How do you define American cuisine? Just as spaghetti doesn’t define the cuisine of Italy, and sushi doesn’t define that of Japan, no single dish encompasses our cuisine. But if you could pick a generous handful of contemporary favorites that can be found all across the country, a collection that will please the largest number of dining Americans, you would find them all on the menu at The Grille at Park Place, the newest restaurant in the Park Place development in Leawood.
The Grille, launched by Kansas City natives Mitch Kerns and chef Kevin Clayton, opened quietly in June, but it didn’t stay quiet for long. Our first visit to the space (formerly occupied by Mestizo of the Food Network’s chef Aron Sanchez), could only be described as boisterous, owing in part to the lively outdoor country music that was a part of the Park Place summer music series. Subsequent visits were better described as lively, no doubt due to the general good time being had by customers of all ages.
The menu reads like a Top 10 list of American classics, plus a few international dishes that are definitely contemporary crowd-pleasers. And no matter whether your appetite or caloric needs are large or small, there are dishes here to fit your requirements, not to mention your budget.
The Starters section of the menu easily lends itself to sharing. The rather pedestrian spinach and artichoke dip and über trendy deviled eggs—as much as I love them, I can’t write about them again this year—share space right next to the more interesting mussels in white wine, ahi tuna tartare and Oysters Rockefeller. Always a fan of oysters in almost any guise, these were served piping hot, roasted on the half shell and smothered in savory spinach cream sauce topped with crispy bread crumbs and bacon crumbles adding crunch and a hint of smoke. The grilled artichoke might have spent a moment or two more on the grill, but torn and dipped in the accompanying remoulade, it becomes one of those ideal appetizers that isn’t too filling, making you want a little something more.
If you’re looking for something extremely light, gluten-free and refreshing with wonderful textural interest, the ahi tuna tartare with white bean purée is the perfect starter. Crunchy Belgian endive leaves are filled alternating between a rich and silky bean purée and diced raw tuna. At first glance, I thought the tuna oxidized because of its slightly brownish color, but upon tasting decided it must be a result of the marinade (soy perhaps?). It was delicious nonetheless, and we cleaned the plate.
Considering the role tuna plays on their menu, (a burger, the tartare, and seared on a salad), it only makes sense that the tuna would stay fresh and in rotation. The seared ahi tuna salad with sensuous mango, rich avocado and the refreshing bite of red onion, cherry tomato, orange segments and hearts of palm was dressed with a bright citrus vinaigrette. It’s one of those refreshing and satisfying salads I can eat any time of day or year.
One salad that you can’t eat just any day of the year—let’s hope they don’t offer it year round—is their excellent heirloom tomato salad. Eaten at the height of summer, these chunks of colorful and meaty heirloom tomatoes are tossed with basil, intense bites of Maytag blue cheese—nice to have something besides mozzarella for a change—and a splash of champagne vinaigrette. Nothing speaks more to the season than a salad like this. That said, the salads here easily make an entire meal and reflect a modern, more health-conscious way of eating. The Grille’s classic salads like the Caesar, Cobb and wedge salad are available with the option of adding chicken, shrimp, steak or salmon
A large section of the menu is devoted to sandwiches of all kinds, each served with hand-cut fries. Burgers are represented by the cheeseburger, veggie burger and ahi tuna burger, while the prime rib, chicken club and daily featured-fish sandwiches round out the list. Not to be overlooked is the gourmet kosher hot dog. I can’t remember the last time I ordered a hot dog, but maybe it was at the famous Hot Doug’s (now closed) in Chicago.
I chuckled to myself when I first saw it on the menu. But on my second visit I ordered it. The plump and juicy dog at The Grille was every bit as tasty as any I ever remember eating. Perfectly cooked, moist and flavorful, with slabs of ripe summer tomato, mustard and piquant relish, all stuffed inside a squishy (in a good way) bun—I loved it. Slaw and fries round out the plate. It may just be a hot dog, but it proves that you can find a tasty $10 entree in Leawood.
