Imagine if you will, a shopping mall. It’s a beautiful place, filled with high-end stores and sophisticated clientele, mingling and choosing each purchase carefully. Now imagine the food court for that mall. It’s sleek, sophisticated and has something for every appetite. On the edge of the Country Club Plaza, one of the first planned shopping centers in the nation, they finally have a restaurant that functions as its own food court for the refined—The Oliver.
George Atsangbe, the culinary director of Bread and Butter Concepts, the parent company of The Oliver, says that’s precisely what he and CEO Alan Gaylin were aiming for when they decided to rebrand the space at 4807 Jefferson Street. A few short months ago, they tried a Spanish concept, República, but Atsangbe says that the concept was ahead of its time and after less than a year, they scrapped it.
What came next, after a lightning-fast flip, is The Oliver, a restaurant that is focused on American food re-imagined and executed with panache. After opening in June, The Oliver has already gained a loyal following of Plaza diners eager for something different.
It’s clear that they have taken favorites from many cuisines and honed them to the Bread and Butter concept. You’ll find enchiladas and taco platters, several salads, a full menu of sandwiches, and a variety of meat-centric entrées to choose from. Some seem familiar from other Bread and Butter restaurants—Pork Wings appear on both the Gram and Dun menu and The Oliver menu but with different flavor profiles—Gram and Dun favors an Asian spice palate, while The Oliver goes with a coffee rub and Zim’s BBQ sauce. It’s pub food, elevated.
That’s exactly what executive chef Stacey Tramel aspires to. Tramel joined the company a month before The Oliver opened after long stints at Kona Grill and several other nationally known restaurant groups, including P.F. Chang’s.
Pay attention to what the server recommends, especially if this is your first visit. That’s one thing that you can count on at any Bread and Butter restaurant—the service staff is well-trained, polite and professional. Knowing that we hadn’t dined there before, he made several recommendations, including the pork nuggets, Smoke Box Corn Bread and the fried-chicken sandwich.
Pork nuggets are a take on the ubiquitous chicken nugget—confit pork mixed with smoked mozzarella and a touch of jalapeño—all fried in a crispy cornmeal batter and then drizzled in a bit of barbecue sauce. It’s a good way to start. The filling is soft and richly savory with just enough crunch in the coating.
For a bread-lover, the Smoke Box Corn Bread is a worthy choice. All breads are menu items here, but they do put more thought into them than many restaurants. This corn bread arrived in a cast-iron skillet, with a dollop of jalapeño butter melting jauntily on top. It’s a Southern-style corn bread, which can be defined by the small amount of sugar in the batter. Instead, it has bits of country ham and jalapeño. If you needed some sugar, it was accompanied by a squeeze bottle of Mike’s Hot Honey, which is also infused with a bit of spice. It’s a delectable combination of sweet and savory.
Choice is a big component of The Oliver’s menu. Most of the entrees and sandwiches come with a choice of sides, or if you fancy the sides more, then you can make a meal by choosing three for $15. They run the gamut from mashed potatoes to sweet potato mac and cheese to charred broccoli with soy lime chile to borracho beans. Many are gluten-free or can be made gluten-free.
When someone says that something is ‘the best,’ it’s best to approach with trepidation. When it has to do with fried chicken, there’s even more skepticism. Since Kansas City has recently exploded with chicken joints, it’s a bold claim to make. And while the jury is still out as to whether the best chicken-fried chicken sandwich comes from The Oliver, they do make a valiant showing.
The chicken itself is one of the juicier chicken breasts. Coated in Diamond Crystal buttermilk batter and fried until crispy, the filet shares a house-made brioche bun with baby Swiss cheese, spicy slaw, bread-and-butter pickles and lemon chive mayo. The resulting combination is exquisitely balanced with no one ingredient standing out, but each shining in its own way. With a side of crispy, piping-hot shoestring potatoes and garlic aioli, it’s a satisfying and pant-tightening combination.
The lunch and dinner menus are the same—even down to the pricing—so no need to worry about missing out. Try the crab cake appetizer to begin—plenty of fresh-tasting crab surrounded by the good crunch of a cornmeal coating, not bready like so many in the Midwest. A not-to-miss entrée is the Mongolian pork chop.
Mongolian is a difficult spice profile to truly define. At most Mongolian barbecue places, diners are in charge of their own saucing. This, however, was a sweet and savory blend that caramelized beautifully along the well-defined char marks, making it a great dish. The two generously portioned chops are accompanied by your choice of side and a toned-down version of the Chinese mustard that graces any Chinese restaurant. The difference is that as kids, we used to try the mustard as a dare and then silently cry at its burning power. This version is actually palatable and slightly addicting.
The cauliflower-fried rice was a worthy accompaniment. While it may seem like something that a Pinterest-happy Paleo devotee might order, it was pleasantly salty, full of vegetables and nearly indistinguishable from rice in texture.
Go south of the border for a gluten-free option—the braised smoked-pork taco platter. Locally made soft corn tortillas, guacamole, pico de gallo and kale slaw accompany the braised pork, which had a slight barbecue flavor—a touch of sweetness perhaps? With a bit of pickled onion on the tacos, it was a rich but lighter option for lunch.
For a truly delicious finish, a discerning diner might describe the limoncello brioche pudding as one of the best desserts in town. Huge, fresh blackberries top the brioche, mingled with not only a whipped crème infused with limoncello, but a glaze of blackberry ginger jam. It was the love child of bread pudding and blackberry cobbler.
For their happy hour, which runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the bar Monday through Friday, there are three appetizer options at a discount as well as drink specials. A brunch menu features rotating specials on the weekends. As is the trend right now, The Oliver has a selection of house-bottled cocktails in both still and sparkling varieties, as well as a serviceable wine list, craft beer and traditional cocktails and highballs.
With a bustling dining room and the chops to continue to improve and grow, the Plaza has a new destination.
The Oliver, 4807 Jefferson Street, 816-384-2500, theoliverkc.com