The delicious and the disgusting at the State Fair

There’s nothing quite like fair food. Deep fried or slathered in sugar or doused in sauce or on a stick or sometimes all of the above. There’s even a new competition this year at the Kansas State Fair – best food on a stick. Will your favorite treat get the prize? Results will be in in a week.

Photo by churl han

Photo by churl han

Classics (and our personal favorites – we’re state fair purists) include giant turkey legs, funnel cakes, chicken and noodles, and Pronto pups. I’m scared to see the size of the turkey that results in a turkey leg that’s as big as my face, but it sure is tasty.

Other “delicacies” that make the cut for worth trying and have been around for a few years – deep fried peaches and twisted potatoes.

We tried the “moo-ink” which, as I recall (I may have blocked the memory from my mind) was a bacon wrapped meatball covered in barbecue sauce and served on a stick. I remember it being…too much. Fried Oreos – the Oreo is so delicious on its own, why would you degrade it by dunking it in oil? Deep fried cheesecake? Same question.

Some newcomers to the Kansas fair food scene this year include deep fried Nutella, deep fried Jello (tried to get it last year, but they’d sold out), and chicken rolled in Frosted Flakes and fried (oh, and it’s on a stick).

There will also be toasted ravioli, which sounds amazing, and homemade sodas.

What’s your favorite fair food? Let us know in the comments!

The Burger Stand in Lawrence

The Casbah

The Casbah

The burgers at Lawrence’s Burger Stand in The Casbah in downtown have been ranked as some of the best in the country. I stopped by during my visit to the nearby trails (Baker Wetlands and Black Jack Battlefield).

The burger was indeed tasty – juicy without being greasy, filling without being overwhelming, and they had options for everyone.

For red meat eaters, the options range from the classic topped with cheddar & local micro greens to the black and blue with Blue cheese & granny smith apple chutney to the smoke burger with Applewood smoked bacon, smoked gouda cheese & chipotle-cocoa ketchup.

For non-red meat options and even vegetarian, you can get a catfish po’boy, a black bean burger, the spicy shiitake burger topped with habanero cream cheese, avocado and greens.

Dipping options

Dipping options

For me, the stand out was the topping options for both the fries and the burgers. Parmesan garlic aioli? Marshmallow dip? These were options I’d never seen anywhere else.

I ordered sweet potato fries and the truffle fries (in the name of research of course), and loaded up with every topping option they had.

The food was ready pretty quickly at the kitchen window, even with the short and consistent line to order, and I savored my burger and fries at one of the long bar top tables in the front. In the back dining area are ping pong tables, pool tables, and a foosball table. During the school year, I was there in the summer, I imagine it can get pretty busy and loud in there, but for a burger joint in a college town, I wouldn’t expect much else.

And for my favorite dipping sauce, for both uniqueness and tastiness, it was a tie between avocado ranch and chipotle-cocoa ketchup.

If you go (and you should!):
The Casbah
803 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, KS
785.856.0543

 

Have you been to the Burger Stand? What’s your favorite burger or dipping sauce? Let us know in the comments below.

Get your artisanal caffeine fix at these 5 Kansas roastieries

Caffeine can help your perceived effort and help decrease fatigue, so before your next trail adventure, down a cup or two of coffee. And while you’re at it, you might as well make it a local Kansas roasted coffee.

Photo by Kylie Brown of CreativeRush -- CreativeRush.org

Photo by Kylie Brown of CreativeRush — CreativeRush.org

Five of our favorite Kansas coffee roasteries and nearby trails:

PT’s Coffee Roasting Co. in Topeka

On their website, you can get info on the individual farmers who provide the beans for the brew. Signature blends include John Brown and Cold Front – perfect for summer, the Cold Front blend is designed to serve cold and pour over ice.

PT’s at College Hill
1625 SW Washburn Ave
Suite A
Topeka, Kansas 66604

PT’s at Crossroads
310 Southwest Blvd.
Kansas City, MO 64108

Nearby trail: MacLennan Park near the Governor’s Mansion

Greenstone Coffee in Lawrence

The mission of Lawrence’s Greenstone Coffee is: “We strive to use socially responsible practices- protecting the natural integrity of the coffee from bean to your coffee cup. We hope you love our coffee and become excited about coffee and its potential all over again.”

