Southmoreland on the Plaza
A Secluded Treasure
In memory, it’s the peachy slice of moon clinging to a rich blue-night sky that brings me back to Southmoreland on the Plaza, a lovely inn tucked away in the heart of Kansas City, MO. It’s the genuine warm hospitality and amazing gourmet breakfasts, the homey aroma of fresh-baked cookies heavy in the air, and the tranquility of water trickling in the courtyard pond. …
We’re sipping wine on our treetop deck outside the Kersey Coates room, one of the inn’s guest rooms which are all named and decorated for celebrated residents who contributed to the city’s history. The moon transcends time, lets the imagination step back to the early 20th century when the home was built, a simpler time when the thundering engine of a Tin Lizzie could bring excitement to the quiet street below. …
Dan and I had come to Kansas City with great anticipation to explore the Country Club Plaza, a 15-block area that echoes the Old World charm of Seville, Spain. We looked forward to a stay at Southmoreland, known as one of the country’s premier B&Bs. And it’s within easy walking distance of the Plaza, so the car stayed parked during our entire visit. Owners Mark Reichle and his wife Nancy Miller pay great homage to the old home’s roots and are also deeply committed to the city's rich history and legacy.
We arrived to the scent of orange tree blossoms on a glorious spring afternoon. The stately 1913 Colonial Revival style inn nestles behind a native limestone wall, crowned with a black wrought iron fence, and is shaded by the dense canopy of a pin oak, offering a sense of seclusion in the bustling city.
Haley, one of the innkeepers, greeted us with such enthusiasm that we felt like old friends returning for a visit. She gave us a tour of the comfy first floor common area which includes a living room, dining room, solarium and a veranda where breakfast is served.
The inn has 12 guest rooms and also features an adjacent Carriage House suite. All guest quarters offer a glimpse of the city's famous residents, such as American artist Thomas Hart Benton, Russell Stover of chocolate candy and Eskimo Pie fame, and baseball legend LeRoy “Satchel” Paige. The spacious suite is named for George Kessler, a historic landscape architect who helped design the city’s parks. It provides a perfect romantic getaway, but then, so does the entire inn with its calming energy. All rooms have private baths and feature either a Jacuzzi, treetop deck, or wood burning fireplace.
Our room honors Kersey Coates, an entrepreneur who came to the city in 1854 and turned pasture land on the river bluffs into fashionable Quality Hill, the city’s oldest neighborhood. The classic pencil post bed and other furnishings hail back to his simple Pennsylvania Quaker roots. A decanter of sherry waits for a pour and fresh fruit and flowers add a colorful touch. The cozy room has a treetop deck with an old-fashioned porch swing where we could unwind with a glass of wine. In the evening, the leaves of a silver maple rustle like taffeta as its branches embrace the moon.
Haley mentioned that appetizers and wine are available in the dining room each evening from 4:30-6:00 p.m. and fresh cookies would be waiting for us in the kitchen when we returned from dinner. She said that we were in for a real treat come morning, praising Mark’s cuisine that “could induce a food coma!” We soon found this to be true.
After settling in, we relaxed on the courtyard deck. Nancy came out to welcome us and stayed for a nice chat as Frank, a skittish blue-eyed cat, affectionately brushed against her legs. She shared the heartwarming story of this once skinny and scruffy cat, scarred from too many alley battles, who wandered onto the deck one day and one day finally accepted her kindness and decided to stay. Although Frank isn’t allowed inside the inn, he has his own miniature Colonial Revival style home, complete with dormers and a columned porch just outside the veranda's French doors.
The setting offers a peaceful ambiance with soft music wafting from the inn and water trickling in a pond graced by fantail goldfish. The deck is shaded by purple plum, star magnolia and silver leaf maple trees and features an impressive stone grill where Mark's culinary skills come to life. Containers of herbs along the garden wall waited to be incorporated into his delectable breakfasts. Seasonal, local produce are also used when available.
Since the city is known for its world-class barbeque and premium steaks, we looked forward to some mouth-watering dining adventures. For authentic Kansas City barbeque, Nancy recommended Jack Stack's -- "The crown prime beef ribs and hickory pit beans are my favorite, but portions are huge so you might want to split an order."
The Country Club Plaza
Mid-afternoon, we headed to the Country Club Plaza, which makes for a great city stroll. Within minutes we had our first glimpse of the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain, named for the visionary who developed the Plaza. In the distance, we could see the Giraldo Tower, a replica of Spain's ornate spire. We walked through the district in awe of the open-air art gallery with its 200 fountains, sculptures surrounded by profusion of tulips, colorful mosaics, and Spanish architecture. The sidewalk cafes and chiming church bells reminded us of our time in Europe. A walk along Brush Creek, a tributary to the Blue River that runs through the Plaza, is a must! During our visit, several fountains erupted from the creek; ivy climbed the walls along the walkway and the banks were drenched in the scent of lilacs.
