Mise en Place: Nighthawk’s Jay Ferries on elevated classics, homemade stock, and selfless cooking
The odds are that Jay Ferries doesn’t know your mom or grandma personally. But the food may cause you to think again.
Ferries is the chef at Nighthawk, the basement bar and live music venue inside Hotel Kansas City. It’s one of the culinary endeavors overseen by Executive Chef Johnny Leach, and it’s focused on drinks that dazzle and food that’s fast, snacky, and harkens back to homegrown flavor.
From a twist on a bologna sandwich, to meatloaf, to chicken-fried steak—we’re talking all the classics. And whatever you choose to chow down on, you’re guaranteed a good soundtrack.
Ferries plays on comfort, but he also likes to take it up a notch. Below he dives into putting others’ tastebuds before himself and his favorite spots around town.
The Pitch: Tell us about your love affair with food. What led you to Nighthawk?
Jay Ferries: I’ve worked at a lot of places around the country including Nashville, Memphis, Asheville, Portland, and Denver, eventually landing down here. In Portland, I worked at a place called Clyde Common, and that’s where I met Johnny Leach.
I ended up meeting my wife there as well, and we spent a few years in Denver before moving closer to her family here in KC. She managed Parlor for a few years, and when the pandemic hit we took a year off or so until we were ready to start looking for work again.
She actually looked at Hotel KC and came home and said, “Do you know who the chef is there? It’s Johnny.” So, I called him up, we got a coffee, and now here we are.
What’s the mentality of the culinary and bartending team here? What makes it stand out?
The center of what we are doing relies on elevated bar snacks. We’ve got a nice selection of bar nuts, our wings are amazing, and we have beef jerky. It’s really stuff that you’d eat in a dive bar anywhere.
Now we are also focusing on our fancy plates, which is a larger format that showcases one plate per night. That’s more of your full dinner featuring grandma’s comfort food—stuff like our “laziti,” which is a layered lasagna with ziti in the middle. We’re really sticking to our roots and making the stuff we used to eat taste really, really good.
What guides your personal approach to cooking?
“I don’t matter,” is my approach. That’s the short version. My goal is to make someone else happy, whether it’s my 6-year-old who wants a cold hot dog cut up, or if I’m making a staff meal for everyone at the end of the night.
In a place like this, you want that thing that you’re going to just crush—something that’s salty and savory that makes you want to grab another beer or seltzer, and that’s what we’re here to do.
Can you name your go-to ingredient?
Stock. I always have it at home. You’ve got to make your own, too. You can’t go buy that foil box in a grocery store. Go to the Asian market and buy a pack of chicken feet or pork knuckles and boil it for 12 hours. Now that’s got substance. It’s the base of my family’s go-to meals, which is something brothy with noodles.
A big bowl of something hot and nutrient-rich—that’s what it’s about.
What restaurants and bars have been capturing your attention lately?
I love the Antler Room. They’re just killing the game. And Waldo Thai. I mean, boom. We did a combo dinner with them about six months ago at Town Co. [the restaurant above Nighthawk, another Johnny Leach concept], and they just blew me away. We had these pig brains that were so amazingly good. I love them a lot.
As far as a bar, I love Lucky Boys. It’s a great industry hang spot.
What are some of your other staple family dinners?
I love Asian food in any capacity. It’s hands down my favorite thing. You only need a few ingredients to make a killer dish. One of our favorite things at home is when we do “app night,” so we make a bunch of wontons and stuff them with crab. My kid will help me, and he’s slow, but it’s okay. He’ll help me wrap little egg rolls too, and we’ll just crush them.
Nighthawk is located at 1228 Baltimore Ave., Kansas City, MO 64105. They are open Thursday and Sunday from 7 p.m. – 2 a.m. and Friday and Saturday from 7 p.m. – 3 a.m.