5 Fun Ways to Enjoy an Offseason Weekend in Wilmington, NC
With average temps hovering around 50 degrees from December to March, an offseason escape to Wilmington, North Carolina, won’t necessarily get you a tan, but there’s more to this coastal enclave than its beachy reputation would have you believe. Though it's still dealing with the damage wrought by Hurricane Florence in the fall, the community is well on its way to recovery, and now's a great time to visit. From riverside walks to history lessons to artsy outings to five-star dining, here’s how to while away a winter weekend in the Port City.
1. Get Outside
Airlie Gardens. (Maya Stanton)
It might not be warm enough for sunbathing, but even at less-than-optimal temperatures, Wrightsville Beach is a prime destination for seashell collecting and long walks in the sand, especially at sunrise. Plus, parking is free from November 1 to March 1. (To take full advantage of those ocean breezes, book a room at the Blockade Runner, a water-facing Hotel We Love that recently reopened after the hurricane; accommodations there are a steal during the winter months.) Just over the causeway, the vast Airlie Gardens (airliegardens.org) are an oasis of calm, with ancient oaks dripping with Spanish moss and a sculpture garden paying tribute to the fascinating work of Minnie Evans, a prolific, self-taught African-American visionary artist who didn’t begin drawing or painting until age 43. Don’t miss the Bottle Chapel, a a 3D representation of Minnie’s paintings, built with cement, metal, and colorful glass bottles. Downtown, pop into Pineapple Studios (lovepineapplestudios.com) for a pottery lesson or a yoga class, pause for a pint at Front Street Brewery (frontstreetbrewery.com) or the local outpost of Pour Taphouse (pourtaproom.com), and wander along the Riverwalk, 1.75 miles of walking paths along the Cape Fear River comprising shops, restaurants, and water views.
2. Take a History Lesson
Incorporated in 1739, the city of Wilmington has seen its fair share of action, from Revolutionary War battles to Civil War blockades to World War II shipbuilding. A trio of historic homes, each open for walk-throughs, showcases what the 18th and mid-19th centuries were like for moneyed white folks and the slaves they kept. Dating to 1770, the Burgwin-Wright (bwhg.memberclicks.net), for one, is a Georgian home built directly on top of the former jail, and the only colonial-era building in the city that’s accessible to the public. Peek inside the original kitchen and the old cells, then take a breather in the terraced garden, which are free to explore. Completed in 1852, the Latimer House (latimerhouse.org) was the Victorian-era estate of a wealthy merchant's family—and, before emancipation, the 11 enslaved people who served them. A guided tour offers a vivid sense of life at the time, while a tour of the circa-1861 Bellamy Mansion (bellamymansion.org), built primarily by enslaved laborers, reveals a restored carriage house and the original slave quarters. A few minutes outside of town, across the causeway in Wrightsville Beach, is the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History (wbmuseumofhistory.com), housed in a cottage built in 1909, with displays outlining the swimsuit’s backstory and a model of the beach, complete with a miniature working trolley. (One caveat: The offseason is a popular time for maintenance, repairs, and private events, so be sure to call ahead or check opening times online for all of the above.)
3. Walk and Talk
Wilmington offers a variety of walking tours to help you see the sights. Run by Beverly Tetterton, a former research librarian and long-serving member of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, alongside tech guru Dan Camancho, Wilmington.tours (wilmington.tours) has four app tours, three of which focus on the city’s general past and the Civil War era, plus one pub crawl dishing the dirt on 13 watering holes—though covering the entire baker’s dozen in one night is not recommended. (The site warns: “Wilmington.tours is not responsible for hangovers or regrettable behavior. We also do not guarantee impressing your friends & dates. If they are not impressed, you did something wrong, or have dumb friends, or both.”)
On the less scientific end of the spectrum, Haunted Wilmington (hauntedwilmington.com) leads one of our favorite ghost walks in the U.S., a spooky stroll through the historic downtown area. Gothy guides customize itineraries for each outing, but stops may include the graveyard at St. James Episcopal Church, where an unfortunate young man was reputedly buried alive, and the aforementioned Latimer House, where five of the family’s nine children didn’t make it to adulthood. The company also offers a Hollywood location walk of spots you'll likely recognize from movies and teen dramas. (Spoiler alert: Dawson’s Creek and Cape Fear were both filmed here.)
