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Dining Guide: Flavors of love

The recipes for these 5 new restaurants have been years in the making

Pieroguys Pierogies was started in 2007 by Frank Gazella and a friend. Gazella has moved the operation to a downtown cafe.

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A lot of ingredients go into opening a new restaurant.

Inspiration. Hard work. Hunger for success. And an enormous dash of audacity.

Here’s a taste of five new Kansas City eateries with owners who follow that recipe. On the menu: a fresh soda fountain on the quaint West Side, Southern-style soul food in midtown, a modern Italian cafe and bar in Westport, a no-frills Polish dumplings joint near downtown and a deeply nourishing, all-organic cafe in the Crossroads Arts District.

Little Freshie

811 W. 17th St., littlefreshie.com , Facebook

Hours: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday until June, when Laricks plans to extend hours

In 2008, graphic designer Lindsay Laricks started selling all-natural snow cones from an adorably retro 1957 Shasta trailer.

Laricks and her wildly popular snow cones, which come came in creative flavors such as blackberry lavender, lemon prickly pear and mango ginger, snagged mentions in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and In Style magazine.

Four years later, Laricks has expanded her business with a storefront, Little Freshie. The new cafe sells the snow cones Laricks is known for, plus handcrafted sodas, espresso drinks and pastries from local bakeries.

Little Freshie is a modern soda fountain where tiny details are carefully executed. The pressed tin ceiling, the whitewashed planks on the walls, the rainbow of macarons in their tiny glass case — it’s all so incredibly cute. Even the music makes you happy. When we went, you could hear the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place” over the whirring espresso machine.

Almost everything Laricks offers sells has a local connection. Little Freshie sells coffee from Oddly Correct in Kansas City and scones and cookies from Dolce Baking Co. in Prairie Village. Even the Parisian-style macarons, which come in unexpected flavors such as wasabi with blood orange, are from a local patisserie called Au Bon Macaron.

You can’t fit all of that in a 1957 Shasta trailer.

“This is small,” Laricks says of Little Freshie, “but it’s big for me.”


Magnolia’s

2932 Cherry St., 816.531.2882, magnoliaskc.com , Facebook

Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday

In 2008, the economy crashed and Shanita McAfee was laid off from her job as a financial adviser.

The same year, McAfee turned 30 and went through what she calls a quarter-life crisis. She couldn’t stand the thought of working in a cubicle, so she decided to go for it and pursue her true passion — cooking — full time.

The single mother of three started small, catering parties for friends. Over time, she developed her signature food style: Southern soul food made from fresh, seasonal ingredients.

McAfee took inspiration from her grandmother and great-grandmother. They didn’t put Kraft shells and cheese on the table, she says. They gardened, canned and made wholesome meals from scratch using in-season fruits and vegetables.

That’s exactly what McAfee does at her new restaurant, Magnolia’s. The warm and cozy space has butter-yellow walls and a menu stuffed with decadent comfort food such as shrimp and grits, collard greens with cornbread and spicy gumbo.

The menu is full of surprises. McAfee makes waffles with red velvet batter, purple potato chips and a sandwich layered with thick slices of … bologna.

“I love bologna!” McAfee says. She elevates the humble deli meat by folding it neatly on lightly toasted Farm to Market bread that is slathered with homemade herb mayo or pepper jelly. Sharp cheddar cheese and shredded romaine lettuce finish off the Dagwood-worthy sandwich.

Also on the menu: lots and lots of sweet potato in the form of chips, fries and pies. McAfee got her nickname, “sweet potato princess,” when she designed a five-course meal around sweet potatoes for a local underground supper club. The club, called Test Kitchen, allows up-and-coming local chefs to cook whatever they want.

Now that she has Magnolia’s, McAfee gets to do that every day.


The Boot

415 Westport Road, 816.931.4868, Facebook

Hours: 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-midnight Sunday

When Aaron Confessori was growing up in Wichita, his family practically vacationed in Westport. He remembers ordering his first meatball sub at Mario’s, 204 Westport Road.

Today, Confessori owns a pair of restaurants two blocks from Mario’s: Westport Cafe & Bar, opened in 2010, and The Boot Ristorante, which opened in February.

Westport Cafe serves French fare and classic cocktails. The Boot is all about rustic Italian food. Meatballs, fresh pasta, pizza layered with fresh mozzarella and fat slices of artisan ham.

Chef and co-owner Richard Wiles, who met Confessori when they were students at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, says some of The Boot’s recipes are family heirlooms.

“My family’s Italian, and Aaron’s is, too,” Wiles says. The pappardelle, made with fresh pasta from nearby Cupini’s, is Confessori’s grandmother’s recipe. And the risotto, which gets earthy flavor from porcini mushroom broth, is from Wiles’ great-grandmother.

At The Boot, tradition meets trends. The cafe joins the cured meat craze with its $10 salumi plate, featuring sought-after artisan prosciutto from La Quercia in Norwalk, Iowa. There’s an emphasis on local ingredients, too. A selection from Krizman’s House of Sausages in Kansas City, Kan., is front and center on the menu.

