Sip, eat and shop where nature is served tableside.
Words by Lisa Waterman Gray | Photos by Brynn Burns
Colonial Kitchen at Colonial Gardens in Blue Springs
Colonial Gardens offers a full-service professional garden center. But it also includes the 80-acre regenerative Colonial Farm, which promotes using healthy soil and sustainable agriculture practices. The results include fresh, non-GMO produce and meat.
Visitors can order from a strong farm-to-table menu at its Colonial Kitchen, where weather-hardy tables and chairs line a patio that accommodates roughly 80 guests. Here, bright flowers bloom in large urns, greenery fills hanging planters and young trees grow—single file—across a stone tile patio. It’s enough to inspire restaurant customers to also shop for plants that will complement their own homes’ landscapes before heading to the car.
The kitchen sources 95 percent of its ingredients from local or regional farms. “We work with farmers who have the same ecologically sound practices that we do,” says Grace Ames, director of agri-tourism for Colonial Gardens.
Opened in summer 2021, Colonial Kitchen’s menu tells the full-circle story of farm-to-table dining. And a stage near the far end of this delightful outdoor dining space accommodates musical performances. Dining guests are now welcome during Wednesday or Thursday evening concerts, and Saturday and Sunday lunch service was restored this summer. A new chef has recently joined the team and the menu may change multiple times a week, depending on availability of ingredients.
Colonial Gardens is “where you can truly connect with nature, through the environment surrounding you or the food on your plate,” Grace says.
Café Equinox at Family Tree Nursery in Shawnee
Quiet conversation filters through the greenhouse at Family Tree Nursery in Shawnee, where tables and chairs are nestled among plants of every shape and size. The gentle spray from water hoses creates pleasant ambient noise and leaves small puddles in their wake. Computers are open everywhere, with professionals and families alike claiming small seating nooks and tall tabletops.
It didn’t used to be this way. Not until Café Equinox opened in February 2019, near the building’s front entrance. Now sporting a long, L-shaped bar and tall chairs, the café held a grand reopening in June 2022 after completing a 10-month refresh of the space.
“The big reason that we even entertained the idea of opening a café is the number of people who walked in carrying a beverage [from somewhere else],” says Jesse Nelson, store manager. “We thought that it would really uplift the experience if they could get a beverage while shopping here.”
There’s a big focus on both hot and cold drinks, from drip coffee and espresso-based options to steamed beverages such as hot chocolate and chai lattes. The coffee comes from Bo Nelson, owner of local roaster Thou Mayest Coffee and a member of the family that owns Family Tree Nursery. Seasonal beverage favorites have included a pollinated lavender latte and a sparkling housemade matcha limeade.
Delectable homemade toaster pastries and giant cookies from Heirloom Bakery fill a tall bakery case, and cinnamon rolls are a big draw on weekends. Once a back-ordered dishwasher arrives, the café will grow “greener,” too, by switching from disposable service items to reusable cups, plates and utensils.
Vivilore at the Englewood Arts District in Independence
It has been 10 years since siblings Cindy Foster and Whit Ross opened their high-end Vivilore restaurant and shopping destination in Independence’s emerging Englewood Arts District. Wall-clinging ivy decorates the front of their brick building, and small statues flank the front door. Inside, a multistory, light-filled stairway leads to shopping upstairs. There you’ll find an enormous collection of beautifully curated home decor and art.
Whit, a master gardener, created a lush dining area on the 60-seat patio. Large pots of ferns, bright-hued flowers and winding banks of low bushes complement crimson table umbrellas. Bright, pedestal-mounted yard balls, graceful cement statues and occasional bird baths also decorate the garden, visually transporting guests to an outdoor oasis.
An indoor dining room and small bar area provide dozens more seats amid colorful, eclectic decor. At this casual, fine dining restaurant, favorite dishes include Pacific-caught salmon, lobster rolls and lamb chops. Wild mushroom cheesecake, fish and avocado tostadas and grilled steak salad have also recently appeared on the menu.
Open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday, the restaurant has become so popular that reservations are always recommended—as much in advance as possible. Visitors from across the country dine here alongside locals, after attending games at Arrowhead or Kauffman, following tours at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, or simply by crossing the state line because of Vivilore’s stellar long-standing reputation.
“The building is magical, the grounds are beautiful, the food is exceptional and there is no other restaurant like Vivilore. Period,” Cindy says