Heat can refer to temperature or, loosely speaking, a level of spiciness. As winter temperatures dip below 32 degrees, eating food that is hot and/or spicy is a sure way to turn up the heat. For diners craving warmth and a spicy kick, numerous restaurants participating in Kansas City Restaurant Week (January 16-25) offer hot, savory dishes to please the palate.
One of the most popular dishes at Port Fonda (4141 Pennsylvania Avenue, Westport) is Esquite Asado. Owner and chef Patrick Ryan’s version combines grilled corn, poblano rajas, epazote butter, habanero mayo, cotija cheese, cilantro, and chile with a wedge of lime on the side. To decode, poblano rajas simply refers to roasted poblano chiles cut into strips. Epazote is a pungent herb typically used in Mexican cooking with black beans.
“Esquite Asado is a variation of ‘elote’ (corn on the cob) or ‘esquite’ (corn off the cob). Both are very popular street vendor snacks throughout Mexico,” says Ryan. “Traditionally, it is steamed corn, mayo, usually Kraft Parmesan cheese, and usually chile, lime and cilantro. It’s either served on the cob on a stick or in a styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon. Both are ideal for walking around and eating.”
Sometimes the corn is cooked in stock or beer that contains fresh chiles and/or epazote. Ryan says, “I thought it’d be a cool and different spin on it to grill the corn first and cook the corn kernels with epazote butter, cilantro and poblano rajas.”
Combined with the garnishes, the dish is a quintessential balance of sweetness and spice, fresh herbs and earthiness. Creamy texture is offset by the lime’s acidic bite. After KC Restaurant Week, look for an Elote Fest at Port Fonda this coming summer.
Across town at 801 Chophouse (11616 Ash Street, Leawood), Chef de cuisine Jeremy Kalcic prepares a six-ounce Filet Mignon DeBurgo with a heaping mound of garlic mashed potatoes and jumbo grilled asparagus. Meat-loving customers can upgrade to an 8 or 12-ounce option during KC Restaurant Week or on the Chophouse’s Sunday prix fixe menu, where the DeBurgo is a weekly feature.
The sauce – this version is made with white wine, shallot, garlic and basil – gives this USDA Prime grade steak its distinctive name. The dish’s origin traces back to Des Moines, where feisty arguments still ensue about who invented the entree and its possible roots in Spanish cuisine.
The KC Butcher is a powerhouse burger at BRGR (4038 West 83rd Street, Prairie Village; 11 East 14th Street, Kansas City, Missouri). This eight-ounce burger patty is topped with slices of hanger steak, Boursin horseradish cream cheese, tomato, fresh spring-mix lettuce, caramelized onions, and a heaping amount of whole roasted garlic cloves, all served on thick slices of toasted sourdough. Served on the side, the Kim Kardashian of onion rings is wide, curvy and hardly content to be second-fiddle to anyone or anything. This crisp, hand-breaded, fried ring vies for attention and yields tender onion that melts in your mouth.
For those that want a hearty vegetarian option to fend off winter’s chill, try the jack fruit tamales at Beer Kitchen. The tamales are prepared with vegan blue corn masa and topped with green salsa. A rich, red pool of salsa roja, heirloom Anasazi beans, and beer-battered avocado completes the dish.
Chef Michael Peterson, corporate chef at Beer Kitchen, Char Bar, and McCoy’s, uses Anasazi beans because of their pinkish appearance when cooked and traditional use in Mexican and Southwestern cuisine. Regarding the salsa roja, Peterson says it is a “cross between enchilada sauce and salsa” made from tomato, jalapeno, poblano chili, ancho chile and red bell pepper that is charred and pureed.
Char Bar’s Smoked Duck Gumbo may evoke the dish’s heritage of rustic bayou culture in New Orleans, but this version aims to lift spirits skyward. Each bowl is layered with white rice and dusky red gumbo studded with hand-crafted sausage and tender morsels of smoked duck.
“We smoke the duck in-house,” Chef Peterson says. “We season and air-dry duck hindquarters for 24 hours before smoking them. Instead of andouille, we use a classic Polish kielbasa with some variations. The sausage by itself is also popular. We make 118-lb. batches every other day.”
Rich smokiness and slowly building spice in the gumbo create savory layers of flavor. A nibble on a single pickled okra wakes up the palette before cravings prompt another mouthful of this smoky dish.
Traditionally, the roots of Chicken and Waffles are immersed in two different cultures. Fried chicken points to Southern culture and its predecessor, fricasseed chicken, where the poultry is cut, sautéed and braised in a sauce or gravy. Placed atop a stack of waffles, the dish could double as breakfast or a late dinner. Alternately, creamed or pulled chicken is used in the Pennsylvania Dutch version of Chicken and Waffles.
McCoy’s Chicken and Waffles borrows from the South, but Peterson’s version uses boneless buttermilk fried chicken tenders “for ease of eating and consistency in preparation.” Fried chicken, jalapeno gravy and shredded cheddar top the foundation of thick waffles. Stout syrup is served on the side.
The secret star of the dish is the jalapeno gravy with a mild spice and acidic bite that cuts through the heaviness of the dish. To make the gravy, Peterson’s recipe calls for lightly sweating the peppers in a pan, adding cream, reducing the sauce and finishing it with minced jalapeno and tabasco to infuse a touch of vinegar.
Sales of the Chicken and Waffles have begun to rival other long-standing classics at McCoy’s as a top-selling item. The whole affair is comfort food deluxe – sweet and salty, soft and crunchy. The flavors of syrup and fried chicken evoke childhood memories of lazy weekend breakfasts and summer church picnics, whether or not you actually experienced them firsthand.
Kansas City Restaurant Week is sponsoring a series of posts about the menus and food of restaurant week, which runs from January 16 through January 25, 2015. For the first post, Pete Dulin sat down with KC Hopps’ executive chef Ryan Sneed to learn more about how he approaches prepping a menu for restaurant week. In last week’s edition, we posted the Sweet-Talkers guide to KCRW dishes. The Recommended Daily is a Silver Sponsor of KCRW.[Images via Pete Dulin]