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NOVEL: The Restaurant That Exemplifies Its Name

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Written by by Megan Neher

When Novel moved to Kansas City’s artsy Crossroads district in April 2018, they reinvented their menu, ambiance and overall restaurant feel. Chef owner Ryan Brazeal had no idea he’d have to do it again two years later when the pandemic hit.

“We were so lucky to have a loyal following when we were on 17th Street; to open for a second time and to have those people and even then some here at our new location was incredible,” Ryan said. “With the pandemic, it gave us a second chance to rethink our menu. It forced us to really think about exactly what we wanted to do with every item. If we are going to have this very limited exposure, we need to put a lot of thought into what we want to do to remain relevant.”

That’s why they call the restaurant Novel! The name reflects the chef-owners’ desire to constantly remain new and interesting.

Ryan owns the restaurant with his wife, Novel’s pastry chef Jessica Armstrong. Even though the restaurant had to lay off nearly all staff and Ryan had to go back to physically cooking “on the line” where he hadn’t worked for many years, the couple views their latest reinvention as the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. “And this is how we remain relevant. It’s always important to have constant reflection,” he said.

The arrival of spring is encouraging to the chefs and their guests. After five years of operating in a multi-storied old house that was not designed to be a restaurant, Novel has transformed from quaint and charming to chic, artsy and spacious with a large front patio. Kansas City artist and business owner Peregrine Honig created the eye-catching tile mosaic mural behind the granite, 18-person bar and along the entire restaurant’s dining wall. She also was instrumental in the creation of the new outdoor mural with interactive swing, perfect for Insta photos, that’s adjacent to the new patio seating. As the nights get warmer, this beautiful patio, which is somewhat secluded with tall, unique planters, is picture-perfect for relaxing and enjoying creative dishes and inventive cocktails in the center of the bustling Kansas City Crossroads.

It was fun to kick back and have a conversation with Ryan about the second reinvention, or is it the third? What’s clear is that Ryan and Jessica know how to look at the big picture and then zero in on the minute details, including every aspect of the restaurant.

This time, the reinvention offers menu items for everyone and features those dishes that we can’t replicate at home. “I want guests to be able to justify coming out to a nice restaurant,” he said. That’s exactly my criteria too. There wasn’t a single item Ryan prepared that I could have come close to making in my kitchen.

For starters, there’s the Butternut Squash Soup. For years, Ryan resisted adding this soup to his menu because he thought it was derivative. There are many recipes available online and this area of the country grows great butternut squash. Ryan thought that this soup was just too pedestrian for a restaurant named Novel. But this version is unique. It’s inspired by Israeli cooking, which gives it a little heat from house-made jalapeno schug; a bit of lemon juice offers some acid flavor, the tapioca pearls bring in the sweet and texture and the black garlic offers a touch of bitterness. Every single bite has slightly different flavors, creating a delicious balance to the soup.

Newer to the menu is the Romaine Wedge. This play on an iceberg wedge is exactly something I should be making at home because it looks beautiful and simple on the plate. Romaine has a bit more flavor than iceberg and can be sourced locally, topped with homemade garlicky blue cheese dressing, chunky smoked bacon, cherry tomatoes and finished with perfectly salty potato straws.

The Crispy Farm Egg is something I’ve devoured at Novel before and will be coming back for again. Known as a signature item, this trademark dish features an egg that is cooked three times, first, sous vide to get the insides custardy, then poached to set the whites and so it’s firm enough to bread it, and lastly, it’s breaded with corn flour and polenta (gluten free, folks!) before it is fried. It’s served over local radishes with oyster mushrooms and a flavorful chicken sauce made with chicken jus, shallots, thyme, fennel and more.

A favorite on the menu is the Canadian Pekin Duck Breast. This spring menu item features some fall root vegetables but brings in just the right flavor combinations to make it the ideal spring dish. The duck is air dried for a couple of days, then treated with the classic five-spice Chinese blend of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, Sichuan peppers and fennel seeds, producing flavors that are deep and spicy with a hint of sweetness. Finally, the skin is pan seared to crispy perfection and served over pureed sweet potatoes with quickly fermented red cabbage and a borrowed recipe for the rare pumpkin seed mole.

The Duroc Pork Chop is an example of the reinvention come full circle. When Novel moved from the house to the new location, Ryan didn’t want to do menu items they’d featured on the old menu. In fact, the new menu was set up like a traditional steakhouse in which guests could select a protein and side vegetables. Because of the design of the house, Novel had to offer complete plates. Today, because of the pandemic and limitations on staffing, sourcing and occupancy, the restaurant has returned to offering complete plate options. The pork chop is a favorite that’s returned! Inspired by a Vietnamese chef that Ryan worked for, the dish features a large pork belly, first braised and then cooked with a variety of flavorful peppers, onions and soy sauce. The meat is from a local producer and the special process of leaving the skin on creates a more tender and flavorful meat. It’s served over baby bok choy, rice spaetzle, Novel’s twist on the Austrian baked noodles, and crispy shallots. The highly-sought-after recipe for this melt-in-your-mouth dish has been requested by many Novel guests.

I guess if your name is Novel, reinvention is constant. Let’s pray future reinventions are based on choice, not global catastrophes.

Find Novel at 1927 McGee Street, Kansas City, Missouri; check for menu previews or call 816-221-0785. Novel is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5:00 to 8:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 5:00 to 9:00 p.m.