Erik Borger eyes late-spring opening for Komatsu, his midtown ramen restaurant

The fragrance of freshly milled pine – 26,000 pounds of it – is the first thing you sense as you walk through the tinted-glass front entrance at 3951 Broadway, the space last occupied by Open Fire Wood Burning Pizza.

The boards are going into 21 private booths and the exhibition kitchen in the front room of the 6,000-square-foot space, which restaurateur Erik Borger (the Il Lazzarone pizzerias in Kansas City’s City Market and St. Joseph) is turning into Komatsu, his first ramen restaurant. He says it will open late this spring.

Not even the wood-burning pizza oven remains of Open Fire. Shortly after signing a lease on the space last year, Borger brought in a Bobcat excavator and ripped out everything but the concrete floors. He has kept a divided floor plan, though, with an unfinished bar to the south of the main dining room and a 40-seat private space for … well, he wouldn’t tell me.

“It’s a secret, but a great secret,” Borger says.

Borger says he first tasted ramen in a Japanese restaurant in New York City two decades ago. “It was the single most flavorful bite of food I’ve ever eaten,” he recalls. And lately, that flavor is at last becoming popular in KC.

Unlike the other ramen restaurants in the metro (the four-month-old Columbus Park Ramen Shop and the soon-to-open Shio at 3605 Broadway), however, Komatsu is meant to hold a lot of ramen eaters — scores of them, in fact. They’ll dine on what Borger says will be about a dozen noodle dishes, made from a variety of broths (with vegetable, pork and chicken as the basic ingredients), and Japanese-style appetizers. The open kitchen has only recently been roughed out, with stoves, noodle cookers and other equipment not yet installed.

Borger’s bar, he says, will serve sake, beer and Japanese-inspired cocktails and will be open during the same hours as Il Lazzarone, 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to midnight on Sunday.

Although construction of Komatsu is expected to take another few months, Borger says he’s already hiring staff for both kitchen and service positions. Chef Joe West, whom  Borger says is a partner in the business, will run the kitchen.

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