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Locals Know Best: Kansas City, Missouri

By Liza Weisstuch
January 12, 2022
outside of restaurant
novelkc.com
There's no better guide to a city than someone who lives there, so we asked Keely Edgington Williams and her husband, Beau, co-owners of Julep, a popular bar, for their take on culture, food, and drink in the town they call home.

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.

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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

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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.

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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?

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Inspiration

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.

Inspiration

Around New York City in 9 Pastries

When it comes to sweets, New York City takes the cake. From passing trends (Cronut, anyone?) to stalwart favorites (we're looking at you, cannolis. And eclairs. And macaroons.) there's no shortage of temptation. But the city's dessert offerings go far beyond those familiar treats, and that’s due in no small part to the many immigrants who come here, recipes and culinary traditions in hand. A tour of the specialty bakeries throughout Manhattan and its boroughs is a portrait of the diversity that makes the city so unique. We rounded up a sampling of international sweets, each from an eatery that's easy to get to with a MetroCard, so there's no excuse for limiting yourself to cheesecake and chocolate-chip cookies on your next visit. 1. Khao Nom (Liza Weisstuch) When Saralai Sarapaivanit, who goes by Jackie, moved to the U.S. from Thailand several decades ago, she couldn’t find many eateries making tub tim krob, a cold soup-like delicacy with pandan-jelly bits bobbing in a base of barely sweet coconut milk alongside pieces of crunchy water chestnut. She also couldn’t find many places to buy sweet steamed pumpkin, small tins of coconut custard with corn and tapioca pearls at the bottom, or lustrous luk chup, a marzipan-like sweet made with mung bean and molded to look like mini peaches and cherry tomatoes. So she and her brother-in-law opened Khao Nom, a bakery in Elmhurst, Queens, where they make their own. That’s just a small sampling of the hot and chilled dessert selection served in this high-ceilinged, laid-back space, where the tables are huge slabs of weathered wood set on vintage sewing machine bases. Stay put for the night to sample the bakery's brief menu of rice dishes, or check out the adjacent Khao Kang, the family's full-service Thai restaurant. 2. Lee Lee's Rugelach In this supremely diverse city, you’ll find El Salvadorian and Colombian men tossing pizzas, Chinese people rolling bagels, and a Nepalese man and former Everest sherpa who’s been slicing paper-thin smoked fish at Russ & Daughters, one of the country’s most celebrated Jewish delis, since 2002. And then there’s the legendary Alvin “Lee Lee” Smalls, an African-American man from South Carolina who runs a rugelach empire from his charming, vintage-chic bakery in Harlem. The traditional Jewish pastry, something like a tiny croissant with a harder, yet just as flaky, spool of dough rolled up with jam, chocolate or, at Lee Lee’s Rugelach By a Brother (leeleesrugelach.com), even more creative ingredients. He sells over 1,000 pieces of rugelach each weekend and he'll certainly tack on about a dozen more the weekend you drop by. 3. Ole & Steen (Liza Weisstuch) In Denmark, spandauer, kloben, and carnival buns are as common as donuts and chocolate-chip cookies are here. Those traditional treats are just a few of the specialties at Ole & Steen (oleandsteen.us), a bakery with 89 outlets in Denmark and 10 in the U.K. But with the opening of the first U.S. store in Union Square this past January, and two more in the works, New Yorkers can have their fill of those pastries and more. The bakery features shelves upon shelves of Copenhagens (marzipan wrapped in a moist, flaky crust), cinnamon swirls, marzipan slices, and marshmallow puffs, as well as those aforementioned kloben buns (cardamom-and-clove-spiced soft rolls with raisins) and spandauers, which look like what we refer to as a Danish. There’s also a variety of bread for sale, including sourdoughs made with a 150-year-old starter. The place is a spacious café with coffee drinks and smorrebrod (Scandinavian open-face sandwiches) on the menu, so make yourself comfortable and settle in. 4. Brooklyn Kolache Co. Brooklyn Kolache Company (brooklynkolacheco.com), an airy café in the rapidly gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, sells all the things other cafés in Bed-Stuy do: espresso, cappuccino, matcha, vegan buns. And it sells something the others don’t: kolaches. A traditional dessert in the Czech Republic and Poland that found its way to fame in Texas, these sweet rolls are made of a lump of yeast-risen dough that envelops sweet or savory fillings. PB&J, chocolate, and jam are among the regularly changing former, while savory picks include cheese, eggs, turkey, and sausage. Owner Autumn Stanford, a Texas expat, has done her homeland proud. 