July 29, 2011

‘Drinkery’ improves on typical bar fare
by Beck Ireland

Creole chicken sandwich (photo by Beck Ireland)

With McCoy's Public House, the Foundry, and now Beer Kitchen No. 1, restaurant and bar consulting firm Westphal-Kelpe Consulting, run by James Westphal and Mark Kelpe, have literally cornered its market in Westport. Each establishment boasts its own unique charm, but with the transformation of the outdated cocktail lounge — One80 — at the beginning of this year, the restaurateurs are catering to a more casual yet food-forward diner.

Gone are the trappings of a wannabe nightclub, but the place is no slouch. The row of convex mirrors has been replaced with a giant chalkboard listing the eponymous bottled drinks. Below that, tables have replaced the immovable “pleather-y” banquette, making the back half of the room less intimate but more jovial. Friendly gatherings are more easily accommodated and more well lit. It's still a fine place to bring a date, as there's just a little less pressure. The new decorator's only miss-step is the too-literal translations of the theme. The tap handles hanging from the ceiling and the bottle-cap art are overkill.

What Beer Kitchen No. 1 lacks on tap, it makes up for in variety of bottled beer. There are several different categories of beers, ales, lager and beer cocktails on its list, and the well-informed waitstaff (although one member of which is notoriously distracted, especially during busy shifts) is usually willing and able to make recommendations in your pursuit of “hoppiness.” In addition, where it particularly excels is in suggesting pairings of drinks and food.

With just one double-sided page, the menu seems limited but its brevity is an illusion. The restaurant’s variety derives from the flexibility of the items on offer. One, for example, is a DIY mac-and-cheese dish ($10) to which adventurous patrons can add their most favorite acidic or savory items to cut the creamy Wisconsin cheddar, fontina and pecorino-Romano covering 100% durum wheat jumbo elbow shells and sprinkled with buttered bread crumbs. Customers may also load up an order of hand-cut fries with a gloppy but delicious and rich ($6), BBQ burnt ends ($7) or savory mushroom gravy ($6).

However, for those that want a paid professional to put together their lunch or dinner, there are plenty of other choices. For starters, the onion rings ($5), made with wine-pickled red onion, are crispy and golden. They're served with two dipping sauces: horseradish and a sweet Thai chili aioli. Less impressive, the deviled eggs ($5), made with a hops-infused mustard, have fallen victim to contemporary contrivance. The twist of serving them with a slice of smoked salmon and wasabi caviar garnish is misguided. In this case, less is more.

Ordering a salad at a bar is usually a terrible mistake. Not so here. The butter lettuce salad ($8) comes spring green and fresh, and loaded with goodies such as bacon, avocado, tomato, hard-boiled egg, radish, blue cheese crumbles and red onion. But you'll have to remember to order the creamy basil buttermilk dressing on the side, unless you like an overabundance of the stuff. The rocket mix ($9), with contrasting flavors from goat cheese, beets, fennel, and cranberries, is meant for more experienced palates, meaning it may be an acquired taste. But if that's your thing, it's absolutely perfect.

Of course, the place offers updates on classics such as burgers and pizza — it calls them “flatbreads” ($7-$8). It also gives vegetarian shepherd's pie ($11) and the veggie “cheatloaf” ($11) are both brave attempts, but neither is seasoned very well beyond the mashed potatoes and gravy. A veggie lover's best bet is to go with the veggies section. For $3 each, you can mix and match sides, including crispy Yukon Gold potatoes, garlic spinach, peas and mushrooms and beets, walnuts and goat cheese.

Not only does Beer Kitchen No. 1 serve up its modern take on bar snacks and food, it also does a bang-up job at Sunday brunch. The kitchen pairs its delicious mushroom gravy with buttermilk biscuits baked to perfection ($5). The claim to fame, however, are the Dutch babies ($8), the restaurant’s signature baked pancake topped with breakfast staples such as apples, cheese, bacon and ham. There are two savory and one sweet offered but items may be substituted or left off for a custom taste. And they go very well with any number of cocktails. Just ask the waiter.

Beck Ireland can be contacted at beck.Ireland@gmail.com.

Beer Kitchen No. 1
435 Westport Road
Kansas City, MO 64111
(816) 389-4180

Mon. – Fri. 11 a.m.-3 a.m.
Sat. 10 am - 3 am
Sun. 10 am - 4 pm

(photos by Beck Ireland)

Ratings: (out of four stars)

FOOD: ***
PRICE: $$-$

Key: $-under $10 • $$-$10 to $20 • $$$-over $20