By Adrienne Cohen

First stop: Anton’s in Kansas City

A destination visit to an unusual eatery was the primary reason for an overnight stop in Kansas City the beginning of October in conjunction with a trip to Iowa for the Eating Words Conference. Sponsored by the Edible Institute, the workshop for food writers was planned by the same group that publishes “Edible” Magazines in nearly 100 cities, including Dallas-Worth. Their editorial focus is on sustainability and healthy food, and the weekend gathering seemed a great opportunity to meet others with the same mindset, learn things, and spend some time in a UNESCO-designated City of Literature, the only one in North America. It’s a delightful little college town, the home of the University of Iowa.

Driving offered the opportunity to visit some aquaponics facilities along the way. A great bonus.

Basement Aquaponics

Basement Aquaponics System supplies the restaurant above

Anton’s, as I mentioned in another post, is only a couple of years old, but its presence in a building with a long history (much of it about food) is interesting in itself. Anton Kotar, who gave the eatery his own name and is still its driving force, says that quality food became important to him when he became a father. His impressive menu bears these words: “Knowing where the food we’re eating came from and what care was used in raising it became essential. That philosophy is being incorporated into Anton’s by developing relationships with farmers and trying to build on sustainability.”

Kotar went a couple of steps further, though, creating an old-time butcher shop to showcase fresh beef, pork and poultry to take home, and cutting steaks aged on-site for 28 days (it is Kansas City, after all) to customer order. Diners have their choice of grass fed or grain fed: Both are delicious. The extensive menu has a wide variety of other choices, as well as lots of on-tap and bottled beers and a great wine list.

Beef. Beer and Growing Things in Kansas City

Fresh Herbs and Art

Fresh Herbs and Art

But we chose Anton’s because of its aquaponics system. We just had to see it – and it alone would have been worth the trip. It’s not large, but it is efficiently nestled into a space in the basement of this century-year-old building, adjacent to a cooler that stores the beef, ham hocks, sausages and wines. It’s an efficient set-up, and the greens, abundant basil and other herbs supply the main floor kitchen on a daily basis. Even the home-grown tilapia appear on the menu on occasion as the chef’s “fish of the day.”

Anton’s system proves that commitment is the primary ingredient for success in aquaponics. The restaurant claims that it’s “our little way of paying it forward,” also noting that “we’ve created a truly organic food system.”

If you ever find yourself in Kansas City, we highly recommend Anton’s. It’s at 1610 Main Street, in the heart of the Crossroads Arts District. The restaurant also has its own second-floor art gallery and live music.

Fresh and Healthy, but Not New

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Abundant fresh produce

The next morning, we visited a corner organic market adjacent to our hotel. What a surprise, and what a delight! Nature’s Own Health Market has been operating for 40 years in the same location in this vibrant midtown Kansas City neighborhood. General Manager Laura Fleming told us the reasons: Good value at reasonable prices.

It’s a full-service market, with freshly baked breads, organic produce, natural peanut butter, bulk grains and nuts, high-quality supplements, and just about anything else anyone would want. It’s the kind of neighborhood store that every neighborhood should have, and we can see why it has survived and thrived – it fills a need and supplies good food!

It’s also filled with delicious scents and friendly people as well as an unusually invited array of farm-fresh produce, natural food, healthy and beneficial products, and prices that compared favorably in almost every category to what we pay at home and to what’s available in competitive supermarkets.

Bulk displays

Bulk displays

We spent a wonderful, but all too brief period of time at the market and only had one regret: There was no way to take any of the produce home with us!

Breakfast with a Liberty dynamo

Miranda Bouchers

Miranda Barchers

The Morning Day Café in Liberty, Mo., has perhaps the most unique Aquaponics system we have ever encountered. It was a dream of owner Miranda Barchers to have an aquaponics setup in her coffee shop, and she enlisted the support of not only her artist husband but of a university professor with similar interests and aquaculture expertise.

Morning Day Cafe's Aquaponics System

Morning Day Cafe’s Aquaponics System

According to its owner, “Morning Day is a love letter to healthy eating.” And that love shines in every aspect of the café, located right on the central square in little Liberty. The morning we arrived, Miranda was busy in the kitchen, so we ordered breakfast until she could take a short break to join us. We thoroughly enjoyed our choices, the coffee was delicious, and the steady stream of patrons had us concerned that we might not get to talk to her at all.

We shouldn’t have worried, because when she did manage a few minutes to spare, we instantly understood the passion that this owner/chef/entrepreneur/aquaponics enthusiast brings to every part of her life. She exudes creativity and her version of aquaponics may be a bit funky and totally unique, but it works for her. The basil, parsley, chives and other herbs are used liberally in her breakfast and lunch offerings and, although patrons may think it’s all just for decoration, she thinks that this method of growing may just be the wave of the future.

Her biggest problem at the moment? Trying to discourage children from reaching for the goldfish and throwing coins into the bathtub!

Blueberry Muffin and honey butter!

Blueberry Muffin and honey butter — is there any better?

Ham and cheese on a croissant — prepared with love!