4. Eat Your Heart Out
Manna's Homard Simpson, a buttered lobster tail with sugar-snap peas and shiitakes. (Maya Stanton)
For a smaller city, Wilmington has some stellar dining options, and even the Food Network has taken note—last year, Guy Fieri shot an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives here, creating quite the stir. It confirmed what locals have known for ages: This is a town that loves to eat. With creative Southern-inspired takes on standard fare (think: hummus made with North Carolina butterbeans in lieu of chickpeas, topped with tangy green tomatoes), PinPoint (pinpointrestaurant.com) offers some of the best bites in town. Between the fun Latin fare at Savorez (savorez.com), the modern plates from Top Chef alum Keith Rhodes at Catch (catchwilmington.com), and the special-occasion, pun-loving menu at Manna (mannaavenue.com), seafood enthusiasts will find no shortage of options here. And what’s a day at the beach without an ice cream cone? At both of its locations, including one downtown, the family-run Boombalatti’s (boombalattis.com) serves homemade ice cream with milk from grass-fed cows, and the flavors are out of this world—the key-lime pie in particular.
5. Embrace Your Artistic Side
College towns often foster a creative environment, and with its first-rate galleries, studios, and performance spaces, Wilmington is no exception. On the fourth Friday of each month (artscouncilofwilmington.org/four-fridays), a selection of art spaces open their doors after hours, offering up drinks, snacks, entertainment, and opportunities to chat with the artists themselves. Art in Bloom Gallery (aibgallery.com) features a mix of fine photography, paintings, mobiles, and stunning blown-glass pieces, while New Elements Gallery (newelementsgallery.com) boasts canvases and crafts from local and regional talents. theArtWorks (theartworks.co), a warren of studios and galleries housed in a former factory, also participates in Fourth Fridays, but its 45-plus studios keep regular open hours as well, so you can pop in on a weekend and visit artists as they work. Performance-wise, Thalian Hall (thalianhall.org) has been in near-continuous use since it opened in 1858, hosting everyone from Buffalo Bill Cody to Beatles cover bands. Today it's a go-to for theatrical revivals, contemporary movies, and one-offs like the Bluegrass Bash and Mutts Gone Nuts, a “comedy dog spectacular” promoting rescue adoptions. And over at the Wilson Center (cfcc.edu/capefearstage), a soaring hall affiliated with the Cape Fear Community College, not only do touring Broadway shows, contemporary dance troupes, and musicians as varied as Air Supply and Chick Corea take center stage, an outreach initiative also provides free tickets to underserved communities, so kids from all backgrounds can experience the arts.
4 Charming Bavarian Towns You’ll Love
To ring in 2019, we made an affordable escape to Europe and visited several small towns in Bavaria, the iconic southern region of Germany. The history, architecture, and culture of medieval and Renaissance Bavaria are preserved in several impossibly cute town centers, and it was a wonderful place to welcome the new year. And of course, the beer everywhere was wunderbar. Bavarian food, in particular, is perfect for cold weather - hot and hearty and delicious. Most travelers visit Europe in the summer; but those who venture to visit somewhere like Bavaria in the off-season are rewarded with picturesque vistas, lower prices and, best of all, far fewer crowds. Here, four towns we fell for—and you will too. 1. Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Irakite/Dreamstime) Rothenburg is remarkable for (among other unique features) the 13th-century wall that surrounds much of the town’s medieval center. Visitors can walk the two miles of covered ramparts, looking down over the roofs and streets or through the “archers’ slits” to the countryside. Seventy watchtowers appear along the wall, some of which overlook the lovely expanse of the Tauber river valley far below. Steps lead down from the wall every hundred yards or so, enabling visitors to stroll along the fairy-tale streets and visit beer gardens, churches, shops, and museums, including the cheery Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas Museum and the grim Museum of Medieval Crime and Punishment. Most of the current wall dates from the 13th century, but a sizeable portion of it (and the part of the town within the wall) was destroyed in World War II. Allied soldiers then convinced a German commander to surrender the town, defying Hitler’s orders but saving the rest of the town from destruction. The town square sports a 17th-century clock with a mechanized drinker that commemorates the time during the 30 Years War when the town was saved from being destroyed by an attacking army because its mayor, essentially on a dare from the conquering general, quaffed a tankard of wine - almost a gallon! - in a matter of minutes. 