Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland

I can finally reveal the cover to my next book, Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland. The book will be published by American Palate, an imprint of The History Press and Arcadia Publishing. The publisher will release the book in October 2016.


Kansas City Beer A History of Brewing in the Heartland


In the coming months, I will share more back story and notes on the research and writing process behind the book. For example, the black-and-white photograph above, courtesy of the Jackson County Historical Society Archives, depicts workers at Ferdinand Heim Brewing Company. In 1887, Ferdinand Heim, Sr. of St. Louis purchased a sugar refinery and acreage in the East Bottoms and built a new brewery on the northeast corner of Guinotte Street at Agnes. Today, Local Pig butcher shop and the Pigwich food truck are located near that intersection on the former brewery grounds.

This is my first book that delves into the history of breweries and Kansas City from the 1850s to present. I’m excited for the book to be released. It comprehensively covers historic and contemporary breweries with bits of history from Kansas City and regional and national events.

The photograph of Kansas City on the book cover was shot by Roy Inman. Roy is a fine local photographer known for shooting the iconic shot of the KC Royals World Series rally at Union Station. I’m thankful to feature his photography that depicts downtown Kansas City’s skyline in such dynamic fashion.

If you have questions about Kansas City Beer or the city’s brewery history, drop me a line.


Wagner Biscuits and Gravy in West Virginia

Making biscuits and gravy is a rite of passage in the extended Wagner clan of West Virginia. That treasured family ritual involves a heaping amount of bacon grease with no regrets.

My Uncle Mike grew up in Longacre, West Virginia, a poor coal-mining town, with a big pack of siblings. Now, Uncle Mike and Aunt Tawee live in northern California near Sacramento. They flew to Kansas City in July, where my sister Mary, her family and I drove with them to the Wagner family reunion. We crossed Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky until we arrived at Watoga State Park in Marlinton, West Virginia.

We joined an extended Wagner clan of brothers, sisters, spouses, kids, grand-kids and cousins. They told stories, laughed,  lovingly harassed each other and, most importantly, prepared hearty home-style food each day. Rick, one of Mike’s brothers and an excellent cook, taught the Kansas City–California contingent how to properly make biscuits and gravy like Mom Wagner (RIP) used to make.

Breakfast LA and Jadie making biscuits

The biscuit recipe is a straightforward blend of flour, baking powder, baking soda, butter and buttermilk. Once the dough is formed, Rick rolled the dough flat on a flour-dusted surface. Then he brought out the biscuit cutter, a key to the rite of passage.

In a deep, booming voice, Rick told the kids, grandkids, flatlanders and, really, anyone within earshot, about the heritage of the biscuit cutter. He held up a round 16-ounce tin can that was flimsier than cans today. The biscuit cutter in Rick’s hand dated back to the 1960s. His deceased father originally made it from an evaporated milk can. Decades ago, the ends were soldered onto the round can. His father held one end of the empty can over the stove fire until it heated up enough to pop the end off. Easy as pie, Mom Wagner had a biscuit cutter. The heirloom in Rick’s hand has cut hundreds of big, fat biscuits over the years.

Big Roger, the eldest of the siblings, the shortest in height and perhaps the biggest personality in the family, reminded everyone that he got to cut the first biscuit by rights. After he exercised his right, fellow siblings took their turns cutting and passing the can to the next person in line. The ritual extended from generation to generation, down to the youngest in the room and even us flatlanders, connecting everyone to Wagner family history and tradition.

Breakfast Sue and Jessica

Breakfast Tawee cutting
Big Roger observes Aunt Tawee and other family members participate in the biscuit-cutting tradition.

Breakfast Pete cutting

Once cut, the doughy biscuits were laid on sheet pan coated with bacon grease. Then, we generously dabbed bacon grease on top of each biscuit, wide as a catfish head, for extra flavor. That glistening grease also helped those precious biscuits turn golden brown as they baked.


Breakfast biscuits and bacon grease

Breakfast biscuit glazed with bacon grease

We weren’t done with the bacon grease yet. Earlier, Mary, Rick and Little Roger took turns cooking bacon and sausage in iron skillets. Grease from each batch formed a shallow puddle in each skillet. That grease would transform into bacon and chipped beef gravy and sausage gravy. Rick showed us how to heat up the grease to just the right temperature, add flour to form a loose, greasy base, let it heat more until it browned and began to smoke, add more flour to form a thick roux, stirring all the while with a whisk to get the bacon or sausage leavings worked in, until it was time to add evaporated milk (for richness, because it was sorely lacking, right?), stir more, let reduce, thicken and achieve the ultimate balance of thick, creamy, rich, soul-affirming gravy. Bits of bacon, chipped beef, black pepper and a touch of salt went into one batch; ground pieces of sausage added texture and flavor to the other.


