Cellar Rat Wine

Why write about a wine shop on a website dedicated to food? Because good wine elevates good food, and good food makes good wine taste better. I love wine, but I love wine & food more. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

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Located at 17th & Baltimore in the heart of the Crossroads Art District, the staff at Cellar Rat Wine Merchants are as passionate about wine as I am about making good food. As a result, I’ve become a whole lot more passionate (and adventurous) about wine and wine pairings.  Because of the staff’s knowledge, enthusiasm, and encouragement, this self professed Red Wine Only drinker has come to love the full gamut of flavors- from the lightest white, to a deep salmon rosé, to a hit you on the head Cabernet. I’ve come to appreciate the passion, commitment, and time it takes to grow and bottle good wine- in the same way it takes those qualities to perfect Boeuf Bourguignon or a souffle.

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Cellar Rat Wine is about quality and passion. But don’t think that means you’ll be priced out of the market. The vast majority of the wines they carry are between $10-25 a bottle- because good wine is meant to be consumed. There’s a great selection of higher end bottles for special occasions or for cellaring. With weekly tastings, wine of the week deals, wine classes, and a monthly mix & match $100 case offering (yes you read that right- high quality, delicious wines for for less than $9 bucks a bottle!) Cellar Rat has something to offer everyone. They’re just as thrilled to see beginning tasters as they are enthusiasts, so if you’ve ever been curious about wine tasting or wine pairing stop on by.

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Cellar Rat sits in the shadow of the world renowned Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

We also think that Cellar Rat Wine is the best place for a Friday night date. Why? You can purchase a bottle of wine and they’ll open it right there for you to enjoy. Feeling like a splurge? Order a cheese and charcuterie plate. There’s plenty of room to sit and enjoy a bite and a glass. (They also have a small selection of wines by the glass if you don’t want a bottle- or they can seal up your bottle and you can take it home!)

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They are very gluten free aware and carry a nice selection of gluten free crackers- likely more than your local grocery store! If you let them know when you order your cheese plate, they’ll happily provide you with gluten free crackers instead of the bread that typically accompanies the cheese plates. Local artists are featured on the walls in ever-changing displays, and a lovely back room provides additional space for tasting classes and private parties.

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Cellar Rat Wine carries more than just wine- they offer an excellent selection of cheeses & charcuterie, snobby chocolates, bitters, beers, liquors and sakes- many of them created by small batch or local producers like the ones shown in the photo below. Row Hard Root Beer is gluten free, locally brewed, and contains a little over 6% alcohol. It’s the best root beer I’ve ever tried, and they are not joking when they claim it makes the best root beer floats. Do be careful though- you can’t really taste the alcohol.

A new favorite
A new favorite

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t brag about their Monthly Wine Clubs- which you can read about here. Wine Club memberships include a tasting class and other special bonuses. I have found kindred spirits in tasting and life adventures inside these walls, and encourage you if you’re in the neighborhood to stop by and get to know some incredible human beings and fellow taste adventurers.

Affäre: Fabulous Food and Gluten-Free Done Right

Recently, I wrote about getting gluten bombed at a local establishment well known for serving gluten-free items on their menu. Suffice it to say I’ve been pretty skittish about eating out anywhere since then. However, Mr. Kitchen Diva took me out on a date to a restaurant I’ve been hearing great things about and dying to try-  Affäre, located at 1911 Main Street. God bless him, he called ahead ask if they could work with a gluten issue and to make sure there would be safe items for me to eat, and when I arrived, this was waiting for me at our table. I cried a little..

Affare Menu

In advance of our arrival, our server had starred the items on the menu that are naturally gluten-free, and underlined menu items I would need to leave off so that a plate could be gluten-free. She also assured me that the folks in her kitchen were aware of my issue and that I would be safe in their hands. I cried a little more… (just kidding, but I was blown away by their care and concern, and their desire that I have a positive experience)

Affäre is one of a handful of German restaurants that have popped up in Kansas City in the last few years. I can’t speak to the others, because in my experience there’s not alot on a German menu that is naturally gluten-free, and so I haven’t bothered to check them out. Clearly, at least where Affäre is concerned, I was very wrong.

