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Kansas City/ Wanderings

Where to Shop Local in Kansas City for Holiday Gifts

December 13, 2019
Shop local Kansas City holiday gifts

It’s that time of year — the manic dash to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Frenzied shoppers, mile-long to-do lists, packed stores … it’s the most wonderful time of the year! Ok, actually, it is my favorite time of year, and I have to admit I even love crazy holiday shopping (though my wallet doesn’t as much). But I always get stressed out trying to find that “just right” gift for each person (what can I say — I’m a perfectionist) and part of that is that so much out there is so generic. When I’m looking for a gift, I want something unique and special. Luckily, the local and craft market is booming these days, and there are an increasing number of sources to find decidedly un-basic gifts. I’ll admit it: I’m a craft market addict. In case you’re still on the prowl for gifts, I rounded up a selection of the best spots to shop local in Kansas City (some also have online stores, if you’re not in the KC area). With local and handmade items, these are the perfect places to find outside-the-box gifts for that special someone (and maybe a treat for yourself as well).

Made in Kansas City

Made in KC is essentially the Mecca of local KC goods. They now have several locations across the city, each a marketplace stuffed with local foods, clothes, accessories, and more. Each item comes from a local maker or small company, and with a variety of different makers in one market, there’s a little something there for everyone. From jewelry and clothes to candles, plants, and liquor, you can find nearly everything here. The Plaza location even has a coffeeshop, beer on tap, and an ice cream counter inside, so you can sip or munch as you shop!

A Very Cherry Holiday Pop-up

605 E. 31st St, KCMO

If you’re looking for a unique gift, Cherry Pit Collective has you covered. Cherry Pit Collective, a communal workspace for women artists, makers, and creatives in KC’s Tower East district, is getting merry this year with a special holiday pop-up shop at the nearby Objects space. Check it out weekends through December 23rd for one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry, ceramics, fine art, vintage goods, and more, plus pop-up eats like Swoon Cookies and Dead Beet Tacos (hey, shopping requires fuel!).

Local Artisan Holiday Pop-up

4419 W. 119th St, Leawood, KS

Pleasant as they are, the suburbs aren’t exactly known for their unique, non-chain shopping (hey, I can say this — I grew up right in this neighborhood). That said, Leawood is getting a little extra local flair this holiday season with an artisan pop-up in the Town Center Crossing shopping center. Stop by on weekends until Christmas for fine art, jewelry, and more from a selection of local makers. If you have a creative or art lover on your list, this is the perfect stop. And don’t forget to treat yourself as well: yummies from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, and Midnight Espresso Coffee Liqueurs are available as you shop!

Strawberry Swing Maker Marketplace

Strawberry Swing leads the pack when it comes to craft fairs — each season they host a pop-up extravaganza of handmade, local, and vintage goods in a spot around Kansas City. These fairs are perfect for gift-shopping (or, ahem, treating yourself), but they only happen a few times a year. Never fear — the Internet is here. In case you missed the holiday craft fair, Strawberry Swing now has an online marketplace to shop many of its creative goodies. Clothing, jewelry, home and bath goods — you name it, they likely have it. It’s not exactly the same experience as visiting a cute little shop, I know, but it is local, handmade, and a plethora of unique gift possibilities.

CollectiveEX

519 E. 18th St., KCMO

Kansas City’s artists and makers have another home base in CollectiveEX, a workshop and store for local artisans to create and sell their work. You’ll find a host of locally made items here, from clothes and accessories to fine art. For a little extra shopping fuel, stop by Thee Outpost, the latest coffee creation from Thou Mayest’s Bo Nelson, also located inside CollectiveEX.

Westside Storey

1701 Summit St., KCMO

Venture into the eclectic Westside neighborhood for this funky little shop housed in an old 1920s dry goods building. With over 20 local artisans and makers, plus vintage goods, you never know what you’ll find in here. Cheeky enamel pin? Check. Classy handmade candle? Check. Vintage sword? Check. On top of that, Westside is its own little adventure in of itself, so it’s well worth making an afternoon of this one. Stop by the cheerful Bluebird Bistro for a scrumptious organic brunch, grab coffee at the charming Goat Hill Coffee & Soda, and wander around the wonderfully bizarre medley of houses in the area after you do your shopping.

