Reservation for One: Urban

All photos by Aaron Leimkuehler

If you want to see what the future looks like for Kansas City’s Troost Avenue, just head for the corner where Armour meets Troost. It’s an area that Chicago-based MAC Properties calls Armour Corners, named after the four modern apartment buildings they have built there—one on each of the four corners that had been vacant lots and run-down buildings. Now there are two apartment buildings on the east side of Troost, both five stories with 110 units, and two on the west side that are both eight stories with 340 units. The result looks like it belongs in a stylish up-and-coming urban neighborhood in a much larger city. In addition to all the new housing, there’s an additional 13,000-square-feet of retail and restaurant space. It’s created the perfect opportunity for the newest iteration of Justin Clark’s restaurant, Urban Café, now renamed Urban. Clark holds a culinary arts degree from Le Cordon Bleu-North America and started his professional career working for hotels before a stint as chef de cuisine at The Westin Crown Center. He then accepted the catering chef position at Truman Medical Centers, cooking for the CEO and hospital administrators. Eventually, he revamped the entire hospital menu at Truman, where he flipped it to an all-scratch kitchen serving healthier menu items made with locally sourced ingredients. This evolved into his own personal culinary calling card. He opened his own restaurant, Urban Café, first as a food truck in 2016, then he bounced around several brick-and-mortar locations along Troost, with each nicer than the last. Next, he landed one of the coveted restaurant spots inside the new terminal at Kansas City’s International Airport. He closed his final Urban Café location at 55th and Troost in early 2023. When a car came crashing into the outdoor seating area at the restaurant, he took it as a sign to move on. With a 15-year lease for his spot at the airport, and his food truck still used for catering, he was ready to create his newest iteration. Urban is located inside the Roxford at the Crosswalks apartment building at the corner of Armour and Troost Avenue. The interior of his restaurant matches the moody urban vibe of the exterior of the new apartment building. With amazing views from the spacious dining room and outdoor patio, a pretty private dining room in the back, and a bright, white-marble bar area with plenty of seating, Urban sports sophisticated sparkle and shine. Painted in dark gray tones with chic, modern brass lighting, the art on the walls adds just a pop of color. The slow-groove soundtrack is your cue to relax and enjoy your time here.

Kung Pow Cauliflower

Not wanting to walk away from the clientele he built for breakfast and lunch, Clark is open from 8 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. At 3, he switches to an enticing small plates and dinner menu. I stopped in for a late lunch and found a busy dining room full of people lingering over lunch with friends and colleagues.

Although he’s open all day, Clark manages to keep his menu for each daypart short and sweet with just enough to please everyone and not overwhelm the kitchen. I found the breakfast and lunch menu lacking for nothing and also true to his culinary calling card, with a balance of healthy vegetable options made with local ingredients, along with some meaty signature sandwiches and fish dishes.

I attempted to order the Urban Cheddar Burger, which comes with cottage fries, but my waitress informed me that the farmer from Barham Family Farms had not yet delivered the beef. She said to come back and get it because it was worth the wait, and with Barham Family Farms meat involved, I’ll be back for that burger.

Fried Duck Confit

Quickly pivoting to the Seafood Cobb Salad, I found it a light and completely satisfying take on the iconic West Coast salad invented in the early 1900s, the Crab Louie, often called the “king of salads.” Clark’s version absolutely lived up to that nickname. It’s half a crisp romaine lettuce head cut into spears, topped with softly poached shrimp, real crab meat, cherry tomatoes, a jammy eight-minute egg, and crunchy bacon for a punch of salty, porky flavor. The star of the show was the salad dressing. A sparkling champagne vinaigrette subbed for the more traditional creamy Thousand Island-style dressing. It was a perfect lunch salad and packed with protein.

The Oxtail Bahn Mi sandwich was too interesting to pass up. A soul food-inspired Vietnamese mash-up, it was served on a hefty slice of crusty bread, slathered with a fiery kimchi mayo, then stacked with melt-in-your-mouth oxtail meat cooked to a luscious buttery texture. Candied jalapeños, pickled daikon radish, and thin slices of fresh-shaved carrot added a clean crunch to the rich sandwich. It was served with crispy-on-the-outside and soft-and-pillowy-on-the-inside cottage fries. The result was a study of balanced contrasts—soft and crunchy, hot and cold, sweet and spicy.   

There is no dessert menu at Urban, but looking at the wine, beer, and cocktail list there are several drinks on the sweeter side that could easily fill that gap, if you were willing to drink your dessert. As someone who enjoys a sweet bite at the end of the meal, even at lunch, I missed that.

The realities of operating a restaurant can be disheartening, and Clark has experienced both the highs and lows of opening and operating three restaurants in seven years on Troost Avenue. Yet, he continues to invest in the area with each new spot because he believes in the power of providing good food to the people living and working in the community. Based on the number of new restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, and ice cream spots in the area, he’s clearly not alone. 

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