5. Al Sham Sweets & Pastries (Liza Weisstuch) What Nathan’s Famous is to hot dogs and Peter Luger Steak House is to the T-bone, Al Sham Sweets & Pastries is to baklava. That’s to say: a New York standard-bearer. This cash-only Jordanian bakery sits amid Halal markets and Middle Eastern restaurants in a corner of Astoria, a neighborhood that’s grown increasingly trendy in recent years. Throughout the changing times, this compact operation has cranked out the same exquisite baklava every day. Native to both Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries like Greece, these treats are dense layers of filo dough and nuts soaked in a delicate rosewater-spiked honey syrup, making them at once rich and ethereal. The baklava comes in four flavors—pistachio, almond, cashew, and walnut—as well as different shapes and sizes. They’re all made in-house in massive batches to accommodate the steady stream of customers throughout the day. Al Sham is also a destination for kunafeh, a dessert said to have originated in Palestine. Prepared in a flat pan, with a syrup-soaked thin dough spread with sweet cheese, it's like pizza's sweeter cousin, and a delicacy unlike any other in NYC. 6. Breads Bakery (Courtesy Breads Bakery) When you walk into Breads Bakery in Union Square or Lincoln Center (breadsbakery.com), the smell of butter is so think, you can almost taste it in the air. That's because of the loaves of fresh babka that frequently emerge from the oven throughout the day. Babka, a traditional Eastern European hybrid of cake and half yeasted bread, is not new to New York, what with immigrants coming from those countries for generations. What is new is its ubiquity, and we have Breads largely to thank for that. (Or to blame, if you’re watching your calorie intake.) These rich loaves, woven through with ribbons of Nutella and chocolate chips, are habit-forming, to say the least. Not surprising, then, that you save $2.50 per loaf when you buy two. (PS: There's a year-round Breads kiosk in Bryant Park near the New York Public Library. A little too convenient, if you ask us.) 7. Harbs Here in the U.S., most of us know green tea as the staple hot drink in Japanese restaurants, but in Japan, it’s a common flavor of all kinds of desserts. Little surprise, then, that the green tea mousse cake is a popular pick at Harbs (harbsnyc.com), a 37-year-old Tokyo-based chain that opened its first restaurant outside of Japan in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood in 2014, followed by outposts in Soho and on the Upper East Side. There are French accents all over the place at these posh, handsome eateries: Tiled walls and wood accents give them a Parisian bistro vibe, and classic French baking techniques inform many of the cakes. But it’s the native ingredients, most imported from Japan, that make the desserts so intriguing. That aforementioned green tea cake incorporates earthy matcha in the sponge cake and specks of red bean in its green-tea mousse. Freshly whipped cream makes an appearance here and in several other desserts, including Harbs’s version of a French tart, where the cream is flecked with red bean. 8. Andre's Bakery (Liza Weisstuch) Never mind apple strudel. At Andre's Bakery (andresbakery.com), poppy seed, cherry, sweet cheese, and even savory options like cabbage, spinach, and feta run a tight race when it comes to most popular. The buttery, flaky strudels are made in-house daily with owner Andres's mother’s original recipe. In 1976, the Hungarian expat opened the first shop in in Forest Hills, a quiet, family-centric neighborhood in Queens, about five miles south of LaGuardia Airport. Since then, her son has carried out her legacy and opened two more shops, both on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. (The 2nd Avenue location is also a restaurant-café that serves hearty, traditional dishes and Hungarian wines.) Other Hungarian desserts on offer include palacsinta, a crepe-like indulgence, and dobos torte, a fluffy, caramel-topped sponge cake layered with chocolate butter cream. All the desserts are made fresh daily in the original store. 9. La Gran Uruguaya Dulce de leche, a caramel custard, is easy to find around New York City, especially in bakeries and restaurants in the many Spanish neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. A little less common is a flaky pastry filled with the stuff eclair-style. That’s just one of the highlights at La Gran Uruguaya (la-gran-uruguaya.com), a no-frills bakery-cafe in Jackson Heights, arguably the most diverse neighborhood in Queens, and possibly the whole city. Spongy tres leches cakes, banana tarts, flan, mousse, and tortitas negra, an Argentinian specialty, fill the expansive cases. This eatery also serves savory dishes, but when it comes to Latin American desserts, it’s tough to find a selection as varied as the one here.

