If you’re not one of us succulent-crazed millennials — first of all, what are you doing with your life? — you might not quite get the draw of a coffeeshop/plant center combo. But once you step inside Café Equinox, I promise you won’t question the genius of the concept. What could be a better pick-me-up than coffee and a little refreshing greenery? Or as their catchy tagline puts it, “caffeine and chlorophyll” (it’s tastier than it sounds). After Thou Mayest in Crossroads closed this year, owner Bo Nelson and his two brothers opened a new outpost, Café Equinox, inside their family’s nursery, Family Tree Nursery in Shawnee. Trust me, it takes more than a little convincing to get me to venture into the ‘burbs, even for coffee, but this trip was well worth it. Named for the best months to work in a greenhouse — between the fall and spring equinoxes — Café Equinox is a revitalizing spot for leaves and lattes alike.
Step inside the front entrance of Family Tree Nursery, and you’ll find yourself in a bright lounge area — welcome to Café Equinox. With a modern yet cozy vibe, the little café hosts a scattering of high-top tables, cushy couches, and even a hanging basket chair for your sipping/lounging pleasure. Or if you’re feeling a need for nature, you can get a little fresh air in the charming patio area, complete with the rusted green locker set from Thou Mayest (or is it only me who has a fondness for that grunge-chic bit of décor?). The space is quiet enough for working or an intimate meeting, but the bustle of the nursery in the background adds a lively hum.
But we’re here for more than cozy — what about that caffeination? Unsurprisingly, Café Equinox’s coffee, made from Thou Mayest’s carefully curated beans, is top-notch. For the bean aficionado, there are a variety of nuanced filter coffee options, plus the classic espresso beverages and teas. If you’re feeling adventurous, the seasonal specials offer a twist (or two). Current specials include the Coconut Lavender Latte, Elderberry Espresso Ginger Tonic, and Caffeine and Chlorophyll (matcha, mint, orange, and yes, chlorophyll). And to keep your java company, try a scrumptious pastry from local Heirloom Bakery & Hearth or Mud Pie Vegan Bakery — everything from scones to homemade pop-tarts. Every Saturday, they even break out the handmade cinnamon rolls. Mouth watering yet?
Once you’re properly caffeinated, venture into the leafy oasis of the greenhouse to peruse vibrant blooms, fragrant herbs, cute pots and planters, and succulents galore. Even if you’re not in the market for a new houseplant or garden tenant (though you will be after stepping in here), it’s worth a wander just for the fun of it. In addition to the vivid greenhouse, Family Tree also boasts over five acres of verdant nursery to explore, plus any plant paraphernalia you could imagine. Or you could just curl up on the couch with your latte. We won’t judge.
“So do you live on a farm?” That used to be a frequent response when I said I was from Kansas City. (Answer: Uh, no.) Or a crack about Dorothy. So it’s not exactly Paris. That said, Kansas City actually has a lot going for it, and it’s rising on the radar — or at least, it is if I have anything to say about it. Like a slightly annoying sibling, I’ll complain about it any chance I get, but criticize KC, and I’ll defend it with a vengeance. What makes KC special? I’ll give you 10 reasons. Whether you’re a native in need of a reminder of why you love this city or a visitor to our turf, check out these can’t-miss Kansas City experiences for a true taste of the city.
Yes, I know many cities have train stations. But this Art Deco gem is truly stunning. Walk into the Grand Hall and gaze up to the 95-foot painted ceilings dotted with chandeliers, or check the time on the historic central clock, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Built in 1914, Union Station was a major train hub in its heyday. After a massive renovation in 1996, the elegant stone building now houses several restaurants and shops, an event space, a movie theatre, a kids science museum, and more. You can even still catch an Amtrak there. The historic charm alone is reason enough to visit, but just in case, the exhibits and attractions make it well worth your while.