2. Bamberg (Jan Kranendonk/Dreamstime) The historic center of Bamberg is a UNESCO World Heritage site, due to its well-preserved medieval architecture and city layout. Its many old bridges crossing the Regnitz River add to its charm. The city grew up over centuries around seven hills, like Rome, leading to the nickname "the Bavarian Rome." Bavarians, though, like to reverse this, instead wryly referring to Rome as the "Italian Bamberg." Bamberg is also known as one of the prime sources for the much-sought-after Rauchbier ("smoked beer"), made with beechwood-smoked malts. This type of beer is an acquired taste - be sure to acquire some! 3. Regensburg (Snicol24/Dreamstime) Regensburg sits where the River Regen joins the Danube, and as such arose as a center of commerce and culture since Roman times. The old town was fortunate to avoid bombing in the Second World War; consequently, its medieval center earns it a place on UNESCO's World Heritage list. Among its many river crossings is an iconic 12th-century stone bridge with 16 arches. At one end of the bridge is the equally old Historic Sausage Kitchen, a restaurant founded in the mid 1100s and operated by the same family since the early 1800s. Grilled sausages are their specialty of course, and they’re delicious. The cathedral here is monumental, displaying the vast wealth and influence that the town enjoyed since the 13th century. The exterior face contains countless ornate sculptures depicting fantastic beasts and biblical figures as well as actual monarchs and church leaders throughout the centuries. The interior is a yawning vault of towering stained glass windows, titanic stone columns, and walls full of carved statuary. Down an unremarkable alley a block away, a modest marker (on a house now owned by a local architect) commemorates the industrialist Oskar Schindler, whose subversive efforts saved the lives of more than a thousand Jews during the Holocaust. After the war, Schindler lived in Regensburg for a time. 4. Landshut (Luisa Vallon Fumi/Dreamstime)Though close to the sprawling metropolis of Munich, the bustling town of Landshut retains a medieval charm. Its cobbled center street is a vast car-free zone, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy many blocks of shops and historic sights without concern for motor traffic. Just up the hill overlooking the town, the walls and towers of Trausnitz Castle have flexed the muscles of Bavarian aristocracy since the 1200s. Amid the charming pastel-colored houses on Landshut's streets, the massive brick spire of Saint Martin's Cathedral looms large. Completed in 1500, it is the tallest church in Bavaria, and it is the largest brick church in the world. Inside, a 16-foot-tall Gothic crucifix hangs high from the vaulted roof in front of the altar, and the colorful stained glass windows in the nave depict figures from the Bible and lively scenes of real life in Bavaria. Landshut is worth visiting under any circumstance, but it is especially convenient as a last stop before leaving Germany from Munich’s airport, an easy half-hour drive away.
Get a Taste of Nova Scotia's South Shore Lobster Crawl
It’s barely 9:00 in the morning, and I’m already worried about losing a toe. Possibly three. I’m on a lobster boat off the coast of West Berlin, Nova Scotia, Canada, and my weather app says it’s in the low 20s—which doesn’t sound so bad, until you factor in the bone-chilling winds coming off the North Atlantic. Those gusts are no joke. The view from the stern. (Maya Stanton) If we'd started earlier, it would’ve been even colder, the locals nonchalantly told me. But even now, with the sun beaming down, the fishing crew is bundled from head to toe in heavy-duty gear: thick, waterproof coats and pants, substantial boots, insulated gloves, hats, hoods, and, on the men, full beards. I, on the other hand, thought my thickest pair of socks would make up for a decidedly non-winterized pair of boots. I was mistaken. As it turns out, lobster is expensive for good reason. In this corner of southwestern Nova Scotia, the fishing season runs from the last Monday in November through the end of May, but it peaks in the winter months, the frigid Atlantic providing the ideal environment for North American lobsters. The boats don’t