Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Whiting, Kansas early on Saturday June 27, 2009

On this particular Saturday I headed with my sister and niece to help out with the makeover of the Whiting Cafe in Whiting, Kansas - Whiting being located in northern Jackson County, north of Topeka. The Kansas Sampler Foundation had designated this 25-year old business for help and had sent out the word across the state.

The cafe had closed on 2PM, Thursday, June 25th, and volunteers began gathering to aid in the renovation. The work continued through Friday, and the next morning we arrived in town. First we took a quick tour of the community.

One of those things you just might notice once in a while is the perchant in Eastern Kansas for round-tank watertowers, compared to the can-shaped tanks of the watertowers in the western part of the state.

Whiting has easily one of the most unusual grain elevators of any community - almost castle-like.
The Whiting Baptist Church displays interesting architecture not normally seen on such structures.

Another great Explorer Extra to see in Whiting is the pet cemetery in the east half of town. But our brief tour of Whiting is over; its now time to get to the Whiting Cafe and start on why we're here - to renovate the Cafe!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Announcing the 8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine

Well, after seven and a half weeks of public voting and 13,861 votes later, the recent contest sponsored by the Kansas Sampler Foundation to determine the 8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine has come to a close and the 8 winners hearby announced. In alphabetical order and without further adieu, they are:

Bobo's Drive In, Topeka: The hamburgers, homemade onion rings, and apple pie have made this place famous since 1953.

Brookville Hotel, Abilene: Moved from the historic hotel in Brookville to Abilene in 2000, the famous family-style chicken menu has been served since 1915.

Cozy Inn, Salina: Since 1922 this 6-stool diner has been serving their famous sliders.

Crawford County Fried Chicken: Chicken Annie's, Chicken Mary's, Chicken Annie's Pichler's, Gebhardt's Chicken and Dinners, Barto's Idle Hour and Chicken Annie's Girard have made Crawford County legendary for fried chicken.

Free State Brewing Company, Lawrence. The state's first legal brewery after the days of prohibition also serves a variety of ethnic recipes.

Guy & Mae's Tavern, Williamsburg. Family-owned since 1973, tender ribs are served in foil and newspapers.

Hays House 1857 Restaurant & Tavern, Council Grove. Located on the Santa Fe Trail, this is the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi River.

Wheatfield's Bakery Cafe, Lawrence. This nationally-ranked bakery serves healthy meals featuring artisan breads.

Sixteen other great Kansas eateries were named as one of the original 24 finalists that the general public was called upon to vote for, making it a tough call indeed:

Anchor Inn, Hutchinson
Carolyn’s Essenhaus, Arlington
Charlie’s Mexican Restaurant, Leoti
Crazy R’s, Goodland
C.W. Porubsky’s, Topeka
Fritz’s Union Station, Kansas City
Grand Central Hotel, Cottonwood Falls
Hibachi Hut, Manhattan
Homer’s Drive Inn, Leavenworth
Josie’s Ristorante, Scammon
NuWay, Wichita
Olive Tree Bistro, Wichita
Paolucci’s Restaurant, Atchison
Pho Hoa, Garden City
Prairie Nut Hut, Altoona
Trapper’s Bar & Grill, Simpson

Congratulations to the Winners - and I'll be happy to console the Losers! Work, work, work . . . .

Oh, and in case anyone was wondering, I picked seven of the eight winners. That's easily the best percentage I've ever acquired through the past five 8 Wonders contests.

The Kansas Sampler Foundation relates that votes came in from all 50 states and several foreign countries as well. What an amazing accomplishment. The entire point of the various 8 Wonders contests is to generate interest in what Kansas has to offer and to encourage travel in the state, and it looks like the public is ready to do that by eating their way!

Next up for a vote: The 8 Wonders of Kansas Customs. This contest will kick off in mid-July, so everyone will have time to determine just what a Kansas Custom is. Good Luck!

Monday, June 15, 2009

At Smoky Hill River Festival in Salina KS, June 12-14, 2009

The 33rd annual Smoky Hill River Festival in Salina, Kansas, proved to be one of the most popular in its history, with nearly 78,000 attending the three-day event. Temperatures well below normal contributed to thousands converging into the huge Umbrella City seen above.
The Festival features three days of arts & entertainment. The groups Lost Wax, above, and Needfire, below, were crowd favorites.

