By Kelley Nelson

It may seem elementary but don’t move your tassel before learning your ABCs. Here, we’ve complied a list of the top 26 foods from some of the area’s best eateries, all outlined from A to Z. So kick your TV tray habit, break the Ramen rut, and go explore what Northeast Kansas has to offer. Welcome to your tastiest four-year plan yet.

A is for apple cider at Louisburg Cider Mill.

APPLE CIDER. Louisburg Cider Mill, Louisburg. 135 miles. The mill has been around since the ‘70s and owners Tom and Shelly Schierman have been busy perfecting their cider ever since. You can tour the mill itself, but if you’re just there for the food, head straight to the Country Store where you’ll find fresh cider and donuts. Of course, in the 34 years since swingin’ open the barn doors, the Schiermans expanded. Now take your pick of regular, sparkling, or flavored ciders—a pack of four 12 oz. bottles is $9.95.  Or try their own Lost Trail sodas, whose recipes come from Shelly’s great-great-grandfather.

BLACK COWS. Mr. K’s Farmhouse, Abilene. 46 miles. After being deserted for almost two decades, the Kuntz family breathed life back into the old “Farmhouse on the Hill.” Formerly called “Lena’s,” the establishment has served former President Eisenhower and even has a paddle signed by him displayed on the wall. Try their black cows, more commonly known as root beer floats. The Kuntzs were gracious enough to list these as a drink instead of a dessert so pair it with the regular cows they serve and enjoy.

CINNAMON ROLLS. Mrs. Powell’s, Manhattan. 2 miles. In the corner of the Manhattan Town Center food court, many might mistake this gem for just another chain bakery. In reality, the counter serves a wide variety of food for cheap, not least of which, the locally renowned cinnamon rolls. You can also grab a quick lunch of sandwiches or soups, usually finished off by a homemade cookie all for around $5. The only downside is that their menu changes daily, so you can never count on a favorite dish to be there. Their newest addition to rotate through? Chocolate chip cookies with pieces of pretzel right in the mix.

DUCK-FAT FRENCH FRIES. The Burger Stand at The Casbah, Lawrence. 74 miles. Or truffle, or drowned in cheese and gravy.  All in all, The Burger Stand serves six varieties of fries to accompany their mouth-watering burgers. Lawrence natives swear by the Black & Blue, whose tart granny smith apple chutney mixed with crumbly Maytag blue cheese sets it apart. Customer Leslie Reece says, “it’s beyond delicious.” Not ones to be exclusive, co-owners Robert and Molly Krause and Simon and Codi Bates recently expanded their menu for the less-carnivorous. With lentil, falafel, or Asian tofu burgers now vegetarians can feel included, too.

ELK RIBEYE. Bunker Hill Café, Bunker. 126 miles. The abandoned-looking limestone building might make you want to run the other way. But give its no-frills attitude a chance. A true shrine to hunting, the deer, fish, and bobcats along the walls keep you company while you enjoy meats from the surrounding area. The elk is from Scott City’s herd but you can also get buffalo or traditional beef. If you can’t make up your mind, get the mini portions and try all three. It’s only open Wednesday through Saturday if people are willing to fill their tables, so call ahead for a reservation.

F is for the fried chicken dinner at the Brookville Hotel in Abilene.

FRIED CHICKEN. Brookville Hotel, Abilene. 43 miles. The historic restaurant that used to reside in, you guessed it, Brookville, flew the coop in 1999 to re-nest in Abilene, a mere 127 years after its grand opening. It was 1915 when Helen Martin, the owners’ daughter, perfected the menu you still enjoy today. The meal of good ol’ boy favorites like fried chicken, whipped coleslaw, baking powder biscuits, creamed corn, and more is served up family-style. Waitresses clad in blue-striped dresses and frilly white aprons still buzz around to offer a glimpse of old fashioned charm.