go out every day, especially in January and February—sometimes the winds are prohibitive, sometimes it’s just way too cold—but when they do, it’s tough work. The payoff is worth it, though: Catches in this fishing sector account for some 40 percent of Canada’s annual lobster haul. And now travelers can be there to take it all in. Currently in its second year, Nova Scotia’s South Shore Lobster Crawl (lobstercrawl.ca) invites the hardy to brave the February elements for three weeks of activities, events, and, of course, good eating up and down the coast—everything from concerts and crafts to art and sculpture shows to a beer festival and a lobster-roll contest—all in the name of that sweet, sweet lobster meat. Day 1: Peggy's Cove, Lunenburg, and Summerville My journey started in Halifax, the province’s capital. I had come to join the crawl—to lean into winter, if you will. We set off on Route 3, aka the Lighthouse Route, a winding, seaside drive that took us first to Peggy’s Cove, a picturesque fishing hamlet on St. Margaret’s Bay, some 25 miles southwest of the city. It’s one of the country’s most photographed spots, thanks in no small part to its iconic lighthouse, built in 1914 and not showing its age in the slightest. The icy shoals and brightly colored boats of Peggy's Cove. (Maya Stanton) The winds were vicious out on the point, but the weathered wooden fishing shacks and vibrantly colored boats and hillside homes were none the worse for wear. Requisite photos acquired, we headed to Lunenburg: a colorful port town with a colorful history, some 60 miles further south on the Lighthouse Route. Established in 1753 and forged on the back of the Atlantic cod–fishing industry, not to mention ship-building and rum-running, Old Town Lunenburg was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, when the organization declared it “the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America." And with its mix of stunning 18th-century Victorians, wooden churches, and Cape Cod-style homes, it’s clear that preservation takes priority here. Lunenburg's oldest house, built around 1753. (Maya Stanton) Snow was beginning to fall when we met our guide for a walking tour (lunenburgwalkingtours.com). We checked out the oldest house in Lunenburg, a navy Cape Cod dating to the town’s founding in 1753. It's such a living museum that there are plexiglass-covered cutouts in the walls to show off the building's rough-cut, hand-hewn timber construction. Also on the agenda: a pale pink Victorian that featured in a 1973 horror flick starring a young Ron Howard, and a circa-1753 Anglican church that was painstakingly reconstructed, beam by original beam, to the tune of $6.7 million after a gut-wrenching fire in 2001. From there, it was a quick jaunt down to the working waterfront, where scallop draggers and deep-sea fishing boats ply their trade. As flurries continued to fall, we made our way to the Grand Banker Bar & Grill (grandbanker.com), a small dining room with a menu overflowing with local seafood and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sparkling bay. The Grand Banker's Lunenburger. (Maya Stanton) I tried a rich and tangy Acadian-style Cajun stew, a heaping pile of Nova Scotia mussels, and a handful of silver-dollar-sized scallops straight from the wharf, but the showstopper was the Lunenburger, a beef patty piled with smoked mozzarella, bacon, lobster knuckle and claw meat, plus garlic aioli and tarragon-butter sauce, set on a smattering of baby spinach and crowned with a bacon-wrapped scallop. A jaw-dropping creation. After a feast like that, a nip of brandy was in order, so we popped over a few blocks to Ironworks Distillery (ironworksdistillery.com). A micro-distillery housed in an 1893 blacksmith’s shop, Ironworks leans on the Maritime Provinces’ rum-loving heritage (the Rum Boat Rum is a standout, aged in bourbon barrels on the property and on the floating barge anchored a stone’s throw from the shop’s side door), but the line also encompasses gin, vodka, and fruit-based brandies and liqueurs. The apple brandy hit the post-prandial spot, and the raspberry liqueur tasted like it got up and walked straight off the pages of Anne of Green Gables. (Remember when Anne and Diana nicked that bottle of raspberry cordial and got scandalously drunk?) Next stop, the evening's accommodations: Quarterdeck Beachside Villas and Grill (quarterdeck.ca), a collection of condo-style rooms with contemporary beach decor (think: IKEA meets shabby chic) and, overlooking the ocean, private decks complete with Adirondack chairs, as well as a stand-alone restaurant cranking