Ingram’s – Best of Business Kansas City 2015 Awards

From Golden Spoon to Silver Ladle to Best of Business Kansas City, the name of the game may have changed over the years, but the underlying concept never has: The most discriminating audience in the Kansas City region weighs in each year with ballots for the best places to eat, the best shopping venues—really, the best of everything.

And from hospitals to accounting services, from car dealers to non-profit fund-raising events, we are able to bring you this list of prestigious organizations that make excellence a cornerstone of what they do for those they serve. A bit like Christmas, it comes only once a year, and it’s the only one of Ingram’s annual business-recognition programs where readers have the final say. And like Christmas, the excitement builds for weeks as the ballots roll in.

Under the tree this year, you’ll find plenty of familiar names—which is to be expected. After all, once someone has perfected the art of cooking and presenting the ultimate steak dinner, or plating that uniquely savory slab of ribs, it’s hard to beat perfect. But there are some new faces, too, and we encourage readers to learn more about companies that are creating a buzz with their offerings in the categories of Wining & Dining, Entertainment & Culture, Business Products and Business Services.

Now in its 27th year, the Best of Business Awards give you an opportunity to broaden your own
horizons as you think about the concept of excellence. We encourage you to do just that, and we salute the companies that have earned our readers’ loyalty and admiration. To all: Well done.

It may be the clichéd outsider’s view of Kansas City cuisine, but we really don’t live by barbeque alone—much as we’d like to. Regional barbeque styles abound, but even within this region, there are many interpretations of “Kansas City style.” That’s the beauty of it, and the Gold-winning formulation this year goes to Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, the former Oklahoma Joe’s, dishing up knockout sandwiches, ribs, chicken, side dishes and more. Silver goes to long time honoree Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, a Kansas City institution, while Bronze goes to a newcomer making a saucy splash on the barbeque scene, Q39.

BRGR Kitchen + Bar, with locations in the Power & Light District and Corinth Square in Prairie Village, commands the Gold, largely on the strength of a dozen variations on the burger concept—and that’s before you start factoring in bison meat. But there are also lots of snacks, salads and what it bills as Not-So-Burgers, appealing to all appetites. Five Guys Burgers and Fries, with 14 area locations open or about to be, grabs the Silver, while Bronze honors go to Leawood’s Blanc Burgers + Bottles, where the drinks—correctly, in our view— command as much attention as the main course.

With this category, it’s First Watch—then everybody else. It has owned the Gold here since this awards niche was introduced in 1990, and you can count on breakfast done right—and lunch, too—at any of its 10 area-wide locations. There’s a Silver split between The Classic Cup, home of the ultimate outdoor breakfast on the Country Club Plaza, and Eggtc., dishing up morning fare or brunch at locations in Midtown and in Shawnee. Bronze goes to Harvey’s at Union Station, with four—count ’em, four—variations of Eggs Benedict.

They’re known for steaks—and for good reason—but since man does not lunch by red meat alone, there’s a wide selection of midday favorites available at The Capital Grille, which locks up a 10th straight Gold in this category. Silver goes to Rye KC, a purely local enterprise from Colby and Megan Garrelts, whose menu varies ever so slightly as the growing seasons change throughout the year. And for Bronze, you’ll find service, selection and speed—and, of course, savory sandwiches, soups and more—across the menu at Panera Bread.

When you treat your favorite clients to the ultimate steak at The Capital Grille, the experience is as important as what arrives on the platter, and it’s all solid Gold. From the seafood appetizers to the signature 24-ounce, dry-aged Porterhouse to the dessert menu (do try the flourless chocolate espresso cake!), this dinner sets the stage for closing your deal every time. Silver goes to McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks, where there’s something for every appetite, and for Bronze we highly recommend J. Alexander’s not just for the food, but an atmosphere that combines the casual and the elegant.

When you think you have Lon Lane’s Inspired Occasions all figured out, along comes his Gold-winning team with a new creation that will be the talk of your gathering, whether it’s a wedding, corporate event, new product launch or any other social get-together. Silver honors are divided between Broncato’s Catering, where it’s not just the food, but the presentation and venue that count, and Jack Stack Kansas City Catering, bringing that succulent barbeque to your location. And for Bronze, Blue Pot Catering offers the full range of services from boxed lunches and cocktail party fare to formal wedding spreads.

The Gold in this increasingly competitive category goes to Michael Smith, Kansas City’s first James Beard Award winner, and owner of both the restaurant that bears his name and the adjacent Extra Virgin in the Crossroads district. Silver goes to another Beard winner, Colby Garrelts, who along with his wife, Megan, has made both bluestem (Westport) and Rye KC (in Leawood) high-demand locations. Carl Thorne-Thomsen, a Beard semifinalist, rounds out the category with Bronze and his elegant, upscale Story in Prairie Village.