Right across from Union Station, the imposing tower of Liberty Memorial rises 217 feet from a hilltop. Dedicated to those who fought in World War I, the memorial was completed in 1926 and was dedicated by the supreme Allied commanders. Creamy stone in Egyptian Revival style and flanked by two giant stone sphinxes, the monument is decorated with four guardian spirits: Honor, Courage, Patriotism, and Sacrifice. At night, steam and lighting create a flame on top of the tower. Not only is the memorial itself a sight to see, the view of the skyline from it is to die for — who says Paris is the City of Lights? If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can climb to the top of the tower for an even more breathtaking view. For history buffs, the World War I museum at the base of the memorial is also worth checking out.
If you’ve seen an image or two of Kansas City, chances are you’ve seen a shuttlecock somewhere. The iconic shuttlecock statues resting on the Nelson’s lawn have become an unofficial symbol of the city — which is reason enough to visit them, really, especially juxtaposed against the elegant stone façade of the museum. But it would be a crime to miss out on the incredible museum itself. Built in 1933 and funded by Kansas City Star founder William Rockhill Nelson and schoolteacher Mary Atkins, the museum houses over 35,000 works of art. Whatever floats your art boat, you’ll likely find it here — historic artifacts, modern art, local artists, fun events. From quirky (think ancient cricket cages) to captivating (ie, Monet’s Water Lilies) to mind-bending (à la the heady futuristic Chimacloud exhibit), the collection never disappoints. There’s even a lovely courtyard restaurant if you need sustenance during your art explorations. And to top it off: it’s free. Time to get your art on!
If you want a taste of local flavor, look no further than First Fridays. Every first Friday of the month, the Crossroads Arts district of downtown KC comes alive with local art, crafts, performances, food, and more. The many art studios and galleries in the area open their doors with special exhibits and events and extended hours, but that’s only the half of it. The real charm of First Fridays is in the streets. Local artists and vendors line up on the sidewalks, food trucks gather in droves for scrumptious eclectic fare, and streets even close down for live music performances and impromptu dance parties. Wander around, soak in the colorful vibes, and enjoy some killer people-watching. From bizarre art to retro cars cruising to the now well-known man strolling with his boa constrictor, you never know what (or who) you’ll run into — which is exactly the fun of it.
Just after dark every Thanksgiving, the Country Club Plaza comes to life with thousands of twinkling holiday lights. Lining the Spanish-style domes and towers, the lights create an iconic skyline silhouette and irrepressible atmosphere in the quaint shopping district. A KC tradition since 1930, the Plaza lighting begins preparation in August to be ready for the big unveiling, and the lights stay up until mid-January. Each year, crowds gather for a live concert at the Plaza Lighting Ceremony, and a child is chosen at random from the audience to help turn on the lights. If you’re in a holiday shopping mood (or just hungry), the Plaza offers a plethora of shops and restaurants to keep you busy. Or you can just wander and bask in the multicolored magic of the lights. Insider tip: Cross Ward Parkway south of the Plaza, head to the InterContinental Hotel, and ride the glass elevator for a killer view of the lights.
For a true taste of Kansas City history — and modern diversity — look no further than River Market. Just off the south shore of the Missouri River, this is as historical as KC gets: the area was the original Town of Kansas in the 1850s, later to become Kansas City. The City Market was the site of the original public square in the mid-1800s. These days, River Market is home to an eclectic array of shops and eateries and the largest farmers’ market in the region. Check out the City Market Farmers’ Market on weekends year-round for everything from vegetables and gorgeous fresh flowers to homemade incense, antiques, quirky garden statues, and organic doggie treats. After your shopping bags are stuffed, stop by the Steamboat Arabia museum for a slice of frontier history in the sunken treasure from an 1856 steamboat accident nearby. And River Market Antiques off Delaware Street promises three floors of every nostalgic and amusing knickknack you could imagine. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, the area offers a mouthwatering mix of local restaurants, global fare, and ethnic markets. And of course, don’t forget coffee and dessert — Quay Coffee, City Market Coffee, Our Daily Nada, and Bloom Bakery are all musts.
