Our Man in KC: East Crossroads and 39th St

Damian Lair at Art Alley.

If you’ve done enough puttering around Kansas City, you’re likely familiar with the Crossroads Arts District, roughly sandwiched between downtown and Union Station. A lively mecca for First Fridays, art galleries, and restaurants, it’s one of the local stomping grounds I love most. But just to the east—bordered by Oak Street on the west and 71 Highway on the east—another urban playground has been quietly growing up. It’s time to get a fresh look at what’s happening in the East Crossroads.

Per usual, I booked a willing friend for what was to be a gorgeous spring afternoon of unplanned, metropolitan adventure. We agreed to meet for lunch at Parlor to fuel up and catch up. I’ve dined at Parlor numerous times since they opened in late 2018, but the crazy year that was 2020 created a noticeable lapse. If it’s been a while for you also, you’ll notice some new additions. For the uninitiated, Parlor is a food hall comprised of two bars and six independent, small-format restaurants. It’s all inside a hip, reimagined brick building with lounging and gaming areas, an expansive second-story garden patio, and a basement event space.

Newcomer restaurants at Parlor include Ravenous, Sura Noodle Bar, and The Hungry Hatch. These join familiar Mother Clucker, Providence Pizzeria Co., and Sura Eats. The format is great for trying and sharing, so on this visit we opted for a combination of new spots and an old favorite. First up, and most anticipated, was Ravenous. If you’ve been to the nearby Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room and begged the staff to slip you one of the late-night-menu-only burgers (now, fortunately, on their permanent dinner menu), you’ll scream for this new restaurant concept from James Beard-award nominee Michael Corvino. The Ravenous cheeseburger is a diner-style burger with two smashed patties seared on a griddle to achieve a crispy-edged finish. The house-made buns have a pillow-like texture, and the patties get topped with sour pickles, a garlic and lemon aioli, charred onions, and melted Muenster cheese. It’s burger perfection. My wondering eyes also couldn’t resist the cheese tots and the sour-cherry fried pie. I could have started and ended with this and left happily. But the point of a food hall is to play culinary hopscotch. So, hop we did.

Overheard: “I’m suffering from a severe case of guacamole fatigue.”

Next up was another newbie, Sura Noodle Bar. A sibling of the existing Parlor popular kid Sura Eats, this offshoot features Korean-style noodle dishes by Keeyoung Kim. We selected the Chicken Kalguksu, “knife noodles” with homemade chicken broth, chicken, zucchini, carrots, and soy-scallion sauce. We also plucked up the popcorn chicken, which was fried alongside rice cakes and a soy-sesame citrus sauce. The fried rice cakes made this dish super fun and different.

Finally, we ordered a tried-and-true pizza pie from Providence Pizzeria Co., owned by brothers Luke and Aaron Salvatore. Ours was a modified version of the East Coast Detroit, with brick and cheddar cheeses, pepperoni, mounds of ricotta, basil, red sauce, and Mikes Hot Honey. Bellissima!

After lunch, we ducked behind Parlor for a quick stroll down Art Alley—a collision of mural graffiti art stretching from 17th to 18th Street, between Locust and Cherry Streets. A few months prior, I’d taken a guided tour with notable muralist Sike Style, so I knew exactly where to go and what to point out (try to find the mini-Simpsons piece—the details are incredible). As ever evolving as the East Crossroads district it occupies, there were plenty of new alley additions since my last visit.

Tumbling out this wonderland wormhole, we nearly fell into the new retail spot I’d been so excited to check out—Duet. Featured in this publication’s March issue (yes, I’m inspired by these pages, too!), this little shop (part retail, part rotating gallery, and part artist studio) features a minimal, modern-deco aesthetic. There’s an emphasis on houseware objects, particularly ceramic and glass items. I picked up a few quartz crystals (one can never have too many) and a beautiful stack of Wary Myers glycerin soaps, which they wrapped in bundles—ready for me to gift.

Peering down the street for our next drop-in, I spotted what looked like a fresh new sign on the corner. And it was. Inside, I found the brand-new Crossroads Market—the area’s long-anticipated grocery store. This community-based, compact, 3,000-square-foot store features natural, organic, and local products, including staples like meats and produce, but also wine, beer, spirits, and other living essentials. I’ll be back with my grocery list ready.