out great seafood. Before dinner, as a preview of a similar event slated for the Lobster Crawl’s closing weekend, we took a painting class led by celebrated local artist Andre Haines. Over glasses of sparkling Nova Scotian wine, the multi-talented theater alum introduced us to traditional provincial tunes and painterly techniques alike—a thoroughly enjoyable experience, though, suffice it to say, I will not be giving up my day job for an artist's studio anytime soon. Day 2: Cape Sable Island, Clark's Harbour, and Barrington Passage America has Punxsutawney Phil, Nova Scotia has Lucy the Lobster. We were up before dawn on Groundhog Day, bound for Barrington’s Cape Sable Island Causeway to see if the tough-shelled celebrity would amble out of her cage and see her shadow, or if spring was on its way. Lucy was feeling a bit drowsy, but her handlers gleefully pronounced that she’d caught a glimpse of her reflection, meaning six more weeks of lobster season was sure to follow. We cruised by Clark’s Harbour, a working wharf, and Cape Sable, Atlantic Canada’s most southerly point of land, before our visit to Fisher Direct (fisherdirect.ca), a family-owned and operated facility that delivers live lobsters to vendors all over the world, particularly China. With tanks and spray systems that can hold upwards of 400,000 pounds of live lobster at a time, the plant processes 10 million pounds annually—a mind-boggling number, though owner Tyler Nickerson is quick to point out it isn’t really that much, especially compared to his big-box competitors. A classic lobster dinner, courtesy of Capt. Kat's Lobster Shack. (Maya Stanton) Given the copious local bounty, it's no surprise that area restaurants take full advantage. In Barrington, the self-proclaimed lobster capital of Canada, Capt. Kat’s Lobster Shack (captkatslobstershack.weebly.com) knows its way around a crustacean, with a menu boasting lobster fondue, lobster poutine, lobster-topped fish cakes, and 2018's champion lobster roll. But creamed lobster is a South Shore specialty, and the interpretation here is the next best thing to home-cooking—or so I’ve been told. With chunks of fresh meat sautéed in copious amounts of butter, finished off with heavy cream, and served atop a thick slab of toast, it’s not exactly a light starter, but you can’t leave the province without giving it a taste. That, along with an impeccably steamed whole lobster, might’ve been the best meal I had all week. The lodge at White Point Beach Resort. (Maya Stanton) White Point Beach Resort (whitepoint.com) was my next port of call, and its airy, light-filled lodge offered a warm welcome, with windows facing the Atlantic, a towering stone fireplace, and cozy armchairs and leather sofas practically begging guests to sink right in and stay while. (As an added bonus, its grounds are populated by bunnies that appear out of nowhere when you proffer treats, and who doesn't love bunnies?) Lobster-themed s’mores—chocolate-dipped, lobster-shaped sugar cookies in lieu of graham crackers, and marshmallows roasted on a roaring fire—capped off the night. Day 3: West Berlin and White Point It was lobster-boat day, and my alarm went off just as the sun was cresting over the horizon. Those fishermen who'd already been out for hours in the dark, cold morning deserve every penny they're earning—a feeling that only got stronger the more time we spent onboard, especially when my digits felt like they might be in danger. But Captain Brad Crouse was a gracious host, with an easy smile and a steady hand on the wheel, and his operation a well-oiled machine. The tiny crew worked quickly and efficiently to pull the traps and measure their catch, tossing back the too-small specimens and banding the larger ones’ claws, re-baiting the traps, and pushing them off the stern and back into the sea. A crew member shows off a keeper onboard Captain Crouse's lobster boat. (Maya Stanton) On the roster of festival activities this chilly Sunday was a Lobster 101 seminar with Atlantic Canada's tartan-clad culinary ambassador, Alain Bossé. A high-profile cookbook author, consultant, and educator known as the Kilted Chef, Alain took the small crowd through the ins and outs of lobster biology—unsettling mating habits and all—before detailing how best to store and prepare your catch for prime consumption. And then, finally, we were on to the main event: the lobster-roll contest. The winning lobster roll, from 27 South in Bridgewater. (Maya Stanton) Lobster rolls are one of my favorite things to eat, so I was beyond excited to sit on the panel of judges for this year's contest. The variety on