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EJ’s Urban Eatery: Eclectic Vibe and Southern-Style Comfort Food

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Every once in a while, I eat at a place so comfortable and welcoming that I don’t want to leave. EJ’s Urban Eatery is one of those places, which is one reason it’s been recognized as one of the hottest destination lunch spots in Kansas City. Great food, atmosphere and company define this year-old West Bottoms establishment.

Managing partner Erik Gaucher had a successful career in wealth management. After he landed in Kansas City for what was supposed to be a short-term stint, fate stepped in by way of some friendly cocktails and a couple of guys on bar stools with a shared dream of opening a restaurant. One could cook and one had capital, and the rest is history.

Erik and Executive Chef John Cedric Smith chose a building rich with history for their restaurant. Easy walking distance from West Bottoms retail shops, it’s an ideal spot to get sustenance while on the hunt for treasure. They gutted their 100-year-old building, discovering all sorts of long-hidden-away nooks and crannies, and remodeled the space with an industrial rustic motif that fits perfectly into the West Bottoms scene. The corrugated metal finishes throughout were salvaged from a farm, and refinished and repurposed as stylish accents. In a district known for flea markets peddling vintage treasures, recycled and repurposed furniture and decor, the vibe at EJ’s celebrates the idea of making the old new again.

At EJ’s, the menu is elevated Midwestern comfort food at an affordable price point. For an average of $11 to $15, you can get a hearty, homestyle meal like you’ve never had before. The meat-and-three concept is popular throughout the South, but somewhat of a novelty here in Kansas City. What does it mean? You choose from a selection of four or five meats, and then add three sides (or more!) of your choice. The meat selections rotate but expect to find choices such as espresso-rubbed smoked brisket, breakfast ribs with red eye hollandaise, blackened catfish, meatloaf with bacon jam and always a chicken dish. Sides range from the classic favorites of mac ’n’ cheese and green beans to EJ’s specialties such as squash casserole and fried green tomatoes. You order at the counter from a menu that changes every week based on what’s in season and available. Sample menus are available on EJ’s website, but you can follow their social media to find out what’s cookin’ before you head their way.

There are other options. Daily specials spotlight Chef John’s immense talent and broad-ranging experience. Before opening EJ’s, he worked in some of the most elite kitchens in Chicago, New York City and Kansas City and spent time in France perfecting his craft. There’s always a soup and a salad, as well as a burger with bourbon pickled jalapenos, white cheddar, bacon and mayo, shrimp and grits, brisket grilled cheese and more.

My favorite part about EJ’s, after the shrimp and grits, is the community seating. Their motto is “Make a friend today,” and they make sure you have that opportunity by offering large dining tables for everyone to sit together. Pull up an extra chair or move over another table; they don’t care. This restaurant is about bringing people together and turning strangers into friends. Erik and John want you to experience the kind of laid-back hospitality that the South is known for, mixed with Midwestern authenticity.

There’s no better way to make a friend than over a piece of rich buttermilk pie or decadent white chocolate bread pudding. It’s so worth the indulgence, and don’t worry, you can work it off shopping for antiques after your meal.

While they aren’t regularly open for dinner, EJ’s offers an amazing happy hour until 6:00 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, with specials that vary based on the whims of Erik and John. Don’t be surprised to see them slinging $1 beers just to put a smile on their guests’ faces. You can get everything from artisan cocktails to a great selection of beer and spirits from local breweries and distilleries, plus appetizers and small plates at special happy hour prices. On Saturdays, listen to live music all afternoon.

On Saturdays and some Sundays, EJ’s does a truly special brunch, featuring approachable comfort foods embellished with Chef John’s one-of-a-kind stamp of deliciousness. Gather around their tables for a three-meat skillet, biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits, eggs benedict and more. It’s one of the best brunch values in town. The Sunday Special, hot fried chicken, available in mild or hot damn, is just one more reason to get to the West Bottoms and end your weekend on a high note.

Lunch, brunch and happy hour are not all EJ’s offers. Come back for their monthly Beer Dinners, hosted in partnership with local breweries. Seating is limited so reservations are necessary; check their website for more details. Private dining up to 100 guests is available.

These two guys care deeply about their community and regularly provide catering for charity functions and organizations that align with their values. Among many others, Chef John is involved with Boys Grow, a two-year program that teaches agricultural entrepreneurship to urban youth. By eating at this restaurant, you’re doing more than just filling your belly; you’re supporting a business that contributes so much good to our beloved Kansas City.

Visit EJ’s Urban Eatery at 1414 W. 9th Street, Kansas City, Missouri, or


Cravings writer Erin McIntosh works at the Kansas City Art Institute and is a freelance writer and portrait photographer. In addition to writing about the amazing KC food scene, she contributes to KC Parent Magazine. She is currently working on her first book – part memoir and part single parenting survival guide. Erin is a mother and stepmother to four children and the family table is the hub of the household. But whether at home or out on the town, Erin believes that sharing a great meal with family and friends is vital to health and happiness.