I've been wanting to stop at Blanc Burgers + Bottles for quite sometime, ever since I first read about the place in a local Kansas City magazine a couple years ago. They're known for not only their delectable gourmet burgers, but for their large and eclectic selection of beer and wine. On a recent trip to K.C., I went to the south Kansas City Blanc Burgers location in the Mission Farms shopping area of suburban Leawood (see map).
Actually, the Blanc Burgers location in Leawood is one of three locations for Blanc Burgers. The original location opened in Westport in 2008 when chef Josh Eans and three investors opened the doors. The road Eans took to becoming a chef was not like other chefs. First of all, he had no experience working in a restaurant growing up. Many chefs either started out working in a restaurant or their family was in the restaurant business. Eans had an academic scholarship to Arizona State University with hopes of becoming a doctor down the line, but dropped out after a year and moved back to Kansas City to re-evaluate his life. It was during this time back in Kansas City when he met his wife-to-be, Abbey-Jo.
Living in a rental house in suburban Kansas City, Josh and Abbey-Jo talked about what they would like to do with their lives. They talked about owning a restaurant and Abbey-Jo came up with the idea of going to culinary school together. Josh and Abbey-Jo enrolled in the Le Cordon Bleu/Scottsdale Culinary Academy in Arizona. After graduating from there, Josh first worked at the Sea Island Resort in Georgia before getting a job as a line cook apprentice at Seeger's, a now-closed upscale restaurant in Atlanta.
Now married and expecting their first child, Josh and Abbey-Jo decided that back home in Kansas City would be a good place to raise a kid, so they moved back to the area. Josh took a job on the line at the upscale 40 Sardines restaurant (which, too, is now closed).
During his time at 40 Sardines, Josh met Ernesto Peralta, Jr. (pictured at left) who was a bartender for the upscale Capital Grille in Kansas City. Peralta and his wife, Jennifer Price, were looking to do their own restaurant/bar and recruited Eans as a consultant in the project. A co-worker with Peralta, Eddie Crane, was also one of the partners of the new restaurant which eventually became The Drop, an acclaimed bistro near the Westport area of Kansas City, MO. Eans became the chef at The Drop as well as their sister restaurant, Martini Corner.
As The Drop was developing into a new dining destination for foodies across the Kansas City area, Eans, Peralta and his wife, as well as David McMullin came up with the Blanc Burgers concept, seeing that there was a void in the market place for upscale burgers. The four formed their own restaurant company, The Circle Restaurant Group.
Josh Eans moved from The Drop to Blanc Burgers + Bottles to become the executive chef. The first Blanc Burgers opened in the Westport area in March of 2008. It was an immediate hit with people with their burgers made from corn/grain/alfalfa fed beef from California (the group found that customers didn't care for the grass-fed Kansas beef that was suddenly becoming the rage across the Midwest for natural beef foods). The second location in Leawood opened in 2009 and a third location opened in January of this year up in Omaha. The group opened a more downscale burger joint in Lee's Summit, MO called B2, but it closed up after about a year in business. It appears the upscale burger is what people want. So much so that the group closed down their original Westport location and moved to a much larger building in the Country Club Plaza area in 2010.
In addition to using natural beef in all their burgers, Blanc Burgers uses locally baked brioche buns, as well as locally grown produce and herbs. Plus they make their own ketchup and their own pickles. The one thing that will set Eans off quicker than anything is when a customer asks for store-bought bottled ketchup instead of his homemade condiment.
The lunch rush had subsided when I made my first visit to Blanc Burgers. I had my choice of sitting out on their patio as it was a lovely early fall day in Kansas City, or their narrow, but well-lit dining area, or at the bar. The selection of bottles - wine, beer, liquor and pop - behind the bar was intriguing to me, so I opted for a seat there. The very personable and helpful bartender greeted me, gave me a menu and asked if I wanted anything to drink. The chalkboard behind the bar featured a number of beers and natural soda pops that Blanc Burgers rotates in and out on a seasonal basis. One of my favorite Oktoberfest beers is Bob's 47 from the local Kansas City brewery, Boulevard. They had just gotten them in and I ordered one of those.
