Being located next door to the vintage and antique shop Urban Mining has been a boon for KimChee, the brand-new Korean/American café that opened just a few weeks ago just off of Martini Corner at 31st Street and Gilham Road. Urban Mining typically is only open during First Friday weekends when floods of shoppers flock to it as well as other vintage merchants. During the recent August onslaught, KimChee enjoyed so much walk-in traffic that it sold out of some of its food items as well as white wine during its Friday service, and saw steady business throughout the day both Saturday and Sunday, even during typically slow mid-afternoon hours. This opportunity for walk-in business is not lost on the staff and management at KimChee, who approach each new guest as a chance to earn future business, talking them through the menu and delivering unique plates.
KimChee is not a traditional Korean restaurant; rather, it presents a handful of traditional Korean dishes and then uses Korean flavors in its construction of other offerings. Among the more traditional dishes is a savory bibimbap, a dish of fresh vegetables with, of course, kimchi (traditional fermented vegetables, in this case cabbage and cucumbers) in a spicy and savory gochujang sauce served atop steamed rice. Customers can choose a protein to top the dish off, including bulgogi (marinated) beef, grilled chicken, roasted pork, tofu, shrimp and/or a fried egg. Other more traditional Korean dishes available include Korean-style fried chicken wings, spiced chicken with rice and scallions and braised short ribs, coated in sticky sweet sauce.
Chef Soon Pils also takes the opportunity with this menu to divert from the traditional with fusion dishes that are inspired by Korean flavors, for instance, a cheesesteak sandwich made with bulgogi beef. One of the standout dishes here is the Asian pork enchiladas, which, rather than being made with tortillas are made with pan jeon, a crêpe-like pancake made with rice flour. The pan jeon are stuffed with slow-roasted pork and cheese, and then are topped with a Korean-spiced red sauce, cucumber and jicama “pico de gallo” and lime sour cream. It is served with kimchi fried rice. Another option is a BLT, but rather than using bacon, Pils uses thick but tender cuts of pork belly, arugula and fresh tomatoes. The pork belly BLT is served with sweet potato fries or rice.
KimChee also features a custom cocktail menu, in addition to a selection of local beers from Boulevard Brewing Co. and Crane Brewing Co. as well as domestics, and a tidy but respectable wine list. Tea and soft drinks are also available.
The restaurant seats approximately 80 diners at four-tops and high-tops, including nine at the bar, in a space that brings together elements new and old. The antique tin ceiling in the century-plus old brick building is painted white. Custom light fixtures featuring Edison filament light bulbs hang throughout the space and modern artwork lines the lime-green walls.
While not traditional (the best of that is found in Overland Park), KimChee delivers Korean flavors to a part of Kansas City that is sorely lacking it, and it does so in a fun, approachable way. It can serve as a perfect accompaniment to vintage shopping, but also stands up on its own.
KimChee, 3107 Gillham Road, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.800.5332, facebook.com/kimchee.kansascity