Culinary Curiosity – The Town Company
All good artistic endeavors start with setting the stage, appealing to all of the senses… immersion. Let’s set the stage for The Town Company, the signature restaurant in the Hotel Kansas City. The former Kansas City Club is the backdrop for this newly-opened, significantly-renovated, yet historically-preserved hotel at 13th and Baltimore. Once inside the original entrance, the lobby mixes gothic and modern influences from carved stone architecture to fancy, flirty lighting fixtures. The Town Company is just steps from the comfortable, inviting lobby, just past the vintage mailbox built into the structure.
The Town Company greets visitors with a deep, dark velvety, greenish-toned room with dark woods, low ceilings, banquettes, and tables leading one’s eye straight back to the bright, open hearth kitchen, with bar stools pulled up to the leather front of the counter – right in front of the cooking fire. Everything at The Town Company revolves around the hearth – it is the heart, the home, and the core of the menu, the space, and the concepts that reside within. The room itself is an intimate, horseshoe shaped destination with the feeling of being quite cozy and inviting. It is comfortably outfitted, which relays the feeling of not needing to rush – of being able to sit and enjoy the food, the company, the surroundings, while people bustle about outside. Reigning over what has now become one of my go-to components of Kansas City cuisine is Executive Chef Johnny Leach.
Johnny’s presence is much like his philosophy: be present, be organic, combine culinary skills with the local agrarian availability to create magic. With a background that took him from the Pacific Northwest to New York (Del Posto, Momofuku, and Town), Johnny brought a cross-cultural perspective as well as his wife to Our Town to produce one of the most interesting menus we’ve seen in a long time. Helen Jo (his wife) is the head pastry chef for The Town Company. When we asked Chef Johnny what his gastronomic philosophy is, he replied with a signature smile, “undersell, over-deliver.”
The style of Chef Johnny is a most original combination of flavors and especially textures. The menu includes pairings of tastes, compositions, colors, and locally-grown organics over which he literally stumbled. Johnny relays the story of living in our historic Hyde Park area, walking through the neighborhood (off the beaten path), and finding something growing for which he tracked down the owner and researched the result. (It turned out to be the daikon that is referenced in the tartare.)
Now that our stage is set and the ground is laid, this is what you can expect to find in the performance of this glorious gem of a restaurant: let’s start with the trout croquettes. Croquettes (usually potato and always beloved) were served with roasted lemon sauce (lemons roasted over the hearth fire). These were original and unexpectedly divine for each of the four in our party. The winter greens salad consisted of endive, escarole, bitter lettuce, blue cheese, and paper-thin sweet potato chips. Moving on to the lamb skewers – we received three different lamb cuts, grilled on the hearth, served with an eggplant and chard preserve mixed with a yogurt. Next up, a beef tartare like no other. Finely chopped Flint Hills sourced (Salt Creek Ranch) beef aged in house, was combined with pickled daikon, wild rice, and horseradish, served with crunchy farm loaf sliced so thin, it could be read through. This unparalleled presentation was equally delicious. Another unanimous favorite was the strip loin, served with lobster butter, creamed leeks (we needed a bigger spoonful!), and a cake of mashed sour cream/onion flavored potato. And, finally, a creation from Helen Jo, herself. We were presented with an aerated cheesecake – lighter than air – sitting on a black sesame ganache with red wine-poached pears and pear sorbet. This beautiful, sweet creation was transcendent, with “pear and sesame being typical Korean accomplices,” we were advised. While we didn’t sample the diverse offerings of the bar, there are plenty of selections for anyone’s taste – from the Founder’s Old-Fash cocktail, to local brews, to single malt scotches, to Ports – each able to complement any food offering.
The overwhelming mission conveyed by the management and culinary team without using any words is that of making the guest feel comfortable. We were, indeed, very comfortable in our surroundings, yet we were kept on our toes by the creativity of the chef. Johnny Leach is primarily interested in local, fresh, “hyper-seasonal” ingredients and thought processes. He is attentive to the nuanced side of food, the combinations that will keep his patrons thinking, guessing, asking questions. He is a young, eager, contemplative chef within a new kitchen and a blank canvas, housed in an old Kansas City tradition. His sense of connecting all of those components is authoritative.
Also featured in the January 9, 2021 issue of The Independent
Photo Credit: Bailey Pianalto Photography
By Anne Potter Russ
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