The Plaza provided an idyllic afternoon interlude, but we were eager to return to the inn and relax. A nice spicy bean dip and toasty-edged water crackers waited for us in the dining room along with a chilled bottle of Chablis. A few hours later, we walked back to the Plaza for a barbeque feast at Jack Stack's. The huge ribs and sweet beans that Nancy had recommended were excellent, and a shared portion was perfect!
A Welcoming Return
The soft glow of lamplight and the scent of fresh lemon-ginger cookies welcomed us "home." The breakfast menu was posted on a chalkboard in the dining room, enticing us with Mark's famous Southmoreland Stuffed French Toast filled with honey ham and big-eye Swiss along with his Apricot Banana Frappes and Morning Glory Muffins. Guests are offered the "half order" option, but our heads shook in unison at the thought. We retreated to our treetop deck and toasted the day's adventure with nice Cabernet.
What a way to start the day!
Just before the sun rose, we woke to a newspaper at our door and the smell of fresh coffee brewing. We savored coffee in the solarium, sitting in the lap of nature and watching birds, squirrels and other wildlife. This charming room became my favorite with its white wicker furnishings, cheerful blue accents and simple decor. An old Victrola whispers of bygone days, but the inn doesn't shout with antiques, and there's no excessive fussiness to distract from the home's gentle rhythm. Mark was preparing breakfast which is served between 6:30 and 9:00 a.m., a unique perk for a B&B. While some guests like to sleep in, we're among those who prefer an early morning breakfast so we have more time to explore.
Shortly after 6:30, we sat down to a luxurious meal, inspired by Mark's passion for cooking. The scrumptious frappes and muffins were followed by French toast that was artistically plated with fresh fruit and almonds, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and drizzled with a delicate maple syrup. This is one of Mark's signature dishes and it certainly typifies gourmet! Although a "half order" would have been quite sufficient, we're glad that we didn't give up a single bite!
Coffee with Mark and Nancy
After breakfast, we lingered over coffee with Mark and Nancy as they talked about the inn's history. They told us about the two forward-thinking women who recognized an opportunity when they purchased the old home in 1989, possibly saving it from demolition for a proposed five-story parking lot. They converted it into one of the country's first urban B&Bs and opened in 1990. "It's an ideal location in the city. There's so much see and do here, and it's all exceedingly convenient to get to. The Plaza has a variety of shopping and dining options and the museums and art galleries are also within walking distance," Nancy said.
Coincidentally, it was the year the B&B opened that Mark and Nancy met in Detroit while working as human resource managers for Ford Motor Company. After marrying in 1996, they wanted to spend more time together and decided to leave the corporate world. They began researching the idea of owning a B&B and took innkeeping classes to gain insight into the lifestyle change. "The big focus was on getting the romance out of our eyes and making sure it was something we really wanted to do. You can't be starry-eyed about working 20 hours a day," Nancy expressed. In 1998, they took a giant leap of faith and purchased Southmoreland. The inn's history is well documented on their website, so I won't go into it here other than to say the old home has embraced the lives of several owners over the years and has brought them together in amazing twists of fate.
Mark said, "We were fortunate that the B&B was already a successful business, and the former owners were a tremendous help during the transition. They suggested that we each fill the roles we're most comfortable in. I chose cooking and Nancy chose serving and the background tasks." Nancy added, "It takes true team work. We dig in for each other."
Early on, they balanced the challenges of daily operations, but demands grew, especially with the social networking trend. Today, smart marketing means being technically savvy and staying active with networking communities which help drive traffic to their website, according to Nancy. Their staff now includes three innkeepers and five housekeepers.
The Inn Draws Diverse Guests
Nancy noted that the inn appeals to guests looking for romantic or leisure getaways as well as to business travelers. "For most, a Southmoreland stay enhances other city experiences since we're right in the heart of everything. But some guests come for special occasions and just want to hang around and be pampered. For them, it's the destination. Others make their home with us while visiting their kids at one of the area universities. Business travelers enjoy the hassle-free features. There's no waiting in line to sign in, and there's a comfort level here, especially for return guests," she said.
They've also seen a growing interest in today's popular "staycations" which offer minimal travel expenses and time away from work for those who want a cozy place to recharge close to home. "We get a lot of regional and local guests who want to get away and be pampered, but they don't want to drive far or deal with airports.; they don't want to go to Paris. Often, they're surprised what they find in their own backyard," Nancy expressed.
Besides being one the country's first urban B&Bs, Southmoreland is also among the first to host corporate retreats. The inn offers an ideal setting for companies that want a different venue, a place conducive to the easy flow of new ideas without a lot of interruptions. "With our background in the corporate world, we recognized the need for them. The veranda offers a full-service conference room and provides a comfortable venue for productive meetings and other activities. They can begin and end on time because everything is readily available. If they need copies, we make them. If they need lunch, we prepare it. It's all very efficient. They can get down to business. And it's a much prettier setting, not just a room with four beige walls. There are windows with wildlife outside. They're always dealing with Mark or me when making arrangements prior to the retreat, and, once they arrive, we're the ones serving them," Nancy said. Another perk, when they're ready for a mid-day break -- they can smell the fantastic aroma of lunch being prepared. Also, it gives Mark an opportunity to showcase his great versatile culinary skills.
