Twins fans, Kansas City beckons you. You already know the Royals are an historically bad sports franchise, much of that damage inflicted in the Ron Gardenhire decade. Consequently, for one or two summer weekends, KC fills up with Twins fans. If you saw the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby this year and thought, “Hey, that looks like a real city!” then get some friends and road trip — this weekend, July 20-22, is your next opportunity. The seven-hour drive goes fast, the hotels are inexpensive, and the tickets are some of the cheapest in the Majors. You won’t be alone.
Yes, we mercilessly booed Robinson Cano, but he dissed our favorite pudgy no-glove semi-power hitter (#countrybreakfast). And he’s a Yankee. Except when you throw your coastal snobbery in our face, we’re friendly Midwesterners. You understand — we’re happy to have you in our city! Typically, Twins fans take over the Country Club Plaza, Kansas City’s upscale shopping and entertainment district. I’ve seen Joe Mauer jerseys at the Plaza’s barbecue restaurants, Justin Morneau jerseys at the upscale burger place, and faux-retro Kirby Puckett jerseys after hours at the sports bars.
As a service to my friends in Minnesota, this is a local’s guide to Kansas City eats and drinks on ballgame weekends. My intent is not to rank the must-try places in the city, but to guide you to some great casual, fan-friendly local places when you’re decked out in gameday gear. I will keep you five minutes from your Plaza hotel because you’re going to spend enough time in the car getting to the stadium. The Plaza tends toward the corporate, so to get true local flavor, my list is heavily Westport, an entertainment district about 10 blocks from the Plaza hotels. Five years ago, this was a dangerous proposition, but the downtown revitalization has sucked most of the bros to the Power & Light District, leaving Westport to revitalize into a chill nightstop, anchoring Kansas City’s Beer Culture Corridor. Recommendation and maps provided.
Friday Pre-Game Meal
There’s nothing wrong with Jack Stack. During All-Star week, it’s what all the national media raved about, catering all the ESPN and Fox events with combo platters. Jack Stack has the best sides in the city (especially the thick, rich, cheesy corn and the smoked brisket baked beans), and the Burnt End Lunch is one of the most popular in town. However, this is KC’s “upscale” barbecue joint — a nice table-service restaurant priced to match, and it will be filled on Fridays and Saturdays with the local Plaza-going crown. You may feel underdressed in your Trevor Plouffe jersey.
More importantly, the “burnt ends” aren’t really burnt ends — they’re cubes of brisket, pork, ham, or sausage seared black. A true burnt end is trimmed off the edge of a smoked brisket. The meat is characterized by a “bark” that’s actually the charred rub. This char has an intense smokiness, which is why the chewy meat is torn into parts to flavor baked beans. An entire sandwich of authentic burnt ends is a smoky blast of flavor, the barbecue equivalent of an extra-hoppy Imperial IPA.
For a truer local flavor, the best burnt end sandwich in Kansas City is L.C.’s Bar-B-Q, just down from Sister Star Psychic and Palm Reader. Kansas City has better overall barbecue joints (Oklahoma Joe’s, Gates, and Arthur Bryant’s are the holy triumvirate), but L.C.’s is a real-deal burnt end sandwich with a flavor unlike any other in KC. L.C.’s defining taste is “smoky sweet”: The beans are brown sugar-based with a blast of hickory smoke. The sweet offsets the intense smokiness, which you can see billowing from the chimney blocks down Blue Parkway. L.C’s only gives you one kind of sauce, a spicy-sweet mix that compliments the char of the ends. You will smell like smoke until you change clothes — that’s how you know it’s good. The fries are hand-cut, thick hunks of potato, usually slathered in sauce at the edge of the plate. If the burnt ends are too intense, the sliced beef sandwich is sliced thin, piled high, with just a little brisket bark to give it a shot of flavor. Dinner at L.C.’s is the authentic Kansas City experience for under $10 a plate, and you’ll have enough for leftovers.
