By Lisa Chism
The atmosphere at the new JJ’s Restaurant reflects the personality of its staff and owner, Jimmy Frantzè. Now housed in the Polsinelli Building, which is across the street from the old location, their desirable spot may sit within a large building, but seems very much independent. Upon entering the Polsinelli Building, you are greeted by large hallways with modern and contemporary art and furniture.
The glass entrance doors give you a sneak peak at JJ’s before you go in. There is a large expanse of a bar with generous table and bar side seating. It’s the perfect place to wait before your table is ready or to enjoy Happy Hour seven nights a week from 4:00 to 6:00 pm.
The ambiance within the restaurant is elegant without being pretentious or stuffy. Just like Jimmy’s personality, it is classy without being arrogant. The main dining areas have formally set tables with linen tablecloths, and the wine selection and menu are top notch. The soft colors of the restaurant complemented by the bright colors of the artwork on the walls suggest that you can have a fine dining experience without all the formal airs.
The staff here really is like family. Not only do they greet guests with a smile and remember faces from past visits, but there is also an air of general respect amongst the staff. This group has been through a lot together, and like most families, they have experienced their share of tragedy.
Most in Kansas City remember the tragic fire at the original JJ’s Restaurant that occurred in February 2013. A gas line ruptured, igniting flames in the kitchen that caused a massive inferno. Not only was the venue a total loss, but because the restaurant was open at the time, several staff members were injured. Most tragic was the loss of staff member Megan Cramer, who died in the fire.
The new JJ’s opened earlier this year, and it is a healing process for owner Jimmy Frantzè to be back doing what he loves. Seventy percent of his original staff came back to work for him, which speaks volumes about his management style.
The kitchen is run by executive chef T.J. Stack, who spent a number of years at the Savoy Grill. A lot of attention is given to meat selection here. Only the best cuts are used and the portions are thick and hearty. I was impressed with how lean my beef filet was, and the double bone pork chop is enough to make any hungry man happy, or to serve as leftovers for a second meal.
The appetizer that everyone comes back for is the Paco Shrimp, four large shrimp that are stuffed with horseradish, wrapped in bacon, then deep fried and presented on a bed of creamy Dijon mustard and white wine sauce, garnished with roasted red bell pepper puree. There is an assortment of other appetizer options, and the Happy Hour menu is a very good value, featuring some of these selections.
Equally impressive in presentation and taste is the beet salad. Served on a large oblong plate, it is easily enough to share or make as your main entrée. Served with mixed greens, goat cheese and toasted nuts, it is almost too pretty to eat. Salad selections change periodically throughout the year due to working with produce that is in season.
For the main course, there is a little something for everyone here. In addition to being known as one of the best spots in the Midwest for steaks and seafood, they are also a standout for inventive offerings such as the Wild Boar Ragu. A popular favorite is their Chicken Marsala, and the Osso Bucco veal shank is a great choice if they don’t run out. The Ahi tuna filet is served with JJ’s original teriyaki, sautéed julienne snow peas and shiitake mushrooms.
A visit to JJ’s would not be complete without sampling a glass or bottle of wine from the 1800 bottle list. The extensive list is named by the Wine Spectator as “one of the best wine lists in the world.” Their wine cellar contains approximately 30,000 bottles!
The pairing of food and wine is one of the elements that separates average restaurants from the truly great ones. JJ’s wine list is designed to give you wine choices from all around the world, as you select just the right wine to pair with JJ’s cuisine. The friendly staff here is happy to help you in choosing something.
There is free parking in the garage below the building and JJ’s will validate your ticket, as street parking on the Plaza can be challenging. Attire here does not require a tie, but I would suggest dressing up a bit for this dining occasion.