Food/ Travel

The Macaron Quest, Part II: Paris

November 13, 2019

I promised a part II to the macaron quest, didn’t I? Well, here you are. I recently wandered over to the Mecca of macarons — Paris — and of course I had to test as many as possible to get a true scientific sampling of the macaron measure. Ok, in truth I went a little macaron crazy (can you blame me?). Macarons can be found in every corner boulangerie and candy shop in Paris, so I chose eight spots — mostly well-known patisseries — to see what a true French macaron tastes like and how KC’s offerings stack up.

Before I get into the nitty gritty (sugary) details, let’s summarize the overall Paris macaron scene. First of all, crazy flavors are definitely not traditional. The bigger-name (and more touristy) brands are starting to do all sorts of funky flavor combinations, but in general the classic macaron flavors (and the ones you’ll find almost everywhere) are vanilla, coffee, pistachio, chocolate, raspberry, and lemon. Second, as I mentioned, almost every boulangerie/patisserie has at least a few macarons. For the most part, I went for places that are pretty well-known and easy to find. (Most of these places have multiple locations around Paris; for those that have only one location, I included the address below.) The most well-known macaron purveyors in Paris are probably Ladurée and Pierre Hermé, which of course I had to visit. So without further ado, let the macaron quest: Paris begin!

Pierre Hermé

Talk about a smorgasbord of flavors! I spent a good amount of time here just staring, saucer-eyed, trying to decide which to choose. Pierre Hermé is an iconic patisserie, especially for macarons, so it’s hardly a surprise that the offerings were overwhelming and the place packed. I ended up with the Barbade (chocolate, vanilla, and tonka bean) and hazelnut praline flavors — see what I mean about funky flavors? Though definitely not traditional, the flavors here were unusual and delicious (hazelnut praline was my favorite). The macaron itself was very delicate, though almost too moist, not lightly crispy as I would have hoped. Still, there’s definitely a reason this place is famous.

Ladurée

Fairytale mint green shop, rows of delicate jewel-toned sweets, a cozy tearoom — what’s not to love? Ladurée is possibly the most hyped of all the macaron wizards (in fact, there are several in the US now as well). Despite this, I have to admit I think Ladurée lives up to its reputation. The hordes of tourists are a bit of a turnoff (for me, at least), but if you avoid the Champs-Elysées shop, this is less of an issue. I made multiple stops here, in fact, testing the caramel fleur de sel, pistachio, and chocolate hazelnut flavors. With a strong flavor, smooth and delicate cookie, and slightly chewy inside, these macarons are just as scrumptious as they’re proclaimed to be. On top of that, they nicely bridge traditional and inventive — there are a few maverick flavors, but nothing so outlandish that you forget you’re eating a classic macaron.

Stohrer

With a history stretching all the way back to 1730, this family-owned patisserie definitely knows its sweets (in fact, they claim to be the oldest patisserie in Paris). Unlike some of the other big-name shops on this list, Stohrer veers more toward the classic, with traditional flavors like vanilla and chocolate (I tried the coffee one). While not as inventive as Pierre Hermé, the texture of Stohrer’s macarons definitely takes the cake (er, cookie). Lightly crispy on the outside, slightly chewy on the inside, and perfectly delicate, it was an ideal macaron creation. The flavor was simple and delicious — not knock-your-socks-off scrumptious. If you’re looking for a classic and tasty macaron, Stohrer is the spot for you.

Jean-Paul Hévin

Famed chocolatier Jean-Paul Hévin falls into the same school as Pierre Hermé — ah, the flavor kaleidoscope! That said, the flavor offerings were as good as (if not better than) PH, which is saying something. Though not exactly traditional, I have to admit I loved the flavors here. I tested Pistachin’ (chocolate/pistachio), Normandy (chocolate/salted caramel), and Crème Brûlée, all of which were delicious. My only complaint is that there was almost too much filling — a lot going on in general, with all the flavor combos. Definitely not a purist’s macaron, but still one to remember.

