Grand Street Café and Ignite Wood Fire Grill

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There’s something reassuring about visiting a restaurant you haven’t been to in a while and finding it’s every bit as comfortable, welcoming, and delicious as it’s always been. Such was the case for us recently as my wife and I dined at the venerable Grand Street Café, just off the Country Club Plaza.

My wife had lunch at Grand Street recently with a friend, but I hadn’t dined there in years; I can’t say why. Maybe it’s my attempt to keep up with the new eateries opening across the metro, or my concerted effort to experience more World Cuisine, or the fact that I try very hard to visit restaurants that are off the beaten path. Whatever the reason or reasons, my meal at Grand Street Café confirmed that I will not be making that mistake again. The food my wife and I had was fresh, delicious, and beautifully presented. The ambiance was pleasant. The room is open and accessible with enough modern touches to keep it fresh, but none that make it stark or loud. And the service was professional-attentive but not intrusive.

I asked owner Rick Ghilardi the secret to Grand Street’s 28-year run. “There are a lot of loyal people who have worked here for a long time, 10 or 15 years. We always strive to put out a good product. We try to keep the room fresh. We’ve remodeled the restaurant a few times. And, of course, our customers. We’ve got some very loyal customers who keep dining here through the years,” Ghilardi shared. Ghilardi also credits the fact that the chef has been with him for years and he’s always on the line executing his dishes. On the night we dined, those dishes included a lovely pan-seared Alaskan halibut that was unfortunately leaving the menu as its season had ended, one of the best tuna tartare preparations I’ve had in K.C., and a really nice combination of grilled octopus, which was tender and flavorful, and grilled chorizo, which had just the right level of spice for my palate.

As for healthier menu options, Ghilardi says there are plenty: seafood that can be prepared to the customer’s specifications, salads with more vegetables and less cheese and protein, and, of course, the ability to meet anyone’s dietary restrictions or desires. “With the chef right there every night, he can pretty much do whatever they want. Again, our chefs work the line, so they can come up with a preparation or a sauce right there on the spot,” Ghilardi told me.

Grand Street Café, I’ll be back, sooner rather than later.

Emphasizing fresh ingredients, a wood fire influence, and New American cuisine, my final stop brings me to one of my favorite restaurants in the metro – Ignite Wood Fire Grill. In fact, if Ignite weren’t so darned far from my Liberty digs, on Ryckert Street just west of I-435 in Lenexa City Center, I’d probably be there a couple times a month. My wife and I stopped by for a meal at the always hopping chef’s counter and a chat with Corporate Chef Bradley Gilmore. “We focus everything on tasting the food over the wood fire. We don’t add a whole lot to the food. We just keep the ingredients clean and true to their form,” Gilmore stated.

Even though he calls Ignite’s cuisine New American, the approach is more like a great Italian kitchen, just a few ingredients, but the best possible quality and freshest they can find with simple, classic preparations that shine the spotlight on the food over than the chef. That’s not to say Gilmore can’t “gourmet” it up when he wants to. He clearly can. That’s just not the goal at Ignite.   

I, for one, love that approach, which also lends itself naturally to the theme of this article-healthier dining. “We don’t call ourselves a healthy restaurant, but you can easily eat healthy here because of our ingredients and our approach. It’s super easy to do Keto here, for example. Our ribeye and rotisserie chicken are perfect for that. Our vegetables fit the bill too. None of them are finished with butter. We cook with olive oil. We like the taste of the broccoli better than the butter,” Gilmore mused.

Gilmore also pointed out a couple of specific dishes he says are inherently healthier, including the scallops that are wrapped in bok choy and cooked without any butter and the wild rice bowl, which you can have on its own or with a healthy protein such as salmon or chicken.

Add in one of the best Happy Hours in town and three separate dining experiences: the chef’s counter, the main dining room, and the enclosed outdoor space and you’ve got multiple ways to experience some of the freshest, tastiest food around. Here’s to healthy eating. Cheers.

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