Pretty much everyone knows something of the history of Independence, MO and has probably visited the Courthouse Square or the nearby Truman Presidential Library; but we think some of it's best kept secrets include the existence of truly amazing eateries. Two KC Originals members , Cafe Verona and Ophelia's, are noteworthy and more than worth a road trip for some amazing cuisine, served up under the direction of this month's featured chef, Bobby Stearns.
In early 2012, developers Dan and Cindy McClain, who have been working non-stop to help re-vitalize downtown Independence by investing in existing and new businesses, including restaurants, brought in a hot, young gun on the KC culinary scene to take over the kitchen at their flagship property Ophelia's Restaurant & Inn. We first met chef there back in 2013 when he made one of his frequent surprise visits to our guest table. We picked his brain on menu & possible wine pairings. His stellar reputation had proceeded him but we talked at some length about his previous training [at Broadmoor Bistro's high school culinary arts program followed by JCCC's program] and his experience that included over 4 years at "Taste" in Downtown OP as well as the Kansas City Country Club and the "Macaroni Grill."
Each of those experiential layers made him a perfect choice to become Executive Chef at Ophelia's and oversee not only their kitchen but eventually the sister property Cafe Verona, as well as consult for the McClain's other food operations in Independence. Currently Chef Stearns, a confessed workaholic, is relishing the challenges of dividing his time between all those diverse tasks. He tells us most of his on site cooking and management duties are focused on Cafe Verona these days except for larger events at Opehlia's. This time we met him at Verona and after enjoying a wonderful lunch [you gotta try the Salad Bistecca], discussed his current goals of "freshening up the menu ingredients and systematizing procedures to ensure consistent, thoughtful preparation and presentation" of Cafe Verona's classic and nouveau Italian/Mediterranean offerings.
One of the reasons Bobby makes frequent table visits is to "solicit guest feedback as well as encouragement." He finds that critical to ensuring that guest always have the best possible experience. He also enjoys coaching the front of house staff to assist them in providing world class service.
A local boy, Chef Bobby says that he grew up with Italian food at home so that makes his time in Cafe Verona's kitchen all the more enjoyable prepping food rooted in his childhood memories. Yet he acknowledges that his guilty food pleasure is "Fried Chicken" and comfort foods in general - "anything with a down South flavor profile and style. Given the depth of his responsibilities it's hard to imagine that he has time for much else but his philosophy is "work hard, play hard" so in off hours you'll find him watching sports, grooving KC's late night club scene and trying out new places to eat [for inspiration, of course].
Wrapping up our chat, Chef suggested that readers might like to know about unique events and regular specials tp inspire them to make a visit to Cafe Verona, So check out the 1/2 price wine specials every Wednesday as well as Flatbread Fridays designed to introduce their new Happy Hour cocktails. It's possible you could still get into their monthly 1st Thursday wine dinner [Oct 6] if you hurry. Visit them on Facebook or on their website - www.cafeveronarestaurant.com - for all the details. Whatever you do, don't let the drive dissuade you from discovering at least one of Independence's culinary secrets. Who knows, you might even look up to see the devlishly handsome Chef Stearns heading to your table to welcome you and make you feel like family in his dining room!
1.5 c. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
1 c. sugar
1.5 lb. Gorgonzola cheese crumbled
1 c. olive oil
1 tsp. fresh minced garlic
1 tsp. fresh chopped parsley
2 tsp. fresh cracked pepper
1/3 c. water
Combine all ingredients in a large plastic container or bowl.
Mix with burmixer or combine all ingredients in blender and mix until smooth and all ingredients are thoroughly combined.