Gwen Choc Boulangerie

5 rue du Temple

For an unintentional macaron testing (I stopped into this Marais boulangerie for a croissant), Gwen Choc held up against the competition. The hazelnut praline macaron was a little crunchier, with more filling than many offerings, but it was still delicate, and the chocolate/hazelnut taste was delicious. This isn’t one of the famed macaron purveyors you’ll hear whenever someone says “macaron,” but if you’re in the Marais, it’s definitely worth a stop (the almond croissants are excellent also).

Le Valentin Teahouse

35 Galerie Vivienne

Tucked into one of Paris’s nineteenth-century covered shopping arcades, this little teahouse was a welcome respite on a drizzly day. With a mouthwatering selection of pastries and confections, I had to use great self-control to get only a macaron. I chose one of my favorites, salted caramel. The macaron was nicely delicate and melt-in-your-mouth, though I couldn’t really taste a specific flavor. Overall, a good texture, and definitely tasty, but nothing to knock your socks off.

Eric Kayser

The US has burger and coffee chains — France has boulangerie chains. Go figure. You can find an Eric Kayser on almost every corner in Paris. When it comes to chains, though, this one is actually pretty reliable. The flavors of my bourbon vanilla and pistachio macarons were very good — you could actually taste the vanilla and pistachio — though the cookie was a little too crunchy (ie, makes a sound when you bite into it) and not super delicate. They certainly aren’t known for their macarons, but for a sampling of a more generic, mass-produced macaron, they’re not a bad option.

Maison Landemaine

Another decent chain option, Maison Landemaine can be found all around Paris. I had a whole sampling here, because they only came in a box set of four (whoops). The flavors were traditional — chocolate, vanilla, raspberry, and caramel — and tasty, nicely crispy and with authentic flavor, but they weren’t necessarily anything to write home about (even though I sort of am).

In the end, any of these will satisfy a macaron craving in Paris, though some are more worthy of a macaron quest than others. But the big question: how does KC’s macaron scene measure up? I’m certainly no expert, but I’d say pretty well. They aren’t as ubiquitous in KC as in Paris, but those who love them seem to know how to do them well. KC may not exactly play by all the rules of traditional macaron flavors, but then, neither do all the Parisian macaron makers! Good news, then: you don’t have to fly across the pond to find a tasty macaron (though I’d highly recommend it anyway).

And the final word on the Paris macaron quest (according to me, anyway):

Best flavors: Pierre Hermé, Jean-Paul Hévin

Best texture: Stohrer, Ladurée

Best overall: Ladurée

Anyone else craving a sweet treat now? Check out these KC macaron artists to satisfy your sweet tooth! Bon appétit!

Javaholic/ Kansas City/ Wanderings

Coffee Shop 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

Coffee Shop Love: Nomads Coffee & Cocktails

September 20, 2019
nomads coffee kansas city

In my mind, anything that mentions travel, exploration, and/or wandering (obviously) is immediately worth an investigation. A tribute to explorers — literary and literal — worldwide, Nomads Coffee in Kansas City exactly fits that bill. It would be easy to walk straight past it, nestled in a subtle brick shopfront on eclectic 39th Street. It certainly isn’t the most colorful or eye-catching spot on the street. But that would be your loss. This charming café has become my go-to coffeeshop work spot, and it’s safe to say I’m a little obsessed.

Nomads Kansas City Coffee Bar interior

To fully capture the atmosphere of Nomads Coffee, it’s really best to imagine yourself as a slightly disaffected nineteenth-century writer or a gruff world traveler (or at least following in the footsteps of one). The entire café is a bit dim, with dark wood floors and furniture and deep blue walls. Sophisticated, in an ever-so-slightly gloomy way. Take a spot at the dark-wood bar, curl up in a cushy armchair, or pick an intimate café table and get settled in. My spot of choice is at the bar along the front windows, with a perfect view out onto the goings-on of quirky 39th Street.

