Reservation for One: The Town Company

Photos by Aaron Leimkuehler

The Town Company draws a crowd, even on a ho-hum Wednesday night in the middle of a pandemic. Call it the Patrick Ryan effect—the chef-owner behind Port Fonda is a partner in the restaurant, although he’s turned executive chef duties over to husband-and-wife team Johnny and Helen Leach.

The Town. Co is billed as a midwestern eatery. The ingredients are sourced from the Midwestern corridor, with many coming from local producers, but that’s about as far as the theme goes. Luckily, it doesn’t need to hook diners with a story to make the experience memorable. The meticulously plated dishes do all the heavy lifting.

The restaurant is inside the gothic revival-style Hotel Kansas City, but you really only think about it during the minute it takes to walk from the front door, through the lobby and into the dining room. The Town Co. space feels a world apart, with an open kitchen and roomy dining room of steel blue and caramel leather. Minimalist light fixtures and a smattering of plants, paired with wood tables and flooring and cut-glass water tumblers, give the restaurant a vibe somewhere between vintage law office and Southern-chic dining room.

Once seated, guests are given the lay of the land: The menu is tapas style, with lighter items giving way to heartier fare as you work your way down the list. Most items touch the restaurant’s hearth, and two to three plates are recommended per person. Last but not least, the chef prefers everything to be ordered at once. If you are trying to order for a partier larger than one, this necessitates a bit of mental gymnastics and perhaps a sheet of scratch paper, should you have one handy.

A cocktail may be needed at this point, and The Town Co.’s offerings are minimal but inventive. The belo momento is a particular standout thanks to roasted pineapple and ancho verde, which give it sweetness, spice and balance—and it’s sure to pique interest for El Gold, a cellar saloon concept from Ryan set to open at Hotel Kansas City this spring.

When it comes time for dinner, items are coursed out courtesy of the kitchen, so you at least aren’t tasked with keeping everything straight when it arrives to the table. Trout croquettes, recommended by the server, make for a sublime start, arriving with a weirdly appealing scent that smacks of both a donut shop and a fish fry. Their crust is so thin and crispy it cracks almost like the caramelized sugar atop a crème brûlée, giving way to the bold flavor of the fish. The smoked sturgeon toast is more mild and more colorful, thanks to a silky, vibrantly magenta spread of whipped beets.

An apple and kohlrabi salad with smoked pecans and blue cheese is solid, but less interesting than so many of the other options. Then again, one of the more noteworthy dishes on paper fails to translate on the plate: a squid salad with carrots and greens in a carrot jus and olive oil looks a treat but tastes muddied, although the squid is cooked with skill.

Sweet potato dumplings are exceptional, the supple dough’s mellow sweetness playing well with oyster mushrooms in a light cream sauce. But perhaps the single best bite is to be found in the fried potato cake served as a side with the lobster butter-topped steak. The striploin itself is a beautiful medium rare, but it’s a bit salty, especially when eaten with the brûléed lobster butter. The golden-brown potato cake steals the show, the outside a little crispy and the interior light, fluffy, and full of flavor.

The Town Co.’s dessert offerings are as exciting as everything else that comes out of the kitchen. The angel food cheesecake features a hybrid texture of the two desserts, topped with a sweet and tart pear sorbet encased in a pyramid of lemon crisps, all served on a black sesame ganache. Yes, there’s a lot going on, but that’s not a bad thing when disparate ingredients are in such deft hands.

Therein lies the magic of The Town Co.—the food is so deliciously compelling that even when it doesn’t quite work, you can’t wait to see, smell, and taste what comes out of the kitchen next.