You know the feeling when you stumble upon a hidden gem? For me, at least, it’s first a rush of disbelief. Really? I ask myself. It’s been here all along and I haven’t found it until now? But that disbelief soon retreats and I just want to shout all about it from the rooftops. I just want to tell everyone about it, to become its advocate and its ally. I can’t wait to share the story with everyone, loudly, I-loved-it-and-you-will-too.
So it went with a recent visit to Ophelia’s. Living in the city, I don’t get out to Independence often. Frankly, I’d visited Truman’s home awhile ago and then written it off as a historic site with strip malls all around. And Ophelia’s proved me wrong.
Ophelia’s is both a restaurant and inn. The second floor boasted recent renovations and each room had character and unique elements. It was fun to wander around and in and out of every room. It was cozy and soft and seemed like a great place to retreat.
The bar made a fantastic first impression. The wine list? Extensive. The cocktail menu? Creative, yet classic. And the bartender? Knowledgeable. The Tom Collins I chose (with Hendricks’ gin) was delightful. Loved the addition of fresh fruit.
So onto the dining room. As the food was prepared, we learned about Ophelia’s history. The front of the building was built in 1907 as the Hillsbrothers Hardware store. The back half was built in 1948 as part of the Katz Drugstore renovation. The drugstore employed 175 people and had 13 departments. Plus, it included a full service snack bar, soda fountain and pet store. Katz operated until the mid-1970s.
The building remained empty until it was purchased by Ken and Cindy McClain in 1999. They opened Ophelia’s with a desire to revive the Independence Square. It’s the roots of a Cinderella story for sure: a square of empty storefronts and little foot traffic is being rebuilt and rejuvenated. A restaurant, Cindy and Ken reasoned, was a good place to start. Today, they own a total of 15 businesses (and counting), including retail, entertainment and restaurants.
Our first course was a seafood stacker. This included sweet pea risotto, a crab cake, a diver scallop and candied tempura shrimp. The whole creation was drizzled with a carrot butter sauce. Decadent. And the salad: Bibb lettuce, candied pecans (!), gorgonzola cheese and roasted golden beets with a port wine vinaigrette. So I silently saluted my favorite beet farmer and enjoyed every bite.
Each course was accompanied by a glass of wine, so at this point, Mr. S. and I were delightfully tipsy. The first course was paired with a Chardonnay; the second course was paired with a Gamay. This was my first taste of Gamay, and I was pleasantly surprised. It was more of a blue-purple than a red, and had delightful fruit notes. But I digress.
The third course featured three entree samplings. First, a beef short rib braised in plum wine sauce, bacon and bleu cheese with a sweet potato hash, finished in a bacon glaze with crispy onions. Next, a chilean sea bass pan-seared on a bed of sauteed spinach and roasted corn polenta, served with a citrus buerre blanc (aka white butter) sauce. Finally, a center cut pork medallion topped with boursin cheese over mushroom risotto, broccolini and with a sweet onion jam.
And the fourth course — dessert! — won me over as well. This was a chocolate trio, including a mousse, flourless chocolate cake and chocolate creme brulee. I DIED. Amazing.
Holistically, the meal was delightful. Ordinarily, I’d never order this much food, and each course was strong on its own. If you’re in the Kansas City area, it’s worth the drive to Independence. Make online reservations or view the menu at the Ophelia’s website.
That something so fantastic arose from an empty storefront and dwindling downtown is a testament to redemption. It’s everywhere, really, if you look for it.