Nomads Kansas City Coffee bar interior

To complete the travel theme, shelves throughout the café are stocked with books with a global explorer bent (think Jack London, vintage travel memoirs, old issues of National Geographic). The walls are lined with photos of Alaskan dog races, mountain explorations, maps, suitably gruff explorers, and people and places around the globe.

Nomads Kansas City Coffee Interior

Nomads Kansas City Coffee Bar photo wall

It’s the type of place where you might expect to come across a grumpy older Hemingway ordering a cocktail or a grizzled old explorer recounting tales of his latest expedition into the jungle or Arabian deserts (though in reality the clientele is more on the young and hip side, thanks to students from the nearby KU Med Center and the vibrant culture of 39th Street).

All that said, in reality the café isn’t at all gloomy. Despite the somber (if charming) aura, the staff and customers are always friendly, and the café is usually bustling, classic and peppy oldies tunes playing in the background. (Just absorb the old-world vibes and be glad no one there actually acts like a grumpy old mountain man).

Nomads Kansas City Coffee Cocktails

No literary or global enclave would be complete without drinks, of course! The coffee menu here is classic — none of that foufy frappuccino business — but the lattes are delicious. Plus, there’s also a full cocktail/beer/wine menu (this is an extra plus in my book because it means they’re open late, unlike many coffee shops). If you’re feeling peaky, they have a tasty selection of pastries and cookies, plus quiche, classic and hearty sandwiches, and breakfast burritos. Café fare, but the type you actually want to eat.

Full disclosure: I only tested the ham and cheese croissant, but it was scrumptious — buttery and perfectly flaky, with a subtle spike of Dijon mustard inside — and the rest of the menu looks quite tasty. The quiche is definitely next on my list!

So the next time you’re around 39th Street, wander over to Nomads Coffee for a coffee or cocktail — who knows, maybe you’ll actually run into that rugged world explorer I keep expecting to see.

 

Kansas City/ Wanderings

Kansas City Mural Madness

September 12, 2019
Kansas City murals street art Mural

When you think of city street art, Kansas City may not immediately spring to mind. But it turns out KC is a veritable canvas of murals. A mural tour has been on my bucket list for a while, but it was only recently that my friend Emily (shoutout to my always-game wandering buddy!) and I found a free — and not 100-degree — day to do it. And we had to do it right, obviously — full mural madness. Electric scooters required.

Actually, Kansas City has way more murals than I expected, and we didn’t nearly make it to all of them. However, I think we made the rounds pretty well, and the results were pretty darn cool in any case. Follow along with us!

Generally, maps are a no-no for legit wandering. However, Kansas City is a spread-out city, and I love a good list, so I had a detailed list and corresponding map for our mural tour. Obviously, you can follow whatever path you want to see any (or all) of these. Our escapade started in River Market, then went down to East Crossroads, plus a few extra in the Crossroads, Brookside, and even Independence. And, of course, we stumbled across at least a few unexpected gems. As with any wander, the best discoveries are always the ones you find by accident.

*A full list of the Kansas City murals we visited, with addresses, will be at the end of this post.

River Market

Our first stop was the kooky and colorful Betty Rae’s Ice Cream mural. This was by far the hardest to get pictures of, as there was the usual crazy line of people bursting out of Betty Rae’s. That said, the vibrant, cartoonish ice cream drippings are definitely worth a look. And hey, you can always stop for a cone while you’re at it!

After that, we headed on to the Lewis & Clark mural around the corner at River Market Antiques. As far as I know, this is one of the older murals in KC, and it doesn’t have the graffiti vibe of a lot of spots on our list — it’s more like a classic painting. It fits in perfectly with the storied brick buildings of River Market, a little slice of Missouri history.