GREEN RIVER. Bankes’ Soda Fountain, Abilene. 45 miles. One of only a handful of old fashioned soda counters left in the whole state, Bankes’ (pronounce Bank-ees) hides out in the back corner of a Health Mart. Refuel from shopping with their classic Green River, made with Sierra Mist and lime syrup, or make a Phosphate of club soda and a flavor of your choice. The ‘50s style vinyl booths make a nice place to sip your drink or you can take your soda to go. Just remember, the styrofoam cup will cost you an extra quarter.

H is for hamburger at Big D's in Manhattan.

HAMBURGERS. Big D’s Burger Shack, Manhattan. 2 miles. Owner Ewing Evans, affectionately known as “Big D” takes great pride in his shack. Everything he serves is fresh. Thecheese hails from the Alma creamery and the beef arrives straight from Clay Center. It’s not just his local ingredients that draw people to Big D but his larger-than-life personality. As a customer grabbed her brown paper bag, which had already started showing hints of grease seeping through the bottom, she leaned in and whispered, “Don’t tell my heart doctor about this, but I just can’t resist.” With a sly smile Big D responded, “No worries, we keep a strict confidentiality policy. Plus, doctors don’t know anything, that’s why they have to ‘practice’ all day long.” The whole restaurant—if you could call the two tables and three barstools that—let out a lighthearted chuckle before happily settling back into their delicious burgers.

ICE. Tad’s Tropical Sno, Manhattan. 2 miles. Well, fancy ice, really. Tad’s makes theirs lighter than air before drizzling it with any combination of 40 flavors. Not for the indecisive customer, Tad’s also gives you upwards of 100 pre-tested combinations to get your creative juices flowing. These range from the tame Berries ‘n Cream to the more daring concoction, Tiger’s Blood.

JERK CHICKEN. The Little Grill, Manhattan. 5 miles. One word comes to mind when thinking of The Little Grill: atmosphere. When you’re in the open-air seating, relaxing in the warmth of the sun, close your eyes and let your mind drift to somewhere tropical. Owner Kenrick will help you get there by entertaining you with live reggae-style performances before serving you fresh, authentic Jamaican food. The Jerk Chicken is the local recommendation, and rumor has it goes on special every Tuesday.

K is for Kung-Pao Chicken at Teagarden in Olathe.

KUNG-PAO CHICKEN. Teagarden, Olathe. 126 miles. Next to a Pizza Hut and a liquor store, the red sign advertising this Chinese restaurant makes it seem relatively unassuming. However, the food is a far cry from the usual greasy Chinese most establishments seem to serve from giant, metal buffet baskets. Instead, Teagarden lightly batters their meats and let the sauces do the work of creating a flavorful meal. The chicken in this dish is soft and spicy. A combo plate runs for around $10 and comes with unlimited rice. Another bonus? The service here is impeccable. Go more than twice, and the host greets you by name.

LASAGNE. Basil Lead Café, Lawrence. 82 miles.  For most people, Phillips 66 gas stations conjure up images of over-used restrooms or maybe a sad, forgotten hot dog forever spinning on its warming rack. However, the one off of 6th street in Lawrence has its own claim to fame: Italian food, served fresh from the oven. True to its convenience store locale, though, the food can be taken to go or even ordered via drive thru. The five-layer lasagne is a local favorite, but the true treasure is the breakfast version. Owner Brad “Walt” Walters no longer opens early, but this holy grail of a dish still makes an occasional appearance in the lunch specials.

M is for Marcon pie, made in Washington but available throughout Kansas.

MARCON PIES. Mayberry’s, Washington. 66 miles. MarCon pies still salutes its roots by purposely keeping the operation small, despite their growing popularity. The factory only has about 20 employees, who all “act like family,” according to one of the bakers. Regardless to their 500 pies-per-day output, the women in the kitchen still “carry on like they would if they were cooking at home.” They ship their pies anywhere within a 150 mile radius and now offer 90 different flavors. For the freshest slices, go to Mayberry’s, which also resides in Washington, and get one for $2. To step out of the box, try the gooseberry or sweet potato. Don’t forget to make it a la mode.

