Mar 26, 2011

5 Questions With Josh Eans

To many of us, the simple hamburger is a treasure. Something held near and dear to the heart. My heart, I believe, is enveloped in two sesame seed buns and layered with lettuce, pickles, cheese and a couple slabs of bacon.

And it’s emotional ties like this that create such staunch opinions about the ideal burger. Every time I mention Blanc Burgers + Bottles in the office, for instance, ears perk up and debate ensues. Everyone has a favorite, everyone has a philosophy and everyone believes, deep down, that they are RIGHT.

It was this obvious truth that led me to my next 5 Questions candidate, chef Josh Eans of Blanc. Chef Eans has brought to life in KC a highly discussed gourmet burger concept that has spawned a lot of the burger banter in which I’ve taken part. With a culinary degree and background in five star dining in Atlanta, work at the lauded (but now closed) 40 Sardines and gig as head chef for The Drop, his burgers represent the fancy, high end burger concept that seems to polarize we, the unofficial burger gourmands of Kansas City. I asked Chef Eans about his burger philosophy and much more, to get a firsthand view of what’s behind his chef-driven burgers at Blanc.

Eans' twitter photo.
There seems to be a rift growing in "best burger" philosophies: the classic greasy gut bomb (Flea, Town Topic, Corner Cocktail) versus the gourmet, like yours. Is one better than the other or are they different foods altogether?
I don't think you can say one is better than the other. It all comes down to personal taste and preference. One day you want a fancypants burger and a Belgian beer, while the next you are craving a greasy, juicy burger wrapped in paper.

You serve a lot of local products… Farm to Market buns, Soda Vie, Shatto milkshakes, Boulevard beers, namely. What other local products do you use that area locavores would be pleased to know about but may not?
All of the spices/seasonings we use come from the Herb Co. on Southwest Blvd. They simply have the best stuff. We've developed special blends they make only for us. We use Kurlbaum's heirloom tomatoes in the summer as an option on the burgers. Kneaded Specialties in Lee's Summit provides us with gluten-free hamburger buns. A guy from Lawrence is producing beautiful microgreens that we have been playing around with. Lastly, Erin Brown from Dolce Baking Co. (sweetest girl in town), is going to start producing seasonal fruit pies for us that we will add to the menu when we update it next month.

What's your favorite vegetable and how do you like it prepared?
That's a hard one. I think it changes seasonally. I really enjoy roasted brussels sprouts with a little olive oil, salt + pepper and maybe bacon for good measure. But they have to have a nice char on them - I really enjoy caramelized flavors. But, going into spring, I can't wait for some beautiful asparagus to throw on a charcoal grill and dress with some olive oil and lemon or some wild ramps that I can pickle.

The special burger last time I was in was a rendition
of the Inside-Out burger, stuffed with Mac n Cheese
instead of Blue Cheese. It worked!
Blanc is expanding. What's the long term vision for growth? Sky's the limit? Or is there a ceiling for how many could be opened?
Anything can happen long term. Right now there is a definite ceiling - we have 3 restaurants in 3 states. At the moment, we are most concerned with what's happening inside the four walls of each place, rather than what's beyond them. Blanc is not a cookie-cutter concept, either. We put a lot of thought into it. When we opened up our Omaha store, we did a ton of research to find the best local products there and make it work for that market. It's great that we are able to create a 'local' flavor.

The chain-phobic of us fear decreased quality with increased quantity. Should we worry about our favorite local Blanc outpost going downhill? Who not?
There is no need to worry, I myself am "chain-phobic". We are dedicated to quality, that is all we are focusing on right now. This year we are looking at how we can continue to raise the bar and do things better and better. We will be rolling out a new menu next month with some exciting changes as well as finding new ways to invest in our beer program. This will be an exciting year for us.

*Bonus Question: How long has the mustache been in your life? What percentage of men would look better with a mustache?
Ahh, the mustache. It's the reason we have a second son. I've had it for 5 months or so. It completes me. All men need one - call it the Tom Selleck equation. Everyone worries about the creepy factor, but there was a time not long ago that it was part of a very distinguished look. What happened? It's not the mustache's fault.

Mar 18, 2011

5 Questions With Megan and Colby Garrelts

Five Questions is back and better than ever! This time around, I've had the pleasure of conversing with the highly regarded chef/owner tandem of Bluestem, Colby and Megan Garrelts. Admittedly, my interest in the place was piqued recently with Chef Colby's nomination for a James Beard award, but anyone paying attention to the food scene in this town knows that Bluestem ranks right up there as one of, if not the most highly regarded restaurants we have. So I'm stepping up my game and checking in on what makes these chefs and their project so successful. Some hints: passion and pedigree.