Another undoubtedly popular sandwich offering is the prime rib sandwich. Dagwood-esque layers of thinly sliced pink prime rib were inserted between pieces of baguette, perfect for dipping and soaking up a savory brown jus. Although I love the power and flavor of salt, the jus may be a little salty for many palates. Most likely, the beef broth is a beef base of some kind, not actual roasting juices. After all, no properly roasted prime rib produces that much jus. The sandwich was tasty and intensely flavored; just consider yourself warned if you live a low-sodium lifestyle.
A delicious roasted chicken is deceptively difficult, and one of those dishes best attempted at home. The Grille’s lime-roasted half chicken however, comes in a very close second to only the best home cook. If you don’t cook much, it definitely comes in first. Our chicken came to the table lightly crisp with a skin crusted in herbs, sitting atop a generous nest of coarsely mashed potatoes and a pleasantly brothy sauce to provide any necessary moisture, although our chicken was moist throughout. The chunky mashed potatoes made me think of grandma and reminded me that mashed potatoes don’t have to be a garlicky purée devoid of texture.
Lovers of red meat should feel at home here. In addition to the prime rib sandwich and burger, MK’s—I assume owner Mitch Kerns—espresso-rubbed ribeye was a responsibly portioned Delmonico-cut steak, elegantly seasoned with a coffee rub that adds an earthy complexity that accentuated the flavors of the beef without overwhelming the dish. Although the exact cut of a true Delmonico is debatable, there was no question that the accompanying baked potato (easily a light meal in itself) loaded with sour cream, cheddar cheese and bacon, reminded me that there should be more baked potatoes in my life.
One of the most unassuming dishes we sampled was the Idaho trout, a very simply grilled trout fillet served with a seemingly effortless coleslaw. The fish was moist and delicate; a feat not always achieved with such a fragile low-fat freshwater fish. I was pleasantly surprised that the finely shredded cabbage wasn’t drowning in a cloyingly sweet mayonnaise-based dressing as is so common in our corner of the world. The slaw was fresh, slightly crunchy and delicious. As much of the food on this menu exemplifies, the simple way is often the best way of doing things.
Both chef Clayton and chef de cuisine Nathan Toubia spent several years working at Lidia’s Italian restaurant in the Crossroads and pay Bastianich the highest form of compliment with their crispy cheese frico filled with savory potatoes, leeks and mushrooms, a dish perfect for sharing on their elegant rooftop. Although the rooftop was a little on the warm side during my July visits, the space should be perfect in slightly cooler weather, as the extendable awnings and outdoor heaters will provide a pleasant outdoor dining experience well into the cooler months. The rooftop menu of Sharables is exactly that—ideal for sharing.
With its full bar and comfortable foods like shrimp cocktail, a hummus trio (traditional, roasted red pepper, and Kalamata olive, served with grilled pita) and the cheese frico, it’s a good reason to leave work a little early. Live music is also a regular feature to lure you upstairs. Happy hour (called cocktail hour here) is celebrated Monday thru Friday from 4 to 6:00 p.m. and includes a variety of shareable appetizers as well as beverages like domestic beers, specialty cocktails and wines, each for $5.
The dessert menu is equally filled with crowd-pleasers, such as red velvet cheesecake, Key lime pie, crème brulee and their signature Chocolate Wow! (their exclamation point, not mine). The incredibly rich crème brulee was possibly the densest version of the classic custard I have ever encountered. The crisp caramelized crust snapped with a pleasing crack and was that perfect thickness that one seldom finds on this ubiquitous dessert. The whipped cream and fresh summer berries did serve to lighten the texture and redeem its heaviness. For the chocolate lover who likes a bit of a show, the Chocolate Wow! will be right up your alley. I’m going to give away the secret right now: The “wow” is a spherical chocolate shell filled with vanilla ice cream, over which warm caramel is poured tableside, the dome collapsing in on itself covering the ice cream with melted chocolate and flowing caramel.
The whole thing rests atop a bed of toasted chopped peanuts, giving the impression of some type of hot and cold Reese’s ice cream bar on steroids. I admit I was hoping the show would fail, but the dome collapsed as intended, and everyone enjoyed the spectacle as well as the harmonious tastes and textures befitting a restaurant that is filled with them. That defines the Grille at Park Place—well-executed All-American flavors, a stylish setting in a stylish neighborhood, a place for food with a “wow” or just some comfortable favorites.