NUT ROLLS. Tasty Pastry Bakery, Clay Center. 39 miles. Locals line up as early as 5:00 to be the first to snag these homemade doughnuts when doors unlock at 6.  Even if you’re a late riser, the rolls are just as warm and soft well into the afternoon.  The bakery itself is a plain, serve-your-own coffee sort of joint, so just assume they’re focusing on making delicious pastries instead. Before you head out, pick up a loaf of  butterflake bread or a dozen cream-filled nut rolls and you’ll be the new residence-hall hero without breaking the bank: a whole breakfast for two cost under three bucks.

O is for Orange Slice Cookies at Our Daily Bread.

ORANGE SLICE COOKIES. Our Daily Bread, Barnes. 49 miles. The Drebes family put their sleepy Kansas town of under 200 people on the map with the launching of Our Daily Bread. Initially, they ran the bakery through their two car garage, but after a wildly successful first year, the family moved it to its current location on Main Street and opened The Garden eating area and event center where the family also hosts a monthly supper club. Their orange slice cookies are just one of about 10 different varieties the bakery whips up regularly.

PEANUT BUTTER AND BACON BURGERS. Tomfooleries, Kansas City, MO. 125 miles. Just hearing the name will start clogging your arteries.  Like it sounds, the half-pound of beef is slathered in creamy peanut butter and garnished with crispy bacon strips. For those watching their weight, you can also sample the peanut butter fried chicken “salad.”

QUICHE. The Friendship House, Wamego. 17 miles. Maroon wallpaper and fake floral wreaths might evoke memories of Grandma’s house. If you find yourself feeling anticipation for homemade goods, don’t worry, you will be rewarded here. Signatures include the quiche with its flaky crust, warm eggs, and veggies. The breakfast bierock, with melted cheese, eggs, and your choice of sausage, bacon, or ham enclosed in a pocket of pastry is another hit. In the fall of 2010, they decided to save students the drive to Wamego by serving their goods at most home K-State sporting events.

RASPBERRY CHIPOTLE BEAN DIP. So Long Saloon, Manhattan. 1 mile. Maybe the worst-kept secret in all of Manhattan, the restaurants’ Dia de Los Muertos themed décor and cowboy-like lingo makes for an odd combination that somehow comes off as more comfortable than tacky. The ceramic plate of piping hot cream cheese, chipotle raspberry sauce, and black beans is a local must. You can track down a do it yourself recipe but nothing beats the original. One Manhattanite claims she eats it at least once every time she flies home from California. So go on already…git.

STUFFED FRENCH TOAST CUPCAKES. Cupcake A La Mode, Kansas City, MO. 125 miles. Just like their website says, “cupcakes aren’t just for kids anymore!” At the Country Club Plaza’s newest bakery, these designer cupcakes are certainly made for an adult crowd. Here, it’s okay to have cake for breakfast with the stuffed French toast cupcake. It’s topped with maple and cinnamon buttercream icing and a dusting of powdered sugar. Go ahead and have two. It is the most important meal of the day.

TERRA SOL. Radina’s, Manhattan. 1 mile. Terra sol is one of Radina’s more darkly roasted blends, and an easy customer favorite. Anymore, coffeehouses are a place for people to sip, study, or socialize. Radina’s is no exception and now offers four different locations, including their newest spot nestled downtown. They do all of their own roasting and blending. The massive roaster can be seen in the Aggieville shop. When the beans circle through, the whole neighborhood can smell the strong aroma seeping through the air.