At The Roasterie, the business of coffee meets the consumer’s taste buds, a Gold-winning difference you can taste because owner Danny O’Neill and his team are personally selecting the Costa Rican beans that go into his production facility. Those who need a coffee fix—right now!—consider the wide range of offerings at any of nearly 50 Starbucks locations in the metro area; that access alone is worth Silver. Taking the Bronze is the Coffee Girl’s Café in Waldo.

Whether it’s a specialty sandwich, a hot or cold sub or a steaming slice of pizza, readers declare that d’Bronx Authentic Deli & Pizzeria is the place to go, and it takes home the Gold. Silver belongs to Carollo Gourmet Grocery & Deli, where the Italian is proudly authentic and where you can take those tastes home from the grocery side. And Jason’s Deli, where fresh is on the menu at six area locations, serves up Bronze.

Stroud’s delivers that family dining experience with its signature take on fried chicken and a lot more—steaks, pork chops, catfish and seafood—all served with family-style helpings of steaming sides. That’s been good for Gold every year we’ve had this category. The choice between taking the family to Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue or Nick and Jake’s is always tough, so no surprise, our readers’ votes broke evenly for each to share Silver honors. And The Corner Café, serving not just fried chicken but comfort foods like chicken and noodles or pot roast, plates up Bronze at three area locations.

Sometimes, the best dining experience is the one you create at home, and standing ready to supply your every chef-ly desire is this year’s lineup of area grocers. Bagging the Gold is Hy-Vee, the employee-owned chain with nearly two dozen area locations. Price Chopper is our Silver honoree, fully stocked and probably right in your neighborhood with more than 50 locations from Smithville to Ottawa. Cosentino’s Market, both Downtown and in Brookside, takes Bronze for its grocery items as well as harder-to-find specialty items and ready-to-eat delicacies.

It’s not just about the food. Nor the drinks. Happy Hour is about togetherness, a common celebration of a job well done for a day, a week, or longer. And the Gold for putting together the pieces that allow patrons to relish the thought of non-work is Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar. The Silver accolades go to Red Door Woodfire Kitchen & Bar in Leawood, with its discounted drinks and appetizers, while Gram & Dun picks up a third medal by taking the Bronze here.

Success in the restaurant business is all about consistency, one reason Plaza-based Seasons 52 stands out. Not just for its fare, but for a menu that changes with the seasons, summoning dishes that capitalize on the peak freshness of their constituent ingredients. That’s good for Gold with our readers. Seasonality is also a prime differentiator at The Mixx, which picks up Silver for its spin on sandwiches, wraps, salads, pastas and soups at three locations. And Bronze goes to Blue Bird Bistro, the West Side spot with an eclectic mix of offerings—the burgers alone come in beef, bison and black-bean varieties.

Ahhh: Dining outside on the Country Club Plaza. It’s a Kansas City culinary tradition, and one that the folks at Gold-winning Gram & Dun have perfected with lunch, dinner and brunch offerings—but to get outside, you must be determined enough to get past an enticing new bar menu. To the north, in Briarcliff Village, Trezo Mare defines the outdoor dining experience and takes Silver with lunch, dinner, brunch and truly happy Happy Hours. And to the south, at Mission Farms in Leawood, Rye KC takes Bronze, serving the award-winning creations of Colby Garrelts with just the right touch of outdoor atmosphere.

When you strike Gold with a concept, run with it: Minsky’s Pizza is still the same mmm-inspiring fare it was the day it fired up its first oven in Kansas City nearly 40 years ago. The menu has changed and expanded, but as the 15-store chain boasts, it’s “gourmet—and going to stay that way.” At Waldo Pizza, elevated platters of cheesy goodness come in more varieties we can count, and that broad appeal is good for Silver recognition, while Bronze-winning SPIN! Neopolitan Pizza continues to open stores and build a fan base with its northern Italian take on a classic meal.

It’s a restaurateur’s challenge: Creating a menu alluring enough to attract large groups, but in a setting that allows the conversation to flourish. That requires a touch of informality—just a touch, mind you—to go along with delectable foods, but nobody pulls it off like Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, our Gold medalist. There must be something about the barbecuing itself, because coming in with Silver is Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, where dinner conversations take place around mouthfuls of sliced heaven. And Bronze-winning Hereford House serves up steak and trimmings in an atmosphere that also fuels the group dynamic.

Some things are stereotypical because, well, because they’re true. So when an out-of-towner wants the definitive Kansas City dining experience, it’s no surprise that our readers say the top choices are barbeque, barbeque and . . . barbeque. Atop that mound of steaming meat is Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, the Gold winner, where you can dazzle your guests with the ribs alone—but don’t stop there. Silver goes to Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, where the crown rib will make an impression your out-of-town company will never forget. The legendary Arthur Bryant’s, which helped give Kansas City barbeque its national reputation, is our Bronze winner.