Chef Martin Heuser (who was incidentally nominated for a James Beard award for his outstanding work here in 2013), and his wife Katrin- who’s also a Sommelier, have created a delicious and innovative menu that is based not only on German tradition, but on sourcing local and seasonal produce. Their philosophy of supporting their local food economy as much as they can is one that resonates deeply with me. And for me as a consumer, there’s something very gratifying about eating at a local restaurant that is committed to serving local food.

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The ambience at Affäre is also right up my alley. Low backed booths interspersed with wooden chairs and small tables covered in heavy white linens provide intimacy in a room with an industrial feel- exposed brick and ductwork. There are also farmhouse style tables for larger parties. A number of local artists are featured on the walls, and while we were there Metropolis was playing on the TV behind the bar. My own aesthetic is very much vintage meets industrial, and I think they’ve struck a great balance. The juxtaposition they’ve created visually compliments what’s happening on the plate too- Vintage German meets Modern meets Local Food… For instance- Bison is prominent on the menu, and beautifully executed- whether as carpaccio with truffles, or as hanger steak with kartoffelplätzchen (potato cakes).

Since we are the adventurous type and there were so many delicious sounding options we couldn’t decide between, we opted to put ourselves in their hands and ordered the 4 course tasting menu,  adding paired wines. Every course was perfectly balanced and a delight to our senses. We especially loved the pickled butternut squash..I mean really- who thinks to pickle butternut? And yet when we tasted it, we wondered why everyone isn’t doing it. Brilliant.

Affäre also cures and smokes all their charcuterie- hams, bacon, sausages- you name it. If you’re in love with their bratwurst (we are) you can even purchase a pack of 5 (fully cooked) to take home and grill.

We enjoyed a perfectly prepared salmon with perhaps one of the most innovative sauces I’ve ever encountered: oyster-marzipan sauce… I really can’t even begin to describe the way the flavors unveiled themselves in my mouth… So good I wanted to lick the plate. Again, I kept thinking- HOW do people think this stuff up? And for the first time ever, I drank a German Pinot.

Duck & Quail Plate Affare

For me, wine pairing is the other half of what makes a great meal taste great. I love wine- but I love wine more with food. Recently, and for obvious reasons, I’ve spent most of my time learning French wines. I know next to nothing about German wines. Katrin introduced me to the wines of her favorite region in Germany, Bavaria to be exact- Franconia, where they’ve been making wines for over 1200 years, and a German red called Trölinger.

Affäre also has regular happy hour specials and no corkage Wednesday nights if you’d like to try your own hand at pairing a bottle. Frankly, I prefer to put myself in Katrin’s extremely capable and creative hands. Be sure to visit their website so you can ogle their beautiful food photography. My attempts at discreet photography don’t do their food justice.

Parking was also not an issue for us. I know many folks have been avoiding Downtown and the Crossroads because of the street car construction, but there’s a lot just a few doors down, and the parking instructions on Affäre’s site are very clear. Don’t let your aversion to a bit of construction deter you from an incredible dining experience.

I would like to thank Katrin and Martin and their outstanding staff. We had a beautiful experience and will be back as soon as we can for more!

 

Oak Street Mansion, Kansas City

Oak Street MansionJust before the holidays, Mr. Kitchen Diva and I had the opportunity to get away for a long weekend. It was much needed, and for various reasons- mostly having to do with time- we opted for a ‘staycation’ not far from where we live.

Kansas City is routinely making top 5 and top 10 lists for food tourism, sports, arts, and livability. If you’re coming from afar, or just need a romantic staycation to recharge your batteries, look no further than the Oak Street Mansion. Built in 1907, the Mansion was purchased in 2010 and lovingly restored for two years by the Sabates family.

 

AbstractRoomJust a stone’s throw from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, the Oak Street Mansion is an ode to art and artistry. Each room has an art-related theme, complete with gorgeous works on the walls. There is a gallery with changing art, as well as a permanent collection that owners Roland & Maria Sabates are happy to take you through. If you prefer to wander on your own, there is a book of the Mansion’s artwork in every room. Well worth the read if you have the time.

