Chicken N Pickle, in North Kansas City, wants you to have a ball

Bill Crooks, who rose through the ranks of the Gilbert/Robinson company before co-founding the PB&J restaurant empire in Kansas City nearly three decades ago, doesn’t limit his competitive instincts to the food business. Recently, for instance, he has become one hell of a pickleball player.

With luck, so will the venture on which Crooks is consulting: the pickleball-forward athletic venue, restaurant, saloon, food-truck hub, beer garden and events space called Chicken N Pickle, at 1761 Burlington in North Kansas City.

On a recent muggy Sunday afternoon, 62-year-old Crooks took a break from playing the game to tell me about it, and about the business. The game involves paddles and combines elements of tennis, badminton and pingpong. And Crooks had just more than held his own with three younger players on a court at Chicken N Pickle, which opened some of its space last week and should be fully operational by the end of the summer.

Chicken N Pickle, on the grounds of a long-razed bottling factory at the northern end of Burlington Street, is the brainchild of David L. Johnson, a Northland native who is chairman of Kansas City-based Maxus Properties. The family-friendly spot will be the first sports center in the metro devoted to the sport, and Crooks is working on its 6,000-square-foot restaurant (along with the snack bar near the courts). Crooks is also a Northland native; his family’s farm is now occupied by the Briarcliff development. In 2012, he started Good Food Good Futures after selling his interest in the PB&J restaurants.

There’s no pickle in pickleball, but there’s poultry coming to Chicken N Pickle: rotisserie chicken served in a variety of ways, including full meals that include a deliciously spicy slaw (I tasted it, and it’s excellent) and flaky biscuits. Crooks also plans to smoke his own pork and grill grass-fed burgers. Beyond that, three or four food trucks will park on the grounds of the venue. “They’ll only be there on weekends first,” Crooks said, “but more frequently by the fall.”

A proposed rooftop bar will offer live music and a half-acre parklike area, to be called the Yard, will have its own fire pit and Jumbotron. It, like the restaurant and the bar, are still under construction. And although the outdoor pickleball courts will eventually stay open until 11 p.m., closing time for now is dusk, until the lighting system for the parking lots is finished.

Crooks, who has an equity investment in the new business, is a confirmed pickleball advocate who believes that Chicken N Pickle will be a revitalizing force for North Kansas City, a once-sleepy hamlet on the north side of the Missouri River.

“This is a great little town with a lot of things happening here,” he told me. “We’ll be serving the Irish-style whiskey made in the new Restless Spirits distillery across the street.”

The Chicken N Pickle restaurant, when it opens, will be a casual dining venue with a limited menu of dishes that utilize the in-house smokers and meats, with produce from local farmers.

“We’re starting simple to see what works and what doesn’t,” Crooks said. “Not unlike pickleball, which starts off slowly and gets going really fast.”

Categories: Food & Drink