The food, the wine, the service, the view—every piece has a part to play in creating the perfect romantic atmosphere, whether you’re popping the question or popping the cork for a 50th anniversary. And for 11 years running in these awards, the Gold standard for creating that atmosphere is set by The American Restaurant. In addition to its regular seating, it offers four-course meals in private dining to keep the evening focused just where it should be: On each other. Silver goes to Story, where a touch of elegance always helps set the mood, and Bronze is offered up at The Majestic Restaurant, a longtime fixture on Quality Hill.

Seafood? Here? You bet. Start with Bristol Seafood Grill, riding an eight-year Gold-winning streak in this category, thanks to its ample samples of oceanic bounty: crab and lobster, shrimp and sushi, oysters, scallops, calamari and more—and, for land-lubbers, steaks and chicken. At Silver-winning McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood and Steaks, the name says it all, while Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, our Bronze medalist, is one of the few places with multiple varieties of caviar.

The sports-bar experience isn’t just about the beer, food or even the game: It’s about all of those, wrapped in the emotions a true fan feels watching a favorite team with like-minded friends. And with six area locations to fill the primal urges to eat, drink, shout and high five—sometimes all at once—there’s Johnny’s Tavern, our Gold medalist, with 10 area locations. Tanner’s Bar & Grill, with eight locations here (they’re also in Nebraska and even Wisconsin), picks up Silver honors, and Bronze goes to Nick and Jake’s, serving up the good times from three locations.

Before it was a barbeque town, Kansas City was a steak town, so our appreciation for this culinary delight runs deep. And for five straight years, The Capital Grille has sated that appetite with a Gold-winning range of beefy offerings from porterhouse to ribeye, filet mignon to KC strip, all in portion sizes sure to please. At Silver honoree 801 Chophouse, steak takes center stage on the menu, but so do the preparations for those cuts, such as au poivre with cognac crème or bone-marrow butter bath. And Bronze goes to Hereford House, home of—among other cuts—the Tomahawk Chop, an eye-popping three pounds of long bone-in ribeye.

Opening a barbeque joint in Kansas City may be as challenging as opening a Dairy Queen in Siberia, but at Q39, the barbeque made a deep—and immediate—impact on Ingram’s readers, who awarded them Gold. Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar impresses for Silver with the sushi-eating set and fish-lovers in general. JJ’s returns to the scene after that 2013 fire, bringing back much of what its patrons missed, and creating a Bronze tie with Cleaver & Cork, where meats from regional ranchers take center stage.

Nick and Jake’s, in all its informal splendor, nails down the Gold for its Sunday brunch buffet, a glorious array that takes you from made-to-order French toast all the way up to slices of prime rib. At Bristol Seafood Grill, our Silver medalist, the menu is predictably heavy on sea fare, including sushi, sashimi and a cold seafood display, but the carving station featuring prime rib and ham is not to be missed. Bronze honors go to Harvey’s at Union Station, where hot and cold buffet stations complement the carving stations and dessert offerings.

Our Gold goes to Bo Ling’s, which has moved a few blocks west on 47th Street from its previous Plaza site (with five more in the metro area), but the dim sum—and all the other Asian delights—are as delectable as ever. Silver honors go to Jun’s Japanese, where you can partake of lunch or dinner, or just a glass of wine over an array of sushi stylings. Bronze belongs to Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop in the Crossroads, where great taste and affordability are part of the mission statement.

At Le Fou Frog in the River Market, French cuisine includes escargot, sea bass, wagyu fillet, lamb shanks and duck—all with perfectly complimentary sauces and vegetables. For our readers, that’s a Golden combination. Silver goes to Café Provence, where the distinctly regional appeal of southeastern France combines with ingredients available at their freshest in the Midwest. And at Aixois, the Bronze-winning, classic French bistro in Brookside, you’ll find breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch—even a Sunday afternoon menu.

Cascone’s Italian Restaurant, our Gold winner, is actually two establishments—Cascone’s North in Gladstone, and Johnny Cascone’s in Overland Park, but the common thread in both is Italian: antipasti, pastas, main courses of veal, chicken and steak, just the way it’s made back in Italy. Garozzo’s Italian Restaurant earns Silver honors on the strength of a menu that boasts beef and veal, chicken and seafood, and, naturally, pasta in various configurations.

Cactus Grill makes its first appearance as a Gold winner after eight years of offering its own spin on Tex-Mex fare in Leawood. One establishment making a repeat appearance in this highly competitive balloting is Silver winner Mi Ranchito, with seven area locations, and featuring margaritas with 15 separate tequila options. Bringing home the Bronze is Port Fonda, offering lunch, dinner, late-night dining and not just a Sunday brunch, but a rare Saturday spin on that concept.

In this category, we award only the Gold, and it goes—for a category-leading 11th time—to The Capital Grille. The energetic, informed staff has all the skills needed to enhance the overall dining experience.

This should surprise exactly no one: When you serve what readers consider the best business lunch, the best business dinner and the best steak, and wrap that in a blanket of the best service, you strike Gold for The Capital Grille. Our Silver medalist is Story, one of the region’s most romantic settings, led by a great chefs. And Bronze goes to Gram & Dun.

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