Started in 2013 and focusing on roasting beans from small farmers, Greenstone Coffee can be found at local coffee shops, the Cottin’s Farmer’s Market and Hy-Vee.

Nearby trail: Baker Wetlands

Reverie Coffee Roasters in Wichita

Reverie in Wichita. Photo by Kylie Brown of CreativeRush -- CreativeRush.org

Reverie in Wichita. Photo by Kylie Brown of CreativeRush — CreativeRush.org

Another  newcomer to the Kansas coffee scene, opened in 2013, has classes on coffee as well as tastings in their hip retail and roasting space.

You can watch the beans being roasted on a Tuesday, and you can find out what farmer, even down to the plot of land, that grew the beans in your favorite brew.

2611 E Douglas Ave
Wichita, KS 67211

Nearby trail: Air Capital Memorial Park

Blacksmith Coffee in Lindsborg

Housed in a former blacksmith shop (hence their name) with the roaster on top of the original forge, they focus on making single origin and unique coffees. Fittingly, since they’re in Little Sweden, USA, one of their collections is the Swedish coffees, which includes their darkest coffee.

122 N Main St
Lindsborg, KS 67456

Nearby trail: Välkommen Trail

Radina’s Coffeehouse and Roastery in Manhattan

The tasty treats in the bakery cabinets may draw you in, but stay for the coffee.

On their blending philosophy: “At Radina’s our goal when blending is to create coffees that are more complex and interesting than when served as a single origin. Some of our blends use five different beans (more would be decadent, and perhaps redundant). In addition to beans from different regions we blend different degrees of roast to create an interesting, multi-dimensional cup of coffee.”

Aggieville, 616 North Manhattan Avenue
Manhattan, KS 66502

Drive-Thru, 2809 Claflin Road
Manhattan, KS 66502

Nearby trail: Manhattan river trail along the Blue and Kansas rivers

Yes, overall, these coffees are more expensive than Folgers or even Starbucks. But you get locally made products that are of better quality. It’s worth it, and remember, it’ll help you on the trail.

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

The Flint Hills culture is built on prairie grasses.  Too rocky to be tilled, the rugged limestone underlying the prairie soils spared the majority of this landscape from the homesteaders plow.  While the sodbusters moved on to more amenable locations, the ranchers established a stronghold in the Flint Hills.  The expansive cattle ranches throughout the area have effectively kept large contiguous tracts of tallgrass prairie intact to this day.   While much of the Flint Hills is in private hands, there’s no better place to experience the sublime beauty of the prairie than at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Strong City.  A multitude of hiking trails follow old ranch roads throughout the preserve, and the trails are open 24/7 affording opportunities for night hiking as well. Kids will enjoy hiking the Southwind Nature Trail to the Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse, a one-room country school, built in 1882 and still standing strong.

Ranch house

Stephen Jones Ranch House Photo by Mark Conard

Lower Fox Creek School Photo by Mark Conard

Lower Fox Creek School
Photo by Mark Conard

The schoolhouse is open for tours on Saturdays from 12-4 during May-June and September-October. Hard-core hikers will want to experience the expansive backcountry trails that start behind the historic stone barn, and we recommend the Scenic Overlook Trail or Crusher Hill Loop for spectacular views of wide-open prairie. Watch your step when crossing through Windmill Pasture as bison roam freely through this area and there have been recent reports of aggressive behavior. Front-country trails winding along Lower Fox Creek are sheltered from the wind and are a great spot to view a diverse assortment of wildlife.

If you’re able to visit this weekend (April 26th) there’s a special event “Let’s Experience the Great Outdoors” sponsored in partnership with Backwoods, which includes opportunities for volunteer service, kids activities, crafts, and demonstrations.  There are great hiking opportunities as part of the event and knowledgeable park rangers will lead a family-friendly hike along the Southwind Nature Trail (12:30 – 1:30), a longer nature hike into the backcountry (1:30 – 3:30) and even a special night hike from 9:00 – 10:00 PM.

