The most inspiring parts of all my trips happen when I’m least expecting them, and that was also true of my recent weekend in Kansas City. After checking out the cool Claes Oldenburg shuttlecock sculptures at the newly expanded Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (4525 Oak St.; 816-751-1278), I was driving my preposterously huge rental SUV along Troost Avenue—a once-thriving street that’s become run-down since the race riots of the 1960s—when I came across something surprising. Inside a gorgeous restored firehouse, I found Ideal Garment (4518 Troost Ave.; 816-206-6837), the custom clothing-design studio of one Susan Wiegand, who also wrote the witty Cooking As Courtship (available at amazon.com and idealgarment.com). Wiegand’s studio is one of the pioneering new businesses aiming to revive Troost.
Another changing neighborhood is the Crossroads, which has seen an influx of energy in recent years thanks to the dozens of new art galleries, boutiques and great places to eat. At Souperman—owned by chef Rob Dalzell of the area’s renowned modern-American restaurant 1924 Main—I had a delicious West African peanut-chicken soup, which I mopped up with bread that I’d snuck in from downtown’s exquisite Fervere bakery (1702 Summit St.; 816-842-7272). I followed my lunch with a plate of Missouri cheeses—including a creamy cow’s-milk one called Methuselah—at the nearby JP Wine Bar and Coffee House.
Rivaling the Crossroads scene is the restaurant boom on West 39th Street, home of three-year-old Room 39. Chef-owners Ted Habiger (an alum of Manhattan’s Union Square Cafe) and Andy Sloan champion Kansas and Missouri produce in dishes like braised lamb shank with glazed parsnips and white wine–mint jus. It’s tiny and ultra-casual, but Room 39 is giving more upscale new places, like Michael Smith, some serious competition. A few doors down is the sleek Po’s Dumpling Bar, where I grabbed some signature “emperor’s dumplings”—heaping with juicy pork, rolled up like crêpes—to snack on as I hit the road.