Kansas City may not spring to mind as being a focus for Italian Americans in the way that, say, Boston is; but there is a thriving Italian and Italian American community in KC – with a somewhat checkered past for those who know their history of organized crime. One positive that it has brought is Lidia Bastianich, owner of the eponymous Lidia’s, lovingly nestled in the freight district behind Union Station.
For those who are interested in geopolitical history, Lidia hails from Pola – now Pula which was originally part of Italian Istria before being ceded to Yugoslavia in 1947 with a resultant diaspora westward of the indigent Italians. then became part of Croatia once Yugoslavia split apart in 1991.
Lidia’s has been a Kansas City staple for nearly twenty years, opening in 2008 and quickly earned a reputation as a quality eatery, not least because of Lidia’s track record as TV chef (including – but not limited to – Lidia’s Kitchen which currently airs on Create KCPTDT3, Channel 74 if you have Google Fiber )and author – something which you are gently reminded of upon entry where there’s a selection of her cookbooks available for purchase. Just in case you feel inspired by the menu to try your hand at some of the recipes yourself.
First off, the restaurant itself is visually stimulating, from the circular wine racks on the far wall to the glass bauble chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling, Lidia’s has a very open celebratory feel to it. And such is the Italian way. Added to the fact that Lidia’s is VERY busy and seats over 150, it has that background hum that gives a certain level of vibrancy.
For my starter I chose Lidia’s Signature Caesar Salad because although I confess to being a meatatarian, the odd occasion rises where I feel like a palate cleansing and some roughage are actually good ideas. If there’s one thing I can’t abide in a salad, it’s wilted leaves; fortunately this wasn’t the case here, all the ingredients being crisp and fresh and amplified with the crunch from the Foccacia croutons. Interestingly (well maybe to one or two people), the menu states the cheese as being Grana rather than Grana Padano which it has to be called in the EU. This is due to something called Protected Designation of Origin under Italian law and was even confirmed by the European Court of Justice in 2007. Those who are truly interested can even download the court ruling from HERE.
I honestly think that there’s little better than a good Caesar salad to get your juices flowing for an entree, which was fortunate as the pasta tasting trio that I had was extremely generously portioned, equally divided between four cheese ravioli with thyme sause, penne Amatriciana with tomato sauce and pancetta and penne Pugliese with broccoli in a garlic and cream sauce. My trifecta of favorite foods are BBQ, curry and pasta and this was some of the best pasta I have ever had, particularly the four cheese ravioli as the thyme sauce was divine. Each style was individually brought to and served at the table straight from the pan which I felt was a nice touch although, if I have to be really picky, it did mean that the Pugliese was a little watery as it was not quite fully drained at serving. Still, that’s a minor and somewhat personal quibble because the dish itself simply could not be faulted and resulted in my scoffing down of a plate of pasta considerably larger than my head. I honestly cannot say that I have had better pasta anywhere in America, that’s how good it was, and it’s actually a relatively simple recipe to boot – but not so simple that I’m brave enough to actually try and replicate it at home.
[The photo doesn’t do full justice to the scale, that is a large plate]
I’ll admit to feeling somewhat full after the entree as, even by American standards, it was a generous portion but, in the spirit of journalistic endeavor, I kept on trucking and dove into the dessert, going for a banana and mascarpone semifreddo with caramel and rice brittle. Again, it really couldn’t be faulted, bringing a sweetness and a level of refreshment which complemented the savory of the main. Generally, I’m not a fan of caramel as I find it a little too sweet, but the brittle was sufficient to pull back the level of sweet. It was also very pretty to look at. Almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
Lidia’s has a reputation for being a great place to eat and I have seen nothing to disabuse that notion.. If there’s a better Italian restaurant in Kansas City – and trust me I will look to see – it will have to be very, very, very good indeed.
101 West 22nd Street
Kansas City, MO 64108
Tel:  221 3722
Monday – Friday: 11:00am – 2:00pm
Saturday – Sunday: 10:30am – 2:00pm
Monday – Thursday: 5:00pm – 9:00pm
Friday: 5:00pm – 10:00pm
Saturday: 4:00pm – 10:00pm
Sunday: 4:00pm – 9:00pm