Inspiration

4 Destinations That Honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

You can celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s towering achievements by doing one of your favorite things: traveling. A variety of sites operated by the National Parks Service and nonprofit organizations offer the opportunity to enjoy your MLK weekend (January 19, 20, and 21, 2019) by immersing yourself in the history of the civil rights movement in vibrant communities across the American South. Add these to your all-American must-see list. 1. MONTGOMERY, AL The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in Montgomery, Alabama, is drawing visitors from all over the world, becoming one of the most essential destinations for travelers interested in educating themselves about the Civil Right Movement. The city of Montgomery is packed with historic sites and museums dedicated to the movement. At 252 Montgomery Street, you can see the exact spot where civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man on December 1, 1955. Her subsequent arrest triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott, in which Dr. King played a leading role. Today, 252 Montgomery Street is home to Troy University’s Rosa Parks Library and Museum (troy.edu/rosaparks). The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial, designed by Maya Lin (best known for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C.), is a black granite table and wall engraved with the history of the civil rights movement and the names of its martyrs, along with one of Dr. King’s favorite biblical paraphrases, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” An adjacent Civil Rights Memorial Center (splcenter.org/civil-rights-memorial) educates visitors on the history of the bus boycott and the larger movement. For visitors hungry for more civil rights-era historical sites, the center is a short walk from Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church (where King served as pastor at the time of the bus boycott), the Alabama State Capitol, and the Alabama Department of Archives and History. 2. MEMPHIS, TN The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel (civilrightsmuseum.org) is one of the most extraordinary examples of hope rising out of pain. Built on the site of Dr. King’s 1968 assassination, the museum traces the history of the civil rights movement from its roots in the colonial slave trade to the present day. 3. WASHINGTON, D.C. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall, dedicated in 2011, the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, has joined the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his speech to an estimated audience of 250,000 demonstrators, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a place where visitors are often moved and inspired beyond their expectations. The National Museum of African American History and Culture (nmaahc.si.educ), which opened in September 2016, is a gorgeously designed, immersive educational experience that belongs on any traveler's list of D.C. essentials. 4. ATLANTA, GA The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site (nps.gov/malu) includes the house in which Dr. King was born, a visitors’ center, an International Peace Rose Garden, and the nearby Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was baptized and served as a minister, along with his father, from 1960 until his death in 1968.

