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Finding the best lemonade in Kansas City

Sharon Rodriguez and granddaughters
The author; granddaughter Carlee, 10; and granddaughter Cierra, 12. They're sipping lemonade in their search for the best in Kansas City.

This year, the summer-like days started in March. It was as hot, so the weather people tell us, as it traditionally is in July. With my granddaughters, Cierra and Carlee, I started talking about an adventure to help us through these unseasonably warm days.

School was not out yet, so we were limited to meeting after school or on weekends. I asked whether they'd like to start looking for the best lemonade in Kansas City. Their eyes lit up like fireworks on July 4.

The lemonade I make would not be the starting criteria for this adventure, because I use Crystal Light. When we met to discuss our criteria, Cierra started defining: the right blend of tart and sweet, and refreshing. I wanted fresh-squeezed and naturally sweetened.

Then I looked online to find three places I could take the girls in search of the perfect lemonade. I found James Lemonade, made in Kansas City, Kan., Chic-Fil-A, and Winstead's.

I was intrigued when I saw James Lemonade, because I didn't know that someone in the metro area made and bottled it. I thought it would be the ultimate adventure for Cierra and Carlee to see lemonade made so close to home. But I called the number listed on the Web site, and it was incorrect. So was the link to the James Lemonade Web site. So I talked to the girls and they decided to stick to fresh lemonade instead.

I went to dinner with a friend at Chai Shai, in Brookside, and saw the owner making a lemon drink. I asked the woman he served it to whether it was fresh. She said yes, so my list started to grow.

On April 17, I picked up the girls for our first adventure. Armed with my list of places, we started with Winstead's on Shawnee Mission Parkway. The anticipation was growing as we drove, and our feeling was light-hearted. We walked in and sat down. When the waitress brought our water, I asked how their lemonade was made. She said it was a fountain drink. I said "Thank you," and we left. We did not want to waste our time on a fountain mix!

Our spirits still high, we headed to Chick-Fil-A behind Oak Park Mall. We walked in and were greeted with a sign on the side of the dispenser: "Fresh Squeezed Lemonade." We looked at each other and smiled. I let the manager know that we were on an adventure to find the best Lemonade in Kansas City. He said, "You came to the right place!"

There were two kinds of fresh-squeezed lemonade: regular and diet. The diet contained Splenda. We decided we would try both. First we sipped the diet, and decided it was OK. Then we sipped the regular. Wow! This was just what we all expected, the right balance of tart and sweet plus "very refreshing!" said Carlee. Cierra said, "This will be hard to beat!"

Saturday, May 5, was our next adventure. It was 97 degrees out, and we were ready for some refreshment. When I got to the girls' house, I was faced with a twist; Carlee had a headache and did not want to go out. We decided we would do carryout. Cierra and I would go get the lemonade and bring it back for Carlee.

We picked Café Gratitude, in Kansas City, Mo. The café had just opened, and a friend told me it had lemonade. There we were told that the lemonade was just what we were looking for because it was fresh-squeezed and sweetened with Agave, a natural sweetener. We left the café with our treasures and headed back to the house. Carlee was feeling much better when we got there, ready for the tasting.

We sipped the lemonade and found an ingredient we did not expect: sparkling water. We decided this lemonade would take some getting used to because of the agave and sparkling water. It was a healthful drink, but we were used to sugar!
Our last tasting took place on a cooler, 74-degree day. The three of us talked on the way to Chai Shai about whether the weather would influence our tasting.

Eagerly we went into the restaurant, which specializes in Pakistani and Indian food. We ordered, sat at a table, and the drinks were brought to us. There was something green floating in the lemonade—a mint leaf. We sampled the drink. Wow! This one turned out to be much better than we expected.

We thought this was our last tasting, but I found a bottle of James Lemonade at a liquor store and bought a bottle. On Sunday, May 20, we shared the bottle.

We decided right there to choose a favorite, but it was a mixed vote!

Carlee liked Chick-Fil-A the best because it was refreshing, a good balance between sweet and tart; her second choice was Chai Shai's lemonade, with Café Gratitude coming in last.

Cierra named a tie between Chick-Fil-A and Chai Shai because they both were refreshing with a good balance of sweet and tart, with Café Gratitude her last choice.

I liked Chai Shai best because it was refreshing, the right balance of tart plus sweet, and I liked the mint flavoring. Chick-Fil-A was my second choice, and again Café Gratitude came in last.

After the refreshing taste of fresh lemonade, the bottled James came in at the bottom—but we did think it was better than other bottled lemonade. And it was made locally.

We did not consider the price of any of these drinks, because the experience and time together were priceless. We did talk about our next adventure and what it would be. Maybe ice cream or hamburgers. We are sure that another adventure awaits us!