Published June 9th, 2016 at 7:55 AM
Feel the urge to travel and explore but short on funds for a worldwide adventure? Leave the passport at home. These five destinations in Kansas City serve up a taste of Italy, Spain, France, Austria and Mexico. Hop in the car or schedule an Uber ride, and get set for global discovery only minutes from home.
Grünauer (101 W. 22nd St.) takes us to Austria via the Freighthouse District. Wunderbar bar manager Scott Beskow and the other bartenders excel at crafting cocktails that use Austrian and German eaux de vie, liqueurs and spirits, plus fresh ingredients from Chef Matthias Seyfrid’s kitchen. Authentic Austrian and German biers are available on tap. Happy hour runs 3 to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to close. Cocktail-wise, order a Biedermeier (“everyman”) made with Booker’s bourbon, Dolin Rouge, Angostura aromatic bitters, orange bitters, orange wedge and whiskey-infused cherries. Or try the Brieftaube (Racing Pigeon) made with Sauza Silver tequila, lime Demerara syrup, Bitterman’s hopped grapefruit bitters and Staropramen pilsner over ice with a grapefruit garnish. By all means, feast on Porkholt sliders (Hungarian-style pulled pork sliders served on a pretzel bun with cabbage slaw), the Asian-influenced Schweinsripperl (apricot-glazed pork spare ribs with napa cabbage salad) or Würstl (a selection of sausage with horseradish and mustard).
Also located in the Freighthouse District, Lidia’s Kansas City (101 W. 22nd St.) recently unveiled Taverna, its new bar with an updated menu for food and cocktails. Executive Chef Dan Swinney created traditional and modern aperitivi, small bites suitable for pairing with a glass of wine, prosecco or cocktail designed by the Director of Beverage Andrea Moyer. Appetizers known as “stuzzichini” include arancini (fried risotto balls filled with spring vegetables and mozzarella), polpette (pork and beef meatballs in tomato sauce) and frico (Montasio cheese crisp with broccoli rabe and house-cured pancetta). Taverna’s menu also features sliced cured meats, pasta and larger platters for heartier appetites. Drink-wise, Fregola Balsamic reinforces Hendrick’s gin with fresh strawberry puree, lime juice and balsamic vinegar; the Limone spruces up Citron vodka with housemade limoncello and lemonade. Note that while happy hour runs from 4 to 6 p.m. daily, the kitchen doesn’t begin serving food until 5 p.m.
From Italy, wander over to Spain via La Bodega’s “originale” location (703 Southwest Blvd.) in Kansas City’s Westside neighborhood. Naturally, La Bodega is known for its sangria made with wine, brandy and orange liqueur — and loaded with fresh fruit. For an alternative bebida, consider a refreshing Montesa, a cocktail blend of Torres 10-year brandy, Torres Orange, Koval ginger liqueur and fresh lemon juice. The drink is shaken and strained into a martini glass with an orange peel. During happy hour (2 to 6 p.m., Monday through Sunday), ask about select tapas available at half-price. Classic favorites include Pintxos de Higo (roasted red peppers, goat cheese and fig coulis on grilled bread), Albóndigas Caseras (meatballs in a spicy garlic cream sauce) and Pincho de Pollo y Chorizo (skewered chicken and chorizo with garlic cumin aioli).
The European vacation continues at Le Fou Frog (400 E. Fifth St.) one block east of the City Market. Liberté, égalité and fraternité is only a glass (or three) away. Cocktails range from traditional Pernod and Lillet Blanc to French 75, a cool concoction of Citradelle gin, lemon juice and simple syrup topped with Champagne, plus martinis and rosé to counter hot, humid weather. Happy hour reigns from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. Indulge in a bowl of steamed Prince Edward Island mussels in a broth of white wine, mustard, bay leaf and cream, or chilled oysters on the half-shell. The warm goat cheese salad also may tempt the appetite, but be sure to ask for the chalkboard to peruse daily specials of soups, salads, appetizers and entrees prepared by Chef Mano Rafael and his Chef de Cuisine Fatmir Paplekaj.
Before circling back home, detour to the south end of North America to stop and savor Port Fonda’s Mexican-style street food and spirits. Chef Patrick Ryan’s hip, modern cantina (4141 Pennsylvania Ave.) in Westport serves dishes that celebrate the wide range and depth of flavor available from Mexican cuisine. Esquite asado is a traditional street food that begins with grilled sweet corn loaded with epazote, poblano rajas, cotija cheese, habanero mayonnaise, chile, cilantro and lime. For a refreshing bite, make room for the chilled melon soup made with cucumber, radish, arugula, cotija, basil, mint, cilantro and other ingredients. Hearty appetites can tuck into carnitas tacos or pibil-style cachetes, made in the wood-fired oven, that pair achiote braised pork cheeks, rancho gordo beans, pickled red onions and salsa habanera. To wash the meal down, order a mango habanero margarita or an aguafresca (fresh chilled fruit juice with or without tequila or mezcal). With flavors such as passionfruit watermelon, blood orange and grapefruit lime, a glass of aquafresca is a surefire strategy to forget about summer blues in the Midwest. Happy hour runs 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 p.m. to close on Thursday, and 10 p.m. to close on Friday and Saturday.
— Pete Dulin writes about food trends for KCPT’s Flatland and is the author of the “KC Ale Trail.”