Reservation for One: Green Dirt on Oak

Green Dirt on Oak. All photos by Aaron Leimkuehler

For 16 years, Sarah Hoffman and her family have been on a mission to introduce Kansas City to their wonderful sheep’s milk cheese made locally outside of Weston, Missouri. To date, Green Dirt Farm cheese has won more than 80 awards from prestigious cheese-making competitions around the world, and no one is cheering harder than we are for our local cheesemaker.

Hoffman first expanded in 2016, opening Green Dirt Creamery in a large stone building that was closer to Weston. It is large enough to allow her to buy more sheep’s milk from Amish farmers in the area and store it at her new headquarters, farm-tour pitstop, retail storefront, and casual café, which serves sandwiches, cheese and charcuterie boards, and local beer and wine.

In 2022, she announced she was ready to expand again. This time she purchased a 13,650-square-foot, two-story building in the East Crossroads to open Green Dirt on Oak. Her goal with the new building is to bring the cheese closer to her customer base and to expand production, which allows more people to buy more Green Dirt cheese at a better price.

Green Dirt on Oak opened their second floor restaurant for dinner only in early April, and their reservation books immediately filled up. Although it might have made more operational sense to open for lunch first, given their experience running the Creamery in Weston, Hoffman’s team, which includes the general manager, Matthew Gude, and the executive chef, Oskar Arévalo, lobbied to start with dinner service at Green Dirt on Oak to make sure that they had time to work on delivering an exceptional experience at dinner.

Walking upstairs to the restaurant space, one can see directly into the chef’s kitchen below, which feels like you are getting a sneak peek behind the curtain of the meal to come. An open kitchen has become a hallmark of many fine-dining restaurants, and the size of the downstairs kitchen makes one realize how serious they are about serving good food. At the host stand, you get your first glimpse of the dining room, and it is impressive. A real effort was made to make the restaurant and bar feel casual, warm, and welcoming, with wood floors, sage-green banquettes, exposed brick walls, and a soaring open-rafter wood ceiling. Black metal, used as an accent for the stairs, bar, and ductwork scattered across the second-floor, brings a downtown grit to the space. Even with all of that in play, the second floor is cavernous. The cocktail bar is tucked behind the staircase to keep the open flow in the dining room (and eventually the event space), which makes it feel more like a service bar rather than a unique destination of its own.

That said, the massive dining room still manages to create intimate moments with sound quality that is truly excellent for a space this voluminous. You can hear your tablemates without having to strain. There is also the added benefit of not being squeezed together side by side with other patrons, which was unexpectedly refreshing. Every table is spaced with plenty of room to breathe. A playlist of dinner music filled the room, which at times felt oddly formal for a restaurant that wants to be a fun, casual spot for cocktails, cheese, and shared small plates.

Checking the food menu at Green Dirt on Oak, there seems to be three goals. The first is to highlight Green Dirt’s own cheese and lamb, which is woven into most of the menu. The second is to support and showcase seasonal ingredients from other local farms, and the third is to strive for a zero food-waste kitchen, which means every ingredient must be completely utilized in the restaurant or bar. A menu like this is not without its own limitations, and yet these parameters can also spark creativity in an experienced kitchen team. All three are noble goals for any restaurant claiming to be farm-to-table, but especially true for one that has an actual farm supplying some of the food served.   

The Show Me cheese board.

Once seated, you’ll find the cheese and charcuterie platters are fervently recommended by the servers, and for those who have never had Green Dirt Farm cheese, it really is a must. They are ample, and allow you to experience the star of the show while you decide what to have next. Since I’m familiar with the cheeses, I eagerly ordered the Green Dirt Farm (GDF) fondue, the roots n’ tubers, and the zucchini tempura as recommended by our server.

A favorite, the GDF fondue, arrived first. It’s made nightly with pieces of the ripest cheeses in the case melted into a deliciously creamy, drippy sauce, served with a rustic plate of raw radishes, carrot coins, green apple slices, and chunks of house-made sourdough bread. The rich cheese sauce hinted at blue cheese, the sophisticated, rich flavor contrasting with the cool crudité.

Roots n’ tubers and the zucchini tempura looked almost identical when they were served. The zucchini tempura was the more successful dish, its profile bolstered by a variety of textures and flavors. There were crunchy, pickled giardiniera vegetables, fresh mint leaves, and smoky sumac flavoring the yogurt dipping sauce. While the zucchini had a golden brown, crispy crust, it had the texture of a simple cornmeal dredge, not the light and airy tempura batter as advertised. Still, the zucchini was cooked perfectly; the Middle Eastern-inspired veggie dish was satisfying.

Lamb shank

Next, I ordered both the lamb burger and the smoked lamb molé, leaning into the lamb dishes knowing they were from their farm. There’s also a rabbit roulade, lamb chops, a hanger steak, and heritage pork chop on the menu. That evening, the special was a 22-ounce steak for $98, with only three of them available. All three were snapped up. I spied a couple at a nearby table sharing theirs with a smattering of small plates used as sides.

The lamb burger was tucked into a small brioche bun and topped with their GDF version of house-made American cheese, charred onions, and dill pickles served with a side of aioli and French fries. It was a good, greasy burger with a pronounced lamb flavor. More of the fondue sauce for dipping the fries would have made it even better.

Deeply flavored and dark in color, the smoked lamb molé gets its color and flavor from several different kinds of chiles, warming spices, and seeds simmered together. The lamb was shredded and doused in a blanket of thick molé, which made it difficult to determine the taste or texture of the lamb itself. It was served with three Yoli corn tortillas, a sprinkle of GDF feta cheese, and pickled serrano chilis, carrots, and onions, which I could have used more of to cut through the rich flavors of the molé.

For dessert, the server suggested the GDF mini cheesecake, and there is good reason for that. It might be one of the best uses of “cheese” on the entire menu. Made with a gluten-free graham cracker crust, the sheep’s milk filling is whipped until light and fluffy—like eating air with just a touch of sourness and sweetness. Served with a side of seasonal fruit compote, it’s a perfect example of the fun you can have with cheese as your North Star. Our waiter wheeled out, at my request, a charming amaro cart as we waited for dessert to arrive. My selection, a glass of Italian Braulio Amaro Alpino Liqueur, had a minty, spruce-like finish.    

The wine list, selected by Gude, consists largely of natural wines. The list could benefit from a few more traditional red wines to accompany the variety of lamb, beef, and pork on the menu. A nice selection of local beers—some on tap and a few in bottles and cans—are available. The creative cocktail list included a quirky Cheese Kitchen Martini, consisting of gin, aquavit, and feta cheese brine, which made for an especially bracing take on a dirty martini. The fig jam old fashioned was just a bit too sweet to be taken seriously.

It was early spring when I dined here, right at the end of winter produce season. I’m sure the menu will evolve, benefiting from a combination of guest feedback and the introduction of fresh spring and summer produce. There’s plenty of talent in the kitchen, and with more time to play and experiment, they’ll surely achieve their noble goals for the menu. Their challenge, should they choose to accept it, will be to get Kansas City to love lamb all year long, as much as they love Green Dirt sheep’s milk cheese.  

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