(Editor’s note: The author included three paragraphs of local pro driving directions from the Plaza to L.C.’s to the Truman Sports Complex that are likely to be of interest to some, but not all, of our readers. See the author’s note at the end of this piece.)
Friday Night Tailgate Beer
Boulevard’s Summer Beers: Berbiglia on Main (4300 Main St, 816.531.1725)
One of the 10 largest craft breweries in the US, Boulevard’s ambition is to be the Midwestern Samuel Adams. Some Twin Cities bars carry Boulevard’s flagship beers on tap, the Pale Ale and Unfiltered Wheat. The Pale has a smooth maltiness with a faint citrus flavor, subtly hopped — unlike many craft brewers who hop the Pale much like an IPA. It’s an outdoorsy pale ale that’s not too heavy for summer. The Unfiltered Wheat is a cloudy, citrusy beer with just enough malt to not get sweet. Inside the ballpark, look for the designated stands around the outside of the concourse, and by all means, spend the extra dollar to upgrade from Bud Light.
But what to do in the parking lot? Kansas City has the best tailgating atmosphere in pro sports, even during a 100-degree summer for a .400 baseball team. Before the game, stop at Berbiglia on Main, which is walking distance from some hotels. It’s a dump, but it’s close, and it’s got what you need.
Toward the back of the store, you’ll find a rack of wine-style beer bottles. For an hour’s worth of tailgating, you’ll only need a couple bottles of these high alcohol, specialty craft beers. For summer, I recommend the Tank 7. Tank 7 is a saison-style farmhouse ale, floral and vaguely citrusy, but with a biting hoppiness in its dry finish. There’s a lot going on here: fruit, spice, and hops, but it’s unpretentious. The hops don’t finish long like an IPA, but have a kind of damp-straw must lightened with field flowers. You can’t taste the alcohol, though it weighs in at over 9%. If you’ve got a bottle or two of this at your tailgate, locals will be impressed. You clearly know what you’re doing.
For a little variety, get a sixer of the Zon. This one divides Boulevard partisans, but it’s Boulevard’s most refreshing beer to have in the sun. The Zon is a Belgian White without the oatiness of Blue Moon — it combines the wheat-citrus of the Unfiltered Wheat with an crisply intense coriander finish. Perfect for stashing in your cooler while debating the relative merits of Ron Gardenhire’s bullpen usage.
Friday Night Post-Game
The Granfalloon has taken on many personae in its two decades on the Plaza; recently, it was redone into an urban-style not-a-sports-bar-but-look-at-all-these-TVs night-time hangout. They’ll slide up the windows, and you’ll stare blankly at SportsCenter over the dim of dozens of twenty-somethings in polo shirts downing craft pints. To be fair, during dinner, The Granfalloon has a decent bar food menu, plus local favorites Boulevard and Free State on tap, but this is a generic bro bar at its core. You’ll feel out of place with your barbecue-smoked Twins jersey.
Better is the short trip to Westport. At the corner of Westport and Pennsylvania (the center of the district) is Kelly’s Westport Inn. Yes, the downstairs is the kind of undergrad bar that survives on macrobrew served in giant widemouth plastic cups (point of reference: Iowa State owns Kelly’s during the Big 12 Tournament). If you tell a local you’re going to Kelly’s, they’ll assume you’re looking to obliterate yourself on Bud Light and hit on college girls. Ignore them. Kelly’s is in the oldest building in Kansas City, an 1840s dry goods store when Westport was a stagecoach outpost south of Possum Trot. The Battle of Westport raged through this part of town, while Daniel Boone’s grandson used this building to repair Conestoga wagons. In the 1940s, the building became Kelly’s, a working class Irish bar as the Pendergast Machine spread the city southward. You can’t tell that from all the neon Bud Light signs inside, but if this kind of thing interests you, check out the plaques and historic markers outside.