display was remarkable: There were rolls with finely chopped meat and rolls with huge chunks of tail and claw, rolls with arugula and with plain old lettuce, rolls with too much celery and with just enough chives. There was one with an Asian-inspired slaw, and one dotted with mixed herbs. Ultimately, and in a surprise upset, our favorite (above) came from 27 South (facebook.com/twentysevensouth) at the Bridgewater Best Western. The chef claimed his secret was the lobster-infused mayo, but whatever it was, I wanted seconds. Sunset over the Atlantic. (Maya Stanton) In a fitting bookend to the day, the winner was announced and the contest wrapped up just as the sun was setting—I’d watched it come up, after all, and it’s not often I’m awake that early. I stepped out onto the property’s elevated deck to take in the show. Day 4: Port Medway and Mahone Bay On our final morning on the South Shore, we drove northeast, bound for The Port Grocer (theportgrocer.ca), a quaint, all-purpose café, market, post office, and gift shop in Port Medway. After coffee, salads, and seafood chowder, we got to the reason for our visit: a garlicky, cheesy, tender crust topped with chunks of lobster and sprinkled with finely chopped parsley. Most seafood pizzas overpromise and underdeliver, but this one holds up to the hype—and it’s developed such a loyal following that the proprietors can’t keep them in stock. The Port Grocer's lobster pizza, worth every bite. (Maya Stanton) We took the scenic route back to Halifax, checking out Port Medway’s circa-1899 lighthouse (a Registered Heritage Property), Mahone Bay’s colorful waterfront, known for its Three Churches, and Chester, an upscale community with breathtaking homes. It was a relaxing end to a jam-packed, lobster-filled trip, and I’m plotting a return for the seafood alone—but next time, I’ll bring the right boots. Nova Scotia's 2019 South Shore Lobster Crawl runs February 1-19; for more information, visit lobstercrawl.ca. The lobster-boat excursion is part of the Great Canadian Lobster Fishing Feast offered by White Point Beach Resort; packages start from around $525 (USD) per person for two nights and include a half-day fishing trip, a lobster lunch cooked over a bonfire, and oceanfront accommodations.
Locals Know Best: Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City's moment is now. Hometown pride has always run strong in this vibrant metropolis—thanks in no small part to the Kansas City Royals and the city's rich jazz legacy. Its day-to-day vibe is slightly different than other Midwestern cities of the same size, because, as home to world headquarters of companies like Hallmark and H&R Block, it keeps a white-collar pace but stays anchored by the relaxed hospitality and friendliness that defines the region. These days, between investments in infrastructure and the unveiling of a new light rail system, Kansas City has become a destination for couples, families, culinary pilgrims, and everyone else. To get the lowdown on all the fun things to do, see, eat, and buy in the Paris of the Plains, we checked in with Keely Edgington Williams and her husband, Beau Williams, who co-own Julep, a bar in the hip Westport neighborhood. With more than 600 bottles of whiskey, the largest selection in the Midwest, the bar is a popular gathering spot, and in addition to their in-depth knowledge of their hometown, Keely and Beau have practically made a career of meeting and hanging out with locals, giving them a serious leg up on the goings-on around town. (Ashley Elwell) A Dining Renaissance Once there was a time when Kansas City’s main attraction was its barbecue. The meat smokers and grills still run at full blast today, but over the past decade, the city has emerged as a dining destination for its variety of creative chefs, many of whom grew up in the region, went to bigger cities to hone their craft, and returned to open some knock-out restaurants. There are so many exciting options here it makes your head spin. “Nowadays you don’t have to leave the city. A lot of our local chefs had opportunities to learn from the best, like James Beard Award winners," says Beau. "Now they’re coming back and teaching the next generation." A significant part of Kansas City’s dining boom is in the higher-end realm. (But big-city dwellers, take note: Fine dining in KC doesn’t come with the same price tag as a similar meal in Manhattan or San Francisco.) One of Keely and Beau’s favorites is the Antler Room (theantlerroomkc.com) in the Hospital Hill neighborhood. It’s run by native KC'ers Leslie Goellner, who worked under famed restaurateurs Danny Meyer and