"I Tried the New Leinenkugel's Restaurant in Kansas City"
To get this out of the way upfront, the Kansas City Leinenkugel’s is not a full blown taste of home. But it's also definitely not a failure. I moved down to Missouri a couple years ago and was beyond excited for the announcement that the Pride of Chippewa Falls was opening its first ever restaurant just a few blocks from my house.
Some background: Last fall, Leinenkugel's announced it would open its first establishment in Kansas City's Power & Light District, an area downtown mostly renowned for drunken DJ nights and US National Team soccer games. It was surprising, but Leinenkugel's is incredibly popular 500 miles south of its origin.
Walking in, it's definitely the swankiest place in which I've ever drank a Leinie's.* The white brick and clean wood is stark and minimalist – a nod to the cabin with a modern twist. The giant, red Leinenkugels sign sits above the 15 mixed company taps, but that's about the only way the space reflects its name. I was surprised by the lack of kitsch pieces from the Leinie Lodge, which would have gone a long way to warm up the space.
But back to the important stuff: Those tap lines brought a little disappointment. There was no Original (though we were assured it was on its way), and no Red or Honey Weiss (which didn't seem likely anytime soon). The sweeter collection was the centerpiece, with the Summer Shandy, Grapefruit Shandy, Berryweiss, and Sunset Wheat. I drowned my sorrows in a Creamy Dark (as delicious as I remembered) and the other Wisconsinites with me went with the Big Eddy, which was a nice, local touch.
The menu also had a handful of the now-classic beer mixers, such as Black Bear (Creamy Dark and Berry Weiss) and Sunset Red (Sunset Wheat and, unfortunately, Killian's Red). It was rounded out with a handful of (mostly) Leinenkugel's based beer cocktails. I went with the Lumberjack, a sweeter take on a horsefeather with Woodford Reserve, ginger beer, maple syrup and Coor's Banquet. Yeah, Coor's. No, I wasn't happy about that. But the drink was well made and the beer actually brought a really nice mellow flavor to the usually sharp cocktail.
By the time the food came I was feeling pretty disappointed in the Wisconsin-ness of the Kansas City Leinenkugel's, but then I tasted the curds and the beer cheese dip. If nothing else, the sampler platter brought me right back home. The cheese curds were salty and light and the beer cheese dip (served with pretzels) was thick and flavorful and straight from a Wisconsin family's traditions. For an entree I decided to go for the street tacos. Yes, one of the biggest things the Chippewa Falls-based locale pushes is street tacos. The Boo-Yah Chicken tacos were fine, but lacked the flavor of the classic dish.
All in all the Kansas City Leinenkugel's is a bit Leinie's Light (which was another missing selection). But venturing in with a handful of Missouri locals and Wisconsin ex-pats we had a pretty great time introducing the Wisconsin culture, which is exactly what this place seems built for
And if people really love it, they'll just need to come up to Chippewa Falls for the real experience.
*Fun fact: None of the Missourians we went with had any idea what 'Leinie's' was and referred to it only in the more formal, 'Leinenkugel's,' despite being very familiar with the brand.