After a day on the trail, take some time to experience the ranching culture of the Flint Hills,  which is still alive and strong in the nearby towns of Strong City and Cottonwood Falls. The annual Flint Hills Rodeo in Strong City will be held from June 5-7 and is the longest-running consecutive rodeo in Kansas.  Cottonwood Falls is also home to the legendary Emma Chase Cafe and Music Hall. The food is certainly good but the main attraction each Friday night is the acoustic jam session. Check out the full schedule of performers and get ready for some authentic music from the heart of the Flint Hills. It’s an experience like no other and has been named one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas Customs” by the Kansas Sampler Foundation.  Each Friday features a different genre, ranging from acoustic country, gospel, bluegrass, and old-fashioned rock-n-roll.

 

Comfort at the Comfort Inn in Emporia

I have to admit, I had my guard up a bit when I got the booking for the Comfort Inn in Emporia. As a two-star place (and I’ve stayed in some two star places where I wish I’d brought my own sheets), I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of cleanliness and updated furnishings. But my fears were proven very misguided; I was surprised and overwhelmingly pleased with Emporia‘s Comfort Inn.

DSC06046

Simple, clean, pleasant

The freebies list includes everything I look for in a hotel:

  • Free WiFi
  • Free breakfast
  • Free parking

Bonus – the breakfast was actually good. I mean, it wasn’t luxury chef, Top Chef style dishes, but it was a good spread of hot and cold options including make your own waffles (when does that ever get old?), fresh fruit, and crunchy, tasty bacon.

Staff were attentive, friendly, and helpful; I had a brief challenge in getting the TV to work – they’d just updated the cable/TV system when I was there, but my dilemma was solved quickly and with plenty of patience. The rooms were clean and comfortable, and everything from the carpets to the curtains to the cable TV was in what seemed like new condition.

Some rooms, like the one I had, include mini-fridges and desks – perfect for someone researching a trail guidebook! Snacks in the fridge, work spread out on the desk. I didn’t hit up the exercise room, since I’d had a workout on the trails, but I did stop by for a dip in the indoor heated pool. It’s close to the highway and super easy to get to.

Overall, it was an exceedingly pleasant and comfortable stay, and anytime I’m in the area, I’ll be staying there.

If you go:
Rooms from: $89

2836 W. 18th Avenue
Emporia, KS, 66801
620-342-9700

Paola Inn & Suites

About 20-30 minutes south of Kansas City and 15 minutes southeast of Hillsdale State Park and its miles of horse and walking trails and about 40 minutes northwest from La Cygne Lake with its winding horse trails is the city of Paola.

Tired from hiking for hours and occasionally getting lost in the winding trails of Hillsdale Lake (won’t be a problem for you with the guidebook!), I pulled into the Paola Inn & Suites, and to my surprise, I got a Jacuzzi Suite room. It means exactly what you think it does from the name – it features a large spa bathtub. For someone who’s been on the trail all day, it’s about as good as it gets.

Jacuzzi Suite

Jacuzzi Suite

That’s not the only option for rooms. They have standard double queen rooms up to king suites with a separate living area with a fold out couch, seems like the best option for families or groups traveling together. They also have handicap accessible options with walk-in showers and handrails in the bathrooms.

Paola has a couple of bed and breakfasts, but this is the one full service hotel. All the 39 rooms (not just the ones with giant bathtubs) in the 3-story hotel have a microwave, mini-refrigerators, an iron and ironing board, and free WiFi. And in the morning, there’s a full, free! continental breakfast spread. During the summer, you can enjoy a dip in the pool outside, and if the trails nearby weren’t enough of a workout, there’s an exercise room at the hotel.

It’s on the east side of town, just off the Highway 169/7. It’s listed as two-star, and I stayed in some not so nice two-star hotels over the summer working on the book, but this is definitely one of the good ones! It’s clean, the beds are comfortable, and the staff seemed genuinely happy to help.

If you go:
Rooms from $107

1600 Hedge Lane Court
Paola, KS 66071
913-294-3700 or 877-402-3700

Favorite fair foods: Funnel cakes

The Kansas State Fair is in full swing and we’re hard at work getting the book ready as well as information on the Hutchinson area’s best hikes, so just a quick update on one of the highlights of the fair – the food!