UNAGI. Sakura, Shawnee. 121 miles. The fresh-water eel isn’t the only thing worth trying on the menu but it’s a good start for those who are new to the sushi scene (and if you grew up in Kansas, you probably are). The mild-tasting rolls absorb more flavor from the soy or wasabi sauce you pair them with than from the actual eel. If eel weirds you out, Sakura has an expansive offering of sashimi, nigiri, and rolls to sample. But if you’re feeling more adventurous, try iidako, which is baby octopus, or even the unisea urchins.

VEGAN COOKIES. Blue Planet Café, Topeka. 49 miles. An environmentally-conscious bakery isn’t something you see everyday but the Blue Plant Café aims to be just that. Their Facebook description reads, “maybe we can’t change the world, but we can put a smile on your face.” Here, vegans can chose from yummy baked goods or even delicious mac ‘n’ cheese to fit their lifestyle. You can take your treats to go and grab a cup of coffee guilt-free since the top lid is now fully compostable.

W is for Wild Thing ice cream, available by the cone or the carton at K-State's Call Hall.

WILD THING ICE CREAM. Call Hall Dairy Bar, Manhattan. On Campus. This flavor is modeled off of a banana split and blends five different fruits: banana, cherry, peach, pineapple, and strawberry for one wild ride. Milk used in the Dairy Bar ice creams is from cows housed at the university. Food science students can even compete in a product development class to create the newest flavor. Call Hall also stocks milk, cheese, eggs and a variety of meats produced on campus.

XXX CHILI AND PICKLES. C.W. Porubsky Grocery, Topeka. 61 miles. The chili is so hot that the Porubsky family refuses to even serve it during summer months. You can always  gnaw on one of their legendary (and super spicy!) pickles to fill your thrill. The little restaurant has been around for 65 years and is still in the original building in “Little Russia” under the rule of its first family. To cool your palate, get a plate of cold cuts which includes a variety of deli meats, cheeses, and bread, served on a plastic plate.

YELLOW BRICK ROAD BURRITO. Toto’s Tacoz, Wamego. 17 miles. The owners agree there’s no place like home, which is why they brought their Baja cooking with them to Wamego. It doesn’t get much more shameless than this: Tex-Mex meals, brightly colored décor, and the Wizard of Oz. After you try their cheese sauce-covered Yellow Brick Road Burrito you’ll be clicking your heels three times to come back. Plus who can resist terriers and Tex-Mex? Remind me, Toto, are we still in Kansas?

ZITI PIE. AJ’s NY Pizzeria, Manhattan. 2 miles. Ziti pasta is dumped over the crust before a blanket of melted mozzarella cheese is carefully laid over the top. The dough recipe originated in the Mastandos’ kitchen in Brooklyn, NY but has been tweaked since its journey from the Big Apple. AJ’s consulted American Institute of Baking’s Tom Lehmann, the “dough doctor,” to ensure their pizza fits Little Apple appetites. Slice prices range from $3 for basics to $5 for specialties. There’s both a Poyntz location and a station in Aggieville that’s only open from 10 p.m. – 3 a.m. for late-night snackers.

Distances are rounded to the nearest mile, starting from the K-State Student Union.

 

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By Ben Marshall

Scott Benjamin speaks to Food Writing students about the history of cocktails. Benjamin is owner and executive chef of 4 Olives Wine Bar in Manhattan.

Propped up on a bar stool, Scott Benjamin watches intently as bartender Griff  Letch carefully bruises a few sprigs of mint at the bottom of a mixing cup containing simple syrup.

“You don’t want to rip or tear the mint leaves, because if you tear the leaf of an herb, it releases a foul taste as a defense mechanism,” Benjamin said. “That’s where you get a bitter flavor.”

So Letch sure-handedly presses the leaves with a pestle-like tool, called a muddler, gently releasing the aromatic flavors. Next, he takes a wooden mallet to a canvas bag full of ice, beating it for about 30 seconds.

“The material of the bag soaks up a lot of the excess water, so this technique gives you a nice fine, dry ice,” Benjamin said, “almost like a Sonic ice.”

