I promise the drive is really shorter than you think. In fact, a certain chef tells me you can get from the center of downtown KC to Justus Drugstore in just 22 minutes. More importantly it’s completely worth stepping off your beaten path. It’s food you don’t find anywhere else. Each trip there can be so different from even your last visit…but the new creations taste just as amazing as you remembered it all.
It’s hard to believe Justus Drugstore has been going strong in Smithville for five years, now. Last Saturday night, it was as packed as I’ve ever seen it. With Restaurant Week in full swing, a special dining area had been put together to hold those who came for a taste of Chef Jonathan Justus’ four courses for a mere $30. The small eatery was already booked full with diners asking for the regular menu; additionally, every space was taken on the tented and heated patio that night for the Restaurant Week steal-of-a-deal!
We dined at a small table near the busy bar, anxious to take a look at the entire menu and find what was new since our last visit. Having made a late reservation (we’re probably some of the few people I know comfortable starting dinner at 9pm) and knowing that a meal at Justus Drugstore is an “event” (aka 2-3 hour gluttonous celebration), we scanned the menu and ordered it all right outta the gates.
Of course, I had to start with one of their wonderful craft cocktails. Justus Drugstore is the first place in Kansas City I remember having such unique and creative drinks. Their talented mixologists introduced me to egg whites in spirits, a fantastic method of shaking – rather aggressively – a little white into a martini with aromatic spirits resulting in a meringue-like texture. They are so delicious and fun. But this time, I just went with the Elixir du Jour made with cucumber gin – one of the house-infused liquors made on-site. There are so many infused options, all lined up on the bar in beautiful glass jars, and they all sound so enticingly tasty. It can be very difficult to decide.
As always, the first course was one of the most interesting and exciting. I had the beef short rib plate served atop a yam mixture and finished with compressed pears and pickled brussel sprouts. It was divine. The Hubs went for the Ham and Egg Sandwich – a piece of toasted brioche topped with a perfectly poached egg and surrounded with crispy bacon, thinly sliced mushrooms and just a few chunks of a creamy, rich cheese. Wow, this was phenomenal! The egg yolk soaked into the densely delicate brioche and paired perfectly with the salt and crunch of the bacon. It was so good, I was overcome with jealousy and ordered a second one for myself!
Next came one of my favorite courses at Justus – the salad. I always look forward to having a salad here because it’s definitely no ordinary salad. Because I knew it was a treasure chest of textures and flavors, I went with my usual Nestled Egg salad. It’s an elementally simple salad of frise tossed in a mustard vinaigrette with bacon lardons and fried potato cubes. But the star of the show, and the novelty of the dish, is the pristinely prepared egg nestled into the greens. This beauty is soft-boiled then deep-fried in panko bread crumbs leaving the yolk slightly runny. I like to fork up just a dime-sized chunk of egg with the crispy, savory coating and pile the crunchy frise on top with one potato cube and a single piece of lardon. THAT is my perfect bite at Justus Drugstore!
The Hubs opted for another great salad option that I love. It’s a beautiful dark green bed of arugula with a Missouri walnut tuille tucked into a blue cheese “ice cream” ball. We both devoured our second course and awaited the main attraction!
One thing I love about dining at Justus is having the kitchen in clear view. It’s not an “open-kitchen” like so many others that place the line and shelves with food lamps between the dining room somewhere a stone’s throw over a walkway. This the entire kitchen front and center, just a waist-high wall to shield shelves of supplies below. Everything happening in the kitchen is on full display, even servers reaching into the industrial sized cooler to find the garnishes for the dish being plated. It’s a fun sight to watch, the creation of such artistic food.
Normally, I like to order something different from The Hubs so we can taste as many items as possible. But this night we both opted for the American Kobe Ribeye and it was spot on! Super tender and flavorful served over a bed of seasoned wilted greens and the most decadent little handmade pasta tubes filled with a heavenly cheese mixture. Superb!!
We ended the night just the way I like in Smithville….dessert and a chat with Chef Jonathan. Unlike most restaurants racking up these kinds of accolades, Chef Jonathan visits with nearly every table. Depending on the time of night, he might even pull up a chair if you offer. Over a smooth and satisfying French Pressed Coffee and a couple killer Carrot Cake Beignets, we talked with the chef about business, travel and even some pending restaurant news.
It was a fabulous night and I look forward to visiting again very soon.