We are staying in a sweet little room off the garage in an old house on an old street in Lawrence. It’s described as a casita and it is sort of. Not freestanding like casitas I’ve stayed at in New Mexico but small, cheerful and well appointed so suits us just fine (and very reasonably priced. About $50 As I recall.) Sure beats a bland motel (we will have that tomorrow in Dodge City).
As we were barreling down Interstate 35 from Des Moines and getting hungry, we remembered a great little restaurant we’d gone to in a former drugstore in Smithville, Mo., just north of Kansas City. but when I looked it up, I discovered it had closed. Then I discovered the owner had just opened a restaurant in Kansas City, just south of the plaza, about two blocks from where we lived very briefly almost 30 years ago. The restaurant, Black Dirt, was very good. We had the much-lauded fried chicken which was as good as advertised. Somehow, the chicken breast meat was moist, the skin crispy but light, the sage gravy and potatoes creamy and flavorful and the stalks of broccoli rabe were bright green but well cooked and again, full of flavor (butter?cumin seeds). We also had a Missouri Caesar with tender chunks of fried catfish instead of croutons. The salty part was smoked trout rather than anchovies. Clever and good. Also enjoyed the duck confit fritters and the homemade bread with butter was worth the $5 Extra, Our waitress was a Drake U. Grad and big fan of DSM so that was fun. We will be back!
Friends went to a Solar Eclipse viewing party at Green Dirt Farm in the pretty old tobacco-growing town of Weston, Missouri, just north of Kansas City. It uses milk and cream from grass-fed sheep to make cheese and yogurt. It also offers “dirt-to-table” meals prepared by visiting Kansas City chefs (although it looks like you need to book way ahead for some!) Also check out the $25 off coupon on the website!
After a quiet night at our airbnb in Rogers, we dropped in at the hip happening coffee shop in downtown Bentonville, Onyx, which was buzzing, on a Sunday morning no less. After a few jolts of caffeine, we drove north through Missouri, passing what seemed like many road signs advertising Jesus, guns, churches and anti-abortion.
Stopped for gas in Lamar and toured a local outlet of the “Beef Jerky Warehouse,” which had more varieties of jerky than imaginable and some interesting T-shirts. We were taken aback, while reading a little wall sign about Lamar’s history, to see a casual mention of the KKK meetings (once) held in town.
In Kansas City, where the fall colors were most spectacular, we had lunch with a favorite relative, Uncle Kenneth, on the Plaza at the Parkway Social Kitchen. Not bad. Particularly appreciated the servers, who were gentle and kind to our elderly relative, which was much appreciated. The drive home to Iowa – where the trees also have turned fiery reds, yellows and oranges during our one week away – was also uneventful.
It’s been too long since we explored Kansas City so last weekend while there for a lovely family wedding, we revisited Arthur Bryant‘s for barbecue (no change there, still great fries and ribs although the burnt ends weren’t as good as remember – more manufactured chunks slathered in sauce rather than the random scraped up crusty scraps I remembered from years past). We also had an excellent family brunch (light omelettes with thin crusty fries; a good Eggs Benedict with poached eggs and smoked salmon, although the Hollandaise sauce was cold) with a special guest (Uncle Kenneth!) at Westport Cafe & Bar.
Le Lou Flea
A highlight was explored the vintage, antique and design shops in the West Bottoms, which not long ago was just a bunch of abandoned gloomy towering brick industrial buildings where I gather, the Mafia got up to no good. Now there are vintage shops (Le Lou Flea) – all four rickety floors) and design stores (Varnish and Vine) here and there, plus a cool coffee shop (Blip Roasters) and more I’m sure to come given the growing popularity of once-dying post-industrial former dead zones in Rust Belt cities. A few I wanted to visit weren’t open on a Sunday afternoon including the the Gathering Place and Goldie & Myrtle’s. (Next time!) Some kids-in-the-know at Varnish & Vine also recommended some restaurants in the area including Voltaire, Stockyards and Rock Star Burgers.
