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STORY BY Kelly Cannon
Just a stone’s throw away from Kansas City proper, Parkville remains one of the area’s best-kept secrets with a burgeoning arts scene, classy cafés and a park perfect for lazing away an afternoon.
“Parkville is awesome!” was one of the first things I overheard when I walked into the River’s Bend Restaurant & Bar (2 Main St.) in downtown Parkville. Little did I know that “awesome” would become a recurring theme as I explored the little city that sits perched in the bluffs above the Missouri River. Everything about Parkville is truly impressive, including its fascinating history, blue-ribbon restaurants, varied shops and scenic vistas.
In 1840, George Park bought a riverboat landing and the area around it from the English brothers, which led to the establishment of Parkville four years later. It soon evolved into a very busy river port with an influx of Native Americans, fur traders, trappers and farmers.
At one point, Parkville was growing faster than Kansas City, and most anyone who cared to speculate about such things predicted that Kansas City would end up being the smaller of the two. In the boom years, Park established a newspaper with one of the most poetic names ever attached to black ink and newsprint: The Industrial Luminary. The newspaper indeed illuminated the beginning of an end when a pro-slavery mob dumped its printing press into the Big Muddy and threatened to kill Park for printing his pro-abolition editorials.
Soon came Park University and the Burlington Railroad, and today you can see photos of the good ol’ days at the Parkville Chamber of Commerce inside the old train depot. The depot is also home to the Railroad History Museum (8701 N.W. River Park Drive), which features all kinds of ephemera from the Burlington line, including menus, schedules and ads—all very “Mad Men”-esque. I half-expected to turn around and find Don Draper standing behind me with an ice-cold Old Fashioned and a cigarette.
Parkville also is brimming with awesome restaurants. Café Cedar (2 E. Second St.) might be the only place where you can get silky smooth baba ghanoush (eggplant dip) and Southern fried chicken. I prefer its Mediterranean menu with delicacies such as tabouleh (cracked wheat, parsley and tomato salad), malfouf (stuffed cabbage) and karnabeet (roasted cauliflower sandwich). On Saturday nights, you can eat while being entertained by a belly dancer.
Café Des Amis (112 ½ Main St.) offers French preparations that are sure to delight even the most hard-to-please Francophile in your inner circle. When I eat in French restaurants, I gravitate toward dishes I would never cook at home because of the number of ingredients and skill level required, like delicious Bouillabaisse (seafood soup). The croque madame (ham, egg and cheese sandwich) also deserves your palate.
The River’s Bend Restaurant & Bar offers food that is strictly American: a crispy and slightly spicy catfish po’boy, a hand-breaded pork tenderloin that’s so big you’ll take part of it home for later and a cheeseburger that gets a kick from cheddar jack cheese. Everything goes best with a cold beer, and they have enough domestics and premiums to satisfy most everyone.
At Stone Canyon Pizza Company (15 Main St.), you can slice your pie as simple or fancy as you want. They offer four crusts, including a gluten-free option. My favorite is the crispy cracker crust with eight cheeses and too many meats and veggies to count. You can build your own, or if you’d rather trust their judgment (after all, they are the experts), choose from 13 specialty pizzas, such as the infamous South of the Border (a Mexican extravaganza).
If you’re looking specifically for a lunch spot, Shabby Hattie’s Tea Room (113 Main St.) offers soups, salads, quiche and sandwiches that change daily. You’ll get a chance to peruse its boutique before or after you dine.
Bentley Guitar Studios (122 S. Main St.) carries countless acoustic and electric guitars and offers lessons for guitar, drums and singing enthusiasts. Always ahead of the latest musical trends, the store carries a rainbow of ukuleles and can teach you or your best hipster friend how to play a version of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” that rivals any Tiny Tim performance.
For gifts, drop by River’s Bend Gallery (102 Main St.), where you’ll find glasswork, jewelry and handmade afghans. Northland Exposure (110 Main St.), voted best art gallery in the Northland, is an artists’ cooperative with creations from more than 40 local artists. No matter the art you fancy, they have it—paintings, drawings, photography, jewelry, pottery and wood.
Not the shopping type? Relax in English Landing Park while the rest of your party explores the stores. There’s hardly a better vantage point to watch the Missouri River roll by. You might even be lulled into dreaming about what it was like in yesteryear crowded by steamboats and merchants.