Watching Laura Norris, owner of Girl Food & Wine, float into the dining room chatting with guests, glass of wine in hand, as her brother and collaborator, Grant Norris, greets people at the front door, you can almost feel the relief and the pride they both share now that their second restaurant, Enzo Bistro & Wine Bar, is finally open after numerous construction delays.
Bo Lin’s former space in City Market underwent a major renovation, most importantly (and construction-wise, most costly) moving Bo Lin’s never-used cocktail bar away from the front windows at the center of the restaurant, creating a dramatic focal point. Wrapped in warm brown wood, the bar has an almost mid-century modern vibe accented by hand-blown glass lamps in swirls of blue and white, the color of the Mediterranean Sea, something Enzo’s food aspires to represent. but more in a minute.
The new bar takes up a significant amount of real estate within the restaurant, which is completely in line with Norris. The bar has always been the social hub of his restaurants, the place where you may sit a stranger, but won’t stay that way for long. In fact, Enzo accepts online reservations for a low table in the dining room, a high table near the bar, or a seat at the bar itself.
Although the bar seats are popular with the regulars of Girl at Enzo, don’t be put off reserving a low table at the front of the restaurant. With the old bar now gone, large picture windows reveal a thrilling view of East 5th Street bustling with foot traffic and in full view of the City Market trolley stop, something this restaurant shares with its sister restaurant on Main Street. Both are on the Kansas City trolley line.
The other significant change the Norris brothers made is installing their own private bathroom inside the restaurant, instead of sending guests to use the City Market-managed shared bathrooms in the common space of the building. I can’t thank them enough for that little treat.
The two originally planned to open a second Girlfriend location here, which would be much easier to run and manage than investing in a brand new concept. But they soon realized that the restaurants were too close together to justify making exact copies, so they created Enzo’s Bistro & Wine Bar, which they marketed as Northern Mediterranean cuisine which currently consists of a small menu of approx. 20 entries. Half are Italian dishes from the Girl’s menu, and the other half are mostly Greek dishes, particularly those with lamb, and some new fish offerings.
For those who already enjoy the food at Girl’s, you’ll find all your favorites on the menu, like Eggplant Fritters, Big Girl Meatball, Burrata, Eggplant Parmigiana, and Lasagna. My goal for my meal was to order dishes that weren’t obviously Italian or on the current Girlfriend menu, to get a sense of where else the Mediterranean menu might be headed.
We opted for the moussaka, a layered Greek casserole, which at Enzo’s comes to the table in a personal casserole. It featured beautifully tender ground lamb mixed with a tangy red tomato sauce, then layered between paper-thin slices of aubergine with just a bechamel skin cooked on top. The dish unfortunately tasted a bit dry and lacked seasoning and spices like fresh oregano, cinnamon or nutmeg that would have distinguished it from the flavor of a low carb lasagna, which it eventually did.
Lamb keftedes or minced lamb meatballs were tender and moist. They came three to a bowl and were served over a generous dollop of thick, creamy, chilled Greek tzatziki sauce topped with cucumber and dill and served with grilled pita bread.
The spicy feta dip was an ordering mistake on my part when another bowl of creamy white tzatziki dip, enriched with feta cheese, spicy Italian pickled vegetables and served with croutons and pita bread hit the table.
The mussels used to be on the small plates section of Enzo’s menu, but what arrived at the table was a huge and generous portion of perfectly cooked steamed mussels served in a broth of white wine, butter, shallots, garlic and tomato and served with a side dish of two large pieces of soft focaccia for dipping. Best dish of the night, hands down.
We weren’t planning on dessert until the waiter mentioned the cheesecake (ever my favorite) topped with a sambuca-based caramel sauce (totally my type). What came out of the kitchen was a nice piece of cheesecake, light and creamy and drizzled with caramel sauce. I was secretly hoping it would be a flambéed dessert situation. Alas, that was not the case.
A word on Enzo’s drink menu. Wine is recommended as the words “wine bar” are in the name. Enzo serves a fine selection of almost exclusively Old World Italian and French bottles in quality stemware. Norris always had a few choice wines on his list, and if you’re not familiar with European wines, ask the staff. They were very helpful in pointing me to a crisp glass of Aldegheri Mondello Soave Classico from Italy to start my meal.
Overall, if you love Girl, you’ll love Enzo Bistro & Wine Bar. My deepest hope is that Enzo develops its own identity, becoming a true Mediterranean wine bar, offering small plates and wines from ports of call as far away as Greece and Italy . They have the location, the bar and the wine list, they just need to explore the flavors of a few more ports of call.