We got back on course and headed to another recent neighborhood addition, Do Good Co., which was originally located on West 39th Street. Larger than its previous space, though somehow more intimate feeling, the new location emphasizes clothing over furniture and housewares. I’m told, though, more home goods are likely in their future. For the unacquainted, Do Good Co. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that accepts gently loved, contemporary, and one-of-a-kind vintage clothing whose proceeds benefit local kids and pets—specifically, Wayside Waifs and Kids TLC.

“Collections” are thoughtfully assembled by season and style. Their latest spring collection is available now. From adventurous retro pieces to cared-for vintage designer items from the likes of Dior, Prada, and Missoni, there’s something for every taste and budget. Inexpensive graphic concert tees commingle with a ruffled $11,000 Nina Ricci 1970s silk ball gown. It’s a dynamite party.

While on my way out the door, a rainbow-striped, quilted, Tibetan-style robe whispered my name. Did I need a rainbow-striped Tibetan robe? No. But my kooky collection of clothing is built from quirky finds just like this—many with tags still attached for years, just waiting for the perfect occasion to present itself. The robe fit, and it is now in my closet, waiting for, as my friend put it, the perfect Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat-themed party. I will be ready.

Hot Gossip: Who packed a curious amount of seasonably questionable “dad plaid” for a recent beach vacation?

Still euphoric from my bombshell find, a celebratory cocktail seemed in order. I knew just the place—Mean Mule Distilling Co. I’ve had Mean Mule cocktails at various events they’ve sponsored, but never at their own boutique distillery and tasting room. Mean Mule’s unique spirits are crafted from blue agave. This American agave spirit is not tequila. The name “tequila,” and the spirit it describes, have “denomination of origin” status and “geographic indication,” much like Champagne is from the Champagne region of France. With roots in the Jalisco region (where I’d, oddly, just arrived home from days prior), it tastes similar to premium branded tequilas from Mexico. Similar—but to my taste, different and much smoother. The friend in tow strongly dislikes tequila and didn’t even want to try but ended up completely enjoying it. I loved my Holy Grail cocktail—silver agave spirit, Chambord blackberry liqueur, herbs, ginger, citrus, and sparkling wine. Next door, there’s also the cozy, private Agave Lounge event space for hosting intimate gatherings.

A couple of nights later, still not having had our fill of the E. Crossroads, I met the same friend for dinner at City Barrel Brewery + Kitchen. Compelled to have a brew, but not the most enthusiastic beer drinker, I settled on the recommended, limited-release Day Drinker—an IPA infused with mango juice. Essentially, a craft beer mimosa that made me very happy. Also contributing to the happiness was my dinner. We noshed on a couple of apps, such as the Rad AF Spicy Beer Cheese Dip and the heirloom squash and carrot fritters. For the main course, I couldn’t resist the Second-Best Espresso Bacon Burger, which featured local grass-fed beef rubbed with espresso and topped with thick-cut candied bacon, brie, and blueberry balsamic compote. Not your average backyard burger. Dinner was capped off with a piece of the smoked, salted honey chess pie from the Sweet Tea Pie Company—yum.

Overheard: “Take the Loubs. Leave the limbs.”

Along with City Barrel, you’ll find quite a number of breweries in the immediate vicinity, including Brewery Emperial, Torn Label Brewing Co., Double Shift Brewing Co., Nimble Brewing, and Border Brewing Co. Perhaps a more fitting name would be the brewery district?

For a final investigatory drop-in, I swung by HITIDES Coffee one early morning on my way to work. It’s a cheeky little coffee shop with a distinctly Hawaiian vibe. And it’s a lot more than just a coffee shop. HITIDES also offers a section of Donutology donuts, Meshuggah Bagels, and a hot-chocolate and ice-cream bar. I ordered a citrus avocado toasted Meshuggah bagel and a Sea Rose Latte (extending my undying love for everything rose-scented or flavored). While waiting for my to-go order, I checked out the Collective EX retail offerings that cohabitate with the café space. There’s a focus on tees and hoodies, but also some handsome wooden and leather maker goods.

Another neighborhood coffee shop worthy of mention is The Wild Way—a cute warehouse space that is also occupied by its mobile coffee camper, when not rented for a private event or out roaming the streets. Their in-shop pastries are delicious.

And finally, a few other places in the neighborhood you could check out on a similar journey might include the brand new Canihaveabite organic carryout and meal-prep purveyor, the ’hood OG Grinder’s and Grinder’s West, Mission Taco, and the Dance Fit Flow adult dance studio. The weather is warming up, so get out there. Happy scouting!

So, KC—where do you want to go? XO

email: dlair@inkansascity.com  | Instagram: @damianlair #OurManINKC

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