After getting your history fix, go through the front door, up the two ramps, turn left, and head up the stairs. This is your route to one of the KC’s still-best-kept secrets. Kelly’s has perhaps the best deck in Kansas City, sheltered from the weather if raining and air conditioned if still hot. It seats about a hundred, so your crew can find a table and get prompt service for an array of Boulevard drafts. Kelly’s isn’t about beer selection (that’s tomorrow), but you’ll forget that as you enjoy the view of the streets of Westport in KC’s most urban-feeling entertainment district. The drinks are as cheap as you’ll find at night in the city, and there are always cabs right outside the door when you’re done. And you can always phone the waitress downstairs to get a refill.
Friday Fourth Meal
Leftovers from L.C.’s. You’ll have them.
Saturday Pre-Game Meal
Blanc is kind of quintessential upscale burger place that’s become popular the last few years. Blanc is where you go for a chef-prepared “red wine braised short rib stuffed burger, foie gras butter, onion marmalade, balsamic glaze, watercress, [on a] rosemary brioche bun,” served alongside truffle fries accented by house-made ketchup. Again, good stuff, but expensive and not appropriate for ballgame wear.
Kansas City’s best burger is at The Westport Flea Market, which is an actual flea market. The Flea Market looks like the classic Fieri-approved faux-dive, and yes, “as seen on the Food Network.” The secret to the Flea’s burgers, though, is meat from KC’s best butcher shop, McGonigle’s, on Ward Parkway. McGonigle’s old-style butchers age and hand-trim its steaks, which the Flea churns into burgers. Where many burger places go big and juicy, the Flea’s are lean, moist, and not drowned in fixins. Since the burgers are cooked to order, you can taste the flavor of a delicately seasoned, briefly aged ground steakburger, rather than the high-margin, fatty manufactured meat product of most burger joints. But at $8, it lacks the pretense and price of upscale “organic, grass-fed” locavore eateries you’re not looking for on ballgame weekends. Save the foie gras butter for a nice night out back home; the Westport Flea Market will give you quality hunk of ground steak, and let you dress it up yourself.
Still, the burgers aren’t the best meal at the Flea Market: It’s the Chicken Panini. On a lightly butter- and flour-dusted ciabatta, the Flea presses generous hunks of chicken into a pile of cheddar jack, caramelized onions, and roasted red peppers. Again, they don’t go greasy — the Panini doesn’t drip. The chicken is seasoned so that you don’t just taste white meat, and there’s enough vegetable to make it interesting. The little things make the sandwich: a little grilled butter, a dusting of flour, a browned onion, the right proportion of cheese to meat.Of course there are better sandwiches in KC, but for $8, the Flea Market Chicken Panini is a foodie-quality meal at a tailgate price. The Flea also has an expansive tap with a few Free State Brewery products. Jayhawk fans swear by Kansas’ first post-Prohibition brewery, which opened in 1989 and has since become a Lawrence institution. The Ad Astra (named for the Kansas state motto, “To the stars through difficulty”) is a creamy, slightly sweet amber ale just dark enough to pair well with burgers.
One note about the Westport Flea Market: cash only. Yes, it’s annoying. You order your food at the register first, then waitresses take your drink order after you sit. It makes no sense, but that’s how they roll. There’s an ATM inside, but plan ahead to avoid fees. Still, the burgers, panini, and tap wall are worth it for pre-gaming.
Saturday Night Post-Game
At Tomfooleries, the booths are too tall for proper postgame sports fan talk. It’s the closest late night spot to the hotels, but it’s more for the apartment people up the hill. You drove 800 miles to experience the city and its best local beers, so pay the $5 cab ride to Westport and hit The Foundry.
The Foundry is across the street from Kelly’s, just off the corner at the center of Westport. There’s a parking lot in front of three bars; The Foundry is the outside deck behind the cars. It’s connected to McCoy’s, which owns the deck projecting into the street corner. The problem with McCoy’s is that it only serves McCoy’s own house-brewed beers. Plus, you have one in Minneapolis. In good conscience, I can’t recommend them. Certainly not disgusting, but for the local KC taste, their portfolio comes off like a less-flavorful rip-off of each Boulevard offering.
