 & $9. Don’t forget to order chocolate or Grand Marnier soufflé when you order your steak so it will be ready by the time you’re ready for dessert. Both their regular and reserve wine lists have won awards.

 

Plaza III Steakhouse

I didn’t get a good photo of my steak but it looked like this – photo via the Plaza III facebook page

 

The Plaza III has had serious steakhouse competition on Country Club Plaza over the years but it has stood the test of time. In 2014 the chain steakhouse Ruth’s Chris closed on the Plaza after 17 years. I call that progress.

 

Plaza III Steakhouse
4749 Pennsylvania Ave, Kansas City, MO 64112
(816) 753-0000
Open Mon-Thu 11:00am-10:00pm, Fri-Sat 11:00am-11:00pm, Sun 5:00pm-9:00pm

 

Rigazzi’s, St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis is a great city for old restaurants, as well as for architecture and public gardens. On “The Hill”, the popular name for the historic neighborhood originally settled by Italian immigrants, is Rigazzi’s, the oldest remaining Italian restaurant on The Hill, open since 1957. They have a huge menu of Italian and American food, but they are famous for their toasted ravioli and St. Louis style pizza.

toasted ravioli at Rigazzi’s

I loved the toasted ravioli, crispy deep-fried breaded ravioli, topped with parmesan cheese, and meat sauce to dip the ravioli in. I also loved the pizza, which is made in St. Louis with a unique smoky, sharp cheese called Provel, made from provolone, Swiss, and white cheddar, on a thin crust and cut into squarish pieces. The sauce is flavorful and the pizza is sprinkled with dry oregano, which, with the Provel cheese, gives it more flavor than most pizza in other parts of the country. Different, but excellent! Rigazzi’s is also known for its huge icy schooners (called the Frozen Fishbowl) for your beverage of choice. For me a crisp, cold St. Louis beer is a must.

Rigazzi’s pizza

Rigazzi’s
4945 Daggett Ave,  St Louis, MO 63110
(314) 772-4900
Open Mon-Th 8am-10:30pm; Fri-Sat 8am-12am, closed Sunday