Breakfast Mary cooking bacon

Breakfast bacon gravy beginning
Breakfast gravy roux

Breakfast making gravy

Breakfast bacon and sausage gravy

When the golden biscuits emerged from the oven, they were piled high on plates. Big Roger said grace in his sweet, rambling West Virginia accent to thank the cooks, family and the grace of God – and bless the dishwasher! Biscuits were quickly divvied up like bags of money among thieves after a heist. Hungry family members ladled gravy on top, added bacon and/or sausage and spooned June apples on the side.

As the name suggests, June apples are gathered that month, cooked into applesauce and saved to eat throughout the year. A slightly tart variety, June apples make a perfect light bite to offset gut-busting biscuits, gravy and trimmings.


Breakfast finished biscuits

Breakfast June apples
Breakfast B and G

Naturally, by rights and loud vocal declaration, Big Roger got the pone. The “pone” is the leftover scrap of biscuit dough after the cutting is done. Those scraps are formed into one big mound and baked. Double the size of a regular biscuit with more crust, the pone is highly sought-after but always wound up on Big Roger’s plate.

Biscuit making became biscuit eating. We ate. We ate second helpings, if we could help it. We ate as family, by blood and bacon grease.


Potato Candy

I tasted potato candy for the first time last week at Watoga State Park, located in the mountains of Pocahontas County near Marlington, West Virginia. Before this trip, I never knew that this sweet confection even existed.

My Uncle Mike, Aunt Tawee, sister Mary, her family and I drove from Kansas City to Watoga for the Wagner family reunion. Mike and his siblings hail from Longacre, West Virginia, a small coal-mining town. This year, the reunion was held at a beautiful, peaceful state park where we saw black bear, deer and other wildlife, but that’s another story.

Shortly after we arrived at the park and unloaded, we made our way to a large cabin that served as the central gathering spot. I saw Wagner family members that I hadn’t visited in 20 years. Everyone exchanged greetings, hugs and handshakes. We dined on Al burgers. Again, that’s another story. Eventually, someone revealed that a stash of potato candy was in the refrigerator. I had no idea what this candy looked or tasted like. It sounded weird.

Potato candy is made from four ingredients: potato, peanut butter, confectioners sugar and, if desired, food coloring. I couldn’t find any source for the origin of this sweet, but it is found throughout the South, East Coast and even New England, derived most likely from West European recipes. It’s a handy way to use up leftover mashed potatoes.


Potato candy stash
Potato candy Mike stash

Potato candy Mike shares
Potato candy tastes sweet (not surprisingly) like fudge. Uncle Mike begrudgingly shared a piece with the rest of his immediate and extended family. I enjoyed a bite of one piece but stayed away from the rest of the batch. A few pieces would prompt instant diabetes or a sugar coma. This part of the country was the Land of Sweet Tea. Sugar is a staple ingredient and almost required ingredient in many recipes.

Uncle Mike did share the stash of potato candy throughout the week like a king passing out bags of gold. He hid the box deep in the crowded refrigerator to protect his stash. Of course, pieces went missing from time to time but it wasn’t me gobbling them.

Here’s a recipe for potato candy with vanilla extract added.

Grating Coconut for Sticky Rice Dessert

It’s been years since I used a Thai “rabbit” grater. I brought mine out storage to grate fresh coconut for a sticky rice dessert that I prepared for a four-course Thai meal at Julian in March.

The grater is referred to as “rabbit” because the elaborate versions of the tool were once carved into that animal’s shape. Today, the wooden stool with a serrated blade extending from the neck is still referred to as a rabbit (gkra-dtai in Thai). A rabbit image is embossed on the thin blade. 


rabbit 2

coconut 2


The dessert uses steamed sticky rice topped with a blend of sweet corn, sugar, salt, coconut juice and shredded coconut meat. Preparation involves rinsing the rice repeatedly to remove excess starch before steaming. I use a woven basket filled with a quantity of rice that is suspended over a pot of boiling water for about 20-30 minutes until the rice is done. Sticky rice differs from long-grain jasmine rice because it is glutinous (glue-like and sticky, not gluten) when cooked. Other types of rice cannot be substituted for sticky rice and achieve the same result.

The other time-consuming dessert preparation involves shredding fresh coconut. Thai chef Kasma Loha-unchit writes in great detail about shredding coconut using a rabbit. Here’s a quick primer.