From the Oak Street Mansion, it’s easy to walk to the Country Club Plaza, or take a quick drive to any of Kansas City’s foodie and arty neighborhoods– there is plenty to experience here!

IMG_1256They were also very willing to make a delicious gluten-free breakfast. I was surprised and delighted to see my own mixes featured on the breakfast menu! John Sabates, one Maria & Roland’s sons, runs the kitchen and is highly creative. Breakfast was a daily feast, and one morning he even made gluten-free red-velvet scones! If you’re around in the late afternoon, plan to sit by the fireplace and enjoy a complimentary glass of wine, along with specially selected charcuterie.

 

Charlie Bird
Charlie Bird

 

However, in warmer months, the gardens are  inviting and filled with sculptures- so you could enjoy your wine al-fresco when the weather permits.

 

 

 

 

 

We’d love to thank the Sabates family for a lovely stay, and for contributing to the vibrant arts culture that Kansas City is becoming celebrated for nationwide. We’ll definitely be back soon!

PS- the mattresses were heavenly!

Even the lights are works of art!
Even the lights are works of art!

Make Your Reservations: Justus Drugstore, Smithville, MO

Christopher Elbow Chocolate and Gruet Rose ChampagneMr. Kitchen Diva and I celebrated our 15th Wedding Anniversary last weekend. Which means we were also celebrating 15 years of no gluten (I got diagnosed with Celiac immediately after our honeymoon). Lots has changed since then- not only for us personally, but for the gluten free world.

Fifteen years ago, servers would look at me like I was from another planet when I asked if their sauces contained gluten. Now, most people are aware enough that if they don’t know themselves, they can at least go check with the chef. But- eating out is still tricky. Possibility for cross contamination is a real risk- even in the finest establishments. And- when your date is planning a fancy dinner- advance calls and questions are just part of the package. Which brings me to Justus Drugstore, just north of Kansas City in Smithville, MO.

I started hearing about Justus from fellow foodies a handful of years ago, but had never had the opportunity to go. We typically stay closer to home when we dine out, and Smithville- although only 18 minutes North of the Broadway Bridge- seems like Minnesota. After 15 years of marriage I’ve apparently turned into a homebody!

But last week, to celebrate, we made the journey. Not only was it a journey worth making, I’ll happily go back as soon as I can. I would easily rank my experience last week in the top 5 if not top 3 best meals of my life. Why?

Justus DrugstoreJustus Drugstore Interior

Justus Drugstore is a unique mix of haute cuisine and casual, come as you are dining. The juxtaposition of formal and informal is right up my alley, because that’s what’s important at our house. Good food is a must, shined shoes- not so much. We were dressed up for the occasion, but there were families in shorts and flip-flops, and folks stopping by the bar for a round on their way home from work. I absolutely LOVED the welcoming friendly atmosphere.

The bar is filled with bottles and jars of homemade infusions, and vases filled with freshly gathered herbs. And while I watched the bartender work, I was reminded of an old-time apothecary crafting the perfect recipe for his patients.

The kitchen is also open- there are no mysteries about the magic made in Chef Jonathan Justus’ kitchen- although it is magic. As a passionate cook myself, I felt like I had the best view in the house, watching the sous fire 3 pans at once, taste and adjust, while another person in the back broke down fresh rabbit.. I could have watched all night.

The Food

amuse buche justus drugstoreLeft me utterly speechless. Giggly, actually. When was the last time food made you giggly?? As in best sex in your life giggly?

From the amuse buche of egg salad with seabass, broccoli and a pinch of cayenne & paprika, to the bacon wrapped chicken livers, or the arugula salad with bleu cheese ice-cream– it has been years since I have enjoyed food this delicious, this playful, this imaginative… I mean really- who dreams up bleu cheese ice-cream??? And the rabbit…most rabbit I’ve had in my life is a bit on the gamey side and a little stringy. Not this- it melted in your mouth. Seriously, melted. What can I say?