Jean-Georges Vongerichten in New York, and her husband Nick, who also proved his mettle at prestigious establishments and completed an internship at the renowned Noma, in Denmark. “They just have a totally different way of thinking about food—you really get the full experience,” says Beau. "And everything is just gorgeous," Keely chimes in. They recommend ordering the Alesbury duck—a half duck sliced and served on bread. “It’s slightly Persian, slightly European—you just can’t put your finger on it,” says Keeley. Beau, meanwhile, calls out the falafel and their imaginative tostada with a Japanese twist. Novel (novelkc.com) is another shining star in the city’s culinary constellation, with a back-story as charming as the fare. Chef Ryan Brazeal left Kansas City and worked in New York with David Chang of Momofuku fame. When he returned, he married Jessica Brazeal, a pastry chef. (“If she doesn’t win a James Beard award…” Keely says with the tone of a warning.) They opened Novel together in 2015, then moved to a more refined, stylish location in April 2018. If there’s one reason to go there, to hear Keely tell it, it’s the hearty pork toast—a fried slab of shoulder, shredded and served with sour-y pickled items. But according to Beau, it’s the escargot pot pie, or any of the other dishes that blend French and Asian touches. One thing they can agree on: There’s more than one reason to go. Casual Eats Small as Kansas City may be, there are still secret spots some locals haven't yet uncovered. Take, for instance, Kitty’s Café. “I know people who have driven past it hundreds of times and never knew it existed,” Beau says. Breakfast and burgers are top picks at this no-frills joint, which basically consists of a fryer and a countertop. But the hallmark is the pork tenderloin—a beat-down hunk of tempura meat. Beau insists on going big on the hot sauce, but he also recommends trying it at your own risk. Many who try it quickly become obsessed. Of course, there’s no point in skipping out on the legendary Kansas City barbecue. If you’re looking to stay away from the lines at marquee-name joints, Woodyard Bar-B-Que (woodyardbbq.com), on the Kansas side of KC, is your best bet. Keely lists its charms: They supply wood for other places’ smokers, there’s an outdoor fire pit, and there’s a separate brick pit where meat is regularly smoked, guaranteeing a full sensory experience. Take the Kids (Ganeshkumar Durai/Dreamstime) The city's vast parks and green spaces were its claim to fame in the early 1900s. Its boulevards were so grand that they were divided by green spaces. But the landscapes were neglected in the 1970s and 80s, due in part to the city’s white flight. Today, however, the city is investing in beautification projects, and the grassy expanses are just one of the things that make Kansas City so kid-friendly. Keely and Beau have a four-year-old and a two-year-old, and one of their favorite outings is to grab a bucket of fried chicken and gizzards from Go Chicken Go (gochickengo.com) or a packed beef sandwich from Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque (arthurbryantsbbq.com) and stake out territory on the lawn at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, home of the gigantic shuttlecock sculpture, an accidental Kansas City icon. “We just let them run around until they get so tired they pass out,” Keely jokes. But only sort of. If you want to have a sit-down meal with the little ones, Keely and Beau stand by Vietnam Café (thevietnamcafe.com). Both of their daughters had their first full meals there—noodles and egg rolls. On their regular visits these days, the place is overrun with kids, largely thanks to an owner who makes sure to greet each child. The Kansas City Zoo is a KC highlight, and if you’re gonna do it, Beau’s pro tip is to dedicate two days. It’s that big. Also, if you’re there in the winter, schedule your visit around one of the penguin parades. A bit more offbeat is the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures (toyandminiaturemuseum.org), which fascinates adults and kids alike. Its Smithsonian-caliber displays of toys from the early 1800s through today includes many nostalgic playthings for any parent. “They have so many old items in amazing condition. It’s absolutely fascinating what each meant to people of the time,” Keely says. And as an added bonus, kids under five get in free. (bettyraes.com) If everyone behaves, wrap up the day with a stop at Betty Rae’s (bettyraes.com) for inventive flavors of housemade ice cream in hand-rolled waffle cones, which Beau describes as crepe-like. Cereal-milk ice cream, anyone?