Adding Knob Creek Bourbon to the mint, syrup combination, Griff stirs deliberately for another 20-30 seconds. He pours the concoction over a classic julep metal cup teeming with ice, garnishes it with a few more sprigs of mint and passes it off to Benjamin for a sip. Benjamin swallows, satisfied.

“We stir our classic cocktails, rather than shake them. They’re just not as good shaken – it waters them down,” Benjamin said.

As owner and executive chef at 4 Olives Wine Bar in Manhattan, Benjamin brings an extensive passion for and knowledge of cocktails to his tiny and tucked-away fine dining restaurant. He said initially he was drawn to the study of cocktails because, out of all food inventions, he considers the cocktail “completely, uniquely American.”

With a stack of notes in hand, Benjamin spilled the history of great American cocktails, from pre-colonial times to post-prohibition. As Benjamin talked,  Letch concocted – pouring, stirring, zesting and serving; from a classic 1790s mint julep, to a fiery Blue Blazer from 1850, to a fruity 1940s Mai Tai and, fittingly, a Manhattan from the 1870s.

Benjamin said he likes to study the way cocktails were made in the past to provide a more classic drinking experience at his restaurant. And diners have responded positively. Prior to this year, the classic cocktail menu was only available behind the bar at 4 Olives. The drinks had become so popular, however, Benjamin decided to include the classic cocktail menu on all restaurant tables.

In addition to adhering to classic techniques, 4 Olives also makes a lot of its cocktail components in house, including many of its own bitters, ginger ales, tonics and brandied cherries.

Griff Letch the bartender bruises sprigs of mint leaf as he prepares a classic mint julep.

As Letch prepares another cocktail, Benjamin explained how, in pre-colonial times, water-purification techniques were not yet mastered and the water was unsafe to consume. So people drank alcohol as a means to survive. Today, drinking alcohol is less about survival, and more about unwinding and having a good time. Or – in the case of 4 Olives – celebrating the end of Prohibition every year.

“Drinks at 4 Olives are made classically, they’re made with a lot alcohol, they’re made with a lot of heart,” Benjamin said, “and it’s a lot of fun.”

(Editor’s note: Scott Benjamin was host and guest lecturer in the Food Writing class on March 3 at his restaurant, the 4 Olives. His topic was the history of the cocktail.  Students chose how to cover the afternoon.  Chef Benjamin served a light lunch, too.)

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Spring at the Lazy Heart D Buffalo Ranch.

By Brett Ziegler
WESTMORELAND – The North American Bison, commonly known as buffalo, still roam the Kansas prairie. Ed Dillinger operates Lazy Heart D Buffalo Ranch, the family’s ranch brand that started in the 1960s and is located northeast of Manhattan.

Dillinger grew up on a farm near Brewster in western Kansas. When he and his wife, Susan, moved to Westmoreland in 1994, they started out with beef calves and horses, but Dillinger also had an interest in bison. After extensive research and talking with other ranchers, the Dillingers started the Lazy Heart D Bison Ranch.

Dillinger’s herd began with five heifer calves that he purchased from Circle 3 Ranch in Longford. A year later he purchased five more, and eventually another five. That was all he could afford at the time.

Rancher Ed Dillinger

So, how does Dillinger run the operation by himself?

The secret, he says, is to understand the bison. They are gentle creatures; bison love their space and are athletic, smart and strong. On average, a bull can weigh between 1,600 and 2,000 pounds compared to the average cow, which can weigh between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds.  Bison can run up to 35 miles per hour and leap up to six feet in the air.

Time is another key ingredient. Dillinger says bison are a low maintenance creature. He has a saying, “Whatever time it takes, that’s buffalo time.”

Dillinger characterizes his “buffalo philosophy” with the quote, “Take what you can get and figure out how to use it.” This comes from his experience in working and sorting his bison.  They are too smart, fast, and strong to impose a single plan without well-designed facilities.  He is always ready to adjust his plans at any moment.