We stopped briefly nearby in another west side neighborhood nearby (that reminds me Des Moines’ Sherman Hill) at West Side Storey (geddit) across from an artisan bakery (Fervere) and Bluebird Cafe/Bistro that we used go to. (Nearby, we also happened upon the FBI office in KC in a suitably hidden location).
I am the only guest tonight (no surprise for a Monday night in early December ) at the beautiful Oak Street Mansion, a lovely 1903 red brick mansion just north of the Nelson Atkins Museum. The place is a great mix of old world furnishings and contemporary art. The owner has filled the place with his father’s art collection and it’s quite something. his dad was acame here from Cuba and spent his early years in foster care but somenhow managed to start collecting art, starting with African art and moving into I am not exactly sure what (there is at least on Thomas hart Benton according to a book about this place).
The famous PLaza lights!
Anyway, beats the local Marriot and very close to where my work meeting is tomorrow morning and to a Gates BBQ outpost on Emmanuel Cleaver Rd. (I can’t return home without ribs wrapped to go!)
I had a nice dinner tonight with my lovely uncle-in-law Kenneth at Aixion, a nice little French place in the pretty Brookside area, another place I used to go during the brief stint I lived here in 1989/1990.
Doll Avenue, Wright, ks
To be honest, we didn’t do much in western Kansas beyond the confines of D’s 1960s ranch house in the tiny town of Wright, outside Dodge City. We were there to pack up and haul out all the stuff that a family of 8 children accumulated during the past 55 years. And we found things that were much older, some back to the late 1800s, we think.
View from the Steimel house
A melancholy task, but good to be with other family who came from New Mexico and elsewhere in Kansas. Lots of laughter, occasional tears, family tales shared. We did emerge for lunch yesterday at Tacos Jalisco, our favorite Mexican place on Wyatt Earp blvd. in Dodge. A late dinner was at a surprisingly packed Applebee’s near Boot Hill, maybe some others were there because there weren’t many other options on a Sunday at 10 pm. I did have a very good limeade.
Today, we stopped to see family in Wichita and then picked up ribs “to travel” at Gates BBQ in Kansas City. Now three hours til home.
P.s. Comfort Inn in Lenexa turned out to be a mixed bag. Our room was clean but the thin walls meant nonstop noise from someone who appeared to fall asleep with the tv on. Argh
I have wanted to go to the Justus Drugstore, a farm to table t
Restaurant in an old drugstore in the pretty small town of Smithville, just north of Kansas City for some time and we finally did! One of the better meals I’ve had in awhile and we didn’t even eat in the main dining room (the old pharmacy) but instead on the east side patio. We shared a delicious sweet corn salad (corn, heirloom cherry tomatoes, herbs, butter, cheese from a local dairy and butter. It was light and sweet and mysterious. I would love to know how to make it at home.
This is the kind of place that makes its own ketchup, which resembled tomato paste but tastier. It arrived with the crispy hand cut fries that came with the burnt end sandwich, whIch was like nothing I’ve tasted before. there is a lot to be said for good ingredients and when every ingredient is good, the net effect knocks your socks off. The roll was delicious on its own, then there was the BBQ pork, various other ingredients I couldn’t quite make out (arugula, capers) added up to a sweet but spicy flavor. The fried chicken was surprisingly light and the chicken tender but not undercooked, served atop a delicious risotto and fresh greens.
The desserts were crazy. We shared carrot cake beignets which came in an oblong narrow tray with a beignet on either end and in the middle this light goat cheese foam with carrot caviar (yes,,carrot caviar, little bright orange beads, who makes carrot caviar?) The beignets were warm and moist and fabulous, even better when dined in the foam. We also tried the homemade ice cream, chocolate Brownie and sage butterscotch.
The main dining room is small, charming, with lovely landscapes and abstract paintings, all by the chef. Talented guy. The old soda found is lined with jars of homemade, hand labeled bitters, for making cocktails.
Smithville itself turned out to be a pretty little place with a row of old well tended red brick buildings, a brick patio and bandstand.
now we are at a comfort inn in Lenexa, Kansas. Not bad.