The Rieger is a former prohibition-era hotel now serving farm-to-table fare.
- Then: Opened in 1915 by the son of whiskey distributor Jacob Rieger, the property was known as a “travelers’” hotel, welcoming railroad workers and traveling salesmen.
- Now: There’s no longer room at the inn, but visitors will find a hopping restaurant serving farm-to-table fare in the Crossroads Arts District. It also houses Manifesto, a modern speakeasy, in the basement.
- Taste: Chef Howard Hanna has a passion for the pig. Any pork dish is sure to be outstanding.
- History Connection: Classic cocktails and the original black-and-white tile floor hark back to days gone by, as does the restored mural on the brick exterior. Just as the turn-of-the-century ad for Reiger whiskey suggests, everything inside is “O! So Good.”
The Freight House District
- Then: Just north of KC’s iconic Union Station, this 500-foot long historic building was originally constructed in 1887 as house for railcars.
- Now: Purchased and renovated in 1995, it is now home to three award-winning restaurants—Lidia’s (by celebrity Italian chef Lidia Bastianich), Grünauer (German and Austrian fare) and Fiorella’s Jack’s Stack Barbecue (one of the city’s most popular).
- Taste: A quick trip through this restaurant row will get you a variety of pastas, modern takes on schnitzels and goulash and Flintstone-sized prime ribs of beef. Come hungry.
The Freight House District is a renovated railcar house that now is the home to three award-winning restaurants.
- History Connection: All three venues have retained the original brick walls, dark reclaimed woodwork and 25-foot ceilings designed for the passing of railcars.
- Then: Occupying prime real estate on a corner of charming Brookside, the building of this neighborhood bistro started life as Sanford Saper Dry Cleaners.
- Now: Lauded by Zagat for offering “something for everyone,” this globetrotting menu is complemented by a reasonable and well-conceived wine list.
- Taste: “Clean up” at the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch, featuring decadent favorites like champagne chicken, crab and potato frico and lobster ravioli.
- Historic Connection: Look closely during dinner. The dry cleaner’s old drive-thru window is outlined with red brick.
- Then: An old Sinclair gas station and towing service in the old KC Stockyards, the city’s economic engine in the late 19th century.
- Now: Forget oil changes and tune-ups, you’ll now find a funky breakfast and lunch eatery, serving straightforward but creative fare.
- Taste: Go for “Burgers and Bloodys” on Saturdays, or happy hour on Fridays for tasty small plates not available the rest of the week. (Don’t pass up the shrimp and grits if these little ramekins of goodness are on the menu).
- History Connection: Decorated with fun finds from River Market Antique Mall, this bistro’s name is a two-part nod to KC history: its home on Genessee, one of the city’s oldest streets; and the American Royal—the legendary livestock, rodeo and horseshow series that takes place down the street every fall.
- Then: A 1950s family drugstore in nearby Smithville, Mo., owned and operated by the chef’s grandparents.
- Now: Praised by the likes of TIME and Bon Appetit, Jonathan Justus and Camille Ecklof are prescribing something completely different these days—haute regional cuisine and strictly local ingredients.
- Taste: Food & Wine named the Mushroom Soup one of its favorite dishes in the country. Also, the pork is sourced from Paradise Locker Meats just 11 miles down the road, the same purveyor used by top restaurants from Manhattan to San Francisco.
- History Connection: The resident barkeep, a botanist by training, concocts his specialties behind the original soda fountain.
- Then: With a beautiful Beaux-arts design, Union Station opened in 1914 as the second-largest train station in the country. The space Pierpont’s occupies originally housed the women’s smoking room and waiting areas for women and children.
- Now: An upscale seafood and steak restaurant in an intimate and elegant setting.
Webster House is a transformed 19th Century public school that now serves as a fine dining restaurant and antique store.
- Taste: The all-day lounge menu represents one of the best deals in town, including a 10-oz. KC Strip for $10.
- Historic Connection: Since the restaurant is in a converted train station, it’s appropriately named after the granddaddy of the railroad business, John Pierpont Morgan.
- Then: Built in 1885 as a Kansas City public school, following the Romanesque Revival style—complete with gorgeous stained glass windows.
- Now: Class ended in 1932, but now its antiques and regional cuisine are the ones making the grade. Both the renovation and food are a draw for visitors and locals alike.
- Taste: Chef Matt Arnold has incorporated his love of Southern cuisine into the menu, with highlights such as pimento cheese spread, shrimp & grits, and Carolina crab cakes.
- History Connection: Ask to see the chalkboard. It’s a fun remainder from school days past and still bears the writing of KC’s young schoolchildren.
This article was written by Mary Bloch & Derek Klaus.