Monday, December 15, 2014

Soup Takes "Uncommon Stock" In Kansas City

Recently, a friend told me about a little Westside business called Uncommon Stock, which sells specialty homemade soups.

Since December happens to be perfect soup weather, and since I'll also be having house guests for the holidays who will complain if I don't feed them, I decided to check them out.

In researching Uncommon Stock, I learned that they are located off of 25th and Southwest Blvd. in a small industrial-looking building, and they are only open on Fridays and Saturdays.  

When I visited them last weekend,  I also found that the soup menu changes every week, soups are sold by the quart, and the soups are all made to freeze.  

Additionally, most quarts run between $12-$13, and if there happens to be leftover soup one week, it is immediately frozen and available the next week for $8.

I decided to purchase three soups - Creamy Piquillo Pepper and Chickpea with Chicken and Chorizo, Potato and Onion, and Vegetarian Mixed Bean Chili.  

All three were very good, but my favorite was the one I thought would be my least favorite - the chili.  It was sweet, spicy, filling and flavorful all at the same time - YUM!  I also really liked the roasted corn and zucchini added in to it.  

In fact, with a loaf of fresh bread or a grilled-cheese sandwich, these convenient, homemade soups from Uncommon Stock make a great lunch or light dinner for family or company.

Uncommon Stock is the tasty vision of Todd Schulte, who began by making and selling his yummy soups in a garage next to the Happy Gillis Cafe, which he owned at the time.  

Today, Uncommon Stock has been in its Westside location for approximately a year, and their soups can even be found in a few local stores.

Uncommon Stock is located at 1000 W 25th Street and is open from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Their phone number is 816-510-7790,  and their website is  They also have a Facebook page which lists daily soups.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Q39 Is A Delicious Addition To Kansas City BBQ Restaurants

Mouth-watering BBQ
Just opened in April, Q39 is already earning a reputation for serving up some of the best BBQ in Kansas City.  

I happily discovered this Midtown restaurant shortly after it opened and have since returned several times.  That's because every time I have, the food has been delicious and the service has been great.  

If I had to describe Q39, I would call it as a "traditional rustic BBQ joint meets modern urban" kind of place.  

The decor has an industrial and wood look, and the open dining room has both tables and booths for seating.  There is a large communal table, a space that can be closed off for private dining, and a small patio for those who like the outdoors.  

The atmosphere is upscale casual - making it great for a tasty meal with family or friends, watching sports with a good beer in hand, or for a casual lunch or dinner date. 

The medium-priced menu is divided between share-ables (appetizers), soups and salads, specials, competition BBQ plates, burgers, speciality sandwiches, wood-fired grilled plates (including steak and seafood), and a variety of side dishes. 

I can personally vouch that the onion straws, macaroni and cheese, BBQ sliders, Q burger, pulled pork and brisket are mouth-watering.  The macaroni and cheese is so creamy and flavorful and the pulled pork so tender and zesty.  My only comment would be that the potato salad needs a bit more bite to it.

Owned and operated by Executive Chef and national champion BBQ pitmaster Rab Magee and his wife, Kelly, Q39 is located at 1000 W. 39th St. in a Kansas City, MO strip mall.  

The restaurant does have a parking lot, but with other businesses in the same location, parking can be a challenge at times.  

Even if parking does prove to be tough, Q39 does make itself convenient to customers in other ways.  They offer a "fast and fresh" $10 lunch (Monday - Friday) for folks in a hurry - which includes a sandwich and side.  They also offer carryout and the ability to make reservations online (and reservations are needed during peak hours!).  

Additionally, their bar offers hand-selected local beers wines and original cocktails, and many of their dishes are competition award winners.

Q39 is open:

Monday - Thursday:  11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m. 
Friday - Saturday: 11:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. 
Sunday: 11:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.

You can visit Q39 online at or contact them at 816-255-3753.

Q39 on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 18, 2014

Kansas City Has Its Very Own Superman

Michael Wheeler Runs For Peace
It's a bird!  It's a plane!  It's Superman - right here in Kansas City!

Actually, who you are seeing flying through the streets of Kansas City is Michael Wheeler, a local man who loves to run and spread a message of peace.  "I'm running for the Lord and sharing his goodness with others," he says.

Wheeler was born in Oklahoma, but he moved to Kansas City as a four-year-old boy.  He discovered his skill for running one day when he was being bullied and took off to escape the violence.  

At nineteen, he was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam.    It was during this time that he became addicted to drugs and his life took a dark turn.

Things changed, however, when he met a minister who prayed for him.  For Wheeler, this was the beginning of a permanent change in his life.  He became a man of God and has been drug free for more than forty years.  