Breakfast Cuisine A Big Draw
Food provides a huge draw for Southmoreland, according to Nancy. Mark has always loved to cook, she said, but while most chefs spend their entire day in the kitchen, Mark multi-tasks at the inn which makes each day's preparation challenges greater. "While cooking, he's also attentive to the inn's other needs. A guest may call requesting another blanket, the phone may rings when he’s mixing dough, or something else needs to be taken care of right away," she said.
Southmoreland has become widely known for its innovative barbeque breakfasts which are served each Saturday April through October. Mark steps to the pit with his ultimate barbeque delights, such as Molasses Brined Pork Chops or Croissant French Toast Stuffed with Grilled Peaches, smothered in Bourbon Pecan Maple Syrup. The weekly gastronomic event caught the attention of the Food Network, and Mark has been featured twice on BBQ with Bobby Flay.
Annual Pie Fest
Mark and Nancy are also known for their annual “Pie Fest” which they’ve held for 10 years on Thanksgiving evening following the “Plaza Lights,” ceremony, the city’s oldest holiday tradition. Several out-of-town family members bring their favorite recipes and don aprons to help make as many as 40 scrumptious cream and berry pies. After the lighting event, the family gathers with friends, former innkeepers, and special guests to dine on these festive pies. Everyone knows they must arrive by 7:30 p.m. if they want a piece of their favorite pie, including Nancy’s signature “Harvest Pie.” Many of these recipes, along with barbeque breakfast entrees and other inn specials are featured in the couple's cookbook, "Tried & True: Southmoreland on the Plaza's Recipes by Request."
Out and About
During our chat, Mark mentioned a 56-foot stainless steel tree sculpture, “Ferment,” that was recently installed on the grounds of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It sounded quite impressive, so that was our morning's destination. On the way, we relished a leisurely stroll through the eclectic Southmoreland neighborhood which was established in the late 19th century. Today, it is graced with restored mansions in a variety of architectural styles, cultivated lawns, tennis courts and remarkable gardens. Soon, we arrived at the museum’s Sculpture Park where “Ferment’s” dynamic force spreads itself across a small hill.
Late morning, Dan and I returned to the Plaza where the urban vibe sharply contrasts the quiet, tree lined streets. We enjoyed lunch at nearby Winstead’s, a classic 50s diner that serves those popular lacy-edged burgers on wax paper. For a steak dinner that evening, Mark recommended Plaza III, the Steakhouse, known for its “gold standard” offerings. The entire meal was among the best fine dining experiences we've had, and the restaurant also has an incredible wine list. By twilight, we were relaxing on a romantic gondola, listening to Venetian music and absorbing the scented breezes while cruising down Brush Creek.
Home at the Inn
Once again, we returned to the inn's quiet reprieve, to the sweet scent of warm cookies – this time, the inn’s famous “Southmoreland Monsters.” Mark and Nancy call them the “everything” cookies because of the delicious blend of peanut butter, chocolate chips and oatmeal. We spent this last night on our porch swing, talking about the day’s highlights over a nice bottle of wine.
The next morning, Cinco de Mayo, the faint whiff of bacon aroused me from sleep shortly after 5 a.m. Mark was already preparing the day's special, “Huevos Rancheros,” inspired by his childhood memories. I watched as he magically transformed a colorful array of fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables into an elegant, three-course meal that also included Orange Glazed Poppy Seed Scones and Mango Lime Puree.
"Growing up in California along the Mexican border, Huevos Rancheros was a staple Sunday breakfast. It was my mother’s favorite recipe and its great smell and taste brings back so many good memories. She used to let me grate the cheese. ... When I went away to college, I really missed her cooking. So, I learned to cook and really enjoyed it, but I never thought I’d be cooking for others," he said.
Today, he's a maestro in his own kitchen, managing the entree's rich sauce simmering on the stove and the scones baking in the oven as he blends the mangos, then grates the lime, rhythmically cutting across the fruit’s skin to create a flavorful zest. Meanwhile, Nancy prepares the individual guest tables on the veranda as Frank watches the swirl of activity through the window.
Our prelude began with the chilled mango-lime puree, topped with fresh mint and berries, then the sweet scones with homemade strawberry butter, followed by the Huevos Rancheros. The entire meal sang with the three-part harmony of flavor.
Departing for home that morning, we shared a wistful glance, knowing that we'd be back. Southmoreland on the Plaza offers more than a door to warm hospitality, gourmet breakfasts or a window to the city's rich history. Mark, Nancy and their incredible staff offer the pulse of comfort, the genuine feeling of being home, yet very much pampered. Sometimes, it's the little things that can make a big difference -- the welcoming scent of cookies, the warmhearted story of a cat named Frank, watching Mark's eyes dance in memory as he talked about his mother's favorite recipe, or simply sitting on a treetop deck drinking wine and gazing at the moon hanging in the dark heart of night. It was all these things, and so much more, from our arrival to departure, that turned a great experience into an exceptionally memorable getaway.
For more information on Southmoreland on the Plaza, call (816) 531-7979 or visit www.southmoreland.com
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