Archive for July 2011

Kansas City’s Blue Bird Bistro

Kansas City, Missouri, the “Heart of America,”  is one of the great centers of American barbecue.  In the early 20th century, the Kansas City Stockyards were second only to those of Chicago in size, and this city of distinctive jazz and blues earned its food reputation for barbecue, while serving as a hub for the vast herds of livestock that congregated at this gateway to the west.  The barbecue tradition remains strong, but a new culinary model is rising fast.  The local food movement has set strong roots in a city, which now calls itself the City of Fountains.  (With over 200 fountains, Kansas City, Missouri is second in the world, behind Rome, in the number of fountains.)

The City Market [www.thecitymarket.org], located near the riverfront has been operating since 1857 and remains one of the largest farmers markets in the Midwest.  Joining this historic farmers market are twenty-first century businesses such as Boulevard Brewery [www.boulevard.com].  The brewery strives to maintain sustainable production by reducing energy and material use, using reclaimed materials, and has pioneered recycling in Kansas City with its recent partnership to create a glass recycling facility.  This increased focus on sustainability has also permeated the restaurant scene with establishments like Blue Bird Bistro, The Westside Local, and Justus Drugstore a restaurant [http://knowwhereyourfoodcomesfrom.com/farm-to-table-dining/dining/middle-west/missouri/]].

Located in a charming hilltop neighborhood just southwest of downtown Kansas City, the Blue Bird Bistro has quickly become a feature of Kansas City fine dining.  The old corner storefront with a pressed tin ceiling and tile floor, combine with the creative use of old display cabinets for wine storage, to produce a comfortably worn, shabby-chic ambiance.  Simple yet refined table settings and brown paper table coverings add to the casual sophistication.  It is a deceptively large establishment.  The corner entrance opens into a long main dining room and bar while several rooms are hidden away upstairs and behind corners for private parties and large groups.  Despite the possibility of scores of diners, the compartmentalized structure makes for an intimate, cozy atmosphere for fine dining.

With a focus on freshness and sustainability, Blue Bird Bistro mixes the best local ingredients with other responsibly sourced items to create a classic American menu with updated flavor.  Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and Sunday for brunch, the restaurant prides itself on its in-house preparations from homemade ice cream to veggie burgers.  A carefully selected wine list features beverages from Kansas and Missouri and around the world with an emphasis on sustainable and organic vintages, and the bistro also offers a full bar featuring Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewery beer.  In addition to an  extensive list of locally sourced food products such as free range eggs from Campo Lindo Farms [www.campolindofarms.com] to heritage turkey breeds from Good Shepard Turkey Ranch [www.goodshepherdpoultryranch.com], Blue Bird Bistro literally links farm and table by offering a monthly farmers’ table with a five-course meal featuring completely locally grown and raised foods.  Guests even have the option of dining with the farmers who produced the ingredients.

On a recent trip to Kansas City, we decided to try Blue Bird for an early Sunday brunch.  Reservations for two (accepted either online or by phone) were easy to make and our table was waiting when we walked in the door.  Sunday drink specials featured the familiar Bloody Marys and mimosas ($8.50).  We opted for the latter and were treated to a healthy dose of champagne, dash of fresh squeezed orange juice, and maraschino cherry.  Many tempting options were featured on the seasonal menu such as the pork and polenta benedict and biscuits and gravy.  We settled on the Trio of ciabatta French toast, two Campo Lindo farm eggs, and house made Rain’s Farm [www.rainsnaturalmeats.com] heritage Tamworth pork sausage ($11.00) and the famous 17th Street Benedict with mushrooms, spinach, caramelized onions, feta cheese, capers, and hollandaise with Menno Brennerman Farm butter and Campo Lindo Farm poached eggs on an organic English muffin ($13.00).

The Trio was a refreshing take on the classic breakfast. A sizeable slice of ciabatta was cooked perfectly and covered in pecans. Hints of orange zest in the toast were a nice complement to the maple syrup while the crunch of the pecans balanced the rich, almost creamy texture of the French toast.  The homemade sausages were delicious.  The naturally lean meat was perfectly combined with herbs and sage that allowed the pork’s sweet flavor to come through.  The one drawback was that the consistency was reminiscent of a slightly dry meatloaf as the lean meat was ground very fine, but this was an almost negligible complaint.  The eggs were perfect.  Campo Lindo knows how to raise its chickens and they reciprocate with rich, flavorful eggs.

