If you’re looking for an escape, whether romantic or historic, look no further. Café Verona is tucked away, around the corner from the Jackson County Missouri courthouse, in historic downtown Independence, Missouri. The owners of Café Verona, Ken and Cindy McClain, are proud to be a part of the Independence square which has seen a great revival of small locally-owned businesses come together in recent years. According to their website ‘Café Verona’s menu will whisk you from the Midwest to the romance of Italy’.
As one enters through an enchanted massive iron gate, laden with padlocks, one does seem to be stepping into a different world. Not from the past time of our 33rd President Truman, in which Independence is so richly known for, but strategically-placed art that hints of a European feel.
Moving through the small courtyard complete with a fountain, planters and figures reminiscent of Rome, Italy, you reach a regal set of metal doors that escort you into a pocket of rooms outlined with deep rich woodwork. Glancing to the right, is a bar with a mirrored wall of liquor bottles and a grand mural that must stretch to 15 feet in height. The dining room, just to the left, is filled with tables and booths ready to accommodate large groups, families or couples. It’s a place to easily sit and engage in quiet conversation and unwind from a hectic day over a savory meal and cocktails.
A quick study of the menu reveals a thoughtful chef at work, Executive Chef Bobby Stearns. Chef Stearns is busy with both Café Verona and Ophelia’s (a sister restaurant located on the northeast corner of the square). He works countless hours overseeing the daily operations of both eateries while insuring the highest quality of cuisine possible as well as creating new dishes. Chef Stearns’ dish, Salmon Portofino, proved to be a delicious culinary blend of foods and flavors; lightly crusted salmon with scratch-made potato gnocchi, baby spinach, mushrooms and pine nuts all bathed in a lemon cream sauce; an excellent choice.
Since arriving through the courtyard gates, echoes of love danced in the air as if on the notes of the music playing softly in the background. My train of thought kept going until it arrived at the ultimate destination, Valentine’s Day; because there’s not a more romantic day of the year. Furthermore, when it comes to dessert, what better way to celebrate than with chocolate. A made-in-house vanilla and chocolate gelato delivered in adorable chocolate teacups with decadent chocolate ganache proved to be a welcomed ending to a delicious meal.
Many thoughtful traditions take place during the celebration of Valentine’s Day. Gents escorting their ladies on an evening of romance with fine dining, maybe a beautiful piece of jewelry to adorn her neck line, chocolates to make her swoon or a boutique of roses to fill the air with a sweet fragrance, all a wonderful way to let your loved one know you care.
In the same fashion, that takes us back to the iron gate and fence that divides present time and past Roman times at Café Verona. Padlocks, of every size, shape and color imaginable hang on their fence and gate. These are special padlocks, they are love locks. A love lock is a sweet tradition, a pledge of love between two people. The placing of love locks is a custom whereby couples affix a padlock to a bridge, fence, gate or similar fixture so professing one’s unbreakable and everlasting love. It’s a romantic notion that often stirs strongest around Valentine’s Day.
Unfortunately, Café Verona is not accepting any more love locks on their fence or gate due to structural damage on the adjacent walls. After some research, I was able to locate a great spot to continue the love lock tradition – the Old Red Bridge in Minor Park. It is reported, there are over 3,500 love locks on the Old Red Bridge since allowing lock placement in February of 2013.
While dining at Café Verona, you may enjoy viewing the many unique love locks that are standing the test of time – many have names and dates inscribed on them. Maybe you’ve heard the old saying “if these walls could talk”, well I’d like to hear the story attached to each love lock as they most certainly would be sweeping tales of romance and what better way to end a beautiful evening.
Café Verona is located at 206 West Lexington Avenue in Independence, MO. 816.833.0044 (www.cafeveronarestaurant.com).
Old Red Bridge: www.kcparks.org/places/old-red-bridge-love-locks.
Photos: Adsion Bella Rayne