First, purchase coconuts that feel heavier than others. A heavy coconut contains more meat and juice inside. You should be able to shake the coconut and hear juice sloshing inside. The shell should have no obvious exterior cracks.

coconut 7

coconut 6


Before opening the coconut, set out a large bowl or pot. Take the back of a heavy chef’s knife or kitchen mallet. Hold the coconut in the palm of your weaker hand and whack the shell several times with the back of the knife (carefully!) or mallet until the shell cracks. Pry the shell open and let the juice drain out. Continue to pry the shell apart until it splits. Reserve the juice.

Whenever my Mom split coconut in this fashion, my sister, brothers and I vied for a taste of the fresh juice. That intense pure flavor reminds me of childhood and Thailand. It was always disappointing when a rare coconut yield sour juice, indicating it was spoiled. After tasting the juice, Mom usually enlisted us to grate the coconut on the rabbit.


coconut 3

coconut 4

coconut 5


The method involves sitting down on the stool with legs straddled on both sides. Using one or both hands, you push the coconut’s interior against the serrated blade to grate the meat. The shredded coconut is captured on a plate or tray below. Ideally, you develop a rhythm as you steadily grind the meat, rotating the shell and as blade works it way down. You don’t want to grind all the way to the shell’s interior or you’ll grate hard bits of the brown shell into the meat. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice if brown specks show up on the plate. Whenever we thought we were done, Mom would inspect the shell and point out that there was more to grate. After one half was complete, we grated the other half of the shell. As kids, it seemed like it took forever.

When I cracked the shell, drained the juice and grated a pair of coconuts, the entire process only took about 20 minutes. Out of practice, I found myself picking out tiny bits of brown shell from the white shredded coconut.

To finish the dessert, I strained the juice to remove any unwanted strands of husk and shell. I added a little bit of juice to the steamed rice for flavor. Too much juice only makes the rice mushy. I sprinkled a mixture of cooked, cooled corn kernels, shredded coconut, salt, and sugar over the rice. The only step left is to grab a spoon and dig in.



Urban Food Tour with Chef Ferran Adriá

It’s not every day that you meet world-famous Spanish master chef Ferran Adriá. Yesterday, a small entourage that included Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Director Julián Zugazagoitia, local media and I had the opportunity to accompany Adriá on an exploratory food tour through downtown Kansas City.

Adriá and his wife Isabel traveled from Spain to visit Kansas City this past weekend and promote the art exhibition Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity. The exhibition is on view through August 2, 2015 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Kansas City is only one of five cities in the world showing this touring exhibition.

Ferran Adrià Plating Diagram, ca. 2000-2004 Colored pen on graph paper Courtesy of elBullifoundation
Ferran Adrià Plating Diagram, ca. 2000-2004
Colored pen on graph paper
Courtesy of elBullifoundation


Ferran Adria, El Bulli. Courtesy of elBullifoundation.
Ferran Adria, El Bulli. Courtesy of elBullifoundation.


The master chef is known for boundless creativity and innovative cooking that earned acclaim for more than 2o years at his destination restaurant elBulli in Spain. Adriá‘s contribution to the culinary world includes not only nearly 2,000 original dishes the chef and his culinary team created, but also the distinctive, deliberate methods that fostered creative exploration through documentation and critique as a generative process. His thorough, relentless process enabled him to meticulously explore food, technique and culinary equipment as a foundation for creative thought and execution.

Over time, Adriá‘s use of drawings, symbols, language and visual organization expanded both the philosophy and practice of how cuisine could evolve. As notes on the exhibit state:

He created an innovative multi-sensory vocabulary and structure that expanded the ways in which we encounter, consider and judge our relationship to food and art.  Through sketches, models and diagrams Notes on Creativity charts the origins of Adrià’s intellectual and philosophical ideas about gastronomy that have forever changed how we understand food.

The exhibit is a must-see for anyone interested in food and the inner workings of a fertile mind that has examined food’s role and connection to society, culture and sense of place in striking new ways.


Our day began by meeting Julián Zugazagoitia (left), director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and acclaimed Chef Ferran Adrià, visiting Kansas City from Spain, in the museum's sculpture park.
Our day began by meeting Julián Zugazagoitia (left), director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and acclaimed Chef Ferran Adrià, visiting Kansas City from Spain, in the museum’s sculpture park.

Ferran Adrià and his wife Isabel.
Ferran Adrià and his wife Isabel.


While in town, Adriá, his wife Isabel, Spanish-speaking interpreter Sofia Perez (also a food editor/writer from New York) and company visited J. Rieger and Co. in the East Bottoms. Andy Rieger, Ryan Maybee and head distiller Nathan Perry discussed the history of their blended whiskey brand and distillery. We enjoyed samples to start our day’s trek.


