Where KU basketball players like to eat in KC and Lawrence: Favorite wings, steak, BBQ

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If you’re looking for a restaurant recommendation from the Kansas men’s basketball team, you probably don’t want to start with Ramsey Nijem.

Nothing against the Jayhawks’ strength coach, of course. He may give you a nice, lean suggestion, but when it comes to a cheat meal…

“He’s not going to do that,” Kansas senior and defensive ace Kevin McCullar quipped. “He’s eating allllllll healthy.”

Sure enough, Nijem needed a beat, then another, followed by a hmmm, before he could answer this reporter’s question on that very subject. Then it struck him.

‘Oh,’ Nijem said with a smile. “Morning Star’s Pizza in Lawrence. Shoutout to Brady Morningstar. That’s my cheat meal.”

He began to walk away, down a hallway that led to the makeshift coaches’ office in Des Moines, where the No. 1 seeded Jayhawks were preparing to play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“Get Morningstar’s Pizza in there,” he yelled across the locker room.

He may be biased. The pizzeria on Sixth Street in Lawrence is owned by Roger Morningstar and family. He made it to a Final Four with the Jayhawks, of course, and his son Brady, a former KU player and current Jayhawk video coordinator, used to work there.

“Hey, say Morningstar’s Pizza,” McCullar interrupted, remembering the connection after mentioning another eatery as his best place in Lawrence. “…That’s really my second favorite.”

There’s a lot of healthy debate when it comes to the Kansas Jayhawks’ favorite meal, starting with a debate that is tearing the team apart.

Jefferson’s is the go-to spot for starting center KJ Adams, sharpshooter Michael Jankovich, and McCullar, but there’s no consensus on how best to enjoy the wings.

“They do good wings,” Adams said. “Love their cheese fries. They also have some mac and cheese with buffalo in it. I like that.”

“Boneless honey barbecue wings and fries and ranch,” Jankovich added.

McCullar disagrees.

“I get the Asian Zing wings, but I get the bone,” McCullar said. “I don’t like boneless. That’s not a real wing. That’s a chicken nugget.”

He grinned, then shook his head over his teammates’ selections.

Kansas security guard Kevin McCullar Jr. speaks to Scott Chasen, assistant sports editor of The Star, in the locker room before a shooting in Des Moines.


“They do that chicken wing — they like to eat fast, take it to go,” McCullar said. “I like to sit there, enjoy my meal.”

If they can agree on one thing, it’s this cheat meal: McCullar’s go-to is a McChicken at McDonald’s. Backup point guard Bobby Pettiford will grab two, plus fries, a cinnamon melt, and a big Hi-C — “No ice,” he clarifies — but only on Sundays or days off.

Pettiford, who grew up in North Carolina and enjoyed his mother’s cooking—lots of soul food, chicken, mac and cheese, green beans, and potatoes—has found another top spot in Lawrence. He walks down 23rd Street to Oriental Bistro & Grill and orders orange chicken with broccoli, fried rice, and some lemonade.

The student-athletes at KU get many of their meals provided by the university and planned through a nutrition program. But they also have a “red card,” Pettiford said, which allows them to get meals in town. It was through that card that Pettiford first tried Oriental Bistro, and it was an instant hit.

On special occasions, the players face a buffet of options from Kansas City’s Q39 barbecue, which was marked as a locker room favorite by most, though Jankovich prefers Gates Bar-B-Q’s giant beef-and-a- half-sandwich.

(Funnily enough, Jankovich’s father, Tim, a former KU assistant coach, may have been the first to recommend that dish to a reporter.)

Another consensus favorite? 715, an Italian bistro on Massachusetts Street.

“The last thing I got from them was the filet steak, a little potato, a little salad,” said Nijem. “You can’t go wrong with 715. Shoutout 715.”

“The Lumache Alla Vodka with shrimp,” added Greg Gurley, former KU player, current team color commentator and assistant athletic director for big gifts. “I bet you (my wife and I) go there at least twice a week when we’re in Lawrence. And it’s only open five days a week.”

Nijem’s filet is an 8 ounce steak served with crispy potato pavé, Worcestershire aioli and tomato peppadew salad ($52). Gurley’s pasta dish comes with the shell pasta in a tomato-vodka sauce, fresh basil, and Parmesan cheese. With shrimp ($8), the meal costs $33.

Gurley also comes on lock down and is packed with KC area recommendations. Nick and Jake’s at 135th and Metcalf in Overland Park is his go-to spot to grab a beer, and he and his wife are often looking for Italian food, be it Garozzo’s or Jasper’s Italian Restaurant.

His favorite meal from Jasper’s, located at 103rd and State Line? “Veal for me,” Gurley said. “What Jasper’s does, that’s cool, they do at the table — make their own mozzarella. They make it with hot water and curd and do all the things in front of you.

Working your way through the Kansas dressing room, you can pick up a few tips for good food.

Kansas forward KJ Adams Jr.  speaks to the media in the locker room Wednesday in Des Moines.

Kansas forward KJ Adams Jr. speaks to the media in the locker room Wednesday in Des Moines.

Adams’ KC-based choice is 801 Chophouse, “probably the best steak place you can ever have,” he says. He orders the bone-in filet mignon, Oscar-style, a $26 king crab add-on with béarnaise and asparagus.

McCullar goes for Ocean Prime when he’s in Kansas City. He even took his parents with him before joining the team. His choice was a steak paired with a California roll.

Perhaps the most memorable choice is that of combo guard Joseph Yesufu, a Drake transfer known for his speed, athletic jumping from the gym, and three-point shooting. You’d never know it from looking at him, but growing up 30 minutes from Chicago in Bolingbrook, Illinois, Yesufu was all-in at McDonald’s, at least until he “started to see how it can affect your body.”

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen is still something of a cheat meal, but Yesufu’s top picks start in the suburbs at J. Alexander’s in Overland Park. His favorite dish is the Steak Maui, a marinated ribeye, plus some fries ($45).

His choice of Lawrence has some significance and a bit of a track record.

In the spring of 2015, a young point guard named Frank Mason had just completed his second-season breakthrough when he decided to give some restaurant advice to his Twitter followers. When asked about his favorite restaurant, Mason, who would go on to win the consensus award for National Player of the Year in 2016-2017, recommended Kobe Japanese Steakhouse in Lawrence.

Four years later, two years away from his sensational final season, Mason confirmed that this was still his best choice in Lawrence.

Yesufu may not have known about Kobe’s track record in KU basketball lore, but he had heard about the food.

“I get the steak and shrimp, extra rice, and extra steak,” Yesufu said. “When I first came here, everyone said this is the best restaurant. I tried here, and I go almost like every week.”