Kansas City's Midwest renaissance
But perhaps neither The Farmhouse nor Westside Local would exist if chef Jonathan Justus had not bought a restored 1950s drugstore 20 minutes north of downtown and turned it into a restaurant named the Justus Drugstore in 2007. Justus may well be the founding father of the city’s farm-to-table movement, and arguably its most fanatical proponent. Passionate to the point of obsessive, he visits all of his meat providers’ farms and factories, forages for native edible plants and insists his chefs butcher their own meat, bake their own bread and make their own sausages in house. In the restaurant’s bar it is no different; drinks are created with house-made bitters and specially infused spirits.
Together, restaurants like these have brought new life to the beef-and-barbecue culinary scene in Kansas City, earning praise for their zealous devotion to using locally-sourced ingredients in creative dishes like The Farmhouse’s chicken breast brined in hometown-brewed Boulevard beer and served with bourbon maple cornbread, or Justus Drugstore’s local pork with wild grape blossom cognac and savoury goats cheese flan.
An artistic crossroads
Starting in the early 1900s, water fountains were commonplace in Kansas City, and today there are more than 200 across the city. It is said that the city has more public fountains than any place other than Rome; the first were erected in 1904 by the Humane Society as a source of water for service animals, but later more artistically-designed fountains were built and today they are a point of civic pride. Now art is taking centre stage in the city once more and in an even bigger way. The Crossroads Art District, home to more than 100 independent galleries, has become one of the most concentrated arts districts in the country. On the first Friday of every month, the galleries are open to the public for free, displaying work from both established and up-and-coming artists.
The biggest addition to the artistic landscape of Kansas City came with the 2011 opening of the $413 million Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The new home of the Kansas City Symphony, Kansas City Ballet and the Lyric Opera, the centre’s two performance halls each offer more capacity than any Broadway theatre and have technical capabilities that will allow producers to pursue more advanced stage design and bring greater recognition to Kansas City as a Midwest cultural enclave.
It is a long way from the city’s wild and sin-fuelled past, but to many it seems a tangible representation of the possibilities for the future. The centre, with its gleaming glass shells, is the most visible symbol of the cultural renaissance that will usher in a new era of creativity, revitalize the downtown and return Kansas City to the dynamic, creative and worldly place it once was.