The downtown Kansas City restaurant scene has a lot of great places. Cleaver & Cork is the newest in the Power & Light district, serving up delicious food in a beautiful atmosphere.
A couple weeks ago I was at the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament in Kansas City. I’ve been going every year since I began working at OSU in ’07, and it’s always been a very fun time. My original plan had been to leave Friday, but since West Virginia made the semi-finals Friday night, and I’ve become friends with their whole coaching staff, I decided to stay one more day so I could watch them play.
The games are all played at the Sprint Center in downtown KC, and right across the street is the Power & Light District, a huge entertainment area with a bunch of restaurants and bars. Many fans arrive Wednesday, as the play-in games are that evening. Then by Thursday morning, when the main tournament begins, to the courtyard area of the P&L is packed.
The city loves when Kansas, K State, and/or Iowa State make it to the semi-finals and finals because a lot of their fans will drive to town without tickets, just to hang out. I knew that almost every restaurant in the P&L would be jam packed, especially since Kansas was playing the first semi-final game of the evening. Since I was by myself at that point, I had absolutely no desire to fight the crowds. But I wanted to get something to eat, so I walked around to some of the side streets to find an alternative.
One of the restaurants that caught my eye was Cleaver & Cork. The back side of the restaurant faces the P&L courtyard, but the main entrance is on one of the side streets. I checked out the menu, that was posted on the wall outside. I really like when restaurants do that, so you can check it out before walking in; because once you’re inside, you feel obligated to stay.
Cleaver & Cork opened just over a year ago. It’s a very trendy restaurant, that features fresh and local ingredients. The space is beautiful, with wood floors and ceilings, a very wide open concept, glass doors that open to the P&L courtyard, and a combination of tables and booths. They have a private dining space, and a large bar with 2 long bar-height tables in that section. One of the very cool things they offer is a Breakfast for Dinner, which is a late-night weekend happy hour from 10pm-1am, featuring breakfast foods and brunch cocktails.
I honestly hesitated eating there after I walked in. It was so crowded, and you could tell that a lot of the people had been there for hours, doing a lot more drinking than eating. I’m not throwing stones at all, because I’ve been that person before. But I knew I wouldn’t find a different atmosphere anywhere within walking distance. So I toughed it out, knowing that I might have to take the experience with a grain of salt. There was no available seating at the bar, but I was seated at a table pretty quickly.
Cleaver & Cork is only open for dinner, and their regular menu is quite large, featuring appetizers, soups/salads, burgers/sandwiches, entrees, sides and desserts. But this weekend I was only about to choose from the tournament menu. That’s actually a very smart idea, when you’re going to have so many people descending on your restaurant for several days at a time. I wasn’t starving, because I had a big lunch earlier, but WVU was playing the late game so I knew I wouldn’t eat again until very late, if at all.
While I decided what to eat, I ordered a glass of wine. I like that they offer wine in 3 glass sizes: 3, 6 and 8 ounces; that weekend the 3oz wasn’t available. What I don’t like, however, is that my server didn’t clarify what size I wanted. I had intended to tell her, then forgot until she brought it to my table. Of course she brought the large, which also of course is more expensive. I’m not a fan of that practice. If you clarify, and I want the medium size, then I’m more likely going to order another glass; if you automatically bring me the larger glass, I’m likely going to stick with just that one.
I decided to try the cheese curds & pickles, served with housemade buttermilk ranch
These were really delicious. They weren’t served scorching hot, as I would normally like, but they were still very warm so I went with it. I typically prefer breaded over beer battered, but I really enjoyed the flavor. I had forgotten that there were also pickles until I bit into one. The pickles were awesome, with a great tart bite. I was in Wisconsin in the fall, and the cheese curds we had at AJ Bombers were probably the best I’ve ever tasted. But these were pretty high on the list.
I’m a huge seafood snob, so it’s very rare that I will eat seafood in a landlocked state. But in big cities like this, when I know that they have regular access to higher quality seafood, I will sometimes be adventurous. This ended up being one of those times, as I ordered the steamed mussels in a paprika cream sauce
Wow, this was fantastic. The mussels were fresh and hot, and the sauce was phenomenal. Even though it was a cream sauce, it wasn’t heavy at all. The paprika added a little bit of heat, but mostly just a wonderful depth of flavor. I didn’t see chorizo written on the dish description at all, so imagine my surprise when I bit into a piece of meat. After I got over my shock, I savored the sausage. Chorizo is a spicy sausage that packs a ton of flavor, and this one was cut into coins and I’m guessing is cooked in the beautiful sauce. I really liked the toast, and dipped it into the sauce and ate all of that as well.
As I was finishing my meal I saw a guy in a suit walking around the restaurant with a serious purpose, and I figured he was either the manager or owner. Working in the suites and club seats on gameday, I know how crazy it can get, and how overwhelming it can quickly become. I also know how good it makes you feel to hear words of confidence from a guest. After paying my bill, I waited by the bar for him to come out from the back. I asked if he was the manager, and he took a deep breath before saying yes…probably anticipating the worst. I told him I fully understood how crazy the weekend was, that I had a great overall experience, and that I appreciated how hard everyone was working during a challenging time. He visibly relaxed, smiled, and told me that I made his day. I introduced myself and told him about my blog, and Rick gave me his card and invited me back.
Before my conversation with Rick, I was already planning to go back to Cleaver & Cork. I want to visit during a normal day so that I can get the full experience, and enjoy the meal in a more relaxed manner.
For more reviews of restaurants in the Kansas City area, click on the photos below!