In terms of public transportation, Kansas City is admittedly a bit lacking. That said, if you’re looking for a fun, effortless way to take a (heated/AC’d) mini-tour of downtown KC, the streetcar is the way to go. Stretching from Union Station to River Market, the new streetcar runs through downtown, the entertainment Power and Light District, and almost to the Missouri River north of River Market. It’s smooth, it’s free, and it’s an easy simple pleasure if you’re touring the city. Plus, we have to celebrate any form of public transportation around here. The cars run in a loop up and down Main Street and come every 10-15 minutes. Hop on!
Craving a little green? Loose Park is calling your name. A major site for the Battle of Westport during the Civil War (check out the cannons at the south edge), the park was opened in 1927 in honor of local businessman Jacob Loose. Today it’s a beautiful escape to nature with 75 acres of rolling lawns and shady tree alcoves. Stroll by the koi and duck pond, through clusters of massive oaks and maples, and over to the charming rose garden. Dating back to 1931, the rose garden is home to about 4000 roses of 168 varieties. With beautiful blossoms in spring and vibrant colors in fall, the park is perfect for a walk, a dog frolic, a picnic, or simply a breath of nature in the city.
There’s no doubt about it: Kansas City is a jazzy town — literally. The city has a rich jazz and blues legacy dating back to the 1920s and ’30s. Once a hub for vibrant jazz, blues, and ragtime music, KC was home to a thriving scene of dance halls, cabarets, and speakeasies, largely thanks to the workings of political boss Tom Pendergast in the 1930s (let’s just say he wasn’t a big fan of Prohibition). Such was the nightlife scene, in fact, that it earned KC the nickname “Paris of the Plains.” The roaring ’20s and ’30s may be long over, but luckily the jazz scene is still alive and well today. The Phoenix jazz club has a storied (and slightly sordid) history starting in the flourishing Garment District in 1888. Originally a hotel (rumored to be a bordello), the historic brick building housed a speakeasy-style saloon on the first floor and the “hotel” on the second. Today the club hosts local live music and serves down-home tasty eats. Behind a mural of jazz greats, grab a drink and slip into the vibes of KC’s melodic, colorful past and present.
A newer addition to the Kansas City skyline, the Kauffman is quickly becoming one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. The fanning modernistic domes rise on the horizon, lighting brilliantly at night to welcome visitors to world-class performances from the Kansas City Symphony, the Kansas City Ballet, the Lyric Opera, and more. If you’re looking for a little sophisticated arts and culture, the Kauffman has you covered. Or if slightly lighter fare is more up your alley — live symphony-accompanied Harry Potter screening, anyone? — they have that, too. And while the building itself is stunning, the real gem (aside from the performances, of course) is the incredible panoramic view of the city from the glass front of the theater.
One of the top benefits of being a notorious javaholic is that people know to inform you immediately about new coffee spots. That’s how, thanks to some highly exclusive intel, Monarch Coffee came onto my radar early on. The petite café had only been open a couple of weeks when it started attracting attention in the KC coffee scene (us trendsetters made it in shortly after opening, of course), and the acclaim has held strong. When we stopped by on a Wednesday afternoon, the place was bustling — so much so that we almost had to chase away a few tea-drinkers for a table (just kidding).
Anyway, for someone who dreams constantly of Paris (ahem, guilty), it’s hard not to like this café. Monarch has the look of a hip Paris bistro — black and white subway tiles, white molding, dainty café tables, intimate booths. Chill and elegant, with just a bit of cute thrown in (let’s just say there are a few unicorn decor items around). Tucked into the lower level of the regal Art Deco Ambassador apartment building, it seems to fit perfectly into a glamorous 1920s scene, with an added touch of hipster coffeehouse. (If only you could walk out the door and see the Eiffel Tower). Even if you’re not an Art Deco nerd, the bright and airy space is perfect for sipping a leisurely cuppa. That said, it probably doesn’t make for the best workspace. Like I said, it was busy (and chatty) when we were there, at a hubbub level that would have distracted me, and holing up in a dark corner to get work done might be difficult.
