I had anticipated its opening back in March, and positive press and word of mouth in the subsequent months only intensifed my hungry curiosity. Over a recent weekend I descended upon blanc burgers + bottles not once, but twice.
The first night, the tiny Westport burger spot (in the space formerly occupied by Tatsu’s Cafe) was bumping and BUSY around 8pm when my friends and I arrived. We shuffled in just before the line was forced out the door. By the time we were seated 15 minutes later, the line had trailed beyond my view from inside the narrow, exposed-brick space.
Two friends ordered the Spiced Lentil Burger ($7); another, the Kobe Burger ($12); and I, the Pork “Burger” ($8) with no intention of finishing any of them. We also ordered sweet potato fries and Boulevard Pale Ale onion rings, which came in a nifty mini shopping cart. For posterity’s sake, I also ordered a “BLT Salad” ($6).
With the exception of the unseasoned onion rings (which tasted only of fried beer; the onion was completely lost in thick batter), everything was pretty solid.
The burgers at blanc burgers + bottles are truly “gourmet.” They’re the only ones in Kansas City doing them at this level. There’s a preference for local and quality is high: 8 ounce patties, whether it be tenderloin beef, Kobe, turkey, pork, mahi mahi, or vegetarian; brioche and whole wheat buns from Farm to Market; and house-made condiments, including ketchup, mustard aioli, and chipotle aioli.
The Spiced Lentil Burger ($7) was breaded and crispy on the outside. The inside was a warm patty of curried lentils and vegetables. While I think it could have used a bit more texture – it was like mashed legumes – the flavor was excellent. I only got a small bite, so I didn’t get a chance to determine what other vegetables were used.
Whereas chefBURGER over-dresses their burgers, blanc burgers + bottles has a minimalist approach. For the most part, blanc strikes the right balance between simplicity and flavor. That lentil burger, perhaps, was the exception. The vegetarian patty sat atop a good amount of chunky avocado, but could have used more spiced yogurt, cucumber, and red onion salad, which I had really been looking forward to. It didn’t need any of these condiments for flavor, as the patty was extremely flavorful. But, I would have appreciated some contrast from the yogurt and texture from cucumber and onions would have been nice.
The Kobe Burger (Port wine onions, mustard aioli, truffle butter, watercress, salt + pepper brioche bun; $12) was good, but significantly less memorable than the Pork “Burger,” which really knocked my socks off. The method: pulled pork is cooked with a wine reduction and then formed into a patty, crisped up on the grill, and topped with pickle and chipotle coleslaw. Despite its Euro-Latin leanings, it has an uncanny Asian pork dish appeal. The pork is sweet, the topping is sour. The earthy smoke and heat from the chipotle is undercut by the sweet pickle slices crossed over the patty.
And, this brings me to the pickle. You get one long thin sliver of sweet pickle. It’s probably one of the finest pickles I’ve ever had. I need to ask if they make this in-house. Their sweet potato fries were the best I’ve had in this city: thin and crispy, with a narrow band of sweet soft starch tunneling through the middle.
We finished with milkshakes – one vanilla ($5) and one “Sangria” ($9) – and I ordered a beer float. They use Shatto Milk and Foo’s Fabulous Frozen Custard. Their milkshakes are much better than chefBURGER’s. Actually, everything at blanc is MUCH better than at chefBURGER.
These milkshakes are served in metal milkshake mixer cups and are thick enough to stand a spoon in. The “Sangria” (red wine, vodka, fruit juices, vanilla custard) was different than I had expected. It tasted more like sweet tannin than it did fruity wine.
My beer float, however, was fantastic. You choose from any one of their 150+ list of beers (hence the name extension) and add $2 for the frozen custard. I like stout’s, porters, and dark beers, so my Arcadia Ales “Coco Loco” – two parts coffee, one part chocolate, and one part molasses in flavor – pleased me immensely.
The next day, my party of six, landed a table at 11:30-ish, when, apparently, the restaurant’s weekend lunch crowd hadn’t quite fully awakened (I hear there’s a line by 11.30 on weekdays); the place was nearly empty. It filled up quite nicely within the hour.
I did a redux on the Pork “Burger” (it really is fantastic). We also got a Turkey (lots of avocado) ($8), a Meatloaf ($8), and an “Au Poivre” ($8). The Turkey was my least favorite, but as among the other three, I’m not sure I could pick a favorite, although the pork seems to register most loudly in my taste memory.
