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explorations

Travel/ Wanderings

Explorations: Mont Saint-Michel

December 7, 2019
Mont saint-Michel France explorations

An ancient castle, perched on top of a rocky island surrounded on all sides by the sea — sounds like a fairy tale, right? And really, Mont Saint-Michel is a bit like something out of a fairytale. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go Google Mont Saint-Michel — I’ll wait. Stunning, isn’t it? I took a day trip from Paris, and I would highly recommend adding it to your bucket list.

Located in northern France where Normandy and Brittany meet, this ancient island settlement dates back over a thousand years. As the story goes, the Archangel Michael told Aubert, bishop of nearby Avranches, to build a church on the island in 709. A community of Benedictines settled on the mont in 966, and the Romanesque abbey church and first monastery buildings were built in the 11th century. In the following centuries, the spot became a great spiritual and intellectual center and a major pilgrimage site. The monastery and surrounding town were built up throughout medieval times, including protective ramparts added during the Hundred Years War. It was even used as a prison during the French Revolution! Today, the monastery is once again a working religious community, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site that welcomes over 2.5 million visitors a year.

The Village

As you might have guessed, the only caveat is that by these days, this site is a big tourist attraction. That said, it’s still spectacular, and I would highly recommend it. I went in the off-season — in October — and while it was definitely full of tourists, it wasn’t nearly as packed as it would have been in the summer (though prepare for rain if you’re there in the fall). In any case, the crowds really didn’t dim the magic of the place. The trick is to get off the beaten path of the little town (after you’ve grabbed your crepe and souvenirs) and up into the winding paths of the upper town and monastery. The village is mostly one narrow cobbled path lined with bustling souvenir shops and restaurants — like something straight out of Harry Potter (think Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley). All around this area, quaint little homes and hotels perch on the hillside, all the way up toward the monastery at the top.

But as charming as the town is, the real magic is in the narrow cobbled paths that snake up the cliffside toward the monastery. Pick a path and start exploring — I can guarantee you’ll get lost, but that’s the fun of it. Wander past charming little homes with colorful shutters, peek into an ancient graveyard, say hello to a meandering cat, and the next thing you know, you’ll be standing on top of ramparts looking out over the steely grey ocean. It’s a maze of unexpected discoveries, and while you’re likely to bump into fellow explorers, the entire area is surprisingly peaceful.

The Monastery

Once you’ve gotten your fill of wandering, climb to the monastery at the very top of the island (you’re likely to end up there anyway if you keep heading upward). Honestly, I almost skipped this part, reluctant to pay extra to get in. Luckily, I went for it anyway — don’t miss this. Yes, I have a penchant for turning everything into a Harry Potter reference, but I promise, this looks just like Hogwarts. You wander through a maze of vaulted stone ceilings, spooky corridors, and a stunning church, all nearly a thousand years old (some of it older). Even with other tourists around, the entire place is hushed and almost haunted, like stepping back into history. You half expect a monk to amble past or a medieval knight to be waiting in the knight’s hall. At the end, you emerge from the dim corridors onto a platform overlooking all of the village and surround ocean — the highest point visitors are allowed to go — with only the bell tower looming above you. It really was spectacular, and definitely worth the 10 euros to get into the monastery.

If you’re feeling adventurous on the way out, you can actually venture out into the ocean at low tide. The entire mont is surrounded by a flat plain of grey muddy sand at low tide that you can wander across. In all honesty, this was a little too messy (and cold) for me, but many people were pulling off their shoes and doing it when I was there. I’m not sure how high the water rises at high tide, so it’s worth checking the tide times before heading out, but if climbing the mont doesn’t quite satisfy your adventurous streak, it’s definitely worth a try. Just only go if you don’t mind getting a bit muddy!

How to Get There

In the art of full disclosure, I should mention that this journey wasn’t what I would call stress-free (in my experience, at least). The trip itself isn’t complicated, but in my experience French train and bus stations aren’t always the most clearly marked. I certainly wouldn’t consider this a reason to forgo this trip, but I would recommend giving yourself plenty of extra time and not being afraid to ask for help (even if your French isn’t perfect).

As for the nitty-gritty details, the trip is about three to four hours (depending on your connections) each way from Paris by train and bus. There’s no train station actually in Mont Saint-Michel, so the last leg of the trip will be a bus ride. Visit raileurope.com and search for tickets from Paris to Mont St.-Michel. There are usually several time options and various price options — most tickets are around 70-100 euros round-trip. I left from Paris Gare Montparnasse in the morning, took a shuttle bus, a train, and another bus to get to Mont Saint-Michel around noon for 78 euros (obviously, the more flexible you are with times and the more you’re willing to pay, the better connections you can get). Both the buses and trains are actually quite comfortable, and the trip isn’t difficult. Again, I would just recommend you give yourself plenty of time, especially if you’re leaving from a major Paris train station.

Once you get to Mont Saint-Michel, you can either take a shuttle or walk the 30-minutes or so on the bridge out to the island. Remember that the buses out of Mont Saint-Michel leave from where they drop you off, so pay attention to where you are when you arrive and leave plenty of time to get back to the bus stop from the mont (I’m not speaking from personal experience or anything here…).

