Meatball District, an Italian-themed restaurant on 39th Street, quietly changed hands this spring. Over the course of the summer, the new owner reworked every aspect of the business – except the name.
This weekend, the newly revamped Meatball District officially debuted its new menu, offering elevated comfort food. Executive chef Travis Meeks, who has worked at Jarocho Pescados y Mariscos and Kearney Culinary Academy, is now in the kitchen preparing an expansive menu that goes way beyond meatballs.
John Schuppan, a local tech entrepreneur and first-time restaurateur, recently sold his company, Textbook.com. For his next act, he decided to start shopping for a local restaurant. After considering a few different locations around Kansas City, he settled on Meatball District, as he liked the location and neighborhood.
“I wanted to bring a cozy and comfortable eating and drinking establishment to the neighborhood, offering an experience that sits between Room 39 and Fric & Frac, both successful long-term establishments here on 39th Street,” Schuppan says. “There's a lot of opportunity in this eclectic neighborhood that's anchored by KU Med at the end of the block.”
Schuppan decided to keep the name Meatball District due to a technicality: It's attached to his liquor license. But the new menu does offer a few meatball-related dishes – the District Spaghetti, for instance, is served with meatballs and a touch of chile oil – so he didn’t see the harm in keeping the name.
As part of the restaurant's rebranding, Schuppan has minimized the word “meatball” and highlighted the word “district” in the logo, which is seen on the striking new black-and-white awning and new menus. Over time, he hopes diners will nickname the restaurant “MBD” or simply “The District.”
Despite the name, Schuppan says he sees the restaurant going far beyond pasta and meatball sliders. To that end, he brought on Meeks to consult on revamping the entire menu, eventually offering him the title of executive chef. “John wanted his place to be more of a casual restaurant serving American comfort-food classics at friendly prices,” says Meeks. “He wanted more breadth to the menu, with food he could stand behind and be proud to serve.”
Popular new menu items are the fried lasagna ($15), made with meatball-stuffed lasagna that's fried and topped with pepperoni Bologonese and Gouda cheese. A Southern-inspired hit is the pickled fried green tomato sandwich ($10), topped with dill aïoli, candied bacon and served on toasted country bread. “I've created an all-scratch kitchen, and although we're doing classic American comfort-food dishes, I'm putting my own spin on them – like using Funyuns in place of croutons on the house salad,” Meeks says.
Right now, Schuppan finds himself craving the hot brown sandwich ($11). It features chicken thighs, mustard, lemon-dill aïoli and creamy slaw tossed in a hot dressing and served over a sesame-seed bun. The burgers, which each feature two patties, start with meatballs that are smashed on the grill and caramelized. Order the original smash burger, garnished simply with cheese, pickles and onions, or go fancy and opt for the bacon and Gouda smash burger or Bourbon Blue smash burger.
Entrées run the gamut, with options like shrimp and grits, mushroom-peppercorn filet, lemon-chicken risotto, chile-rubbed pork loin and wild stripe bass with Spanish rice.
The restaurant still offers a full bar with cocktails, a small and accessible wine selection and local craft beers. The bar at Meatball District has always been a busy spot, so not much has changed, though they plan to expand the menu to customers' tastes.
Meatball District is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11am to 2pm for lunch and 5 to 9pm for dinner. The restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday.
Meatball District, 1806 W. 39th St., Kansas City, Missouri, 816.226.7888, facebook.com/meatballdistrict