Still, his life path has not been easy.  Shortly after his sister was brutally murdered, Wheeler, who was now a preacher himself, became involved with community leader Alvin Brooks and his anticrime group.  

One day in the late '80s, when the group was marching on a drug house across the street from where Wheeler grew up, one of the dealers came out of the house and beat him with a 2x4 board.  

Wheeler was seriously injured, but after his recovery, he was able to meet with President George H.W. Bush about community antidrug and anticrime efforts when Bush visited Kansas City in 1990.

Today, Wheeler is 63 years old and shows no signs of slowing down.  He has run more 200,000 miles and has taken part in more than 130 marathons across the country - including the Boston Marathon.

Recently, he ran "unofficially" in Kansas City's Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure marathon and came in second place.  You will also see him running regularly through the Plaza/Midtown area, downtown, or even in the parking lot of Arrowhead Stadium on game days.

Although he has only been wearing the Superman costume for about four years, his mission has always been the same - "I love to put a smile on people's faces, entertain, and inspire," says Wheeler.

As for what is next for Kansas City's very own Superman, he is planning a "Super Run For Peace," between Kansas City and St. Louis - based on the events that have taken place in Ferguson, MO, since the police shooting of Michael Brown.  

Wheeler estimates that the run will take about four days and hopes that others will join him in his mission to bring people together and create a better world.

Good luck Superman, and may your mission for peace be successful!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Adds A Puzzling Addition To Their Sculpture Garden

Where can you go for some fun and free family entertainment in Kansas City?  Try the new outdoor labyrinth at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Located in the southeast section of the Nelson's Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park, this exciting addition is hard to miss.  It has 1-inch glass walls which are 7 foot high.  The walkways are 43 inches wide, and the entire sculpture weighs more than 400 tons.  

As you approach the entrance to the labyrinth, there is a Nelson staff member there to assist visitors and advise you to keep your hands free during your walk through the exhibit - and I quickly found out why.

I had planned on shooting video while working my way through this life-sized puzzle, but I quickly found that I couldn't really do it.  If I didn't have my hands out in front of me to feel the glass walls, I kept walking into them.  By about the third time I walked into the glass, I felt like a fool, but I was also laughing out loud and having a great time because I was watching everyone else do the same thing.

The labyrinth was designed by Kansas City native and international artist Robert Morris, who has long been interested in ancient art forms, and purchased with help from the Hall Family Foundation.  

One thing that creator Morris wants you to consider as you move through his disorienting space is, "Is your experience a metaphor for negotiating the uncertainties of our time?"  

The labyrinth opened on May 22.  It is a permanent exhibit and takes approximately 10 minutes to maneuver through it.  

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is located at 4525 Oak.  There is both street and garage parking, and their hours are:

Wednesdays 10-5
Thursdays and Saturdays 10-9
Sundays 10-5.
Closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Vaile Mansion Stands Proudly As A Kansas City Architectural Gem

If you like old homes and Kansas City history, then Vaile Mansion in Independence, MO is the place to go.

Even better, this Saturday will be the Vaile Strawberry Festival, an annual event held on the mansion grounds, which includes lots of strawberry treats and approximately 100 antique vendors/craft booths set up on the expansive lawn.

I can't stress enough that, if you do visit Vaile Mansion, be sure you take the guided tour of the mansion's interior.  It is like taking an instant and intimate step back into Kansas City's turbulent and affluent history.  

Built in 1881 in the Second Empire Style by Harvey Vaile, the landmark is a 31-room, beautifully restored home with a rich history.  It was home to Vaile's wife, Sophia, until her death in the mansion in 1883 and Mr. Vaile until his death in the home in 1894.  

Vaile Mansion was designed by Kansas City architect Asa Cross with nine marble fireplaces and  a beautiful wood/glass entryway into the home.  

Step through the tiled entryway into the 40-foot long grand hall, and you realize you have entered a different era. 

The tour begins with the drawing room (gentlemen's parlor).  This opulent space contains 14-foot ceilings, 11-foot windows, and is repainted in its original green color.  

Mr. Vaile was an abolitionist, teacher, lawyer, cattle rancher, major player in establishing the Republican party in Kansas City and an entrepreneur who established the Star Mail Routes, which ran mail and other freight between here and Santa Fe, NM.  With such a varied background, imagine the conversations that might have taken place in this room.   

From the drawing room, the house flows into the music room, which contains one of the mansion's original crystal chandeliers, an 1871 Lindeman Grand piano and a working Regina music box.  

