People like traveling for all kinds of reasons. My family and I—we travel to eat. There, I said it. Unintentionally, our last several trips ended up being dictated by where we wanted to eat. Our latest visit to Kansas City, KS, was no different.
My husband, Nick, and I feel lucky that both our kids—one is 12, the other is nine—enjoy a good culinary experience as much as we do. That’s probably in large part because Nick cooks great meals for us and enjoys experimenting with flavors and seasoning in the kitchen. So, when we set out to visit Kansas City, KS, we immediately started looking for places to satiate ourselves.
First stop: Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant, thanks to Ben, our nine-year-old son and his fascination with trains. When we walked in, Ben immediately pointed out the train track hanging from the ceiling.
“It goes all the way around,” Ben astutely observed as he took it all in.
The track spans the entire perimeter of the restaurant, above the diners’ heads. We took our seats in a booth and carefully looked over the menu. We all had burgers on our brains, and the 13 burger options made it hard to choose. A server came over to take our drink orders, but when we started in with our burger requests, she smiled and pointed to the phone sitting on our table.
“You get to call the kitchen directly.”
Our daughter, Sarah, got a kick out of that and begged to be the one to call in our order. After a short wait, during which we walked around and explored all of the railroad-themed décor, a whistle blew and a train carrying a large box of food started out on the tracks.
“I bet that’s ours!” I said as we all scurried back to the booth.
The train made its way around the restaurant and headed to our table. As it passed over us, the box slipped onto a metal tray that lowered down to the table. As we dug into our burgers and fries, Ben grinned and proclaimed, “Best. Meal. Ever.”
Later that evening as we piled into the car, Nick said he had a surprise for me.
“What’s Mom’s favorite food?” he asked the kids.
They answered in unison, “Pizza!”
“And what country does she want to visit more than anywhere else in the world?”
I looked at Nick with raised eyebrows. “You’re taking us to Italy for pizza?”
“Next best thing,” he said with a mischievous grin.
About 10 minutes later, we walked into Chiusano's Brick Oven Pizzeria and were greeted with the aroma of freshly baking bread, garlic and everything I always imagined Italy to smell like. Chiusano’s serves a European-style pizza inspired by family recipes from the mountains just east of Naples, Italy. It’s known for a hand-kneaded, extremely thin crust that remains soft even after being baked in a wood-fired brick oven.
“Babe, this is perfect,” I said, looking over the menu. The choices went way beyond a regular slice with pepperoni. Sarah and I shared the “Snooty Coyote”—a delicious pizza topped with elk sausage, brie and mozzarella. Nick and Ben split some shrimp pesto—a mix of shrimp, roasted red peppers, goat cheese and mozzarella.
My happy taste buds told me that even if I never experience food in Italy, I’ve come pretty close.
The next morning, we headed out in search of fuel to start our day and stumbled across an adorable little bakery. MeMa’s Old-Fashioned Bakery crosses Grandma’s kitchen with an antique store. The place exudes downhome charm, filled with everything from vintage signs and tins to an antique stove. The aroma of freshly baked goods from the kitchen drew us in.
The povitica was to die for. Delicate nutty layers of filling swirled within soft, sweet dough to create the perfect walnut breakfast pastry. The apple strudel delighted our mouths with its flaky layers and warm fruit filling.
“Can we get some of those to take with us?” Sarah asked, gazing longingly at cinnamon rolls packed individually into tiny Mason jars.
Turns out, MeMa’s ships sweets all over the country. So, we ordered a few and had them mailed—a delicious treat (and souvenir) that would greet us when we got back home.
No trip to Kansas City, KS, is complete without a taste of the city’s famous barbecue. Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que peddles its savory sustenance from inside a gas station, which may look deceiving, but don’t knock it until you try it. Joe’s has a few different locations around the Kansas City metro area—but we wanted the authentic experience. We headed over to the Kansas City, KS, original, tucked into the back of a gas station on the corner of West 47th Avenue and Mission Road.
A bit of a line snaked through it, which told us we’d made the right choice, and the line moved quickly. We all had trouble deciding what to order because everything smelled mouthwateringly amazing. We ended up choosing several things from the menu to share, since none of us could choose just one dish. We had our food and seats in about 15 minutes.
When in Kansas City, KS, do as they do, which meant we had no choice but to try the house specialty, the pulled pork sandwich. We split it four ways and devoured it in seconds. We agreed that it did not disappoint. Ben savored the famous Z-man Sandwich, a low-smoked beef brisket with smoked provolone cheese, topped with two crispy onion rings, on a toasted Kaiser roll. And the half-rack of ribs literally fell off the bone.
I looked around at my family, grinning faces covered in barbecue sauce, and snapped a mental picture. I have a feeling that some of my children’s favorite childhood memories will be of us sitting around the table eating, right there in Kansas City, KS.