Tavernonna & Q39
With Summer menus in full bloom across the metro featuring all sorts of fresh vegetables, it’s easier than ever to find healthy menu options at area restaurants. I was able to confirm that recently by visits at two of my favorite Kansas City restaurants – Tavernonna in Hotel Phillips in the heart of downtown KC, and Q39, the haute cuisine temple of the city’s barbecue scene on 39th Street.
I stopped by Tavernonna first where Executive Chef Bryant Wigger had just launched his new fresh menu. “Spring is a great time to eat healthy. We try and have a much lighter southern Italian twist for the spring and summer and move into the hearty for the fall and winter months. The cavatelli, halibut, and lamb are some examples of lighter fare,” Wigger shared. I did not get a chance to taste the halibut, but I did sample both the cavatelli and lamb, and both were terrific. I’m a pushover for lamb, but I’m a pretty picky pasta person, and the cavatelli with its carrot theme blew me away. “I made that pasta with the juice from the carrots which gave me some fantastic texture and that great carrot sweetness. I slow-cooked the baby carrots in sous vide with butter and coriander seeds, used carrot tops and make a pesto to add the bright green flavor, and finish the dish with micro carrot tops and a buttery pecorino studded with black pepper,” Wigger said.
Another way Wigger is trying to offer healthier items is by sourcing locally whenever he can. Local means fresh, and fresh always means healthier. “Being a new guy here in the city I am looking to make more of those connections. We try and buy local whenever the products are available,” Wigger told me. Wigger also says Tavernonna features many dishes that can be adapted to vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free. He says the restaurant is always happy to accommodate the special requirements or needs of the guests. And if our dinner was any indication, whatever Wigger and his crew provides will be absolutely delicious.
Next, on to Q39 and the offerings of Culinary Institute of America graduate turned barbecue pit master turned restaurant mogul Rob Magee. I don’t think of barbecue restaurants as offering many healthy choices, but then Q39 isn’t just a barbecue restaurant; it’s a full service restaurant that happens to feature a whole lot of smoked meat. “When we opened five years ago, I thought that this market could handle a full-service restaurant with an open kitchen full-service bar with craft cocktails, and barbecue, but barbecue with a twist. That’s what Q39 is all about-barbecue with a twist,” Magee stated.
Magee prides himself on providing diners a fun environment with great service and, of course, amazing food. Magee has raised the bar on bbq in Kansas City and, in fact, in the country and the world. He’s garnered national and international attention for his upscale spin on smoked meats, and he’s got more takes on that for diners with no fewer than 15 new menu items! I’m not going to tell you that Magee’s smoked brisket poutine, a KC version of the Quebecois classic, is healthy because it most definitely is not. But if you want to go Keto, I can’t think of a much better place to accommodate your protein demands.
With this new menu, Magee says he’s pulling away from barbecue sauce and “letting the smoked meat do the talking.” Let me tell you, the meat isn’t just talking, it’s singing! A couple of my favorite entree additions are the barbecue smoked pork shank and a certified Angus strip steak served with a Bernaise butter. They are amazingly full-flavored, yet beautifully balanced, culinary creations. And, if you want to make them health-ish, put the butter on the side and get the pork shank without the pasta.
Diners will also find two new salads on the menu-a chopped salad with mixed greens and a balsamic herb vinaigrette, and a wedge salad with baby iceberg lettuce and pork belly bacon lardons. Ok, so pork belly bacon lardons are no one’s version of healthy, but everyone gets to cheat every now and again, right? Or, you could just go with the classic-a wood-fired grilled salmon salad, which most definitely checks the healthy box.
Whichever way you go, come early ‘cause there’s almost always a full house at Q39. And, Magee has 15 new reasons to keep the dining floodgates open.