Even the Pond was lined and made festive for the occasion.

The arts exhibits were many and varied. Even the ground squirrel in the last shot came out to inspect the merchandise.

A time-honored tradition at any festival is, of course, standing in line to buy food. This Festival's food vendors were all extremely busy. This photo is from the back of the line for the Homemade Ice Cream folks from Harper, Kansas.

Be sure to check out and enjoy next year's edition of the Smoky Hill River Festival.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Hangin' Out at DaddyO's & with James T. Kirk

On Saturday night Kansas Explorer #4419 and Cap 8 found ourselves hangin' out at DaddyO's Diner in Osborne for supper. Why, you might ask?

For the chili cheese fries. And the chili cheese tater tots. And the double hamburgers. And the ice cream sundaes . . . .

Afterwards we were lucky we could still fit in the car to drive the 33 miles to Lucas, Kansas, to watch the movie "Star Trek" at their community theatre. Great movie. And another great evening in Kansas.

Birthday Trip Across Kansas, Part 2

2:20PM, June 5, 2009 - After leaving Partridge, Kansas KE #4419 and myself venture northeast into Hutchinson, where we take part in a guided tour of the official 8 Wonders of Kansas, the Kansas Underground Salt Museum. The only one of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, this tour takes you 650 feet below the ground into 67 miles of tunnels and storage sites of this still-active salt mine.
An exhibit of a wooden rail car holding explosives used in the mine's early days.

A shot of polyhalite, a red salt seen occasionally throughout the mine.

Our tour guide gave our group time to look over a pile of salt and take a souvenir piece home - as long as it was "palm-sized" or less.

Here KE #4419 stands next to a huge block of salt crystal that is 98% pure. The tour is well worth the experience!

Upon leaving the Kansas Underground Salt museum we headed on back roads north through Buhler and to the The Barn, the headquarters of the Kansas Sampler Foundation. KE #4419 had never been here before. We were a bit surprised to find the inside decorated for a wedding rehearsal, featuring 80 guests! There were actually two extra chairs, but for some reason we were encouraged to continue on our journey. Sigh. Always the bridesmaids . . . .

We then headed east on backroads through Moundridge and then north on Kansas Hwy. 15, where we came upon the historic Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church. Then we turned east on US Hwy. 56 and then State Hwy. 150 into the Flint Hills. In Chase County we turned north onto State Hwy. 177 and the Flint Hills Scenic Byway toward our destination of Council Grove, where we anticipated an excellent supper at the iconic Hays House Restaurant.
Downtown Council Grove consists of several architectural gems that at another time would entice us to explore a bit, but right now we had a single thought on our minds: FOOD!

At last! We spied the Hays House Restaurant, still located in its original site since 1857. It is the oldest restaurant in the United States west of the Mississippi River. A cavalcade of cars and motorcycles form other customers on this busy Friday night made it a bit tough to find a parking space, but we made it.

Inside my "8 Wonders of Kansas" T-Shirt drew instant attention by our waitress, as the Hays House is one of the current finalists for the 8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine contest. I also mentioned that it was KE #4419 who sent in the actual nomination of the Hays House for the contest, and that was all it took for us to get free desserts! Sometimes there are perks to being an Explorer.
We each ordered the Prime Rib dinner with beef & noodles soup, homemade bread and sides. Then came the dessert - cinnamon ice cream! The Hays House is one of four places in the Sunflower State that makes their own ice cream.

I know what you are thinking, but no, we firmly believe that the bright light you see upon the ice cream came not from the camera's flash but rather From Heaven Above. Once again, the first taste of this incredible taste feast was an ephipany of taste in epic proportions.

And once again, I need a moment. Just the memory of that taste . . . .


It was that good.

Trust me.

A truly fitting end to a great day. We reluctantly turned back west and north and rolled back into Osborne at 11PM, having driven 482 miles in the Sunflower State and never left it.
And that's the way it should be. Happy Exploring!