Dillinger’s bison graze on cool season grasses like brome and fescue during the months of March to April and after November. Bison prefer native grass between the months of May and November. The bison also enjoy small amounts of hay during the summer.

Health is a big concern when it comes to livestock, especially internal parasites. There are currently no bison vaccines available, but some ranchers used bovine vaccines as a precaution.

On the other hand, bison do benefit from treatment for internal parasites.  Ivomec and Cydection are two examples of treatments. These treatments can be poured on the back, injected, or fed. Dillinger uses the pour method at least once a year and believes there is additional benefit in utilizing two treatments spaced over the year.

Dillinger thinks the future in bison will fluctuate depending on the demand for meat. “The interest comes from the consumer,” he said. “There are not enough bison to make money compared to cattle.”

There are roughly 100 bison ranchers in Kansas and 70 are part of the Kansas Bison Association. The number of bison on each ranch range from five to 200 head.

Regulations for bison are similar to those of cattle. Meat inspectors and buffalo certificates are required and Dillinger says ranchers in Kansas work closely with the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

The purchasing and demand of bison has increased over the past several months.  There has been approximately 50 percent increase in price. In the fall of 2010 the price was $2.60 to $2.75 a pound. This spring it was up to $3.50 a pound.

Although the price of bison seems expensive, the nutrition profile makes it worth the cost.  Bison is full of nutrients and high in protein while low in fat. The fat it contains are “good” fats—mono and polyunsaturated fat. Bison also contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Lastly, bison is a good source of vitamin B12 and iron.

Dillinger’s main goals are providing fun and eventful tours to complement the industry and have meat available for those who wish to purchase it. He enjoys the opportunity to interact with others as his schedule permits.

On tours, it takes tourists approximately 15 minutes to realize the difference in bison interaction. The bison will greet visitors, waiting for feed. This is a great way to have a close up experience and is one of the many reasons the job is heart-warming and rewarding.

When asked if he would change anything, Dillinger responded, “If what I did took me where I am now, I’d do it the same.”

Dillinger laughed when asked how much longer he would like to stay in the business, “I’ll go until I am pushing up daisies.”

Dillinger can be reached at lhdranch@wamego.net

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Volga Germans bring wheat, cuisine to Kansas

May 5, 2011

By Kirsten Lee

America the Beautiful, written in 1893 by Katherine Lee Bates, sings of amber waves of grain. Wheat grown in Kansas has a rich background filled with stories of heritage and multiple settlements.

The story German settlers living along the banks of the Volga and Karaman rivers in Russia immigrated to Kansas. They brought with them wheat farming skills and a rich culinary heritage, both still evident in the state today. Click to continue…

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Paola restaurant feeds dream, community

May 5, 2011

By Annarose Hart

PAOLA – Molly’s Table is home of an evolving menu, and always has the edge on the next food trend, energizing and entertaining locals and tourists. Donna Nagle created Molly’s Table, named after her daughter Molly, as a catering business, market, and deli for the local community of 5,000 people.

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Pallucca’s to mark 100 years in Frontenac

May 5, 2011

By Allie Coulter

FRONTENAC – In 2012, Pallucca and Son’s Super Market will celebrate its 100 year anniversary. In 1912, Attilio Pallucca, an immigrated from San Pellegrino, Rome, opened the Italian shop in Southeast Kansas. The meat market and grocery store is located off highway 69 in Frontenac, a town of around 3,000 residents.

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Blog: Granddaughter of cattle farmer attempts vegan diet in the wheat state

May 5, 2011

By Melissa Short

As I bit into my first juicy, satisfying meat-free soy burger I knew that this vegan experiment was going to be ok. As an omnivore I have always been fascinated by vegans and the things they go without-like macaroni and cheese. This blog is about a college student trying to eat vegan in a town known for burgers and Call Hall ice cream.

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