Confessori says he and Wiles took a day to taste-test every locally made sausage they could find, “and Krizman’s was hands-down the best.”

Like its sister restaurant, Westport Cafe, The Boot has a full-service bar. But the emphasis is on highballs, not wine as you might expect. The tall cocktails are made with two or three meticulously paired ingredients and served over crushed ice in mason jars.

The No. 1 highball, Confessori’s favorite, pairs grape juice with Fernet-Branca, an Italian liqueur with a complex herbal flavor. We tried the No. 2, a refreshing gin concoction that gets sweet, tart flavor and ruby color from grapefruit and raspberry.

If you’re more into savory drinks, try the Ivy League from the Shaken and Stirred menu. The grass-green cocktail is a mix of Hayman’s Old Tom Gin and green chartreuse, absinthe, basil, lime and celery bitters. What stands out most is the fresh, summery basil — the perfect accompaniment to all the rich Italian dishes served up at The Boot.


Pieroguys Cafe

1724 Main St., 816.252.1575, pieroguys.com , Facebook

Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday

Six years ago, Frank Gazella was living in Lawrence, studying to be a sports medicine doctor at the University of Kansas.

Late one night, he got a craving for pierogies — fried Polish dumplings stuffed with potatoes and cheese that are popular in Gazella’s home turf along the East Coast. Gazella couldn’t find any pierogies around here, so he decided to start making his own.

Unlike so many late-night ideas college kids dream up, this one worked. Within a year, Gazella was churning out 80 dozen pierogies a day to fill orders from Lawrence grocery stores. Some days, he’d start production at 6 a.m. and finish up by 2. As in, 2 a.m.

In 2010, Gazella opened a commercial kitchen in the City Market. Last summer, he added an in-house cafe where customers could order hot pierogies. Then, in March, he moved the entire operation to Main Street in the former home of Dog Nuvo and Souperman.

The goal was to get closer to downtown workers and hungry bar-hoppers coming from the Crossroads and Power & Light districts. This idea worked, too. “We’ve tripled our cafe business,” Gazella reports.

This small, simply furnished cafe is all about the pierogies. Traditionally, the dumplings are made with potato and cheddar cheese. Gazella has gotten creative over the years by incorporating ingredients such as broccoli, bacon, jalapeno and sauerkraut and offering several dipping sauces. Sour cream is traditional, but Pieroguys also makes marinara, sweet tomato jam and caramelized onion “buttah.” One of Gazella’s favorite combos: Sweet potato pierogies with maple syrup.

“Tastes like French toast,” he says.

The pierogies at Pieroguys Cafe are made with organic butter and vegetables and eggs from antibiotic-free hens. They’re also quite a steal: Three of them will fill you up for $4.99. The dipping sauces are 50 cents apiece.

Go on a production day, and you’ll see the staff making pierogies by hand in the open kitchen. Gazella still sells pierogies to restaurants, grocery stores — even theme parks. Hersheypark in Gazella’s home state, Pennsylvania, recently started importing its pierogies from Pieroguys Cafe, right here in Kansas City.


Cafe Gratitude

333 Southwest Blvd., 816.474.LOVE (5683), cafegratitudekc.com , Facebook

Hours: 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday

Last month, Mike and Natalie George opened the first Cafe Gratitude outside California right here in Kansas City.

The new cafe serves organic, plant-based food like its sister restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles. But Cafe Gratitude doesn’t feel like part of a chain. Everything but the corn tortillas are made from scratch in-house. The healthful dishes are full of local ingredients, and the servers foster a sense of community by asking each customer a question of the day.

“What are you committed to creating today?” Jennifer Zigler asked us as we looked over the breakfast menu.

Part of Cafe Gratitude’s goal is to nourish customers on a deeper level, explains assistant general manager Sarasai Yutuc. Every dish on the menu has a name that doubles as a positive affirmation.

I Am Bonita ($10) is a spicy bowl of quinoa, black beans, salsa and avocado served with hearty sprouted corn tortillas, nacho cheese made from cashews and fresh lime wedges.

I Am Peace ($6.50) is a dairy- and fish-free version of lox that begins with a dense, raw bagel made from seeds and dehydrated onion. Seaweed stands in for salmon, and the “cream cheese” is also made from cashews.

Cafe Gratitude even makes a meat-free BLT ($11.50) called I Am Extraordinary.

It would be easy for cynical types to poke fun at (or even be weirded out by) Cafe Gratitude, where even the plates say things like “What are you grateful for?” But if you’re open-minded, the cafe’s comfy vibe, earnest staff and healthful food will make it hard to leave in a bad mood. That’s what Natalie George loved about the first Cafe Gratitude she went to in San Francisco’s Mission District, and it’s what she and her husband have managed to replicate 1,800 miles away.

Yutuc gets teary-eyed when she talks about how many customers have purchased I Am Grateful, a bowl of shredded kale, quinoa and black beans drizzled with garlic-tahini sauce, which is paid for by donations.

The bowl’s suggested price is $7, or $14 if you want to cover a bowl for someone who can afford to pay only with pocket change.

“We want to make sure everyone can have a meal here,” Yutuc says.

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