The new Golden Ox has gracefully revived its predecessor’s midcentury traditions — and then some
After so many meals spent in industrial-chic dining rooms where waiters in butcher’s aprons deliver $18 small plates of tarragon-infused chicken gizzards — well, let’s just say that certain “new American” tropes have started to feel a little old.
The Golden Ox, a recently resurrected steakhouse in the West Bottoms, offers a welcome balm for weary palates. The décor is determinedly, obstinately mid-century. The menu is focused and inflexible. And the restaurant feels curiously fresh in its careful commitment to the classics.
The Ox reopened this June after a two-year hiatus marked by extensive renovations. Expectations were high. The steakhouse had been a local institution since 1949, when it first opened in the Kansas City Livestock Exchange Building. Couples had gotten engaged there, then celebrated their anniversaries there. Kids had eaten their first “grown-up” meals there, bewitched by Kansas City strips as thick as the Yellow Pages.
But over the years, the shine had worn off the Ox’s bronze steer heads. The menu had shrunk, the quality had dipped, and the famous burgundy carpet had started to look a little grubby even in the dim evening light. In December 2014, the Ox plated its last steak.
Until, that is, a couple of neighbors decided to restore the restaurant to its former glory. When owner Bill Haw, Sr. started looking for a new tenant, Voltaire co-owners Wes Gartner and Jill Myers jumped at the opportunity. The renovation was spearheaded by designer John O’Brien, who has put his stamp on some of Kansas City’s most stylish restaurants (recently, Brown & Loe and the Plaza’s Rye).
Fans of the OG Ox can indulge their nostalgia. The original black leather booths and wood-paneled walls have been restored, as has the decorative tile flooring in the entryway. And although the dining room is smaller, it feels cozy rather than cramped. Cleverly placed mirrors give the space an open feel, and a new open kitchen with counter seats offers guests dinner and a show.
The menu has undergone some renovations as well. Gartner, who serves as the Golden Ox’s executive chef, has reinvigorated classic steakhouse comforts without trying to reinvent them. On Sundays, he serves shame-red slabs of prime rib tender enough to cut with a picnic spoon. On Tuesdays, he offers half-priced burgers — and those burgers are good enough to justify passing up the steak. The kitchen seasons the patties well but doesn’t overwork them, keeping the meat as luscious and soft as the brioche bun.
The list of appetizers is packed with old standards given fresh attention. The Oysters Rockefeller are presented in all their retro glory, nestled snugly in a plate of rock salt masquerading as crushed ice. They’re also ideal for a rich first bite: tender herb greens, crisp, buttery breadcrumbs, and a smokiness that dances coyly around each oyster like a fine perfume. The steak tartare is fresh and tender, with a stiff pulse of garlic and Parmesan, and the escargots are as tender as the oysters (though perhaps due to diet, the snails had rounded third base from “earthy” to “loamy” on the night I tried them).
The mid-century vibes pretty much mandate a cocktail in hand, and the Golden Ox has a few solid contenders. Bartender Katy Wade (who has helmed bars and written cocktail menus all over town including at Julep, Dempsey’s, Voltaire and more) designed the cocktail list, which offers drinks ranging from brash and boozy (the dick-measuring Dillingham, which improves as you nurse it) to dry and tangy (the Airmail, an ideal palate-cleanser for a rich meal).
And, of course, the menu includes the Pink Squirrel — though this appears to have been a somewhat begrudging concession to nostalgia. (As of this writing, the restaurant’s online FAQ answers “Do you still make Pink Squirrels?” with “We do not.”) The Squirrel may be kitschy, but it’s a solid dessert drink, ideal for keeping unseasonable eggnog cravings at bay. The drink sips like a melted milkshake, with a surprising warmth from a dusting of nutmeg and a cheery pink tone from the almond-flavored crème de noyaux.
Nostalgia is an insidious force in the hospitality industry. Few experiences hold up to the scrutiny of a misty-eyed memory, and small deviations can feel disastrous. Since Ox 2.0 opened, I’ve heard some gripes from former regulars about the prices and plates. Yes, the prices are higher. Yes, the sides (and the bread basket) are a la carte. Set your expectations (and budget) accordingly.
But the Golden Ox is more reasonably priced than some other local steakhouses (I’m looking at you, Stock Hill), and unless you have a rancher’s appetite, most of the steaks are easy to share. The kitchen will split the steak for you if you ask, though I don’t recommend this route. My server gave my husband the better half of the bone-in, dry-aged Kansas City strip — medium-rare, as ordered — and served me the half that had warmed to a much chewier medium.
That KC strip may be the restaurant’s most iconic dish, but I far preferred the “American Royal,” a 17-ounce, dry-aged ribeye. When I ordered it, the ribeye arrived a perfect medium rare, with a more tender chew and a richer, beefier flavor. The “Ox Top Cut” — a 5 ounce Akaushi top sirloin — was also well-seasoned and cooked to order. All the Ox’s steaks are cut and aged in house and lightly charred over hardwood. For an upcharge, you can get a silver tureen of sauce — I sampled a bright and tangy chimichurri and a rich and lemony béarnaise — but the steaks are flavorful enough without it.
Here’s where I’ll make a confession: when I’m not on the job, I rarely order a steak at a restaurant. I’m fussy and I’m cheap and I’d rather throw my own dry-aged beef into a screaming-hot cast iron pan until my kitchen is full of more smoke than a pup tent at Burning Man.
If you’re like me, I’ve got good news: the sleeper hits on the Ox’s menu are often better than the steaks.
I’m still thinking about a Caesar salad — a Caesar salad! — packed with wrinkly sun-dried tomatoes, thick-shaved parmesan, pungent shallots, and a light, balanced dressing. For an upcharge, you can order the salad with white anchovies, and that upcharge ought to be built into the price. The anchovies are mandatory, elevating a workaday dish to god-tier. If you’re suspicious of anchovies, this is the ideal way to test the waters. White anchovies are brighter and fresher and juicier than their muddy, oil-cured cousins: think pickled herring with a rap sheet.
Another humble pleasure: the garlic parsley French fries, which were crisp and craggy with soft, fluffy innards. The mushroom risotto was dryer and stickier than I expected, but the flavor was unimpeachable. And the onion rings, which were thickly sliced and peppery, had a punchy batter and an airy crunch.
The biggest surprise was the half-slab of ribs, which were suspiciously tender and hickory-steeped for a restaurant that doesn’t focus on barbecue. The accompanying “Ox BBQ sauce” was overly sweet; fortunately, I didn’t need it.
Granted, a few dishes feel less carefully composed. A side of sweet potato gratin was oily and unremarkable. The oxtail soup was thin and flatly seasoned. And while the baked potato was moist and fluffy, the “loaded” version was a bit too sober for its size.
But the Golden Ox excels as a mid-century time capsule, one that’s dusted off old favorites and treated them with the sincerity and gravity they deserve. The Ox isn’t trendy. It’s traditional. And in this city — in this moment — that can feel downright revolutionary.
1600 Genessee St
Tuesday–Saturday: 5 PM–10 PM Sunday: 4 PM–9 PM
Cocktails: $9–14 Appetizers $5–17 Entrees $12–34 Steaks: $18–68
Best bet: Start with the Oysters Rockefeller and a Caesar salad (the white anchovies are spectacular). Dinner’s the American Royal ribeye.