Birthday Trip Across Kansas, Part 1

9AM, June 5, 2009 - A visit by Kansas Explorer #4419, David Readio, on the birthday of Captain Eight prompts a need to traipse across Kansas in celebration.

The original idea was to go on a flying jaunt from Osborne to Elkhart, Kansas, and back as part of our ongoing Explorer #Dare To Do Air" Quest across the Sunflower State. Unfortunately, ol' #4419 has a bad foot, which ruled out proper operation of an airplane at this time. So being good Explorers we segued the trip from flying to driving - but where to, who knew?

Captain 8 has his8 Wonders of Kansas shirt on and is ready to go Exploring.

Our first stop ended up at the Kansas Originals Market, located at the Wilson exit on Interstate 70. KE #4419 and Cap 8 happen to be the owners of Ad Astra Publishing LLC, and here we dropped off new several copies of Ad Astra books being sold at this great gift shop. For 20 years Marge Lawson & Company have been doing Kansas a great service here, bringing Kansas products directly to thousands of travelers over the years.

Then we decided that we might be a little hungry later, and so why not head for one of the current finalists for the 8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine, Carolyn's Essenhaus in Arlington, Kansas? With that destination in mind, we traveled south on scenic Kansas Hwy. 14. Here in Ellsworth you can see that we were stopped by a train loaded with still-unusual-to-see cargo: wind generator blades!

Each blade is 150 foot long, and this parade of blades made for a great display as it sped through town.

We hastened south through Lyons and Sterling and then at last to the Kansas community of Arlington. As you can see, the front of Carolyn's Essenhaus is modest, but don't let that fool you. Inside is one of the great Mennonite food experiences you will ever have!

It was KE #4419's first time here and my second. He ordered Olley's Plate - barbecued beef with two sides - and I asked for the Friday verenika special. After devouring those tasty meals the sight of seeing no less than 16 pies on the list boded well for dessert. But nothing prepared us for that first taste of Carolyn's 3-Berry Pie, which we both ordered. It was so good that . . . I need a moment.

Just the memory of that incredible first taste was a life altering experience.


It was that good.

All I can say is come and try Carolyn's food for yourself, and then be sure to vote for her in the current 8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine contest sponsored by the Kansas Sampler Foundation. What a great representative of Kansas cuisine!
After lunch our new mission in the Arlington area was to find Jay Yoder's Tag Tree. Jay, a legendary Kansas Explorer and promoter, lives somewhere in the Arlington-Partridge area. To find him, we used the Explorer's Friend - the postmistress in Partridge. She was a great help and showed us on a map where to find Jay's farm, cautioning us that there were "three miles of gravel road" that we would have to cover. To us Kansas Explorers that was like ringing the dinner bell! After buying a book of stamps we set off once more with renewed enthusiasm.

There just east of the intersection of Centennial & Lake Cable Roads was the fabled Yoder farm. We knocked and hollered and created general mayhem but no one seemed at home. Then we sent about the property learning all of Jay's secrets and seeking the hallowed Tag Tree, but to no avail.

Finally we started to head back to Partridge and seek further information on the tree's whereabouts, when Lo! There at the northwest corner of Jay's property was the Tree. In our haste to get onto his farm we both missed it coming in! As the photo shows, tags from all over already decorated the Tree.
It was time for us to put our tag up on the tree and complete the ritual as loyal Kansas Explorers. Then we opened the nearby mailbox, which we suspected held a notebook or such for Tree visitors to sign.

The notebook was in there, along with a Jay Surprise: a nest of ants taking care of a nest of eggs!

KE #4419 is shown here braving nature's obstacles to retrieve the notebook, which he did without incident or even a nibble on his delicate digits. We dutifully signed our names, dates, and inscriptions and bid adieu to the Tag Tree.

OCT Tour of Portis Kansas

Saturday morning saw members and guests of Osborne County Tourism (OCT) take a driving tour of sites in the town of Portis in Osborne County, Kansas. A highlight was local restorer Gene Coop, who happily displayed and told of his many restored cars and farm equipment. The photo above was taken at the only native stone private home in Portis, an oddity in a region where native stone houses abound.