This blog post is the exclusive property of the author, Andrea Broomfield. Acknowledgements are required for material borrowed from this post.
The Prospect of Westport (1973 - 1989)
4109 Pennsylvania Ave. KCMO
The Prospect of Westport “is impossible to classify,” wrote Kansas City Star reporter Jane P. Fowler shortly after the restaurant opened in 1973. Part of Don Anderson’s vision for the revitalization of Westport, The Prospect upended pre-existing rules that dictated how “fine dining” was understood in Kansas City, among them what upscale restaurants should look like, and how and what food should be served.
The Prospect came about because of Westport Square, itself inspired by Ghirardelli and Larimer Squares, Don Anderson explained to me in an interview. The restaurant’s name evoked London’s Prospect of Whitby, an atmospheric pub on the Thames. Anderson’s partner, architect Robert Moore, had visited it when he studied in England, and it had likewise charmed Anderson when the two visited it together. “Our Prospect was a prospect of what was to come,” Anderson said of his desire to reorient attention to Westport as Kansas City’s “original village.” Anderson and Moore transformed the 400 and 500 half-blocks off Broadway and Westport Road into a “central, brick-paved and landscaped town plaza” including fourteen renovated buildings designed to resemble European towns with compact spaces, alleyways, courtyards, and small shops. The Prospect of Westport was the anchor.
View of the Prospect of Westport Restaurant sidewalk and storefront, located on the Westport Square at 4109 Pennsylvania Avenue. Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library
It was a stunning refurbished two-story building with a glass roof and glass rear partition that allowed in natural light for potted plants. “Yes folks,” Leigh Elmore proudly confessed, The Prospect “was the classic wine and fern bar,” but “even cliches have to start somewhere.” At a time when most full-service restaurants featured dim lighting and heavy upholstery, The Prospect was open and airy, with light wood furnishings. The restaurant’s beauty was augmented when in 1976, Anderson added Jack Straw’s. Reached by “a long, narrow alley, scarcely wide enough to accommodate a couple walking abreast,” this open-air courtyard offered al fresco dining, wrote Joe Roberts. Named after Jack Straw’s Castle, a coaching house atop London’s Hampstead Heath, the courtyard played on the definition of both “heath”, an area left in a “wild, natural state,” Anderson explained, and Hampstead, a heath surrounded by the city.
It took some time for the food to catch up to the restaurant’s innovative décor and architecture. Continental fare and steaks were not such a draw for visitors as the building itself until Anderson hired Detroit native Bonnie Winston in 1980. She had moved to Kansas City with a Master’s in personnel psychology, professional work in advertisement, and a passion for cooking inherited from her grandmother, wrote Charles Ferruzza. She went from baking bread as a stay-at-home-mom to giving cooking classes and eventually working as a culinary consultant. She recognized that The Prospect needed a more inspiring menu, and when Don Anderson handed her “the kind of opportunity that cooks dream about: total creative freedom,” Winston explained to Ferruzza, she grabbed it. “One of Bonnie’s gifts,” her friend and winery owner George Gale remembered, was her “desire to try anything and everything.” Inspiration from Kansas City’s annual Ethnic Enrichment Festival, for example, “led her along seriously” when it came to cooking. Winston worked out concepts in her home kitchen. She followed recipes the first time with care, but “if she liked the result, then, next time she did it, she made it hers,” Gale continued. As a result, The Prospect became one of the city’s early eclectic fine-dining restaurants with the menu complementing the contemporary feel of the space itself. It went from a “heavy and sort of formal” feel, wrote Gale, to “‘refreshing, with lots of veggies, less meat, fewer sauces. And the place in my memory is always much brighter after Bonnie than before.”
“Iman Byaldi, Praline Cheesecake, Apple & Cream Crumb Pie, Jack Straw's Pie, Wonton Salad, Layered BLT, Prospect Salad, Vietnamese Spareribs, Gazpacho, Curried Chicken & Rice Salad, Rumaki Pate, Chilled Cucumber & Yogurt Soup, Baked Brie, Drummies, Lamb Curry with Eggplant & Pecans . . . These were just a few of the specialty items on the menu that Bonnie created,” wrote Penny Sharp in a Facebook post. The Prospect invited patrons to explore cuisine and stay abreast of wider culinary trends. Whole, fresh, and organic foods took center stage in a way that “was accessible and elegant,” recalled Julie Haas.
While it had the cachet of Houlihan’s Old Place, The Prospect was quieter, more sophisticated; less singles pickup scene and more New York Upper West Side or San Francisco sophistication, particularly for Sunday brunch when patrons lingered, sipping some of the city’s best-brewed coffee and indulging in eggs Benedict and French toast, reading newspapers, and talking. Former kitchen manager Dave Brogan remembered in an interview with the author that the brunch was the place “to see and be seen,” and he and his line cooks began work for it on Saturday. “A dozen cases of oranges were delivered to the kitchen to be squeezed for the next day,” he recalled. While cooks prepped and squeezed oranges, another made crepes on a ten-burner Wolf Range. At a later date, The Prospect introduced an equally popular Sunday evening fresh pasta bar where patrons ordered Prospect classics like Straw and Hay or linguine with tomatoes, vodka and caviar. While they waited, they sipped wine from the Prospect’s highly regarded cellar.
The Prospect’s closing in October, 1989 did not represent “the end of an era,” as so many closures signify; rather, it had set a new standard whose force remains current. Some restaurateurs who “cut their teeth” working with Anderson and Winston carried the ideas forward. Terry Burns, Prospect’s general manager, opened Californos (1988-2019) at 4124 Pennsylvania Avenue. He kept on his California-style menu the cherished Prospect Salad with its butter lettuce, hearts of palm, toasted English walnuts and blue cheese dressed in vinaigrette. David Rabinowitz, also manager at the Prospect, co-owned the Metropolis American Grill at 303 Westport Road (1989-2002). He likewise took with him some of The Prospect’s food philosophy and kept Winston’s curried chicken on his menu to the delight of patrons. Ultimately, Anderson and Winston turned a generation of Baby Boomers into Kansas City’s first serious “foodies,” and their respect for great cuisine became part of the city’s culinary DNA, inspiring and influencing many Kansas City restaurants still with us today.
Joe Roberts, “Old Westport Vigor Renewed.” Kansas City Star, 17 June, 1973.
Gale, George. Email with author, 28 Aug, 2020.
Brogan, Dave. Telephone interview with author, 29 Aug, 2020.