Staying out in Overland Park, KS on a recent trip to Kansas City, I was in the mood to discover a restaurant that I hadn't been to before. I did some quick searches for what may be in the area that I haven't visited in the past. I found a place that sounded sort of interesting, a farm-to-fork restaurant with the simple name of rye. It was about a five minute drive from my hotel and I took off to find the place that evening.
Colby Garrets is a native of Kansas City who, after graduating from a local culinary school, took off for the big city of Chicago and an eventual position as senior sous chef at the highly acclaimed Tru restaurant. During his time at Tru he met Megan Schultz who had recently graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Megan's specialty was pastries and she had gotten the bug while working in a number of restaurants while growing up in the Chicago suburb of Naperville. Fulfilling her degree at the C.I.A., she interned under James Beard Foundation award winning pastry chef Richard Leach at the former Park Avenue Cafe, a seasonally-themed restaurant in New York City.
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Megan Schultz moved back to Chicago and was promptly hired by Tru as one of their pastry chefs. At Tru, the pastry chefs are given the freedom to develop their own tasty treats and Megan was able to spread her pastry wings, so to speak, coming up with her own style of desserts.
Megan and Colby became an item and she was hired as a pastry chef at Charlie Palmer's Aureole restaurant in the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Garrelts followed his girlfriend to Las Vegas getting a job as the assistant to Chef Jean Joho at his Eiffel Tower restaurant in the Paris hotel/casino. Colby Garrelts eventually joined his girlfriend at Aureole after a short stint at the Eiffel Tower.
Looking for even greener pastures of culinary experiences, Garrelts and Schultz ended up moving to Los Angeles where he became the chef de cuisine at the former Röckenwagner Cafe in Santa Monica. While they were in L.A., Garrelts and Schultz got married and started to make plans of opening their own restaurant. They eventually moved to Colby Garrelts' hometown of Kansas City in 2003 to fulfill their dream.
The Garrelts opened Bluestem in the Westport neighborhood in 2004. From the start, the restaurant was a hit with Colby's progressive American menu and Megan's take on traditional American desserts. They expanded their restaurant in 2006 taking over a space next door to them for a lounge for Bluestem.
Megan Garrelts has been named a semi-finalist for best pastry chef by the James Beard Foundation, and has had her recipes published in national publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Saveur. Colby Garrelts was named in 2005 as one of the Top 10 Best New Chefs by Food & Wine, and has also been featured in the Wall Street Journal and Saveur. In 2013, Colby Garrelts was named the James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Midwest award winner, and last year Bluestem was named a semi-finalist for Outstanding Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation. The Garrelts have also co-written two cookbooks - bluestem: the cookbook which was published in 2011, and Made in America that came out last year.
In 2012, the Garrelts came up with a new concept restaurant - rye - that featured their ideas of upscale downhome American cuisine. They wanted to showcase the foods they were brought up on while growing up in the Midwest with a focus on organic and farm-to-table offerings. The Garrelts opened rye in December of that year in the Mission Farms shopping and restaurant complex in Leawood, KS (see map).
Josh Brogan is the executive chef at rye and has a long history in the restaurant resumé. He got his start at a seafood shop in the Chicago suburbs when he was in his mid-teens and learned how to butcher fish and seafood. He decided to take the culinary school route and he ended up at the prestigious Johnson and Wales school in Charleston, SC. After graduating from there, he worked around the Charleston area, most notably for James Beard Foundation award winning chef Robert Stehling at the acclaimed Hominy Grill.
Pictured left - Josh Brogan
Brogan moved back to Chicago working for a few places in that city before a weekend trip to visit a friend in Kansas City left him intrigued about the work possibilities in the area. He moved to Kansas City and found work right away. He eventually latched on at 40 Sardines, owned by James Beard Foundation award winning chef Debbie Gold. After 40 Sardines closed in 2008, Brogan then went to work for Colby and Megan Garrelts at Bluestem - Colby Garrelts being the third James Beard Award winning chef that Brogan has now worked for.
When the Garrelts opened rye in December of 2012, Brogan moved over from Bluestem to head the kitchen at rye. Growing up in the Midwest like Colby and Megan Garrelts, Brogan is focusing on his interpretation of foods that he grew up with, as well.
It's sort of tough to find rye in the Mission Farms complex. It's tucked back into a corner in the far back part of the upscale mall. Walking into the place, I found a very tasteful and sort of rustic atmosphere to the place. Copper light fixture with Edison light bulbs hung from the ceiling. There was a large open space that looked into the kitchen in the back of the restaurant with the bar area up front.
I ended up seated at the bar and was greeted by a bartender who introduced himself as Fernando. He was the main guy I talked with at the bar, but the other two guys behind the bar were just as prompt with taking my orders or bringing the food to me. Fernando gave me a dinner menu and asked what I'd like to drink. I noticed that they had the Stormchaser IPA on tap from the Free State Brewing Company. Free State is located over in Lawrence, KS and was the very first brew pub I had ever visited back in the late 80's.
The menu is full of what I would call upscale down-home Midwestern favorites, even down to the appetizer plates. You could get such diverse starters as Brussels sprouts and smoked ham, brisket burnt ends served with sour dough bread, crispy fried Amish hen livers and gizzards, and braised pork belly croquettes.
rye also features a handful of soups and salads to begin a meal. The brisket chili sounded interesting, but I got an iceberg wedge salad topped with Maytag blue cheese with buttermilk dressing, along with real bacon bits, a chopped hard-boiled egg, and sliced cherry tomatoes. The salad leaves were cool and crisp, and the buttermilk dressing with the Maytag blue cheese crumbles were a tasty combination. The blue cheese tasted like it had just come out of the aging room outside of Newton, IA. The wedge wasn't all that big, which was fine with me. Sometimes a wedge salad can almost be a whole meal in itself.
The main part of the menu is a combination of Midwestern and Southern far including smoked spare ribs, shrimp and grits, grilled pork chops, and chicken and dumplings. But the thing that they seem to be famous for at rye is their fried chicken. The chickens they prepare at rye are free range, never frozen, and are antibiotic and hormone free.
And that's exactly what I got. I usually don't get fried chicken when I'm out on the road, but something sort of struck me that evening when I was reading about it on the menu. And I'm glad I did. I got the three piece chicken platter - breast, thigh and leg - and it came with a side of some delicious homemade pickles and ham gravy. The chicken had a great tasting batter on the outside and the chicken meat, itself, was tender, moist and very flavorful. It wasn't quite as good as my late-Uncle Jack's chicken - that's my gold standard - but it was very, very good.
But the highlight, to me, was the ham gravy that came on the side with the chicken. This was a light and creamy gravy with chunks of ham that was just out-of-this-world delicious. I took chunks of the chicken and dipped it in the ham gravy. If I would have been by myself, I would have drank the gravy out of the bowl - it was that good.
rye was a great find during this visit to Kansas City. The food was very good and the service I had from the three guys behind the bar was exemplary. The atmosphere at rye was laid back and low key. With some great chefs behind the restaurant, it's no wonder rye is one of the more popular farm-to-fork restaurants in Kansas City. I think it's one of the best farm-to-fork restaurants I've found in the Midwest.