ROADTRIP WITH JONG’S THAI KITCHEN
photos by Alison Beebe
Inviting ourselves to tag-along; we learned more about the origins of Jong’s Thai Kitchen food.
Banjong Winters and Nimm Ragsdale grew up in Thailand living about three hours apart, but it wasn’t until they ended up living in Topeka that they met. Their friendship began as co-workers in a local restaurant and became a partnership along with Nimm’s husband Derek. Together they make up the total staff of Jong’s Thai Kitchen. They opened their doors on September 21, 2020 in the Devon Flats apartment commercial space at 800 SW 12th Street in historic Holiday Park.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and recently completed road construction, they have managed to not only survive, but to thrive, by providing fresh cooked foods that are delicious and beautifully presented. This tiny team pours their love of their country, culture and food into their menu and Topeka patrons have responded with their own outpouring of support. So much so, that it is always wise to call ahead for reservations. Their quest is for their customers to have a dining experience that is unrushed and enjoyed. “We would rather have fewer customers that have a positive experience with quality food, expertly prepared, than rush them out the door just to turn the tables for more diners.” But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to serve all their customers; they offer carryout and try their best to have the food ready by or before their promised estimated time.
As a huge fan of the restaurant, I was curious about where they purchase their products and to learn more about their cooking.
Alison Beebe and I invited ourselves to tag-along on their grocery shopping/girls’ trip to Kansas City. We took off with plans to shop and eat, and shop and eat some more, and we were not disappointed. Our first stop of the day was Restaurant Depot, 1500 W 12th Street, Kansas City, Mo. This wholesale shop is a members-only chain. It is a cash and carry, high quality product food service supplier open seven days a week. The store is huge, and the colors of all the food is amazing. Next on the agenda was to head over to U.S. Intertrade Asian Food distributer, 416 E. 5th Street, Kansas City, Mo. Owner Sed Plungkhen and his son Ubol have been operating their business for approximately 28 years. This small warehouse provides noodles, rice and various sauces/curry pastes to many restaurants in Kansas City and surrounding areas. Sed and Ubol focus on ensuring all customers receive product. Sed reports that especially during the pandemic, “even if businesses can afford to buy a lot of product and stockpile it, I make sure everyone has what they need and don’t allow one person to overstock. I try to be fair to my customers.” This two-man crew were delightful, pleasant and tolerant of a photo op, and then they were back to business.
We’ve shopped, so now it’s time to eat! First stop, Vietnam Café, 522 Campbell Street, is in a quaint little corner building near the Kansas City River Market area. It is well known for its amazing food and friendly service. You may have to wait a bit to get in, but once you step inside the aroma is amazing with the scents of Thai basil, Vietnamese coriander, chili powder and cinnamon, garlic, ginger, chives, and plenty of lemongrass. Authentic Vietnamese cuisine with typical dishes such as pho, Hotpots, and various stir fry options are on the menu. I had the Bun Ga Nuong, a vermicelli noodle topped with marinated grilled chicken, peanuts and fried onion.
There was more to experience, so we headed over to Hawthorne Plaza, 4929 W 119th Overland Park, Kan. to enjoy dessert at Andre’s Rivaz Tearoom. This is a family-owned business run by three generations of Suisse-trained confiseurs who have been handcrafting Swiss style chocolate candies and pastry confections in Kansas City since 1955. Their flagship storefront, Andre’s Chocolates & Confiserie Suisse, 5018 Main Street, Kansas City, Kan. I selected their lemon cake which was so silky and smooth with just the right amount of creamy lemon tartness. Alison purchased the Moliere, named for the 17th century French playwright. The Moliere, a mini bundt-shaped dessert features almond cake with candied orange peels and is covered in Andre’s signature dark chocolate.
To give our palates a rest, we went to Oriental Supermarket, 10336 Metcalf, Overland Park, Kan. where we picked up a few items for restaurant and I purchased some kimchi (a fermented cabbage dish) to give to friends, and mangoes, for my favorite dessert dishes, mango sticky rice and mango ice cream.
No matter where we stopped, folks recognized and spoke admirably to both Banjong and Nimm. Shopkeepers, restaurant servers, business owners, all commented (unsolicited) on their respect for these women and acknowledged their practice of shopping for quality ingredients and their pride in their restaurant and ability to bring Thai food to those they serve.
Our final stop of the day was Choga Korean Restaurant, 6920 W 105th St, Overland Park, Kan. By now, we’ve eaten plenty, but the plan was to experience what we could, so we ordered the Seafood Pancake (a crispy green onion pancake with squid, octopus and shrimp served with a soy sauce dip), Hotpot soup, Mandoo (pan fried dumplings), Japchea (stir-fried sweet potato noodles, onions, mushrooms and green onions), Pan-fried Mackeral, and a few carry-out boxes. Banjong suggested their Roasted Corn Tea to drink, an interesting taste but refreshing.
Our stomachs full and our hearts happy, we had accomplished our tasks for the day. I separated from the pack to join family in Kansas City, but rumor has it a stop was made in Lawrence by the others for some Sylas and Maddy’s homemade ice cream, you know, for dessert, before heading home to Topeka.