Kansas City murals street art River Market Lewis Clark

East Crossroads

At this point, we hit the scooters — mostly, in truth, to get to our chosen coffee spot before closing time. A separate Coffeeshop Love post will be coming on that, but suffice it to say, we made it, and the coffee at Thou Mayest’s newest home, Thee Outpost, is not to be missed (also shoutout to the friendly barista who didn’t even give us an evil eye for coming in two minutes before closing). If you haven’t given the electric scooters many cities now have a try, do it — now. I’m not sure I’d use them for a regular commute, but they’re a fun and speedy way to get around, and worth it for the nostalgia trip back to fifth grade alone (I suddenly wish I hadn’t sold my electric scooter…)

East Crossroads might just be the Mecca of murals in KC. The grittier sister of the Crossroads Arts District around 19th and Main, this neighborhood has true street art — and it’s everywhere. We hit a few preplanned spots (I’ll list the addresses), but my best advice is to go to about 18th and Oak and start wandering. From Art Alley (a long passage covered street to roof in graffiti and murals) to a Kansas City Royals wall, there’s a splash of paint around almost every corner. Just be sure you don’t miss the vibrant Production Wall, in the Made in KC lot, and eclectic Art Alley, between 17th and 18th around Locust and Cherry Streets. Meander around east of Oak Street from about 17th to 19th, and you never know what you’ll stumble across.

 

Crossroads and Beyond

Fully caffeinated and a little high on art, we headed west to the Crossroads. Just past the Kansas City Star building, the lovely rainbow of the “Love You Like A Summer Night” mural hides behind Messenger Coffee (also a good stop if you’re not already java-ed out). Then on to Main Street, to Tom’s Town Distillery and Gallup Maps for a little Art Deco and antique flair, respectively.

We couldn’t pass by the Strong Women Empower mural, of course (cheesy selfies are a must). For those who know the area, this spot, across from Up Down bar, used to house the Kansas City I’m So In Love mural. Never fear — that classic has been relocated. We hit it next, incorporated into the Imagine That art at Imagine That (a lovely tribute to this arts organization for developmentally disabled adults). Along the way, we stumbled across the KC skyline splashed across the Spira Care building, another beautiful surprise. You see why I wander?

Full disclosure: I cheated a bit on the Damn Fine and Love the Square murals —  I had already visited and snapped pics of those, so I included them for good measure. Maybe a little outside the downtown mural tour track, but they were too good to not throw into the mix!

Obviously, this was a whirlwind tour! To do the art full justice, you’ll really have to go take a look yourself. And while you’re at it, you’ll probably discover even more we didn’t hit. Check out SpraySeeMo and @grafittikc for more Kansas City mural moments (plus more detailed info).

**If you want to follow our tour, here’s a list of the murals we visited and their locations. I included the artist when I could find it. Most titles, however, are just my own descriptions.**

Betty Rae’s (412 Delaware St.) @jtdaniels_art

Lewis & Clark (115 W 5th St.)

Production Wall/Made in KC lot (18th & Locust St.)

Art Alley (between 17th & 18th, near Locust & Cherry Sts.)

Rainbow Faces (1822 Cherry St.) @rifrafgiraffe

Ten Hundred (19th & Cherry St.) @tenhun

Until the Rave Summons (around 17th & Locust St.)

Retro Noir (501 E. 17th St.) @sikestyle & @lucidflows

Revilo Octopus Panda (500 E. 18th St.) *This building is unfortunately now partially collapsed*

Vulpes Bastille Fox (1737 Locust St.) @sabertooththomas

Sebastian Coolidge Woman (1608 Locust St.) @sebastiancoolidge

Tropical Starry Night (17th & Oak) @pyramidguy

Pyramid Girl (446 E. 17th) @tylercoey

I Love You Like a Summer Night (1624 Grand Blvd) @abbyyemm

Tom’s Town (17th & Main St.)

Gallup Maps (1733 Main St)

Strong Women Empower (1919 Baltimore)

Spira Care KC skyline (1916 Grand Blvd) @rifrafgiraffe & @amiayars

Imagine That (200 E 20th St)

Independence Love the Square

Damn Fine (Brookside)

 

Musings

Current Obsessions: September

September 5, 2019
September obsessions musings Kansas City

Is it really September already? Then why is it still 95 degrees? Anyway, weather complaints aside, I’m actually quite ready for a new month and season. As we kick off September, here are a few things taking up possibly-unhealthy amounts of my days/thoughts!

