Kansas City Connection: In the market for history, food and culture

When showing visitors around Kansas City, one of the first places I visit is the Kansas City River Market, a destination that offers a more international, big-city feel than anything else in the area.

Formerly called the “River Quay,” and also referred to as just the City Market, the River Market refers to the neighborhood between downtown Kansas City, Mo., and the Missouri river, with a square city block of coffee shops, merchants and businesses right in the middle.

The City Market dates back to 1857, when it hosted circuses, church revivals and horse-trading auctions, and today it has evolved to become one of the city’s top visitor destinations.

The weekend farmers market comes to life each Saturday and Sunday morning at 6 a.m., though most people don’t arrive until closer to 8 a.m.

Fruit vendors, bakers, farmers, florists and musicians set up shop until 3 in the afternoon, and antique (or just plain old junk) merchants line the periphery of the market square.

While a sunny Saturday or Sunday morning is the most lively time, the River Market is worth a visit all week long. All of the places mentioned in this week’s column are located around the market square itself or within a couple of blocks.

The most interesting visitor attraction is the Steamboat Arabia Museum, which explores the remnants and contents of an 171-foot-long steamboat that sunk in 1856 and wasn’t discovered until 135 years later in a nearby field (the river had changed course quite a bit in that time).

To find the museum, look for the two-story paddle wheel at the east end of the market square. Admission is $14.50 for adults and $5.50 for those 4-12. Tours start at 10 a.m. each day and go every half-hour until 4. The museum is open every day except major holidays. Visit 1856.com for more info.

If viewing Steamboat Arabia’s treasures puts you in the mood to do some relic-discovery of your own, walk a couple of blocks west to the River Market Antique Mall at the corner of Fifth and Wyandotte streets.

The Antique Mall is home to 175 vendors on three different floors, and you’ll find everything from old clothes, postcards and furniture to items like an old airplane propeller.

The mall is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

A visitor to City Market should bring his appetite, as dining options abound. Restaurants range from the venerable Cascone’s Grill, which has been serving up a delicious breakfast for 80 years, to Beignet, a New Orleans-inspired cafe that opened just last month.

Most of the eateries line the west side of the River Market, with garage doors that open facing the market square. Fans of Mediterranean food will enjoy the falafel and shawarma sandwiches at Habashi House, and those looking for a taste of Italy should visit Carollo’s Italian Deli, which sells meats, olives, wines and cheeses as well as sandwiches.

Other options include Burrito Bros, Minsky’s Pizza, Bo Ling’s Chinese restaurant, Winslow’s Barbecue, Blue Nile Ethiopian Cafe, and Bloom Baking Co., among others. The City Market Coffee House, in the northwest corner of the market, offers a self-serve $1 cup of coffee to take with you as you stroll the square or explore the river trail just to the north.

I could keep naming places, but you get the idea — the Kansas City River Market is well worth a visit. For exact locations, a more detailed description of vendors, and a calendar of upcoming events including book sales and wine walks, visit thecitymarket.org.

If you’re driving from Lawrence, simply take 1-70 East all the way to exit 2D, which will put you right at Main Street. At that point the Market is one block away to the north.

— Lucas Wetzel is a KU graduate and Kansas City native who has worked as a writer, editor and language trainer in the U.S. and Europe. Know of an upcoming event in Kansas City you’d like to see featured in Kansas City Connection? Email us about it at kcconnection@ljworld.com.


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