Bright and white is the interior design of the Blanc Burgers. The main walls are white as are the chairs and table tops. Contemporary lighting with white lamp shades hung low from the ceiling. Peralta's wife, Jenifer, came up with the color concept for Blanc, which, of course, means white in French.
Blanc Burgers + Bottles has a very impressive roster of beers to choose from. I was very surprised to see that they featured Capital Brewing Company's Supper Club beer - a beer you don't find that far away from their brewery just outside of Madison, WI. It turned out that they were out of it that day or I would have gotten one just to have one. Supper Club is one of my all-time favorite beers.
And even though I'm not a pop drinker any longer, I was equally impressed with the list of soda pops Blanc Burgers had to offer. Many of them were eclectic and made from natural ingredients. They had a Thai basil and clove soda pop, as well as sarsaparilla, birch beer pop, and lemon-lime 7 up. They also had bottles of Mexican Coca-Cola, the more sweet - and some say better tasting - Coca-Cola.
The burger menu was intriguing. Topping the list was an American Kobe beef burger served with a mustard/mayo aioli sauce, truffle butter and topped with watercress greens on a salt and pepper brioche bun. They have the "Classic" burger that they top with aged white cheddar, lettuce, tomato and a red onion slice along with their homemade pickles, ketchup and mustard and served on a sesame-seed bun. They also had the "Oscar" burger that is basically the same thing as a steak Oscar, only on a bun. The take the American Kobe beef and top it with poached blue crab, asparagus and bernaise aioli, and serve it on a rosemary brioche bun.
In addition to the burgers on the menu, Blanc Burgers also features a ground pork burger, a chicken sandwich, a grilled mahi-mahi sandwich and a couple of vegetarian burgers. They also feature a small list of salads and appetizers, as well as a number of handful of sides, such as hand-cut French fries, truffle fries, sweet potato fries and Boulevard beer-battered onion rings.
Two burgers that caught my eye were the "Au Poivre" burger - a cracked black pepper encrusted burger, topped with a creamy green peppercorn sauce, grilled onions and watercress, then served on a salt and pepper brioche. The other one - the "Bison" - featured a lean bison burger topped with a fried egg along with peppadew jam, peppadew havarti cheese, red onion, mayo and lettuce on a four seed brioche bun. Oh man - both sounded wonderful.
As I said, the bartender was very personable and was eager to answer any questions for me. I told him that I was having trouble figuring out what I wanted and he immediately stopped me. "The Au Poivre burger is, hands down, my favorite on the menu."
I said, "That was easy. The Au Poivre is one that I was looking at."
He asked what the other ones were and I said, "Oh, just the Bison burger."
"The Bison burger is very good, too," he said. "But I just sort of like that little pepper 'pop' in my mouth with the Au Poivre."
He asked if I wanted any sides and the Boulevard onion rings looked intriguing. "But I couldn't finish a whole order," I told him.
The bartender immediately replied, "I'll put in a half-order for you. How about that?"
When the burger came out, it looked scrumptious. The burger had an ample amount of cracked peppercorns around it, the green peppercorn sauce wasn't drenched over the top, but rather subdued under the burger patty. And the salt and pepper brioche was light and spongy. From the first bite, I knew I had a winner. The peppery taste of the burger was just exquisite. The bun turned out to be a little chewy, but still light enough not to be a detriment to the overall taste. I tried some of the homemade ketchup and it was sweet and had a more strong taste than regular ketchup. It was very good.
After I finished up, my bartender asked, "So, how did you like the burger?"
I said, "Awesome!"
He said, "Yeah, it is, isn't it? I just love all that pepper taste in my mouth with every bite I take."
The burger at Blanc Burgers + Bottles was outstanding. The beef was overly flavorful, even without the cracked pepper it in. The natural taste of everything from the toppings to the beef to the bun was simply superb. Josh Eans is looking to expand throughout the Midwest and I'm hoping that at some point he'll look at expanding into Iowa so Blanc Burgers will be closer to me than Omaha or Kansas City. The burgers are a little more expensive than your regular burger joint, but not by much compared to chain restaurants. And the burger is a helluva lot better. Blanc Burgers is going to get a strong consideration when I do my Best Burgers List in 2012.