Pete x Ryan Maybee Nathan Perry head distiller
Ryan Maybee and head distiller Nathan Perry.
J. Rieger's dream team poses with Ferran Adria in front of their copper still.
J. Rieger’s dream team poses with Ferran Adria in front of their copper still.
Sofia Perez, Ferran Adrià, and Isabel examine a bottle of J. Rieger whiskey.
Sofia Perez, Ferran Adrià, and isabel examine a bottle of J. Rieger whiskey.

Pete Ferran Adria J Rieger Whiskey

Chef Ferran Adria in front of barrels used to age J. Rieger whiskey.
Chef Ferran Adrià in front of barrels used to age J. Rieger whiskey.
Translator Sofia Perez, Adria, Maybee, Rieger and head distiller Nathan Perry.
Translator Sofia Perez, Adrià, Maybee, Rieger and head distiller Nathan Perry.
J. Rieger founders Andy Rieger (left) and Ryan Maybee discussed the origins of the brand and method behind their whiskey blended with sherry.
J. Rieger founders Andy Rieger (left) and Ryan Maybee discussed the origins of the brand and method behind their whiskey blended with sherry.


Later, we headed to Local Pig and Urban Provisions next door. At Local Pig, owner-chef Alex Pope and butcher Adam Northcraft prepared voluminous samples of charcuterie. It was difficult not to overindulge. Truffle chicken liver mousse? Lardo? Lonzino? Yes, please.

“Fantastico!”Adriá declared of Local Pig’s delicious fare.

Adriá visited with Pope and Northcraft while a butchery class was in progress. Pope even prepared a pork steak on the fly by request for his famous guest, known for eating with gusto. After a while, we met the proprietors at Urban Provisions. They prepared refreshing drinks and snacks using some of the foodstuffs they carry from KC Canning Co. and other vendors.


Ferran Adrià,  Julián Zugazagoitia and butcher Adam Northcraft.
Ferran Adrià, Julián Zugazagoitia and butcher Adam Northcraft.
Ferran Adrià and Julián Zugazagoitia sample charcuterie from Local Pig.
Ferran Adrià and Julián Zugazagoitia sample charcuterie from Local Pig.

Pete Lardo Tongue Terrine Local Pig

Pete Ferran and Alex Pope

Pete Ferran Adria at Local Pig

Pete Dulin Isabel
Posing with Adrià’s wife, Isabel.


Entering Urban Provisions for more exploring and tasting.
Entering Urban Provisions for more exploring and tasting.


Next, we ventured for a quick walk around the City Market and circled back to Happy Gillis for a multi-course lunch prepared by owners Josh and Abbey-Jo Eans and their kitchen team. As always, the food was on point and delicious.

Afterward, the group headed to Haw Contemporary Gallery for a brief visit with gallery owner Bill Haw, Jr. and exhibiting artist Andy Brayman. We concluded the day with wine and Green Dirt Farm cheese samples at Amigoni Urban Winery.


Chef Josh Eans.
Chef Josh Eans.
Abbey-Jo Eans, Josh Eans and Chef Ferran Adrià.
Abbey-Jo Eans, Josh Eans and Chef Ferran Adrià.
Kale salad with anchovies at Happy Gillis.
Kale salad with anchovies at Happy Gillis.
Ferran Adrià and Chef Josh Eans discuss Boulevard's Saison-Brett beer.
Ferran Adrià and Chef Josh Eans discuss Boulevard’s Saison-Brett beer.
Ferran Adrià and Julián Zugazagoitia discuss the historic building at Amigoni Winery
Ferran Adrià and Julián Zugazagoitia discuss the historic building at Amigoni Winery
Pete Kerry and Michael Amigoni with Ferran Adria
Kerry and Michael Amigoni with Ferran Adrià.
Sofia Perez and Pete Dulin.
Sofia Perez and Pete Dulin.


The food-intensive day was an adventure for all. The event offered an opportunity to showcase business owners dedicated to craftsmanship, whether it was whiskey, charcuterie, wine or a meal using local ingredients. At one point, Adriá acknowledged the “passion” inherent in both the people and the craft we encountered as demonstrated through food, drink and hospitality. By day’s end, the group was weary and content, ready to rest, digest and push on. This food tour is only one of many events scheduled during Adrià’s visit in town.

Adriá‘s stay only lasts until Tuesday morning; however, his impact will be felt for a long time throughout the food community he has generously spent time with on this whirlwind tour. Adrià’s influence on food through his art is more challenging to assess than his established, long-standing culinary achievements. Still, his rare, unique exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins is worth seeking out to explore the ideas, creativity and documented process of a striking mind.


Ferran Adrià at Amigoni Vineyard and Winery.
Ferran Adrià at Amigoni Vineyard and Winery.