Better still, the food is local. It represents the best of what I love about living in Kansas City. Three farms fully support the restaurant, in addition to an array of other local growers. And- this is the best part- they also harvest wild food- be they mushrooms, asparagus, or greens. You will not find food like this anywhere else- because no where else is quite like here.

bleu cheese ice creamI also loved the suggested pairings that accompanied each selection. They were spot on and the two together enhanced the experience of both food and wine. My only suggestion might be to offer a flight of 3-4 smaller pours for people who love to experience wine and food pairings.

Chef Jonathan stopped by our table for a brief chat, and I immediately felt like we were kindred spirits when it came to food philosophy and creativity: For him- it’s all about respect. Respect for the life of the animals, respect for the butchery process, respect for the growing and the harvest- respect for the land. This shines through in his cooking- but not in a pretentious or precious way. It’s down to earth, yet wildly imaginative. I love it. It’s the kind of place you can visit again and again, and still be surprised by something new each time you visit. You can also enjoy some of Chef Jonathan’s artwork which adorns the walls of the restaurant!

Gluten Free

Chef Jonathan’s menu is very much influenced by the time he spent in Southern France. Because of this, there’s plenty on the menu that is naturally gluten-free. And while substitutions are not possible they know their ingredients and preparation processes, and are very willing to leave something off the menu if you are concerned. For me- that meant leaving a few items off that had been fried. At this point there is only one dedicated fryer, and I so I opted to not risk possible cross contamination. It did not diminish my experience in the least.

Make Your Reservations

Wednesday – Thursday 5:30pm to 10pm,
Friday and Saturday 5:30pm to 11pm,
Sunday 5:30pm to 9pm
Phone: 816-532-2300

106 West Main Street
Smithville, MO 64089

 

Cafe Gratitude

There’s a new restaurant in town that has captured my heart and my imagination. Cafe Gratitude is a new restaurant in Kansas City that is vegan, has a mission to use locally sourced ingredients, and is almost entirely Gluten-Free! I went there for lunch a few weeks ago when my Mother-in-law was out for a visit and was blown away. One of the most impressive parts of my experience there was reading the menu- every menu item is a personal affirmation! How lovely to sit and read a menu of “I Am Fabulous”, “I Am Trusting”, “I Am Extraordinary”- how can you not love food that makes you feel so loved and beautiful?!?

And the food was good, too. So good, in fact that I forgot to take pictures! We don’t eat out very much anymore- in part, because as the kids have grown and we’ve tried to preserve our budget, we’ve discovered we’re a lot more picky about where we spend our dollars. It’s disappointing to spend 40 or 60 dollars on a meal that’s not as good as what you can create at home- for less than 1/2 of the cost. However, Cafe Gratitude will be a place we return to when we can- the food and flavor combinations were delightful, reasonably priced, and the atmosphere was uplifting. Another touch I loved was that the waitstaff posed a question of the day- one we could answer or not, but it was posed to get us thinking. Our question: Who are you in love with today? Lastly- I was impressed that there was a selection on the menu that was priced as donation only, with the understanding that you may pay what you choose, and that no one will be turned away. In this day of increasing food insecurity for the poorest among us, it’s nice to know that anyone can come to Cafe Gratitude and be fed a wholesome, nourishing meal. I’ll be supporting them again for this reason alone. Check out their inspirational menu here.

The photos included in today’s post are a riff on the meal I enjoyed at Cafe Gratitude- I Am Whole. I didn’t have sea vegetables to add to mine, so I used zucchini noodles (made by using my carrot peeler) gently warmed with a little olive oil and ginger. The kimchi was homemade (napa cabbage, radishes, onions and poblano peppers mashed into a quart jar, salted and left to ferment for a week on the counter- YUM!), as was the tahini (process sesame seeds in your food processor until smooth, slowly add sesame oil until you create a paste. For this post I added the juice of one lemon and a heaping spoonful of herbed garlic powder.) Serve over quinoa with shredded kale, carrots, chopped tomato, avocado, and a sprinkling of almonds. It tastes best when you mash it all together. We’ve also tried the leftovers with a fried egg on top!