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When my girlfriends want to go out for a special lunch, I tell them to get in my car and trust me. I know just where to go. We hit the highway, bound for a historic town just outside of Kansas City, Missouri, where a surprise awaits.

Independence, Missouri, once a wild frontier town where settlers started their western trek, seems like an unlikely place to find a magical little restaurant that makes you feel like you are in the New Orleans French Quarter. But everything about Vivilore is surprising.

I was introduced to Vivilore by my friend Nancy, a trend spotter who always seems to be in the know about the coolest new places. When Nancy took me there a few years ago, Vivilore was still a well-kept secret. But now, everyone is catching on. It was only a matter of time before word got out about a hidden gem like this.

Vivilore, in Latin, means life story. This unique place has a lot of stories to tell. Located in a historic arts district, it’s not only a restaurant, but an art gallery, an event venue and a shop that sells a curious mix of antiques.

Vivilore has been a labor of love for co-owners Whit Ross and Cindy Foster, a brother and sister team who grew up in Independence and poured their life savings, and untold hours, into building the business from scratch. As a small, local shop owner myself, I appreciate the work and love they put in so those of us who are lucky enough to dine here have a wonderful experience.

I’m not a foodie, so I can’t give you a professional review of the cuisine. Other than to tell you my impression: Yum! Everything on the menu was fresh and flavorful, made with great care and artistry, using produce from local farmers and herbs grown on site, in the restaurant’s garden.

I think my favorite thing about Vivilore is the courtyard. On trips to Charleston, S.C., I fell head over heels in love with the walled courtyards in the historic district, each a peaceful oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city. Dan and I were so taken by the idea of courtyard living that we turned the backyard of our home in Atchison, Kansas, into one, and it became our favorite spot.

The courtyard dining area at Vivilore is like an artist palette for Whit, who is the chief gardener. Every time I dine in this lovely garden, I leave with little nuggets of inspiration.

On my most recent trip there, I was captivated by how they scattered small clay pots about the flower beds, where mulch would be. They also mounted a large grate on the side of a building, then covered it with large clay pots, held in place by wire loops. I want to try both ideas in my own garden someday. Until then, I’m content to enjoy it all at Vivilore.

This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at nellhills.com.

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