You've been open since 2004. How has Bluestem changed since then? And are you surprised with what it's become?
Colby: From our lounge to our menu, our restaurant is very close to what I hoped it would become. It has changed quite a bit but I like to think that it became what we wanted it to be.

Megan: We are certainly larger and busier than ever. The restaurant’s identity, menu, and staff is more developed and very consistent as of now and it’s been fun to see our transition. We are not surprised, but more excited to see our dream evolve and become better each year as owners and for our guests.

Your space is lovely but maybe a little unassuming from the outside (easy to overlook). How has Westport worked out for you so far?
Colby: That’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted a place that you decide to go to - and once you arrive I wanted you to be surprised by what’s inside.

Megan: Westport is an ideal space for our restaurant. In the middle of Kansas City with easy access to downtown, the plaza, and even a quick jog over to State Line for our Kansas guests. Being in Westport also gives us a definite home town appeal (especially with Colby having worked just next door at the former Stolen Grill now Pot Pie) and also the quirkiness of Midtown and Westport in a sense give us the freedom to change often, break rules, and be creative on our plates.

Is there any desire to follow the trend of opening a second location in the south KC?
Colby: Yes. Hopefully we will be hearing more about this in the coming months.

Megan: A different concept in the works, as chefs and owners we are constantly dreaming of more to do and ways to expand in KC

Graham Elliot, also formerly of Tru in Chicago, has become quite the famous face. Have you had a "Grahamwich" yet? Is that a friendship that you've been able to maintain?
Colby: We have not eaten at Grahamwich. With Megan’s parents moving here we haven’t been able to go to Chicago as much…but we might try to visit this summer. As far as our friendship, absolutely we have stayed in touch. I talked to him last Saturday for about an hour…He’s doing great. We have really leaned on each other throughout the years…As a matter of fact he wrote the forward to our book.

Megan: Elliot is a good friend and knew Colby and me when we first met at Tru – long before we were all in our places now, he has been a constant source of support and also an amazing chef to lean on and explore ideas with. We see him when we are in my hometown Chicago. We have been to Graham Elliot many times, but not yet Grahamwich.

I skimmed the comments about Bluestem on from past customers looking for complaints and was, instead, overwhelmed by how many commenters say you have the best restaurant in all of Kansas City. Are you the best? And is that your goal?
Colby: As much as I would like to say we’re the best, I cannot. Is it my goal? Absolutely. But it’s unachievable. There is always work to make it better. Kansas City has become a vibrant, sophisticated restaurant city, so it keeps us striving to be our personal best!

Megan: We defiantly strive to be the best possible restaurant, it would be foolish not to try. We have come a long way from our beginnings, but we are always open to criticism even as hard as it can be. Listening not only to complaints, but compliments from our guests. We have learned what our guests need from us for the best experience through face to face feed back as well as online forums. Being open to change by the request of our guests is always a way to become better.

Chef Megan
As a pastry chef, you're a rare commodity in Kansas City. Are we missing the boat on baked goods and good desserts in this town?
I wish there were more places in KC that celebrate sugar! There are a handful of wonderful bakeries, bread shops, and restaurants that defiantly aid in great desserts in Kansas City – we even have one of the country’s best chocolate makers! The Midwest is always a challenge with for desserts mostly I see such large portions it can make dessert seem too indulgent and/or overwhelming after dinner. With our menu format we include dessert as a final course because it is important to the dining experience.

From Chicago to New York, stops in Vegas, LA and Santa Monica, then landing here. Are you both from KC or just Chef Colby? What ultimately brought you back here?
Colby is from here, I grew up in Naperville, IL a western suburb of Chicago. We both wanted to travel, but after we were married we decided Colby’s home town of KC would be the best place to land our future and restaurant location.

You must use lots of butter. Are you loyal to a specific kind or is butter butter?
Not really, we use Plurga at bluestem which is a great brand. My recipes are pretty straight forward for butter, if I did more baking with laminated dough or brioche I may be more sensitive to what type of butter I use. Sometimes I do enjoy checking out local butters for our tables, but cost can be an issue on that end as well as if the butter is pasteurized for health code reasons.

Sea salt, bacon... savory hints are showing up more and more in pastry. Is this a trend you like?
I do enjoy savory herbs in pastry like, thyme, basil, and tarragon. You may also see other seasonings like pink peppercorns and sea salt in my cookies. I do use carrots, cucumbers, corn, and tomatoes when ripe in some sorbets and other desserts as well. I am mostly a purest when it comes to sweet vs savory in dessert, I don’t go too far off the deep end, because ultimately I ask myself would I eat that? I defiantly don’t create desserts to be trendy or to see if it will work or if the guest will buy it. Dessert is the last impression and it should be enjoyable.