Despite the newborn café, the Monarch owners are no coffee neophytes. Owner Tyler Roverstine, a Q-grade barista (think sommelier for coffee) has worked at the Roasterie, Oddly Correct, and Quay coffeeshops in KC and has won awards at several barista competitions. Monarch sources and roasts its own coffee, which is also sold in the café and online. All of this should add up to some pretty good coffee, right? And luckily, Monarch doesn’t disappoint. An iced and a regular latte (complete with lovely latte art, of course) both checked out. My iced latte was made with oat milk — which apparently they’re moving toward using exclusively — which was a new one for me. I think I prefer my usual almond milk, though the latte was still quite tasty. Unlike most coffeeshops, Monarch serves most of its drinks dine-in and hand-delivered to your table — part of a philosophy of “intentional service” focused more on the customer. One area that could use improvement (and would no doubt cause any true Parisian to frown) was the food. The food options were pretty limited, and though that’s hardly an anomaly for coffeeshops, the “berry” scone (it wasn’t berry, it was bacon and cheese) was a little dry and clearly had some identity issues.*
You might have noticed that I had a lot more to say about the Monarch space than the coffee itself. Take that as a clue. The coffee is good, but I wouldn’t deem it KC’s best latte, and I’m not sure I’d come back regularly for the coffee alone. For the charming space and opportunity to pretend I’m in a Paris cafe? Definitely.
*Since opening, Monarch has paired with 1900 Barker in Lawrence for baked goods, and it has been a while since I’ve been by, so to be fair, they might very well have upped their nosh game by now.
**This post originally appeared on my coffee blog, Beanopia, in July 2017.
Let me just preface this by admitting that I am a diehard candy lover. I beeline for pure chocolate, not cookies and pastries. However, there’s an art to the perfect French macaron that’s impossible to resist. Delicately crispy and sugary with a soft, slightly chewy delectable center — what’s not to love?
Let’s also get this out of the way right off the bat: we’re not talking about macaroons here. Not the chewy coconut cookies typically found in the U.S. French macarons are delicate sandwich cookies made with almond flour, egg whites, and sugar and filled with various fillings. (Curious to give it a shot yourself? Check out this recipe.)
As far as I can remember, the first macaron I tasted came from the famed Ladurée (the queen of macarons) in Paris. These little cookies are notoriously difficult to make — delicate and requiring a precise technique — and they’re not extremely common in the U.S. I made a batch for French class once, which turned out quite tasty (if I do say so myself) but, unsurprisingly, not nearly as pretty as those at Ladurée. All this said, I couldn’t help wondering: where can one find the best macarons in Kansas City? Can KC’s baking best compete with Paris’s patisseries? Since I’m obsessed with all things French (if you don’t know this yet, it’ll become obvious very quickly) and love research that requires sugary material, a KC macaron quest was clearly in order.
I sought out all the macarons I could find in KC (not counting frozen or pre-made varieties, of course) and came up with six contenders. For the general good, obviously, I rigorously tested all the possibilities. The results? Read on to find out.
(Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the “part I” in the title — stay tuned. Let’s just say part 2 might involve questing for macarons in the true macaron Mecca: the City of Lights …)
*Ranked #6 to #1 — though I should note that all are perfectly tasty options if you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth (it’s hard to go truly wrong with macarons, after all)*
A sweet-tooth staple in Kansas City, it’s hard to find anything this Swiss confectionery doesn’t do well. That said, I (shockingly) wasn’t blown away by their macarons. The flavors here go the classic route — chocolate, vanilla, pistachio, lemon, strawberry. The cookies themselves were tasty, but they were a little too crunchy, not delicate as a masterful macaron should be, and there was a little too much filling. While I was looking for a pillowy, gently sweet interior, the filling in André’s macarons was almost custardy. If you’re craving a mouthwatering chocolate cake or quiche, André’s has you covered; for macarons, I would go elsewhere.