For more info, check out the Normandy tourism website.

 

Musings/ Travel/ Wanderings

Wandering the Doors of Paris

December 5, 2019
Paris doors

I have a confession: I have a bit of an obsession with doors. Not your average everyday door necessarily, but colorful doors, intricate doors, eccentric doors. Have you ever noticed how many different types of doors there are out there? (No? Just me?) And it just so happens that Paris is particularly up on its door game. There’s a vast array of colors. There are intricate designs and incredible art. There are knockers in every design imaginable (Paris also has — pardon my French — great knockers). Some are ancient and a little worn, some are polished and shiny new, some are amazing Art Nouveau works of art — you get the picture. As a result, I became that crazy tourist stopping every few steps to take a picture of yet another door. What can I say? I’m obsessed.

 

I don’t actually know the stories of these Paris doors, which in a way maybe makes it more fascinating. How old is the door? What lies behind it? Who chose that lion or hand door knocker, and why? I’ve heard enough histories of specific doors and buildings in France to know that every flourish has a history and a meaning.

 

The one I do have some context for is the stunning Art Nouveau creation at 29 Avenue Rapp (first image, third row, first from left). Built in 1901 and designed by Jules Lavirotte, this intricate doorway tells an erotic tale of Adam and Eve, including peacocks, bulls, reptiles, and insects symbolizing sin (not to mention several other erotic motifs). It’s a gorgeous building teeming with symbolism that shocked viewers of the time.

 

Likely not every door in Paris packs such a metaphoric punch, but I’m positive they all have their own tales. Unfortunately, I’m no tour guide. I wish I could write an entire post about the stories behind these doors, but most remained closed to me. So we’ll just have to imagine, create histories and characters for them. All I know is, I took pictures of 39 doors in Paris, and no two looked alike, and I wandered by many more that I forced myself to keep walking and not snap a photo of.

 

If you’re wondering, “Why is she still talking about doors?” — well, I’m surprised you made it this far. If, like me, you enjoy a little quirkiness and mystery, then take a look at the collage of all my Paris door photos, enjoy the art and color, and create your own version of the stories they tell. And I’m positive they have many — it is Paris, after all.

Paris doors

Javaholic/ Kansas City/ Wanderings

Coffeeshop Love: PT’s Coffee

October 27, 2019
PTs Coffee Kansas City coffeeshop

Well hello there! Yes, I know I’ve been a little AWOL around here — but all in the name of research! (sort of) I’ve been off doing some wandering (grand old Paris, in fact), so you better believe there will be plenty of fresh content coming soon! In the meantime, I thought I’d pop back with a little coffee recommendation closer to home (my hood, actually) to tide you over: PT’s Coffee in Kansas City. Stay tuned!

PT’s Coffee Roasters

310 Southwest Blvd., Kansas City, MO

Full confession: I have a type. A coffeeshop type, that is. (What, do normal people mean something else by that?) Well, two types actually — urban hipster and lovably shabby hole-in-the-wall. PT’s Coffee conveniently bridges the two criteria.

Tucked into an old brick building in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts district, the KC outpost of Topeka-based grassroots roasters PT’s Coffee Roasting Co. definitely qualifies as urban and hole-in-the-wall. (Complete with my favorite urban reno hallmark: brick walls and an exposed tin ceiling.) Inside, though, the space is open, airy, and both funky and minimalist. The artsy Crossroads spirit definitely edges in with a young hipster clientele and local art lining the walls, while the open space and minimalist furniture add an retro urban vibe. My favorite touches, though, are the reclaimed wood tables — mod-looking pieces made from over 100 wood pallets that carried coffee to PT’s roasting facility — and the giant marquee “coffee” sign. Very retro, admirably resourceful, and of course, entirely appropriate for true javaholics. Even better: they just opened a brand new location at 1310 Baltimore St. More modern than the funky Crossroads spot, the new outpost is equally charming (and, of course, delicious).

PT’s Coffee Crossroads Kansas City coffeeshop

PT’s is one of those cafes that manages to be bustling without being chaotic. Every time I’ve been in there (yes, the tally is rapidly adding up), it’s been busy enough that finding a table can be a bit of a challenge. It’s a comfortable background din, though, a happy medium fit for chatting with friends or studying (both of which there are always people doing). The last time I was there, a friend and I sat at the bar lining the front windows, providing a perfect view onto the (always colorful) street traffic of downtown Crossroads. Luckily, PT’s doesn’t fall short on this point either — from students to funky artists to the occasional … eccentric urban character, there are all sorts of caffeination-seekers at the cafe. After all, people-watching is a crucial part of the true coffeeshop experience.

Last but most definitely not least: the menu. Obviously, the coffee hits the mark, or I wouldn’t have added it to my regular haunts list. Every time I go there, I plan on trying something new, but I’m afraid I’ve become rather addicted to one particular drink: the lavender-caramel latte. The idea of applying to coffee a scent usually found in soap and soothing eye pillows might seem a bit odd, but trust me on this one: the lavender-caramel syrup is to die for. PT’s makes its own delectable syrups (honey vanilla and lavender caramel are the current options), which I would 100% recommend. On top of that, their latte art game is top-notch (hey, sometimes it’s ok to judge a book by its cover). If you’re feeling peckish, they also have a tasty selection of sandwiches and pastries, as well as smoothies and various teas.

