Thursday, January 6, 2011

Going to Kansas City. Kansas City here I come!

So you’re coming to Kansas City for the KCBS annual banquet. Beyond the various meetings, trade show and the Saturday evening festivities, you’re probably wondering what to do and where to go while you’re here. Kansas City is the city of fountains, although I imagine that all the fountains will be shut down or frozen solid when you get here. Do not despair. A lot of people have probably forgotten more about Kansas City then I’ll ever know, but let’s see if we can’t find something to do while you’re here.

The coolest thing about this year’s banquet in Kansas City is the location that Kelly Cain, Manager of Special Projects and Bullsheet Editor for the KCBS, has picked for you. The Hyatt has some amazing dining. During your stay, I recommend you take the elevator up to Skies to at least have a drink. Skies is a revolving restaurant at the top of the Hyatt and has a remarkable view of the city. Also, the Peppercorn Duck Club is famous for their chocolate bar. If you are a chocolate lover, this is one you shouldn’t miss and they offer it as a stand alone option for $12 if you decide to eat dinner elsewhere and just partake in their dessert.  No, it's  not cheap, but how many times do you get the chance to feast on a chocolate bar in a fine dining establishment?  Yeah, I thought so . . . . .

Despite the cold winters here in the midwest, another very cool thing (pun intended) about your hotel is the ability to leave the building utilizing the catwalk system and not even don your coat. The glass walkway takes you to the award winning Westin Crown Center, yet another high-rise hotel that also houses some great dining, live theaters and cinema, plus over 80 shops. Finally, this suspended indoor sidewalk system connects to Union Station. Built in 1914 and renovated at the turn of this century, this grand historic landmark has unique exhibits plus specialty shops and fine dining like Pierpont’s, owned by the Hereford House folks.

Beyond the immediate area of your hotel, there are some really great things to do. Consider the National World War I Museum at the Liberty Memorial. Just a few short blocks away, this is the said to be the only federally funded tribute to the first world war. Also, check out the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, located a short drive from the hotel. With hundreds of artifacts and photographs, plus multi-media displays, and more, this place is not to be missed for the die hard sports fan. Looking to add a little culture to your diet? Travel south a bit to the Nelson-Adkins Museum of Art. Just look for the larger than life shuttle cock on the lawn. Finally, if you’re in the mood for a movie, head for the AMC Mainstreet 6. This new state of the art theater concept is just minutes from the Hyatt and offers a swank lounge, self service fountain beverage bar, a topping bar for your popcorn and even the ultimate movie going experience, Cinema Suites, where you sit in full size rumble seat recliners and enjoy in-theater dining with serve at your seat. If you’ve never seen a movie this way, you have to got to try it.

Honestly, I’ve barely scratched the surface of things to do in Kansas City. But, all this talk about places to go and things to see has surely made you hungry, right? Don’t fear, Kansas City is sort of a foodie town. Right around your hotel, there are tons of options, from The American, the Westin’s crown jewel with James Beard award winning Executive Chef Debbie Gold, to The Cashew, big sister to The Peanut and a bit more of an upscale establishment ; it’s the perfect choice for happy hour on Friday or just about any time. Just looking for a quick bite? My hidden gem in Kansas City is Kitty’s Cafe and although a bit non-traditional, this carry-out serves the best pork tenderloin sandwich in town. Get it just the way it comes. You won't regret it.  Their hours are limited and they are not open in the evenings, so be sure to check before you go. If that’s a bit too far off the beaten path, check out Grinders. Featured on one of the first Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and owned by a guy named Stretch, this place is the real deal with great pizza and sandwiches. Be careful which door you enter though. Grinders West is a whole different restaurant, and while I’ve never eaten there, I’d say it’s the calmer cousin to the original.

Beyond the immediate area, there is plenty of dining experiences to please just about every palate. Need plenty of choices in a small area? Consider the Kansas City Power & Light District. Situated across the street from our new indoor arena the Sprint Center and a short drive north from your hotel, this is Kansas City’s newest dining and night life area. With over 50 restaurants, bars, shops, etc., P&L is the new place to see and be seen in KC. Or, just a little farther and to the south, the Country Club Plaza , established in 1922, has something for everyone. Take in the holiday lights, or just walk about this 15 block district with over 150 premier shops and some of Kansas City’s best restaurants. This is first shopping center in the world designed to accommodate shoppers arriving by automobile, modeled after Seville, Spain, and the shopping mecca of Kansas City. If you’ve never experienced The Plaza, I recommend you make your way down, if only for a short visit and to see the Christmas lights in person before they go dark for the year. Finally, there’s the Crossroads District. It’s a bit more spread out than the first two and a lot more eclectic. The businesses in this area are very unique.