If you’re looking for candy heaven, look no further than Lolli & Pops. This mint green wonderland is stuffed with every type of candy you could imagine. While I would consider it more of a candy store than a bakery, they do have macarons also, which I obviously had to try. These get the award for prettiest (or at least most colorful) macarons — the glass case is lined with rows of swirling blues, vibrant pinks, sprinkles, glitter, you name it. They also get points for inventive flavors, including s’mores, blueberry French toast, strawberry cheesecake, chocolate hazelnut, lychee raspberry rose, cotton candy, and more. When it comes to macarons, though, their candy focus shows through. I tried the s’mores and chocolate hazelnut, both of which were quite tasty — just not very macaron-y. They weren’t delicate as a macaron should be, and the fillings were more like a candy bar than the light, sugary taste of a macaron. Bottom line: Lolli & Pops knows its candy, but perfect macarons aren’t candy.
Since Our Daily Nada (where I work) sells Bloom cakes and macarons, I can vouch for the artistry of this bakery. For this search, though, I went straight to the source. With flavors such as crème brûlée, white chocolate raspberry, vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, and salted caramel, Bloom toes the line between classic and creative. The tastes certainly don’t disappoint, flavorful yet subtle. However, the cookies themselves were too chewy, almost hard, not the feathery sweet and lightly chewy of a top-notch macaron. Overall, a good option (it’s not as if I didn’t eat them all, of course!), but not the award for best macarons in Kansas City.
I know, I know — Whole Foods is heaven for overpriced granola-crunchy yummies, but fine pastries? Hear me out. I wouldn’t have expected WF to hold a candle to other bakeries in the macaron department, but these cookies were actually what launched my KC macaron quest in the first place. Like I said, I’m usually more of a chocolate than a cookie person, and I hadn’t had a macaron in years when I bought a couple on a whim at Whole Foods recently. But seriously, these macarons are delicious — nay, scrumptious. Daintily crispy outside, pillowy and chewy inside, with just the right amount of sugary filling. They’re not overwhelmingly sweet or rich, but the flavors are noticeable (and yummy). With pistachio, salted caramel, chocolate, vanilla, raspberry, and red velvet flavors, the red velvet with cream cheese icing — though not a traditional macaron flavor — was my favorite. Talk about the perfect end to your next grocery trip.
If you want to feel like you’ve stepped into a French country village, head to Annedore’s. Nestled in a quaint cluster of shops in Westwood Hills, this charming confectionery deals in exquisite chocolates, gelato, and of course, delectable macarons. I had heard rave reviews about these cookies, and I wasn’t disappointed. Not only are they beautiful, they’re also the perfect amount of subtle sweetness. Even better, you can actually taste the flavors — the pistachio truly tastes like pistachios, the coffee like coffee, and so on — rather than simple sugary-ness. With chocolate, vanilla, pistachio, lemon, raspberry, caramel, lavender, coffee, champagne, cookies & cream, and birthday cake varieties, the caramel and pistachio led the pack, in my humble opinion. The only downside: they were a tad too chewy, not quite melt-in-your-mouth delicate. That said, they were still delicious and some of the best macarons I’ve ever tasted.
And the grand winner! Au Bon Macaron is a bit like the magical (macaron) rainfall. Or pot of gold? Anyway, chef Barbara Shaw is serious about her macarons. First of all, they come in about every flavor you could ever think of — over 50 varieties, from traditional vanilla and pistachio to inventive options like sesame praline, banoffee, mint chocolate chip, strawberry hibiscus, bourbon pecan, and lavender honey. You get the idea. Second of all, they’re insanely delicious. Though the lavender honey reminded me a bit of soap, the toffee nut was caramelly and delicious, crisp on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside, with bits of toffee crunch in the middle. Because two definitely wasn’t enough, I also tried the maple bourbon caramel, peanut butter, and sesame praline. All were melt-in-your-mouth delicate and scrumptious. The maple bourbon took the cake (er, cookie), though — with a gooey center, subtle caramel taste, and festive confetti stars (full disclosure: it got a little squished on the way home, but that didn’t make it any less delicious!). Au Bon doesn’t have a storefront, though you can order online; I found them at Banksia bakehouse in downtown KC and Made in KC marketplace on the Country Club Plaza. For both flawlessly constructed macarons and creative flavors, Au Bon Macaron comes out on top in Kansas City’s macaron arena. Consider your macaron dreams fulfilled.