English: A funnel cake covered in powdered sugar.

A funnel cake in powdered sugar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those of you who love the sweet, fried taste of funnel cake, there are at least five locations at the 2013 Kansas State Fair where you can get a funnel cake.

Varieties this year include Birthday Cake, Chocolate, Dutch Apple Pie, Maple Bacon, Red Velvet, Strawberry, Strawberry Shortcake, and Turtle–not to mention a Funnel Cake Sundae.

Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence

Visiting Black Jack Battlefield was just step one of my jump into the history of the Bleeding Kansas era. While in Lawrence, thanks to the help of the Lawrence Convention & Visitors Bureau, I was put up in The Eldridge Hotel in downtown Lawrence.

History

Lobby fireplace

Lobby fireplace

The first hotel on the site of the current Eldridge Hotel was called the Free State Hotel, a very politically charged name for the 1850s. Built in 1855 by settlers from the New England Emigrant Aid Society, the hotel stood for just a year before Sheriff Sam Jones and a pro-slavery group burned it down.

Colonel Eldridge rebuilt the hotel, including an additional floor, and said that each time it was destroyed, he’d build it back with another floor. Sadly, he had to do just that after Quantrill’s raid in 1863 as much of the city, including the Free State Hotel, was burned.

Colonel Eldridge stayed true to his word and rebuilt the hotel, and it was renamed The Hotel Eldridge. From the 1860s, the hotel has gone through some changes. Torn down and rebuilt to reflect its former glory in 1925, it was then closed as  a hotel on July 1, 1970, and it was converted to apartments.

In the 1980s, a multi-million dollar transformation turned it back into a hotel, and another influx of money and work in 2005 restored the hotel back to its “original 1925 grandeur.”

Hotel Features

The Eldridge is all about service and style. All the rooms are suites with a separate sitting area, mini-refrigerator, flat screen TVs, and free WiFi! That’s right – a higher end hotel that doesn’t charge an extra fee for WiFi – harder to come by than you might think.

While its definitely a 3+ star hotel, it’s not stuffy or unapproachable. The lobby furniture is comfortable, and the staff are friendly and helpful. Best of all, or at least for me, it has real character. Thanks to its history and design, its a unique spot and you won’t wake up and not know where you are, like in some chain hotels.

Comfy king bed

Comfy king bed

The hotel knows that since it’s downtown in a college town, there’s likely to be noise on weekends, so earplugs can be found by the beds. I found it quiet, but I was also there over the summer on a weekday.

Other nice details include the super comfortable mattresses, unquestionably clean linens (hoteliers – always go for white on white bed linens – guests know immediately that they’re clean), and it’s easy to walk just about anywhere in downtown Lawrence. Though, this does mean parking comes at a price – valet parking is $10.

Happy Hour and More

Why have just one restaurant when you can have two? The Jayhawker is the more casual of the two with a 4:00-6:30pm Happy Hour during the week and drinks specials throughout the week. The bar off the lobby fills with natural light from the large windows, and the menu features local brews along with specialty cocktails and wines. For a full dinner (or breakfast or lunch), there’s TEN, on the other side of the lobby with a fancier vibe and what seemed like an older crowd than The Jayhawker.

Haunted

With so much history, for those who believe in ghosts and spirits, it makes sense that the hotel would be haunted. It’s a stop for the Ghost Tours of Kansas, since the spirit of Colonel Eldridge still wanders the halls. He didn’t die there, but apparently just loved it so much, he never left. The most haunted spot in the hotel is reportedly the 5th floor, specifically room 506 where an original cornerstone allows ghosts to move between our world and theirs. Who knows?

Believers may experience unexplained events and feel let down without them. While I had no otherworldly sightings, I was able to easily check out downtown Lawrence and get a great night’s sleep, so I was happy!

