Several decades ago, when I was living in the Washington, DC area, a local radio station (WTOP?) ran a contest to find D.C.’s signature food. This was an interesting question, given that the D.C. area has so many people from around the world, transplants from across the USA, and a smorgasbord of cuisine options. What was really something unique to D.C.?
People love to argue and discuss such questions, so there were lots of submissions to the contest. There was plenty of discussion locally, even before social media. I (and many others) found the winner to be a huge disappointment. The Navy Bean Soup at the Senate Cafeteria? Sure, the cafeteria is a unique place, and the soup is probably awesome, but this was not something that an average resident enjoined on a regular basis. There was a groundswell of support for apple pie, but that isn’t really unique to D.C. Many folks, including myself, pointed to the half smoke sausage, which is a unique D.C. food and is widely available to residents. You can buy one from any sidewalk food vendor in downtown D.C. Other pointed to Ben’s Chili Bowl on U St, a D.C. institution which opened in the 1950.
What do you think are Kansas City’s signature foods after our famous barbecue? Recently, a case has been made for our abundant taco options—there is even a “Taco Trail” in Kansas City, Kansas. I’m going to go over a few candidates on my radar, including tacos. Signature dishes will be covered in the next newsletter. Some examples will be listed below. I think of signature dishes as being tied to specific restaurants, while a signature food, like barbecue, can be found across a city (or larger geographical area).
Some of the following foods were suggested by friends after I asked this question on social media.
Cinnamon Rolls ~ A 2017 Condé Nast Traveler article claimed that the best cinnamon rolls can be found in Kansas City. While I’m not a huge fan of gooey cinnamon rolls, this Kansas City specialty will be explored in future newsletters and podcasts. As the article points out, it’s natural that this sticky sweet would become a local specialty, given that the Midwest has such a strong local bakery tradition.
If you say, “cinnamon roll” to Kansas Citians, many would respond with “Stroud’s.” The local chain is best known for its chicken, home style food, and signature cinnamon rolls that come with every dinner. As a vegetarian, it’s been many years since I have eaten at Stroud’s, but I’ve often seen a box of Stroud’s rolls left on a counter at my family’s house.
A search on Yelp.com for “cinnamon rolls Kansas city” brings up around 240 places that serve cinnamon rolls (some of these results were multiple locations of the same chain).
Tacos ~ Kansas City evidently has its own take on the taco format, as well as buckets of taco options around the Metro. Kansas City Tacos are a fried taco topped or coated with parmesan cheese. Developed by local restaurants in the 1950s, this taco has become a local institution. And I had never heard of this local food until last year. It’s possible that I’ve had them at some point over the years, but I’m surprised how this local food has been off my radar.
Recently, there have been some efforts to establish Kansas City as a national center of tacos. 50 taquerias
- It’s Official—Forbes Magazine says KCK is America’s Taco Capital
- The Demand for ‘Authenticity’ Is Threatening Kansas City’s Homegrown Tacos
- KCK Taco Trail
- ‘KCK Taco Trail’ highlights nearly 50 taquerias in Kansas City, Kansas
KC Strip Steak ~ After Kansas City style barbecue, KC Strip Steak is probably the food internationally associated with Kansas City. It’s really just a cut of beef, with the bone attached. Kansas City, of course, is historically a center for meat production. The stockyards in the West Bottoms were an integral part of the first century of Kansas City’s history. This style of meat has become popular around the world and is available in numerous local restaurants. The Kansas City Steak Company provides mail order sales of KC Strip Steaks and many other meats.
Povitica bread ~ This was suggested by friends, but it makes sense. Kansas City, especially KCK, historically has many residents whose families come from Eastern Europe. Povitica bread is mainly a Croatian specialty, from what I understand. When I searched for articles about “povitica,” the local Strawberry Hill Povitica Co. was mentioned many times. A case could be made that this bread is an emerging Kansas City signature food. If you are unfamiliar with povitica bread, it is a rolled walnut bread. Other types include poppy seed, hazelnut, and strawberry cream cheese.
In the next edition of this newsletter, I’ll look at some of Kansas City signature dishes. Please contact me if you’d like to nominate a dish. Some of the signature dishes nominated by friends include:
- Kitty’s Café -Pork Tenderloin
- Waldo Pizza
- Dixon’s chili
- Strouds – Fried chicken
- Quik Trip’s roller dogs
- Topsy’s popcorn