Pancakes with apples? Sweet potatoes? KC bistro menu is always changing, always superb

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From the street, the bright blue and brick corner building looks eccentric, its door a yellow beacon to passersby.

But inside, Blue Bird Bistro feels like your friend’s kitchen. The building feels old because it is, built in the 1880s. Cozy wooden tables and booths adorned with petite bouquets bask in the light of huge windows, and a cabinet displaying sculptures and paintings of bluebirds — gifts from customers, owner Jane Zieha said — looms large.

Blue Bird, at 1700 Summit St. on Kansas City’s West Side, is the ideal spot to nurse a cup of coffee alongside a good book, or gather with friends to celebrate a birthday, or catch up with your brother over a drink at the bar. For me, Blue Bird has been all of these things since I fell in love with the spot when I was a young teenager.

Blue Bird Bistro is a farm-to-table restaurant in Kansas City’s West Side. Multiple bluebird paintings and trinkets are gifts from customers, owner Jane Zieha said.

Blue Bird Bistro is a farm-to-table restaurant in Kansas City’s West Side. Multiple bluebird paintings and trinkets are gifts from customers, owner Jane Zieha said.

Open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day (except Sundays, when they close at 1 p.m.), the organic, “Mid-American artisan” restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But I’m usually there for the brunch.

Here, I find my own sweet haven in the Fancy Cakes, spiffed-up pancakes filled with Blue Bird’s housemade granola and a rotating ingredient. Sometimes, like on the subzero January morning I stopped by, they’re packed with sweet potatoes. Other times, apples. In the summer, blackberries. (It’s $9 for one, $16 for two. You can get ‘em vegan, too.)

Fancy cakes, featuring Buttonwood Farms sweet potato and house made organic granola baked, is on the menu at Bluebird Bistro in Kansas City.

Fancy cakes, featuring Buttonwood Farms sweet potato and house made organic granola baked, is on the menu at Bluebird Bistro in Kansas City.

The texture stands out with the granola’s crunch, but also with that surprise ingredient. These cakes don’t merely hint at the “essence” of sweet potato, or hide applesauce in the batter. They proudly proclaim their flavors in every bite.

“That way, you get a blast in your mouth with all the other stuff,” Zieha said. “That’s what you want in food, you want a variety of things going on in your mouth.”

Blue Bird is one of Kansas City’s oldest farm-to-table restaurants. Here, you know that the potatoes on your plate were grown 30 minutes away by a Kansas family. What you’re eating today might not be offered tomorrow, and everything is prepared in small batches. Because things change, seasons change and food changes — so why shouldn’t a menu?

Zieha opened Blue Bird Bistro in March 2001, nearly 23 years ago. She took over the space from a friend who’d turned a small market and deli into a vegetarian restaurant. Previously an accountant, Zieha wanted to commit to serving organic, healthy food to Kansas City.

Jane Zieha opened Blue Bird Bistro in March 2001. “The way I cook here is the way I was raised growing up,” she said.

Jane Zieha opened Blue Bird Bistro in March 2001. “The way I cook here is the way I was raised growing up,” she said.

From Blue Bird’s inception, Zieha made an effort to foster relationships with local farmers. Many have since retired, but some, like Campo Lindo Farms in northwestern Missouri, are still menu staples.

Blue Bird sources from about 40 local farms, gathering eggs and chicken, tomatoes and soft cheese, greens and grass-fed beef. And if their ingredients aren’t coming straight from the nearby fields, they’re still organic.

“The culinary schools taught people to come up with a great idea, and then go source the food,” Zieha explains. “What I made people do here was find out what we had, what was delivered, and then create the menu.”

As a result, the day’s menus overlap and complement one another. The same South Carolina farm-raised catfish featured on the breakfast menu alongside jalapeno cornbread and poached eggs is served up as a sandwich for lunch. For dinner, it’s modernized with lemon butter, white wine and capers, plus sautéed kale from Crum’s Heirlooms, a family farm in Bonner Springs, and mashed potatoes grown at Thane Palmberg Farm, a vegetable patch near De Soto.

“The way I cook here is the way I was raised growing up,” Zieha said.

Located on the corner of 17th and Summit streets, Blue Bird Bistro occupies a historic building built in the 1880s.

Located on the corner of 17th and Summit streets, Blue Bird Bistro occupies a historic building built in the 1880s.

When you step inside Blue Bird, you’ll spot a poem printed on poster board, propped against the front window. Written by Kansas Citian Lindsey Weishar, it describes a rainy day spent inside the bistro with her mother.

Every time I’m there, I reread Weishar’s words, struck by the way she captures my favorite restaurant’s character.

“Toward a broken rose splayed orange in this day of rain, toward the distressed floors behind a lemon-colored door, where a petal dropped but a moment ago, and unraveled the sky.”

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