At what point did you decide that pastry was your calling as a chef?
In high school, I worked for several restaurants before heading to the CIA in NY after high school so it was always what I wanted to do.

Chef Colby
A lot Kansas Citians tend to be fans of large portions. Do your customers seem to know what they're going to get at Bluestem and leave happy or do you get complaints about being "fancy" over "filling"?
We actually get both. I stopped at a table on Saturday and had a couple complain about being “too full” but then you get others that say the opposite.

You're no stranger to accolades but how big of a deal is it to you to receive recognition from the James Beard Foundation?
It is a very prestigious award and of course I would be honored to receive it. But I also have to remember that our customer and business are our highest priority, above any awards. I never want to lose sight of that.

You're a KC native. Where, exactly, did you grow up?
Old Leawood…98th and Mission road to be exact. I’m what is called a Ranchmart Rat!

Best meal you've had in the past 6 months?
That’s a tough one…..I’m not sure if I look at food like that anymore. Every experience is different. I really liked Genesee Royal Bistro as well as the Reiger….But I also just discovered Bonito Michoaca in KCK and it blew me away…

What's the best part of owning your own place?
Being able to create our own food and ambience – to be able to develop exactly what we wanted. So being able to start and finish a project like ours has been a truly wonderful experience.

Mar 13, 2011

More Mexican Mediocrity

Restaurant: Paparico’s
Location: 8314 Wornall, Waldo, MO
Food: Mexican
Service: Friendly, traditional waitstaff
Atmosphere: Disappointing.
Price: What you'd expect.
Rating: zero napkins

What can a restaurant blogger say about a place like Paparico’s?

Friends said they loved it; their favorite new neighborhood Mexican joint. Then a cheap Muncharoo certificate became available so we jumped on it and a few days later we’re sitting in a sad, ugly restaurant with one other full table completely depressed.

The problem is that I am definitely becoming a dreadful,  unapologetic Mexican food snob. I don’t really know why but the utterance of the half-words “Tex” and “Mex” brings an uncontrollable sneer to my upper lip. I scoff at misused sour cream or shredded cheddar cheese at phony Americanized Mexican cantinas.

I can’t take it anymore. I’m absolutely yearning for an innovative, contemporary yet authentic Mexican restaurant in this city (thus, secretly hoping the rumors of an Aaron Sanchez-owned spot come true).

And so it was with this Mexican food baggage that I arrived at Paparico’s, admittedly skeptical, but hungry and hoping only for something adequate. Unfortunately, adequate turned out to be the nicest word I could use to describe our experience.

There’s no need to go into much detail about this place. The staff was nice and eager to serve. They were prompt and friendly. The salsa was fresh and tasty. Better than a lot that you find in KC. The atmosphere was glum. Décor is relegated to a massive lineup of plastic two liter and glass soda bottles. And piñatas. Ancient, dated-looking wood paneling consumes the dank space.

My pork tamales were decent, with the requisite rice and refried beans on the side. Elizabeth’s tacos al pastor were comprised of under-ripe, hard bits of pineapple and many bites of pure fat and gristle. She only ate one of the tacos, and was only able to choke down about 50% of the meat therein. A bad bite in Mexican street tacos here or there is to be expected, but these were inexcusably bad.

As we ate, the hostess stood at her post and watched our every move, apparently having nothing else to do to fill her time. It was truly pathetic.

Paparico’s was a sad story from start to finish. I wish nothing but success for a hard working family that’s doing decent work, but I won’t be going back for dinner. Everyone in Kansas City, no matter where they live, has a Mexican restaurant at least as good as Paparico’s just around the corner. I'm sure there are people who live in the Waldo area who will say they love this place, and that's fine. That's how all these neighborhood Mexican restaurants go. We all like chips and salsa. We all like rice and beans, tortillas and spicy, cheesy hot plates of food. So it's not too hard to find loyal patrons for these places. But our standards are just too low. I know someone can do something better and I'm going to wait for that place to come before I start handing out napkins to any more boring, uninspired Mexican places.

(The one exceptional bright spot for Paparico's, however, may be its breakfast. I've not had it but I'm a huge fan of Mexican breakfast and I might recommend that if you go there at all, you do so for that menu as opposed to the lunch or dinner we had.)

So until a new, great place opens, or I get a chance to go down to the much-heralded Frida’s, I’m sticking with the usual favorites (read: CFF & El Patron) for my Mexican food fix. This widespread Mexican food mediocrity is just too depressing.

Rating: zero napkins

Paparico's on Urbanspoon
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