Story by Dave Eckert | @eatsanddrinkswithdave
Intro Photo Courtesy of Fence Stile Vineyards & Winery
Dining al fresco has never been more popular than recently. Add in the warmer temps that are upon us and diners can’t get enough of these outdoor dining spaces. Most of the restauranteurs I spoke with say they are anticipating an even bigger demand for outdoor dining this year, increasing their seating capacity when possible. Others have crafted unique al fresco events to capitalize on the demand for dining out while offering customers special themed meals.
Fence Stile Vineyards & Winery in Excelsior Spring touts its Under the Stars wine dinner. “As humans, most of us crave social interaction. Last year, when people were starving for company, social stimulation, and simple pleasures, they could come and experience a great meal in a beautiful vineyard setting,” Brand Manager Pete Dulin shared.
Dulin serves as chef for the dinners while Fence Stile owner Shriti Plimpton hosts the events. The dinners are multi-course affairs, with each course paired to a Fence Stile Wine as the food, wine, and combinations are discussed by Plimpton and Dulin throughout the evening. “We wanted to create an al fresco dining experience where guests could enjoy the views of the vineyards, the sounds of the fountain pond, and the twilight under soft patio lights as they experience a paired wine dinner celebrating the flavors of each season,” Plimpton stated. Reservations are accepted for these magical dinners, which run through October.
Photo Courtesy of Chaz on the Plaza
Wine dinners are also a theme at Chaz on The Plaza, the excellent, fine dining restaurant attached to The Raphael Hotel on The Country Club Plaza. Food and Beverage Director Jordan Carver and Executive Chef Shawn Hartwig launched the Patio Series last year. The themed dinners, which were mostly wine focused, are held on the patio and extend into the blocked off circular drive. “We had no idea what to expect, but the response was beyond our wildest dreams. People were leery about dining inside a restaurant, many still are, but they were dying to get out and do something. The dinners were the perfect solution,” Carver told me.
In a shaded area overlooking Brush Creek and the Country Club Plaza beyond, I can’t imagine a more “Kansas City” view. “We’re gifted with a beautiful environment to host these dinners. And being outside, we wanted to make them a bit more casual than your typical fine dining wine dinner. We just have a great time,” Carver said. This year’s Patio Series promises to be every bit as popular. The series runs through the fall.
Across the state line for my next visit, I dropped by Strang Hall, the “newish” food court just off Metcalf in the heart of downtown Overland Park. Opened in late 2019 just in time to be shut down in early 2020, Strang Hall has had to pivot, not only in its marketing strategy, but as to what it offers customers. “We learned a lot in the last year,” Director of Operations Joe Follett told me. “For instance, when we started, we did minimal carry-out and no curbside service. Now, they are both a big part of our operation.”
Photo Courtesy of Strang Hall
Built from the ground up with now six restaurants occupying the first floor, Strang Hall was opened with families and larger gatherings in mind. Hence, the family-style seating inside, and the large patio and lawn space outside. That space, Follett says, has been a godsend. “Oh, there’s no doubt. The deck and green space have been huge for us, and we think they will be even more important in the warmer weather,” Collett said. My wife and I visited Strang Hall on a stormy spring night, so we were unable to take advantage of the patio but, even with the inclement weather, the food (we tried items from five of the six concepts) was outstanding. I can’t wait to return to enjoy that cuisine again on a balmy evening al fresco.
My last stop was the patio at Conroy’s Public House on State Line Road in Leawood. There are three Conroy’s, all in Johnson County, and all with significant and expanding outdoor dining space. “We can probably seat 45-60 people outside at each of the three restaurants,” Executive Chef Shaun Brady stated. Brady says with business picking up weekly, and with staffing issues hitting an all-time high, he’s forced to hold his breath and hope for the best. “We’re adding 10-20 new picnic tables between the three stores, and we keep moving farther and farther out. We’re doing everything we can to accommodate the increasing demand for restaurant dining in general and al fresco restaurant dining in specific,” Brady said.
I, for one, had a lovely al fresco night out at Conroy’s on a gorgeous spring night with some of Brady’s amazing food. What could be better than that? Cheers.