5 Surprising New Secrets of Times Square
From Starbucks to Panera and from Adidas to H&M, it’s tough to think of a major retailer that hasn’t staked out a claim in Times Square. The familiar logos gleam so brightly on storefronts and billboards that it’s one of the few places on Earth that astronauts can spot from outer space. But a crop of talented restaurateurs, bartenders, and visionaries have, in the past few years, given Times Square a jolt of indie spirit so exciting that even jaded locals are braving the crowds and dodging selfie sticks to check out these new destinations. Here are a few that might come to define the area in the future the way the masked Marvel characters and super-sized M&M Store do today. 1. Tiki Fantasy: The Polynesian (Noah Fecks) The Polynesian (thepolynesiantiki.com) is a tropical affair decked out with teak wood floors and doors, rattan chairs, a lava-stone-topped bar, and Polynesian-art-inspired decorative touches. When you’re sitting at this spot in the Times Square Pod Hotel, and the bartender sets your drink aflame in its ceramic skeleton vessel, it’s really hard to believe you’re only one block from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, an enormous, less-than-charming transit hub—the Polynesian makes you think you're on a very different island. Since it opened in May 2018, the Polynesian has become a major destination for rum lovers, cocktail aficionados, and anyone craving a little tropical escape. But lest you think the tiki drinks here are the sticky-sweet party drink of vacation postcards, the cocktails were created by Brian Miller, one of the early pioneers of New York City’s cocktail renaissance in the early 2000s. His obsession with classic tiki culture and culinary artistry inspired him to design drinks that are equal parts playful and subtle. (Case in point: the Reggae Bus, an island interpretation of a Queens Park Swizzle, with rum, yellow Chartreuse, lime juice, mint, saffron syrup, and bitters.) The space is vast, so come with a group and order one of the large-format punches for the table. And if it's summertime, the terrace, which is equipped with its own separate bar, is a must. 2. A Giant World of Miniatures: Gulliver's Gate Topless sunbathers soak up the rays on fire escapes, an overturned flatbed truck stalls traffic on the street, and cops investigate a suspicious package on a subway platform. These scenes play out on a minuscule scale at Gulliver’s Gate (gulliversgate.com), an attraction that opened in May 2017 (at no small cost—creating it came with a $40 million price tag). It’s not as well-known as the landmark museums throughout the city or some of the smaller, more specialized museums, but it should be. The miniature New York City is rendered in a 1:87 scale and includes plenty of familiar landmarks, like the New York Public Library and One World Trade Center. But it’s the painstaking attention the dozens of artists and craftsmen gave to capturing the details of the city—subway tiling, taxi cab hubcaps, pedestrians’ clothing and accessories—that make a massive impact. The NYC display is certainly the most expansive part of the sweeping museum, but there are also small reproductions of cities in Great Britain, Russia, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, complete with their iconic sites, old and new. (Look for buildings by Frank Gehry, I.M. Pei, Daniel Libeskind, and other celebrated modern architects.) Reservations required. 3. A Caffeine-Fueled Oasis: Optimistic Cafe Blink and you’ll miss it: Optimistic café is one of those rare phenomena, a small but mighty café surrounded in every direction by outposts of the major coffee chains. Reasons stop by this hidden treasure are many: matcha lattes, artisan espresso drinks, cold brew on nitro taps, locally baked pastries, avocado toast, poached eggs with Egyptian spices and, if you’re so inclined, a side of halumi. And here’s the best part: Walking into the cheery space on 39th Street, a dense Garment District artery, feels like the moment Dorothy opens the door of her house onto Oz. There’s a lush “green wall,” tables and counters made of thick slabs of wood, colorful mugs, and minimalist design touches that give a Scandinavian accent to the whole affair. 4. Cocktails in the Clouds: Dear Irving on Hudson (Noah Fecks) Dear Irving on Hudson (dearirving.com/dear-irving-on-hudson), a few blocks south of Times Square, occupies the 40th and 41st floors in the stylish new Alize Hotel, and with floor-to-ceiling windows and terraces for hanging out in warmer weather, you can bet you won’t forget the altitude. The locale is a spinoff of Dear Irving, a swish cocktail lounge that opened in Gramercy Park in 2015. Meaghan Dorman, who created the drink menu there, steps up again to design a selection of cocktails, some of which nod to New York’s classic history and others that pay tribute to the dynamic creativity driving the city today. Take, for instance, the imaginative Vice Versa: Brooklyn-made Dorothy Parker Gin, grapefruit liqueur, Luxardo Bitter, rosé cava, and grapefruit. The décor here is an ode to James Bond-inspired chic, with groovy, colorful furniture and Art Deco touches. So kick back with a Gibson, order a signature burger, and let the twinkle of the skyline inspire you. 5. Mindful Meat: Farm to Burger (Noah Fecks) There are burger menus, and then there’s the burger menu at Farm to Burger (farmtoburger.com), a farmhouse-chic affair also in the Alize Hotel. In addition to patties with inspired toppings, like onion marmalade and provolone on the Midtown variety, there are options like the Impossible Burger, the headline-making plant-based creation that actually looks and sizzles like beef, and a thoughtful kids’ menu. So that’s the “burger” part of the name. As far as the farm goes, servers will tell you that the all-natural beef they use comes from cows that were pasture-raised at Fossil Farms in New Jersey. There’s also a Kobe beef option if you’re looking for a splurge.