Connected to McCoy’s, The Foundry gives you McCoy’s beers plus a wider local tap. It’s also one of the few places to get the two best locally produced beers on tap in Kansas City: Boulevard’s Tank 7 and Saison-Brett.
The Saison-Brett is the perfect ender for a Kansas City ballgame weekend. It is named for Royals Hall of Fame legend (and All-Star Ambassador) George Brett, and both Beer Advocate and Rate Beer have ranked this the #2 saison in America (it’s currently #3 on Rate Beer). The tulip glass cradles the fruit flavors: tropic fruits, peach, with a note of lemon zest. In the mouth, you get the same faint barnyard funk as the Tank 7, balanced by clove-y spices. Boulevard ages the Saison-Brett to accentuate the three different flavor palates, resulting in a complex, sippable beer for a night on the patio in a happening part of the city. Toast one to local heroes who spend their careers in one uniform: George Brett and Kirby Puckett. Better yet, toast a Saison-Brett for Twins Hall of Famers who played their downhill years in KC: Harmon Killebrew, Gary Gaetti, and Greg Gagne.
Saturday Fourth Meal
The Jerusalem Cafe Food Truck (restaurant address: 431 Westport Rd, 816.756.2770)
Before catching a cab, stop at the Jerusalem Cafe Food Truck, a few yards off the main intersection of Westport. Some locals say their gyro meat is overcooked and chewy, but they have the best hummus in the city: very smooth, not too much oil, with tangy spice. For a quick evening-ender, the Jerusalem Cafe chicken pita will settle the stomach for about $7. The pitas are warm and fluffy, they don’t skimp on the spicy lamb or chicken, and you get a generous dollop of hummus along with a crisp veggie crunch. The Jerusalem Cafe is restaurant and hookah bar a half block away, and they operated the food truck before it was cool — Westport is a natural market for late-night, foil-wrapped food.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Driving directions from the Plaza to L.C.’s to the Truman Sports Complex:
L.C.’s is in a sketchy part of town, but from the Plaza, it’s directly on your way to the ballpark. In fact, L.C.’s is on the local’s route to the Truman Sports Complex that avoids rush hour and ballpark traffic. Leave the hotel at 4:30 if you want to guarantee a full hour of tailgate time. Cross over Brush Creek on the south side of the Plaza and turn east onto Ward Parkway. At the Brookside Boulevard stoplight, Ward turns into Volker Boulevard. Keep going east for about four miles: Volker will turn into Swope Parkway and Blue Parkway. You’ll see L.C.’s on your left after a bridge past Discount Smokes & Liquor at the corner of Eastwood and Blue Parkway. You’ll hit L.C’s at about 4:45 and be back on the road at 5:45.
When you leave, continue on the road where you turned into L.C.’s. A few hundred feet up, take the right onto Sni A Bar Road. You’ll twist and turn for about three-and-a-half miles — you’ll feel like I’m leading you through the wilderness. Right after the bridge over the interstate, take the left at the sign that says “Ozark Road” with an arrow pointing left. This is actually Eastern Road — just trust me, you’re bypassing 15 to 20 minutes of rush hour and ballgame traffic on I-435. Go another mile and a half; Eastern will “T” at Raytown Road. Turn left, go about a hundred yards, then take the right at Lancer Lane where you see the sign for Gate 5 of the Truman Sports Complex. Remember your $10 cash for parking, and the orange vest people will direct you to the third base side of the stadium. The shortcut will save you about 10 minutes, and your car will smell like hickory smoke.
After the game, follow the signs to I-435 South. Take the Eastwood Trafficway exit and turn right. When the road “T”’s, turn right onto Blue Parkway and follow it five miles back to the Plaza.