On a recent trip to Kansas City, I was looking for a new place to try - some place unique and interesting. I found myself falling into a rut of burgers, barbecue, or Indian food and wanted to find something else. Doing a couple searches a month or two before I was in K.C., I found a unique sounding place that I had to try - Beer Kitchen No. 1 in the Westport area of Kansas City.
Mark Kelpe started out working as a chef in Cape Girardeau, MO. He ended up becoming the head chef at the former Benjamin's Restaurant in the Benjamin Godfrey Mansion in Godfrey, IL. From there, Kelpe moved to the Kansas City area to be a corporate chef in the mid-90's.
It was during his time in Kansas City that Kelpe met up with James Westphal. Westphal had a background in the food industry working as a field consultant for Subway restaurants before becoming the manager of Tucci Milan, a former restaurant in the Lettuce Entertain You universe of restaurants in Chicago. Getting back to Kansas City, Westphal met up with Kelpe and the two started K.C. Hopps, Ltd., a corporation that started the original McCoy's Public House in 1997. Four years later, the two dissolved K.C. Hopps, Ltd. and formed Westphal-Kelpe Consulting which oversaw the McCoy's Public House locations in Kansas City and Minneapolis, as well as The Foundry in Kansas City and the sleek and sophisticated One80 in Westport.
Westphal and Kelpe decided to turn One80 into a boutique beer and burger joint, taking a big risk in a market that already had a number of similar restaurants. Doing a literal 180 degree turn, Westphal and Kelpe made Beer Kitchen No. 1 more of a laid-back, urban hip and somewhat kitschy spot. Beer Kitchen No. 1 opened in the fall of 2010 at the corner of Pennsylvania and Westport Road, across from the famous Kelly's Westport Inn. (see map) (Click here to see my entry on Kelly's Westport Inn.)
I was able to find parking on Pennsylvania down the street from Beer Kitchen. It was around 1:30 when I got into the place. I was seated at a large communal table in the center of the restaurant and a menu was dropped off for me. The beer list was on the wall on a chalk board. A number of beer spigots hung from the ceiling.
The bar wasn't all that big and a reason why I didn't really want to sit there. It kind of had a cross tropical/rustic look to the bar area. It was sort of interesting to figure out what kind of theme they were trying to go with for the bar.
My server, Rachel, came over to greet me. Outgoing and effervescent, she asked me if I'd like anything to drink. Looking through the beer menu on the table, I picked out a Free State Copperhead pale ale. Free State Brewing Company over in nearby Lawrence, KS is one of the very first brewpubs that I went to starting in the late 80's. It was also the first time I realized that I didn't care for wheat beers.
Even though I was sort of burnt out on burgers, I was drawn to the description of the burgers at Beer Kitchen. They use a combination of ground brisket, short rib and chuck tenderloin from the famous McGonigle's Market, a Kansas City institution from 1951. (I STILL need to get to McGonigle's at some point!) They had 4 different types of burgers on the menu - including an American Kobe beef burger- but no "build-your-own" option.
They also had three "Breakfast Anytime" meals on the menu. They had a corn-flaked crusted oven-fried chicken breast that came with a cheddar-bacon-chive waffle for their take on the down-home "chicken and waffles". They also had an 8-hour Corned Beef Hash featured slow-braised corned beef with a root vegetable hash topped with two fried eggs. I contemplated getting that for a moment.
They also had a number of salads, flatbreads, an assortment of sandwiches, and a number of interesting entrees including an organic short rib dish, build-your-own mac and cheese with a long list of items to mix in, and a lobster risotto served with poached lobster and Spanish chorizo. The menu was very interesting, to say the least.
But the burger kept calling me. When Rachel came back, I ordered the Brickhouse burger - applewood-smoked bacon with Tillamook aged cheddar cheese. It was also topped with a smoked bacon aioli, red onion jam, a roma tomato slice and something called "stacked chips". I wanted to try some of their Belgian fries and I wanted to order a small plate of them. Rachel told me that a small order was pretty large, but she could get me a "mini" size of them for $2.50. That sounded great to me.
My burger came out and it was stacked high underneath the brioche bun crown. A small cup of the Belgian fries came on the side wrapped in paper. A couple slices of a tangy homemade dill pickles came on the side.
The stacked chips were a handful of homemade potato chips placed on top of the burger. I didn't like the prospect of potato chips on my burger, so I just picked them off and set them on the side. I'm glad I did - the potato chips were crisp and flavorful on their own.
The first bite of the burger yielded a wonderful taste sensation. The combination of the ground brisket, chuck and short rib was moist, juicy and very delicious. It was one of those burgers where I went, "Mmmmm...." during the first bite.
On the table, they had three different types of housemade ketchup - an "Old School" variety, a Whiskey Barbecue style, and a smoked chipotle ketchup. I put the "Old School" on the burger, but poured some of the whiskey BBQ and smoked chipotle on the side. Dipping some of the Belgian fries into the ketchups, the whiskey BBQ ketchup was just basically a Kansas City-style barbecue sauce, but the smoked chipotle had a nice smoky flavor and a subtle kick in the aftertaste. Of the three, I liked the smoked chipotle the best.
The burger was very good. And that's what I told Beer Kitchen general manager Erika Wilson when she stopped by to see how everything was. She said, "Great. That's what we like to hear."
I'm glad I didn't pass up getting a burger at Beer Kitchen. Even a good burger can bring me out of a burger funk. And the one at Beer Kitchen is pretty damned good. The atmosphere - while a little kitschy - was fun, Rachel's service was very good and attentive, and the overall experience was great. I don't know if there will be a Beer Kitchen No. 2 or even a No. 3, but Beer Kitchen No. 1 was a top notch visit.