Although it's still too chilly to go swimming or sailing, seafood and steak in Kansas City's only waterfront restaurant never go out of season. Diners from across the region have made Marina Grog & Galley a popular destination since owner Jack Schwindler first turned an old boathouse into an upscale restaurant.
"We offer fine dining in a nautical atmosphere," Executive Chef Lance McFarland said. "It takes you back to the days when you were dating or just relaxing at the lake. Our customers come from across the metropolitan area. More than half of our business drive past 100 restaurants from Johnson County to come see us. We also are popular with people who live farther east and don't want to worry about traffic and parking in downtown Kansas City."
Alan and Gayle Switzer are regular customers.
"Marina Grog & Galley is one of the best fine-dining seafood and steak restaurants in Kansas City, not to mention the spectacular view when dining on the water," Gayle said. "It's a great lake experience."
Schwindler is synonymous with the lake in the minds of many residents and guests. In fact, he was the first baby born at Lake Lotawana and has been around the lake longer than the city itself. Milton Thompson developed the lake as a tourist destination, and the city was incorporated in 1958.
The restaurant building also predates the city. The Kaw Point Boat Co. built it in 1934, and at various times it has housed a gasoline supply company and a full-service marina. Schwindler opened Marina Grog & Galley in 1993.
McFarland has been there for 13 years and has been executive chef for the past five. He emphasizes that dining at the restaurant, which is open only for dinner, is an event.
"Our average turnaround times are about two hours," he said. "This is the time it takes to sit down, have a drink, enjoy dinner, dessert, and an after-dinner drink."
The restaurant is known for seafood and steak. One signature entree is luau lobster, which combines a broiled lobster tail, shrimp and scallops. It's one thing to eat on the waterfront in the heartland -- it's another to convince diners that seafood can be just as fresh in Kansas City as it is near the ocean.
"It's a misconception that you can't get good seafood here," McFarland said. "We order from Honolulu Fish Co. by 11 a.m., and the seafood arrives the next day."
Along with fresh fish flown in from Hawaii twice a week, he sources lobster tail from Canada, king crab legs from Alaska and salmon from New Zealand. Meat entrees include filet mignon, bone-in ribeye and pork medallions.
Nothing complements a good meal like the right bottle of wine, and McFarland takes pride not only in the restaurant's quality and selection but in the reasonable prices. Marina Grog & Galley sells more wine from Caymus Vineyards in California's Napa Valley than any restaurant in Missouri.
"Our high-end wines have the best prices around," he said. "We make them affordable so guests will have more money to spend on their dinner. Diners can enjoy a good bottle or wine for much less than a comparable bottle would cost in the city."
Guests can expect to pay from $30 to $50 per person, excluding tips, and $100 is a good ballpark figure for an enjoyable evening for two. Several seating options are available, including tables with lake views and an outdoor patio when weather permits. The nautical theme includes a 500-gallon saltwater aquarium and two 500-gallon freshwater aquariums. The seating capacity is 300 when all of the areas are open. The banquet room, which has a private bar and kitchen, can seat as many as 60 guests for rehearsal dinners, holiday parties and other special events.
Marina Grog & Galley is open Tuesday through Sunday. The attire is business casual, and reservations are recommended but not required. On Tuesday through Thursday, the restaurant opens at 5:30 p.m. each evening, with the last seating at 8 p.m. Reservations can be made from 5:p.m to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.
In the quarter-century since Schwindler had the idea to turn a boathouse into a restaurant, Marina Grog & Galley has built a large and loyal following of locals who dine there regularly and others who make it their go-to choice for special occasions.
"This is a special place that you will always remember," McFarland said. "The ambience is unlike any other restaurant in the area. It feels as if you are on vacation."'
More information is available at MarinaGrogAndGalley.com.