The “Au Poivre” and the Meatloaf were both very good. The meatloaf was impossibly soft and moist. It’s a sweeter meatloaf, dabbed with a sweet ketchup and topped with melted onions. It’s also a square-cut (clearly baked in a loaf pan) – it’s the only blanc “patty” I’ve seen that falls short of the appropriate patty-to-bun ratio.
The “Au Poivre” is mighty good, too. Whereas the Pork and the Meatloaf are more sweet, Au Poivre is at the other end of the spectrum: the juicy patty is crusted with very coarsely cracked black peppercorns and sauced with a creamy green peppercorn mayonnaise. It packs a lot of flavor with a nice back-end kick.
Regardless, I’d say that all three of these were better than the Kobe, which runs neck and neck with the Turkey. Both of these were good, but nothing particularly memorable. I will note that whereas my Kobe was perfectly cooked – it was glowing pink in the middle – the Turkey seemed a bit dry. I wonder what’s in the “special sauce” on the Turkey.
Their “quick fix” lunch deal ($8) includes a burger from a limited list of burgers (all the $8 ones and the vegetarian Lentil Burger, which is $7) and your choice of either fries, onion rings, or a salad was a great way to sample a lot.
A fellow onion ring aficionado agreed that the onion rings, although nicely fried and full of beer flavor, were under-seasoned and rather forgettable.
Having now tried all of the salads, the best one is the BLT. Of course, it also happens to be the one salad that has bacon in it too. I realized on this second trip that they had left the avocado out of my BLT Salad the night before.
The Caesar gets a Dijon mustard treatment, which makes it different, and somewhat more amiable to me. The Spinach Salad, with raisins and bacon vinaigrette would be better without the red onions. The Butter Lettuce Salad is better suited for those who shy away from bold flavors. With nothing but lettuce and Fuji apples, it’s light, crisp, and clean tasting. Ordered as a full order ($6), the salads are rewardingly large. I hope they keep this up.
blanc needs to booster their ventilation system: when busy, a smoky, greasy haze hangs over the restaurant. Don’t expect to walk out smelling like a Downey dryer sheet.
A lesser annoyance, the restaurant can get quite LOUD, especially at night – which is, I think, part of the restaurant’s atmospherics and aesthetic. It’s almost expected, given its address on Westport Road.
The young chef, Josh Eans, came from The Drop Bar, owners Ernesto Peralta’s and Eddie Crane’s first wine lounge on Martini Corner. Before opening The Drop Bar, Eans had been at 40 Sardines under Debbie Gold.
I’d be tempted to say that his talent is wasted on flipping burgers if these weren’t some of the most thoughtfully engineered burgers I’ve had. And they’re in Kansas City!
I hate to draw comparisons, but the fact that blanc burgers + bottles and chefBURGER – both offering “fancy” hamburgers – opened within a month of each other makes it inevitable.
From what I’ve seen, there’s no doubt that blanc burgers + bottles wins by a good stretch. On certain points, I don’t think it’s fair to compare the two. I don’t think these two restaurants are even in the same league. I’m not sure that chefBURGER ever intended or intends to compete directly with blanc. chefBURGER caters to the sports and beer crowds of the Power & Light District. blanc holds court in Westport, where the yuppies, hipsters, and Bohemians hang.
But, as I stated, I think that comparison and competition is inevitable. blanc is a sit-down service restaurant. It has a bar and an impressive beer list. Their burger selection, though not as comprehensive (or inflated) as chefBURGER’s, is more focused and clean. Presentations are pretty, service is lovely and rather efficient, and blanc’s ingredients and flavors pop more. The prices are pretty comparable, with blanc averaging about $2 more per burger. And, loudness and haze aside, I like the feel of blanc more than chefBURGER, which has all the personality of a high school cafeteria. The only advantage that chefBURGER has over blanc burgers + bottles – and this is a minor one – is that it has a great website. blanc, inexplicably, only has a “My Space” page. Now THAT’S high school. [Update: blanc burgers + bottles now has a bona fide website.]
I’ve been to chefBURGER only once and blanc burgers + bottles twice. I need to visit both more to reach a more definite verdict. So far, it seems that blanc is better for what it is than chefBURGER is for what chefBURGER is. chefBURGER needs to pull out some pretty impressive game in order to change my mind. Judging by the crowds, I don’t think I’m alone.
blanc burgers + bottles
419 Westport Road
Kansas City, Missouri 64108