Blue Bird’s famous 17th Street Benedict does little to tamper with the classic recipe except to utilize wonderful ingredients.  Each component felt like it was carefully hand selected to blend into the perfect eggs benedict.  The house-made hollandaise with butter from Menno Brennerman Farm and a generous portion of capers and feta added a nice tang to the richness of the eggs and sauce.  Personally I prefer my poached eggs to be a bit runny, and these were cooked to a slightly hard center.  This was a minor distraction from an overall excellent entrée.

Given the rich meals, dessert was not the first thing on our minds, but we were tempted into it by our very knowledgeable and friendly server who suggested either the house-made blueberry and mint ice cream or the coconut sorbet (both $5.00).  With such intriguing choices we opted for one of each.  Two generously heaped martini glasses soon arrived and we dug into perhaps the most unusual and surprisingly delicious ice cream flavors I’ve experienced in quite some time.  Puréed blueberries were paired with just enough mint to add flavor without being overpowering and was so delicious we scraped the melted remnants at the bottom of the dish.  The coconut sorbet was a minor puzzle.  At first we had a hard time placing the herb mixed into the dish as the coconut flavor also had strong hints of citrus, particularly lime.  Our server informed us that basil was the mystery herb, which was a surprise as the flavor was not overpowering and mixed well with the lime and coconut.

Our delicious meal was enhanced by the unrushed service of the friendly staff that refilled our house-filtered water, and despite the steady stream of eager diners, wanted us to enjoy our leisurely brunch.  Blue Bird Bistro offers truly excellent food and a wonderful alternative to the traditional fare of Kansas City.  It is a highly recommended stop for anyone visiting Kansas City (Ethan Bennett, 7/12/11). [Blue Bird Bistro, 1700 Summit Street (at W 17th Street), 816.221.7559, Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner: Mon-Sat 7:00AM-10:00PM, Sun 10:00AM-2:00PM. (www.bluebirdbistro.com)

Victory Gardens Promoted by National WWII Museum

The National World War II Museum [www.NationalWW2Museum.org] in New Orleans is promoting an elementary school curriculum entitled the Classroom Victory Garden Project.  The museum has created a unique website [http://classroomvictorygarden.org/]  to promote its project “that includes an interdisciplinary curriculum taught through gardening, including social studies, literacy, math, science and art modules.”

During World War II, there were more than 20 million Victory Gardens planted in the United States.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that 9-10 million tons of fruits and vegetables were harvested in home and community plots, “an amount equal to all commercial production of fresh vegetables” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victory_garden].  Victory Gardens, also called War Gardens, were also widely planted in Canada and Britain.

In addition to reducing the pressures on the public food supply brought on by the war effort, planting victory gardens represented a civil morale booster for home gardeners, who could share in the national effort to win the war against Nazi Germany and imperial Japan.  The entry in Wikipedia on the Victory Garden, referenced above, notes that Dowling Community Garden, a Victory Garden established in  Minneapolis, Minnesota, two blocks west of the Mississippi River, remains active more than sixty-five years later with over 190 plots and 250 gardeners: an awesome connection to the past [www.dowlingcommunitygarden.org/].  The Dowling Community Garden is a granddaddy in the growing movement of community gardens throughout North America [http://knowwhereyourfoodcomesfrom.com/gardening/community-gardens/].  The National WWII Museum’s Victory Garden Project also will help to reconnect Americans to their food supply, with the added benefit of some history lessons.

This elementary school program launched by the National World War II Museum is a variation on the inspiring Edible Schoolyard program [www.edibleschoolyard.org] established in 1995 by the Chez Panisse Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by chef and author, Alice Waters.  The one-acre garden first planted at the Martin Luther King Middle School on Rose Street in Berkeley, California in 1995 remains a thriving acre of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers.  The Edible Schoolyard program in Berkeley has hosted thousands of visitors each year, and the program now has a small network of Edible Schoolyard program across the country.

(FW Barrie, 7/7/11)

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