One of the hi-lights of our recent visits to Kansas City was the trip to Country Club Plaza – a lovely, historic shopping center about four miles south of Downtown. Kansas City is known for its many beautiful fountains – supposedly the most in any US city – and many of them are in Country Club Plaza. There is also some great art throughout the center. Originally built in 1922 on what was once a dumping ground and hog farm, the Plaza sits on 55 acres that were acquired, parcel by parcel, by JC Nichols. What Nichols built there was revolutionary. The first master-planned outdoor shopping center designed to accommodate a new invention – the automobile. Built with a Spanish theme, the architecture of Country Club Plaza recalls both the US Southwest and some of Europe’s most beautiful capitals. It’s an unexpected but welcome surprise in a city in the Midwest. After a flood in the 1970’s, the Plaza was revamped, and an influx of chain stores came into the center. That was the main problem we had with this beautiful center – the architecture is amazing, and the location by Brush Creek makes for some great photo opportunities. But the stores are the same stores you’ll find in any mall in any part of the country. We were hoping for some great local shops where we could purchase something to take home as a momento. But most of what we saw were stores like Banana Republic, Tiffany and Williams-Sonoma. There was one stand-out exception. Near the Western end of the Plaza, we found a little place called Phoenix Gallery. The store had a great and eclectic selection of art and knick knacks, much of it moderately priced, and we found a beautiful watercolor print of the center there that we ended up having shipped home. Another stand-out – Jack’s Stack Barbecue. If you’ve never tried Kansas City BBQ, you should, and this is a great place to do it. It’s on thie Eastern end of the Plaza. It’s got that dark steakhouse thing going on – a little heavy on the “ambiance – but the food was amazing. We had the BBQ chicken, and then I enjoyed the bread pudding with a creamy rum sauce. Put this place on your agenda for your next trip. Country Club Plaza is well worth a look, if only for the amazing architecture and a few stand-out stores.