If you go:

Rooms from $120

701 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, KS 66044

800-527-0909
info@eldridgehotel.com

DoubleTree by Hilton in Overland Park, Kansas

From the Olathe Prairie Center with its open vistas over the plains to the rocky mountain biking loops through the trees of Shawnee Mission Park, Kansas City, KS is full of trails. And during my time on the trails in the Kansas City area, I stayed a night at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Overland Park.

5 pillows and a cookie? Not a bad night’s stay

“Here’s your chocolate chip cookie,” said the front desk agent as she finished checking me in.

“Thank you,” I replied in wonderment, taking the warm, paper wrapped cookie. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been welcomed at a hotel with a cookie. I very nearly dropped that cookie when I opened the door to my room. Room? No, that’s not the right word. Suite. Thanks to the Overland Park Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, I got hooked up at the DoubleTree.

Hello beautiful!

The corner room had a separate living area with a couch, easy chair, and small dining area, and a flat screen TV that swiveled so it could be viewed from the couch or the bed.

All of those are nice (as was the mini fridge and the comfortable bed with white linens so you know without a doubt that they’re clean), but it is the little details that stand out and make a hotel more than just a bed for the night. It’s always the little things. Here, it was the separate sections in the wastebaskets for recyclables and trash (love that! Every hotel should have those!) and the Wolfgang Puck coffee maker.

Beyond the room, there was a pool, whirlpool, sauna, and workout room. OK, a lot of hotels have those. But how many hotels have a racquetball court on the premises?

Racquetball – who would have guessed?

Tucked away behind the pool area, two men were working up a sweat in the little room. I silently applauded them for their efforts, and then headed back to my room to lounge around, watching TV from the bed then getting up to watch it from the couch as I took notes on the trails of the day (Olathe Prairie Center – mowed loop options with pleasant picnic area in the middle. Shawnee Mission Park – popular with local bikers and well-maintained and signed).

And wanting to get the full experience of the hotel, and not wanting to put on shoes, I called for room service from the Trofi Restaurant. Pricey, yes, as room service and hotel food tends to be, but it was delivered quickly and was yummy.

With its location near Corporate Woods and its loads of meeting and convention space, it’s popular with business travelers, and for anyone who needs a last minute gift from a trip, there is a small gift shop in the lobby.

So if it comes down to this hotel vs. another similarly priced hotel in the same area, remember, this one will give you a free cookie.

If you go:
From $115
10100 College Boulevard
Overland Park, Kansas, 66210-1462
TEL: 1-913-451-6100 FAX: 1-913-451-0386

Dining out at Crooner’s in Fort Scott

Much of southeastern Kansas is made up of gently rolling plains and forests, which makes it a great place for exploring by trail, and around Fort Scott and Pittsburg, there are multiple mountain biking trails to choose from. After checking out the trails that wind through Gunn Park (interview with the trail designer to come soon!), I was hungry. And since I was staying in Fort Scott on a Friday, I was in luck – I could eat at Crooner’s Lounge.

Duck with raspberry sauce and a twice baked potato

Duck with raspberry sauce and a twice baked potato at Crooner’s Lounge

Open Wednesday to Friday from 5 to 9pm in downtown Fort Scott, Crooner’s Lounge serves up gourmet food in a stylish dining room with brick walls adorned with images of singers and dark tablecloths and comfy chairs. The menu can and will change daily. The chef decides what’s inspired him that day, and that’s what he cooks.

I’m so glad he was inspired by pork belly – I had it for my appetizer, and it was a mix of crisp and tender and I-want-to-lick-my-plate-clean delicious. That could have been enough, but I also had the duck topped with raspberry sauce (I’ve never before seen or tried that combination, and I can now definitively recommend it!) with a twice-baked potato and mixed vegetables. From start to finish, it was delightfully yummy.

Reservations aren’t required, but they’re recommended, particularly on Friday nights. Since it’s only open 3 nights a week, you want to make sure you can get a table. The restaurant is a part of the Liberty Theatre building, with the entrance through the theatre doors.

If you go:

Entrees range from about $12 to $30, and there’s happy hour with $5 drinks from 5 to 6pm.

113 and 117 South Main Street, Fort Scott, KS 66701

620-215-1788

*Meal was compliments of Crooner’s Lounge. All opinions are that of the author.*