Reservation for One: The Stilwell

Photos by Aaron Leimkuehler

The hotel restaurant is having a moment in downtown Kansas City. The latest impressive entry is The Stilwell, serving contemporary American fare from inside the mammoth new Loews Kansas City Hotel.

The 800-room hotel is also home to grab-and-go coffee spot and bakery, Red Wheat Baking Co., and the forthcoming Horsefeather Social, a cocktail bar on the 7th-floor terrace. But The Stilwell feels like the centerpiece from the moment you catch a glimpse of the bar’s glamourous cascading light fixture and the decoratively arranged bottles that rise up on either side, all against a backdrop of the Kansas City skyline.

The bar serves up its own food menu, which includes a number of dishes from the restaurant, as well as some more casual fare. But the drinks are worth a close look, whether you’re waiting to check in to a room or enjoying dinner in the restaurant. The Pleasure to Burn is a sweet and spicy tequila-based sipper perfect for summer, while the Blue Swift 75 offers a playful take on the classic French 75, adding potent cinnamon-pear syrup to the mix.

Views from the bar and restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows feel as much a part of the space’s design as the interior itself, which is warm, yet modern, as you pass through the large lounge area into The Stilwell dining room. A massive exposed kitchen anchors an open-concept layout that makes the most of the spectacular sights, and a terrace lets you get even closer to the hustle and bustle of downtown.

Right: Duck breast with parsnip, fennel, and farro. Left: The KC Boxcar.

The Stilwell is helmed by chef de cuisine Patrick LeBeau, and the menu is, to quote a server, “nontraditional.” That’s the 2021 way of saying diners are meant to order multiple plates for the table to share, dishes coursed out by the chef as he sees fit. But they aren’t really small plates—most items eat like a hearty appetizer or entrée and are priced accordingly. While it is fun to mix and match items, the approach does create a lack of cohesion, since the menu ranges from seemingly Southern-inspired fare like shrimp and grits and fried chicken to clam “chowder” and crab cakes to pastas.

That clam chowder is in quotations, courtesy of The Stilwell, because it’s actually not a chowder at all. Instead, tender new potatoes, thick chunks of bacon, buttery brioche croutons, and clams in the shell sit in a shallow pool of rich, creamy broth. Did clam chowder need to be reinvented? Not really, but the interpretation is satisfying and hits many of the same notes as the original, with the added benefit of more textural contrast.

With the smoked beef short rib, LeBeau takes a different approach, offering up very familiar to Kansas Citians: barbecue. That’s a high bar to clear here in Cowtown, and although the short rib itself is flavorful and tender, it doesn’t come across as smoky or particularly evocative of KC barbecue, even when it’s slathered in Jack Stack sauce. The fried chicken looks to be a treat, served on a platter with house-made pickles and mac and cheese, but the meat was a bit dry.

Clam “chowder” made with new potatoes, brioche, and bacon.

The Stilwell once again finds its footing with scallops paired with celery root and apple for a sweet and earthy balance punctuated by sharp bites of vinegar-laden leeks. The dish could be easily overlooked in favor of flashier fare, but it’s a welcome, grounding force on the menu.

Come dessert, the sometimes controversial pairing of apple pie and cheddar cheese gets an upgrade in the form of an apple cake with cheddar ice cream. The Stilwell plays with ice cream flavors again as the filling for its oatmeal cookie sandwich. Although the advertised Tom’s Town bourbon flavor is difficult to detect, it’s hard to complain after biting into the chewy, well-spiced cookies while looking out onto a twilight street scene playing out beyond your window seat.

Who can resist dinner and a show?