When I first heard about a bookstore/café opening in Kansas City, I knew this was going to become my spot. It’s basically my favorite things all in one charming package: coffee, books, cozy urban hideaways. Spoiler alert: that turned out to be a very accurate prediction. After peeking hopefully in the windows almost daily for months, I happily made it my coffee haunt/workspace of choice to the point where the baristas knew my order the minute I stepped through the door (we’ll credit that to their attentiveness rather than my boring predictability/coffee addiction). In the art of full disclosure, I should mention that I now work at Our Daily Nada — so clearly I’m wholly unbiased here — but hey, that’s how much I love it! You could say I strategically wheedled my way into the behind-the-scenes of the place.
A self-proclaimed “boozy bookstore” — they get points there for both the genius of the idea and the alliteration — Our Daily Nada is nestled in KC’s historic River Market neighborhood in a late-19th/early-20th-century brick building. Think exposed brick walls, wood floors, and tall loft ceilings. The cozy space is decorated with a smattering of colorful vintage furniture, Art Deco-esque globe lights, and cheeky touches (one of my favorite bits is a Frida Kahlo pillow on the couch). There’s even a grand piano in the corner — feel free to sit down and tap out a tune.
The name “Our Daily Nada” is a nod to a Hemingway short story, “A Clean Well-Lighted Place,” which the owners say is “a story in part about everyone needing a place to escape.” And that’s what ODN is. It’s the type of place where drinks come in real cups and the modus operandi is browsing, meandering, gathering together and chatting with friends. Take a moment to thumb through the carefully curated selection of tomes — fiction, nonfiction, used, classics, local authors. Settle into a rose-pink armchair or the increasingly Instagram-famous emerald green couch and lose yourself in conversation or another world (or both). There’s an air of cozy camaraderie and whimsy that feels rare in most places these days. People come in to work or study at the little tables, meet up with friends over lattes (or just as often, a glass of wine or cocktail), or gather for a book club discussion. Come on a Tuesday night, and you can join in on game night —games from Monopoly to Trivial Pursuit are there for the playing. Every weekend they host a kids’ story time, and for Halloween a suitably spooky Edgar Allen Poe reading went down. You never know what the owners — two lovably kooky KC women who are usually around overseeing the shop — might cook up next.
And speaking of cooking, there’s plenty of that literally as well. In addition to coffee and cocktails, Our Daily Nada offers a small but tasty menu of bites and nibbles. Toasts are the main feature — avocado, prosciutto, smoked salmon, or ham and cheese — plus a killer Cobb salad and other small bites. Handmade to order, these aren’t for anyone in a hurry, but they’re carefully crafted and as pretty as they are delicious. (Shoutout to our amazing cooks, Stephan, Tori, and Elana!) And then, of course, there’s the main focus for many: the drinks. Coffee and lattes from local Broadway Roasters, and for happy hour (every night, by the way) and beyond, a good selection of wines and beers and an inventive cocktail menu. Half-Blood Prince, anyone? Yes, drink themes include Harry Potter andGame of Thrones. Cheers!
Ok, so I’m hardly an impartial party here. But really, a book wonderland, tasty coffee and booze, yummy homemade bites, cozy colorful charm, a local woman-owned business — what’s not to like? Come in on a Wednesday or Friday, and you can even say hi to little ol’ me!