Inspiration

Locals Know Best: Portland, Maine

When Ed Suslovic moved to Portland, Maine, in 1992, it was like he’d died and gone to heaven, he says. Coming from Washington DC, this beautiful, relaxed urban enclave along the ocean was a jolting culture shock—the best possible kind. He fell so deeply in love with the city that he devoted his life to it, serving as city counselor, mayor, and state legislator. Today he teaches at the Muskie School of Public Service at University of Southern Maine in Portland and remains a committed citizen and, by default, ambassador. We checked in with him and got the lowdown of how to make the best of a visit to this gem of a seaside city. Eat—and Drink—Your Heart Out Regardless of whether you leap out of bed before sunrise to start the day or peel yourself out from under the covers later in the morning, every day in Portland should begin with a meal at Becky’s Diner. (“Nothing’s finer than Becky’s Diner,” Ed insists.) Becky’s is the kind of place where, on any given morning, you could sit at the counter and turn to your right and start a conversation with a lobsterman or dockworker, then turn to your left and gab with a federal judge. Becky’s captures Portland’s everything-for-everyone, open spirit. The food is as notable as the vibe. Breakfasts dishes never fail here, especially if any sort of eggs doused with Captain Mowatt’s, the local hot sauce named for a famous sea captain. If you like it, pick up a bottle to bring home at Leroux, a kitchen and home goods shop just down the street. And the homemade pies and cakes are simply “to die for,” Ed guarantees. New England charm is alive and well at cozy family-run restaurants throughout Portland. Take, for instance, Susan's Fish-n-Chips. "It looks like it's in an old gas station, but don't be put off by that. Oh my god--it's the best fried fish ever, just light and crispy. You sit down with other folks at picnic tables and next thing you know you'll be sharing tartar sauce with them." Or Anthony's Italian Kitchen, which has such a discreet location next to the city's court house and police stations that you wouldn't know it was there if you weren't looking for it. Ed has a list of reasons to love it: homemade everything, huge servings/guaranteed leftovers, and the show. More than just run a restaurant, the family, led by patriarch Anthony, who Ed estimates is nearing 80, puts on a cabaret show each night, so they serve up one-liners and songs along with dinner. Ruski’s is another casual local that is, in no uncertain terms, an institution. (“It's been there forever. And some of the people at the bar have been there forever, too,” he quips.) Ed hung out there plenty before he got into politics, but once he did start running for office, Ruskie’s is where he’d mingle with the locals. It’s a standard come-as-you-are dive bar, with night-shift workers washing down home-fries with PBR at 9AM and countless regulars stopping in for Allen’s Coffee-flavored brandy and milk over ice, a traditional tipple in the region, at all hours. Across the intersection from this old-school stronghold is Little Giant, a gastropub with a grocery shop that Ed describes as an “upscale take on the corner store.” Owners Brianna and Andrew Volk also run Portland Hunt and Alpine Club, a cocktail bar that’s made a splash on the national drinks scene. Ed views the juxtaposition of Ruski’s and Little Giant as an illustration of what’s great about Portland today: the old and the new coexisting in harmony. “They couldn’t be more different and I love them both,” Ed says. A Small Neighborhood, a Big Impression Once upon a time, it was easy to pass through Woodfords Corner and barely notice it. But in recent years—including some under Ed’s mayoral watch, the city worked to change that. A turning lane was removed and a small pedestrian plaza was installed in its place. There’s a light sculpture and other small pieces of public art. Now, not only is it more pedestrian-friendly, it’s actually attracted businesses to addresses that once housed pawn shops or tattoo parlors and made Woodfords Corner a destination. You can always find your way there if you look for the iconic clock tower of Odd Fellow’s Hall, an old fraternal lodge visible from a distance. Right next door is Woodford Food & Beverage, a French bistro-style eatery that Ed describes as a casual neighborhood hangout, but you don’t have to be a neighbor to feel like one. “You’ll go in there and pretty soon people are inviting you to join them at a table for dinner,” Ed says. The restaurant was the original location of Valle’s, a famous chain that started in the 1950s. A nostalgic retro-tinged style gives the Woodford F&B its a charming old-timey vibe. Nearby is Big Sky Bakery, located in a fire station, making this another business that’s made the most of one of the street’s beautiful old abandoned spaces. Like any bakery worth its weight in chocolate chip cookies, Big Sky is popular with kids, but not just because of the sweets. On any given day, you’ll spot pint-size patrons crowded around a small table playing with dough the bakers put out for them. Break for Art The Art of the Matter. About six blocks from Woodfords Corner is Deering Center which, locals will tell you, used to be its own town. Today it’s merely a neighborhood, but one that offers quite an impressive array of things to check out given its small size. As Ed tells it, Deering Corner’s claim to fame is its main thoroughfare, Stevens Avenue, ostensibly the only street in the U.S. where you can go from kindergarten to college without leaving the drag. There’s an elementary school, a high school and one side of the University of New England’s main campus. UNE in particular is worth a visit because of the University of New England Art Gallery, a small outpost with frequently rotating roster of shows, many by young artists, and what Ed describes as a very interesting and interested staff, so go by and say hi. Day Tripper Much as he loves everything about Portland, Ed has all sorts of recommendations for things to do and see and eat outside the city limits, most of which you can do in a single day. His relaxing itinerary for what he considers an “ideal Maine summer day” starts with picking up coffee and donuts in town at one of the two donut shops in town and heading north about an hour up Route 1 to Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg. “I love it because it’s the biggest, most expansive beach in Maine, and at low tide, it just becomes immense,” he says, noting that you can get out of your car and walk over the dunes and still not be able to see the ocean because it’s so far away. Climb the sandbar and check out an old stone Colonial-era fort just around the bend. That’s just one of the many jaw-dropping visions to behold. Islands and lighthouses dot the oceanscape for miles. Nearby you have your choice of low-key lobster joints, but you’ll want to save your appetite for your trip home because a stop in Brunswick for a classic American meal at Fat Boy’s Drive-In is a must. “After a long day, you’re all sandy and salty and sunburned .” To hear Ed tell it, you pull up, put your headlights on, give the waitress your order, and she’ll bring your burgers (Ed deems them “phenomenal”), onion rings, frappes, and the rest to your car and you eat it there. It’s a piece of history, he says, but warns that after generations, it’s presently on for sale. Legions of loyal fans are hoping that the new owners carry out its legacy. Especially Ed.