If you’re like me though, you like to try local favorites over national chains. In that case, this cowtown has plenty of home grown establishments. For fine dining, consider Michael Smith, Bluestem, and Le Fou Frog or drive a little further north and try Justus Drug Store in Smithville. All of these will require reservations or at least a call ahead. There are tons of great steakhouses in Kansas City, but for the quintessential Kansas City steakhouse experience, make your way to the Plaza III, Johnny Trigg’s personal favorite when in town. If you’re in the mood for something a little more casual, consider these restaurants:

Peanut - best buffalo wings and BLT’s in Kansas City, 50th & Main is the original but 8th & Broadway is closer to the Hyatt
Blanc Burgers and Bottles - Great burgers, tons of bottled sodas, plus ice cream w/liquor
Lidia’s - Italian cuisine in the Freight House, just across the tracks from Union Station
Grunauer - German/Austrian cuisine in the Freight House
d’Bronx - New York style pizza and deli, in the Crown Center shops
Spin Pizza - Hand tossed, stone fired pizzas and creative salads on the Plaza
Happy Gillis Cafe’ & Hangout - Started out as soup delivery, great breakfast, not far
You Say Tomato - Great place to grab breakfast not far from the hotel
Houstons - on the Plaza, my only chain restaurant recommendation, fabulous food and service
Manny’s - Mexican
Panzon’s - Mexican
La Bodega - Spanish tapas
Christopher Elbow - Kansas City’s finest chocolatier, try the hot chocolate with house made marshmallows
Glace’ - Christopher Elbow’s take on artisan ice cream. Check out the very unique flavors online.
These are just a few of the great choices in Kansas City and all of them are reasonably close to the hotel, although many are not within walking distance. Check out the Kansas City Urban Spoon page for more great recommendations.  Also, check on The Pitch online.  It's Kansas City's entertainment newspaper and it's available for free all over town and offers "the best of Kansas City 2010" for a lot of great dining and shopping recommendations or a rockin' food blog called Fat City.  The Pitch is never wrong in their selections.  Don't believe me?  Well, just check out the Best Competition Barbecue Team in their Best Of feature. (I know, a little shameless self promotion, but it's my blog after all).

Now, notice that I didn’t give any barbecue restaurant recommendations? Know why? You’re barbecue people. I have my favorites, but that’s not to say they would be your favorites. Kansas City is steeped in barbecue heritage and culture. You’re on your own when deciding where to get your que fix. If you don’t pick a favorite the first time, don’t despair. There’s another slow smokin’ establishment just around the corner for your dining pleasure.

As for nightlife in Kansas City, consider the Power & Light District, the Country Club Plaza, the Crossroads District, or the Westport area. Just be careful, don’t drink and drive, and DO NOT stop to play any three-card Monte or shell games if given the opportunity. Jeff Stith has planned an after party right in the hotel. It’s a mere $10 at the door to cover the cost of the room with all proceeds to benefit Harvesters and He’s planning a cash bar and all the fun you can carry home. Stop in before you wander out into the cold Kansas City streets on Saturday. It’s for a good cause and I’ll bet you’ll see lots of friendly faces.

Let's talk transportation.  Although this post focuses on things to do after you get to your hotel, there is a shuttle service from the airport to the Hyatt Regency Crown Center.  The cost is $17 per person and it runs from 5:50AM to 11:25PM.  The hotel concierge will have all the details. Kansas City has taxi service, although it's not extensive.  The area of your hotel probably has the largest and most active group of cabs in the city.  Finally, Kansas City offers public transportation in the form of a bus line call the Metro Area Express, aka the MAX.  It is a streamlined service that is perfect for travel from downtown to the Country Club Plaza and your hotel is smack dab in between those two areas on the bus line.  The cost to ride the MAX is $1.50.  Be sure to check into a "transfer ticket" so you can ride round trip for that price.  I think you'll find that the MAX is very easy to use.

If you’re looking for something to do on the cheap, consider hoping in your car and driving over to the American Royal to visit your cook site. It’s not far away, but you’d be amazed how different things look when it’s not American Royal Barbecue time.

Enjoy your time in my town. When you see Kelly Cain, be sure to stop and thank her for putting so much thought and effort into making the 25th anniversary KCBS annual awards banquet so special.  If you have any questions you can contact me through the Pellet Envy website. Shoot me an e-mail or call me. I’m happy to help out with ideas or recommendations. It’s great to have the banquet back and I hope everyone has a blast while in Kansas City.

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