The music room was probably one of the busiest rooms in the Vaile household and is adorned with a Vermont marble fireplace.

From there, the music room leads into the dining room, which has an outdoor-themed mural on the ceiling depicting amenities once on the grounds of the estate - including a pond, boathouse and greenhouse.

The table is made from what was once a square grand piano.

Past the dining room is the serving/warming kitchen (the cooking kitchen was in the basement along with some of the servants' quarters and laundry facilities) and the butler's pantry.

The kitchen contains an antique Acorn stove and a German icebox. The butler's pantry has lots of storage room for dishes, silverware and utensils.

To the southwest of the kitchen is the water tower room.  When Vaile Mansion was built, one of its many innovative features was a self-sustaining water supply.  The house had a 6,000 gallon water tower which allowed water to flow to the upper floors.  

Today the mansion is connected to city water and the tank has been removed.  The room is now set up as a breakfast/eating area.

Also on the first floor of the mansion is the informal parlor, which is where the Vailes would have spent their time when they weren't entertaining guests.

The informal parlor has original pocket doors that separate it from the ladies parlor and a red decorative theme.  It is the smallest parlor in the home and also boasts one of the home's original chandeliers.

The formal parlor is the last room open to the public on the first floor.  It has the most expensive mantle in the home, made from Italian marble. 

This is where Mrs. Vaile would have formally entertained ladies who came to the mansion.

Ascending to the second floor, you can see the original skylight in the roof, which lets in lots of natural light.  

The floors on the second story are original to the home, and this level contains a large hallway, a gift shop, two bathrooms, the master bedroom, guest bedrooms, the library and the nature's bower.

The bathrooms were built to have running hot and cold water, flushing toilets, and copper bathtubs, which was quite an extravagance at the time.

The guest bedrooms have a separate bathroom from the main bedroom.  

All the rooms feel cozy and spacious at the same time.

The main bedroom was the location of a scandalous ceiling mural - a mural of a woman who is nude from the waist up.  

Today the woman has a transparent piece of material shrouding her upper body.  It is a common tale that this controversial art kept Mrs. Vaile from being accepted by the "proper" ladies of society and that the woman in the painting is actually her.

The nature's bower (Mr. Vaile's smoking room) is quite an interesting room.  To make it seem as close to nature as possible, Mr. Vaile had dark green carpeting on the floor, and the ceiling is a dark blue with stars like the night sky.

The knotholes and imperfections in the variety of woodwork used in the nature's bower also makes it appear to be full of human and animal faces, and " J.H. Kay October 12, 1881" is mysteriously inscribed above the door.  

The library is where Mr. Vaile often worked when he was home.  

Here, visitors can read Mr. Vaile's obituary, see a desk which belonged to the home's architect, browse photos of the mansion's restoration, and view a beautiful donated mobile desk on wheels.   

The third floor of the mansion is not open to the public tour.  The original plans called for a billiard room and a ball room on this level, but it was never completed.  The basement of the home is also not open to the public.

Behind the mansion is the only standing outbuilding left on the once expansive property - the carriage house.  Today it is a private residence and not part of the mansion grounds.

After The Vailes passed, the mansion was used for a variety of functions including a women's college, an inn, a private asylum and for many years, a nursing home. 

In the early 1980s, the home was turned over to the Vaile Victorian Society who tirelessly renovated and restored the home and decorated it with vintage furnishings.   

Today, Vaile Mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places and is an Independence Historic Landmark.  

If you would like to see Vaile Mansion for yourself, it is located at 1500 N. Liberty in Independence and is open from April through October and again through the holiday season when it is decorated for a beautiful Victorian Christmas.  

April 1st - End of Oct
Mon-Sat 10 AM - 4 PM
Sun 1 PM - 4 PM

Closed for Decorating Nov 1-25.

Holiday Hours:  Nov 25 - Dec 30
Closed Dec 23-25
Mon - Sat 10 AM - 4 PM
Sun 1 - 4 PM

Admission $6.00
Children/Students $3.00
Seniors/Groups $5.00

If you plan on attending the Strawberry Festival on June 7th, the hours are 9 AM - 4 PM.  

Entrance to the grounds, which at one time included fountains, a 48,000-gallon wine cellar and arbors, is free.  

There will still be a fee for guided mansion tours (which take less than an hour.) 

Call (816) 833-1646 for more information about festival activities or (816) 325-7430 for more information about the mansion.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Three Books Worth Reading With Kansas City Connections

For people with a passion for reading but who also want a bit of Kansas City flavor mixed in, here are three books worth checking out: 

Let's start with The Big Divide by local authors Diane Eickhoff and Aaron Barnhart.  Published last year and perfect for history lovers, this gem of a book is self-described as "a travel guide to historic and Civil War sites throughout the Missouri/Kansas border region."  