Bottom line: if you’re ever in downtown Kansas City, definitely stop by PT’s Coffee for a java pick-me-up and a good dose of eclectic KC charm.

Javaholic/ Kansas City/ Wanderings

Coffeeshop Love: Hammerhand Coffee Kansas City

September 1, 2019
Can someone please tell me where the summer went? Scratch that, where the year went? Seriously, I swear it was just January and I was cheering when the temp hit double digits (now I’m just praying it doesn’t hit triple digits). I don’t know about you, but I’m now counting down the days until fall. Crisp air, colorful leaves, Halloween ghoulies? Bring it on. That said, summer is a time of exploration. Granted, any time is an opportunity for exploration in my opinion, but there’s something particularly carefree and wanderlust-filled about summer. I’ve been neglecting my Kansas City coffee expedition a bit, and I needed an excuse again to wander and think/write/drink coffee 24/7 — or at least justify the amount of my budget spent on coffee by saying it’s blog research. So I decided to make up for lost (java) time. This weekend, that meant a little jaunt over to Liberty, Missouri, to check out Hammerhand Coffee. To be fair, at only 25 minutes from downtown KC, Liberty hardly qualifies as a road trip, but I’m fairly clueless when it comes to north of the city, so it felt like an expedition. Particularly when you factor in that I spent the first hour there hunting down a police station, who called a tow company, who battled my stubborn car locks, because I locked my keys, purse, and phone in my car … but that’s another story.
Ok, on to the important stuff. In case you’re (shockingly) unfamiliar with the small towns of Missouri, Liberty is a historic frontier town just northeast of Kansas City, founded in 1822, and now home to William Jewell College. Think stately brick campus, rambling old Victorian homes, and an abundance of kitschy yet charming shops.
Hammerhand Coffee Kansas City Liberty
Hammerhand Coffee Kansas City Liberty cafe interior
Hammerhand is right in the historic town square, across from the Art Deco county courthouse and surrounded by quaint circa-late-1800s storefronts. Considering all this, it’s surprisingly hip and modern, the type of cafe that wouldn’t be out of place in Brooklyn hipsterland. Housed in a narrow turn-of-the-century brick building, the grand wooden staircase, stained glass window accents, and iron fire escape give it an old-world vibe. Yet the decor is crisp, modern, and colorful — mid-century style furniture, bright white walls, succulents, faux vintage lightbulbs, turquoise touches. In a whimsical nod, there’s even a Chemex with a live beta fish swimming around. It feels like a cross between a homey neighborhood joint and a student study crashpad, with both lively chattering groups and tables covered in notebooks and laptops. Liberty doesn’t feel like a college town, but almost everyone there looked to be under 25, so I would guess the students, as usual, gravitate toward the caffeine sources.
Hammerhand Coffee Kansas City Liberty cozy interior
In the art of full disclosure, the coffee had a slightly odd taste. Not bad, just different. I realized, though, that I haven’t actually had regular milk for quite some time (they ran out of almond), so that might have just been me. That being said, my latte was rich and smooth, and they nailed the latte art (yes, it matters!). The rest of the menu features the standard drip, cappuccinos, cold brew, etc., plus seasonal drinks, housemade syrups, and a selection of pastries. About your usual coffeehouse fare, though it all looked scrumptious. They supposedly also carry a rotating selection of beer and wine, though I didn’t see any sign of that (to be fair, it was also a Sunday afternoon).
Hammerhand Coffee Kansas City Liberty latte art
Overall, the chances of most people just passing through Liberty, MO, is about zip, and most large cities probably have dozens of Hammerhand-esque java joints. That said, it has a certain flair, with its 19th-century-frontier/hipster mélange, and the coffee is pretty damn good. If you happen to be in the KC area, it’s definitely worth a stop.
**This post was originally published in August 2018 on beanopiablog.com.**
Kansas City/ Wanderings

Kansas City’s Top 10 Must-See

August 16, 2019
Kansas City must-see sights travel

“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.

Union Station Kansas City must-see

Union Station

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.

Liberty memorial Kansas City must-see

Liberty Memorial

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.

Nelson-Atkins museum of art Kansas City must-see

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

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!

First Fridays in the Crossroads

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.

Country club plaza holiday lights Kansas City must-see

Country Club Plaza Holiday Lights

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.

River Market

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.

Ride the Streetcar

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!

Loose Park

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.

Jazz at the Phoenix

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.

Kauffman center performing arts Kansas City must-see

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

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.

Food/ Kansas City

Macaron Quest, Part I: Where to find the best macarons in Kansas City

August 8, 2019
best macarons in Kansas City

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)*

 

André’s Confiserie

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.

Lolli & Pops

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.

Bloom Baking

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.

Whole Foods

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.

Annedore’s Chocolates

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.

Au Bon Macaron

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.