The Country Club Plaza is a glittering collection of posh stores and refined dining, with national franchises holding down the prime spots and a few local eateries rounding out the options. But go just a few blocks to the west on 47th Street and you’ll find a new concept that is carving out its niche as the neighborhood coffee shop, restaurant and watering hole—The Journeyman Café.
The word ‘journeyman’ conjures up a few different images. In a historical context, it means a craftsman, someone with specific skills who chooses to work for another artisan. The other connotation is for one who travels, finding joy in the journey as well as the destination. In this case, both are correct, according to executive chef Chance Hurst.
The coffee shop and restaurant, located at 1121 W. 47th Street, opened on April 29 this year and has quickly established itself as the West Plaza hangout and watering hole. The room has two sides, one that opens at 7 a.m. for pastries, coffee and lunch. The other side is host to the full bar and restaurant in the evening, a quaint space where Hurst can work his magic.
Brothers Kit and Ryan Boje own the concept. As the name suggests, the development of the restaurant was a combined effort of the skills of many, from expert woodworkers who built the custom bar to the craftsmen who restored the antique tin ceiling. The result is a cozy yet hip space that provides the perfect backdrop for happy hour, dinner or a casual lunch.
Hurst’s pedigree has taken him from the Broadmoor Technical Center to working on organic farms in the Pacific Northwest to baking bread and making charcuterie, and his experience shows in his simple, yet inspired, menu. Each week brings new takes on seasonal ingredients so don’t become too attached to any one dish. The beauty of this small menu that features four or five starters, a few small plates and even fewer main courses and desserts is the ephemeral nature of their flavors.
On my first visit, we arrived during happy hour to find Clif Boje plucking away at his guitar like a live-action version of Picasso’s The Old Guitarist. A welcome change from canned music or an ear-splitting cover band, it lent a European feel to the dining room.
Happy hour is a fantastic opportunity to try one of everything, which is precisely what we did. The menu when we dined was springy and fresh—ingredients like sunchokes, arugula and Brussels sprouts featured prominently. For starters, the bread plate is a must. Hurst daily bakes the honey bread in-house. Slathered with a vivid green basil honey butter, a simple breadbasket becomes an event. I ordered two servings because it was so addictive. The plate, dotted with basil oil, was beautiful as well—certainly an upgrade from the standard yeast roll in a wicker basket.
The other standout starters were the house-pickled vegetables—crunchy cauliflower, carrots, peppers and onions—and the quinoa salad. The vegetables would be a great addition to any richer dish, as they were lightly pickled, crisp and the perfect palate cleanser. The mound of perfectly seasoned quinoa was topped with shaved fennel, roasted golden beet chunks and arugula. Fennel fronds also graced the plate that was finished with slices of fresh citrus fruit. The balance of nuttiness from the grain and the brightness from the citrus paired with the peppery arugula was so satisfying, especially with a tarragon vinaigrette tying the whole thing up with an herbal bow.
Moving on to small plates, there were three options: a house-made cavatelli with spring vegetables, pork belly lardons and chicken roulade. Feeling carnivorous, I opted for the latter two.
Pork belly is something that you see a lot of in Kansas City. The ubiquitous grandfather of bacon is served fried, roasted, grilled—you name it. Here it was used as flavoring and crunch in a prettily composed plate featuring sourdough croutons, watercress, sunflower seeds and pickled poblano pepper on a purée of sunchoke. The pork was perfectly crunchy with none of the chewiness that can occasionally befall belly. It was a rich, unctuous spotlight in an otherwise light dish.
The chicken roulade on the other hand was much more homey and comfort food-influenced. The roulade, made with thyme, was nestled on a bed of white bean purée, with cracklings and shaved raw Brussels sprouts all married in a natural jus. The dish was hearty and comforting. Do ask for a spoon. You will want every last bit of the dish.
While there were two larger dishes to try, a seared ahi tuna or a beef shoulder tender, I was too stuffed to commit. (Damn you, honey bread.) Instead, I opted for one of the desserts, the poached rhubarb with rhubarb sorbet, lemon cake and sorrel cream. Having never really had rhubarb on its own, since it always seems to be paired with strawberry in some sort of gloppy pie, it was lovely to taste the vegetable itself. The sorrel cream gave just the right amount of lemony herbal flavor to the dish that was neither too sweet nor too acidic. It was the perfect early summer ending to a light but filling meal.
The bar menu for Journeyman Café is headed by industry veteran Andrew Niemeyer and focuses just as intensely on local and seasonal ingredients. While some cocktails feature international spirits such as Kimono Ribbons, which uses Nikka Coffey Grain Japanese Whiskey as its base, he also utilizes J. Rieger frequently. In fact, their highball menu features a variety of J. Rieger spirits, as well as locally made or local favorite mixers. Because why have a gin and tonic when you could have a J. Rieger Midwestern Dry Gin with house-made herbed grapefruit soda?
Returning during the daylight hours revealed the coffee side of operations. The café features Lenexa’s Messenger Coffee Company for its espresso drinks. For cold brew, three taps pour nitrogen-injected Alchemy Cold Brew Coffee from Lawrence, Kan. The nitro vanilla pours a creamy mahogany with slight hints of vanilla, a perfect non-alcoholic pick-me-up for the heat of Kansas City summer.
Journeyman Café recently started offering brunch on Saturdays and offers a more limited selection for breakfast and lunch throughout the week. Hurst says that they will continue to expand the sandwich selections as demand grows but for now, they offer three—an ahi tuna salad, a shaved turkey and an applewood-smoked bacon, all on house-made bread. As demand increases, Hurst says that he may have to outsource some of the breadmaking but for the time being, he is happy to knead and bake.
I tried the applewood-smoked bacon sandwich, served with a side of roasted herbed sweet potatoes. The potatoes almost outshone the sandwich they were so good—soft, not too salty and sprinkled with hearty herbs. The sandwich itself was delectable as well. Applewood bacon may be the thing that drew me in but the house-made basil pesto, wilted spinach and smoked mozzarella were what made it sing.
My dining companion tried the breakfast menu. Breakfast potatoes are roasted, as usual, but then topped with caramelized onions, sunflower seeds, chives and roasted garlic. They were a hearty beginning to the day.
The scone and gravy, though, was the star. Instead of a fluffy buttermilk biscuit, a rosemary asiago scone (at the time of writing, made by Baked in Westport) is perched in a pool of house-made herbed gravy. Sage, thyme and a hint of onion made this one of the most savory, satisfying breakfast dishes I’ve had in ages.
Of course, these pretty descriptions of delightful meals may not apply to future diners at all, since Hurst plans to listen to the farmers and the seasons. By August, he anticipates ‘drowning’ in the peak of summer produce that the Midwest is known for. Having tasted spring, I can’t imagine how that would be a bad thing.
I know I’ll be back to check.
1121 W. 47th St.