Many sites mentioned in this book are in our own backyards - like the Jesse James Farm and Museum in Kearney or the Harris-Kearney House in the historic Westport district.  

Some landmarks are locations that I have visited and actually written about in this blog - including The Thomas Hart Benton State Historic Site and the Glore Psychiatric Museum.  

Yet other destinations are further out from the metro, but definitely worth a day trip - places like the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, MO or the Patee House Museum in St. Joseph (both of which I have been to and loved.)  

Overall, The Big Divide is well organized, easy to use, and full of all kinds of tidbits about area history.  It provides chapter maps, driving tours, tips for the trip, book and film suggestions, and a 200-year timeline (1700-1900) illustrating and comparing U.S., world, and local history.

As a side note, the one site I would add to this book is the old Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, MO, which was built in 1836 and closed in 2004.  I have taken a tour there and found its history (including the Civil War era) fascinating.

Published in 2013, Texts From Bennett is my second recommendation.  It is the inappropriately funny story of Mac, a white, not quite middle-aged Kansas City rapper, and his teenage cousin, Bennett, who claims to be a “gangsta” - and, oh yeah, thirteen percent black.

First created as a popular Tumblr blog, the “Bennett character” fully blossoms in this hilarious novel, and it all begins when Bennett, his pill-popping mother, Lily, and Lily’s crazy paranoid boyfriend lose their home and move into Mac’s new house.

Mac’s world is turned upside down as Bennett steals the neighbors’ pets for rewards, brings crazy, destructive women home, and annihilates his love life. As Bennett loses jobs, behaves inappropriately, disrespects boundaries, and tries to be the biggest “gangsta” he can be, Mac slowly learns that although Bennett has issues, underneath everything, he is a realistic, genuine person with 
a big heart.

Ultimately, Mac begins spending time with Bennett as a mentor and role model. Looking past all the flaws, he forces Bennett to think about some serious adult topics and more importantly, his future.

What’s surprising, however, are the funny, unexpected lessons that Mac learns from Bennett – like how to get women by following the “11 Commandmints of Gittin’ Bitchez.” More importantly, he helps Mac through a major heartbreak and teaches him to accept people for who they are.

Before reading Texts From Bennett, be forewarned that it contains lots of foul language and crude "street talk." It has a raw urban presentation and tons of purposeful spelling errors that might turn some people off. Also, much of the book is presented in texting format — or epistolary style — which might be annoying for certain readers.

Overlooking all that, Texts From Bennett is not a silly throwaway book. In its own unique way, it tackles poverty, family issues, humanity, and more with a head-on frankness. Plus, the novel’s writing style has a certain creative spark that keeps the reader engaged.

In the end, there is just something about this book that grabs your heart unexpectedly. Despite all the imperfections in the characters, you like them and learn from them. Most surprisingly, you find yourself seriously rooting for them to overcome their problems and become productive members of society.

Third on my book recommendation list is October Suite by Maxine Clair.  This one is not a newer book - it was published in 2001.  However, it is worth checking out a copy from the library and reading.  

October Suite partially takes place in Wyandotte County, KS in the 1950s and tells the story of October Brown, a young African-American woman who is beginning her first teaching assignment.  

At first, October's future seems bright, but over time, everything goes wrong.  She is falsely accused of abusing a student and also finds herself pregnant by a married man who deserted her.  

As October returns home to Ohio to figure out what to do, this book gives us a glimpse into the restrictions placed on women and African Americans in the Midwest prior to the passage of The Civil Rights Act. 

October Suite is actually a quiet, slowly unfolding type of read.  It is not a novel that can be rushed and demands and your full literary attention while reading it.  

Best described, October Suite is a story about family, the pain of living with choices, and the struggle to move forward toward resolution and happiness.  


Two other books with Kansas City connections worth mentioning are:

Happy Stories! by Will Bowen.  Filled with short stories and experiences from "50 of the happiest people on Earth," it also includes a story from Kathy Quinn, long-time reporter for Kansas City's Fox 4 News.

You're Toast! by local author Rachel Ellyn (with assistance from Jasper's Italian Restaurant chef/owner Jasper Mirabile, Jr. and other local chefs),  tells the family-friendly story of Slice, a simple piece of bread who dreams of becoming something important - like french toast or garlic toast.  

The book also contains a handful of recipes from distinguished local chefs using toast as an ingredient and is a great way to get families into the kitchen and cooking together.