The ABC’s they forgot to teach you at KSU

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.