 

Currently Baking: Mocha protein bars

In general, I’m not really a protein-packing, workout-fuel sort of person. But I bought a container of protein powder for a (Pinterest-sourced, of course) recipe — which, as you know if you’ve ever bought protein powder, come only in Hulk-worthy sizes. So as I was wondering what to do with my vat of protein powder and tragically out of chocolate in my apartment, I came across this recipe. Anything with mocha immediately catches my eye, and I have to admit I’m now hooked. It basically tastes exactly like mocha brownie batter, and it’s ridiculously easy to make. I have trouble getting it to set into actual bars, but as I have no qualms eating brownie batter, that totally works for me.

Currently Coveting: SWISSGEAR suitcase

Is it odd that I’m shopaholic-lusting over a suitcase? Maybe, but I’ve been looking for a suitcase that mimics a vintage steamer trunk (but doesn’t require actually lugging around a heavy trunk) for ages. Most seem to be $500-1000 (yes, seriously), and this one is $150 and available at Target, so I’m basically sold. Not that I need a new suitcase. But oh Target, you’re killing me!

Currently Munching: Mud Pie Bakery blueberry crumble bars

Chances are, I’ve mentioned Mud Pie on here before (once, twice, a million times). It’s an adorable coffeeshop in a bright yellow house on quirky 39th street, and I’m unabashedly obsessed. All their food is delicious, but I recently tried their gluten-free blueberry crumble bars, and I’m now addicted. Perfectly crumbly and sweet, these berry bars hit the spot for breakfast, dessert, a snack — you name it. (And you’d never guess they’re vegan and gluten-free.) It doesn’t hurt that you can hang out in Mud Pie’s adorable living room as you munch, either.

Currently Reading: The City of Brass

If you’ve caught any of the million Harry Potter references around here, you might have guessed that I’m a bit of a fantasy fan. With magic, djinn (genies), and history, The City of Brass is right up my alley. It’s a bit like Aladdin or Arabian Nightsfor grown-ups. Admittedly, it’s taking me a while to get through this one, but mostly because I keep pausing to take notes in the margins (yes, I’m a nerd).

Currently Wandering: Kansas City murals

It turns out Kansas City’s street art game is pretty darn awesome! This has been on my bucket list for ages, and my friend Emily and I recently hit the streets (and electric scooters) to check out the best murals around downtown KC. Rest assured, a full post on this is coming soon — once I sort through the million pictures I took. For now, keep an eye out for a burst of vibrant paint if you’re wandering around Kansas City (which I highly recommend).

Currently Listening: The Earful Tower podcast

Ok, this is slightly cheating, because I’ve been obsessed with this for a while now. But I recently got a shout-out on the podcast, so let me relish it a bit! Anything Paris-related immediately gets a spot on my radar (in case you missed the Eiffel Tower reference), and this podcast has some great tips and insight into both Paris behind the scenes and the Parisian expat community. Basically, I’m considering it crucial life research. Plus, the host has a charming Australian accent and a penchant for lovably corny jokes — how can you go wrong?

 

 

Javaholic/ Kansas City/ Wanderings

Coffee Shop Love: Hammerhand Coffee

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.**
Javaholic/ Kansas City/ Wanderings

Coffee Shop Love: Cafe Equinox

August 24, 2019
coffee cafe equinox kansas city

Cafe Equinox

7036 Nieman Road, Shawnee, KS

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.

**Photos courtesy of Cafe Equinox, @cafeequinox**

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.

Javaholic/ Kansas City/ Wanderings

Coffees Shop Love: Monarch Coffee

August 11, 2019
coffee shop Kansas City Monarch

Monarch Coffee
3550 Broadway, Kansas City, MO

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).

Monarch coffee Kansas City

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.

Monarch coffee Kansas City café

Monarch coffee Kansas City interior

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.*

monarch coffee Kansas city

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.