We decided to explore some of the middle of the country this year. I go to Kansas City frequently on business, and Tim is itching to try the barbeque there, plus a friend in Des Moines had a baby this year, and we’ve been talking about the Iowa State Fair for a while, so we decided to combine it all into a week-long road trip.
We flew into Kansas City, and had dinner the first night with a friend from work and his family. Alas, we forgot the camera, but dinner at Jazz (Creole and Cajun) was a treat. The hush puppies were spicy, crispy and fresh, and my blackened chicken was moist, and had a great afterburn. I’d like to go back and sample more of the menu at some point. Apparently it’s a small chain with six locations, but it has a nice local feel to it.
On Sunday we decided to do a lunch at Stroud’s, the “best chicken dinner in the US” according to Jane and Michael Stern. I must humbly agree. The dinners are family style, and we decided to do a “sharing” plate where for additional $$ you can share an entrée, yet receive all the additional sides for two, instead of one person. We both started with the chicken noodle soup. (soup or salad was offered, I wasn’t enticed by the iceberg lettuce salad I saw being served at the next table). What a fabulous choice. Chunks of chicken, golden, steaming broth, and homemade noodles; I’d like to ship home a bucket of this stuff and freeze it for cold New England winter lunches.
Tim decided on a half order of the fried chicken livers – what we received looked like a double order you might receive elsewhere. I can’t imagine what a full order looks like. They came with a bowl of country gravy for dipping or dunking, and Tim proclaimed them some of the best he’s ever had.
Dinner arrived – we split a two breast / two wing combo, with mashed potatoes, country gravy, and green beans. The chicken was perfectly cooked – the exterior crunchy, but not greasy, and upon cutting into the breast, moist, tender meat. The mashed potatoes were the perfect side to the chicken, bathed in the gravy. The beans – eh. A bit over-boiled, and given the lusciousness of the other items, easily skipped.
We finished dinner with sharing a cinnamon roll. You have a choice of having with the meal, or as dessert, and we had held off until the end of the meal. We were so stuffed we could only manage one between us, but took the rest with us to have for breakfast the next morning.
We spent the rest of the day using the handy GPS to get us off the highway, and onto the back roads to see what there was to see. Time for glorious Americana!
We found the Largest Ball of String (not Twine) in Weston, MO – yes, it’s specifically stated that way, apparently to avoid potential confusion ;-) Sadly, it’s just sitting on a covered patio of an Irish Pub. Roadside America (http://www.roadsideamerica.com
) notes that it “smells like old mail” but to be honest, I just couldn’t bring myself to smell it.
Back roads took us along some beautiful farm country – rolling hills of corn as far as the eye can see.
We ran into the 50 foot cement tepee outside of Lawrence, Kansas – looked like at one point it was a souvenir shop or something, but it’s closed up now. You can see the high water marks from flooding – the first, near Tim’s head, shows June 5, 1935, and straight up next to the window from July 13, 1951. I can’t imagine coming back from a flood that devastating.
The tepee was just serendipity, as we were really on our way to Topeka, and “Truckhenge”. Unfortunately, it was behind locked gates at a construction yard, so only got a couple of pics through the fence. Apparently the city was going to charge the guy that owns the property for taxes on his junk vehicles, so they became “art”, and hence, tax exempt.
We got Travelin’ Man’d in Topeka at Porubsky’s Grocery – to be honest we hadn’t planned on being there, but it came up in our Roadfood POI on the GPS, so thought we’d give it a try. Alas, it was Sunday and they were closed. We attempted to find the “house made from a missile site”, but realized later after we looked it up that you need to contact them in advance – so another missed opportunity! After wandering through Kansas and driving through downtown Topeka, we headed back to Kansas City for barbeque for dinner – Gates!
We ordered the Burnt End sandwich to split (still full from all that lovely chicken from Strouds). We asked if they could put the meat separately from the bun, so what you see is a large pile of burnt ends with sauce. Unfortunately, these were like no burnt ends I’ve ever had. They were chopped up finely - more like a pork sandwich might be, and were sitting in a pool of grease. Very unfortunate, and frankly, pretty nasty. Side of baked beans and coleslaw – overall it was probably one of the worst meals we had on the entire trip. Not a good way to start our barbeque adventures!
We finished the day with some frozen custard. The closest to our hotel was a place called Foo’s Fabulous Frozen Custard. It was located in what seemed to be an upscale shopping area – tiny place, but creative options. Take a look at the menu board –
I had the “Whut Whut” – vanilla custard mixed with peanut butter and oreo cookies. Tim had a Hot Date, with caramel and coffee. They over mixed mine so it got a bit soupy, but tasted great.
Back to the hotel to regroup for the drive to Iowa tomorrow – we stayed at the Marriott Courtyard downtown by Country Club Plaza. I’d highly recommend as an option if you are going to be there, it’s a registered historical building and has a lot of character – old “milk doors” in the hallways – plus free parking! We stayed there for both the start and ends to our trip.
Monday we wandered up to Iowa and spent a little time in the town of Pella, southeast of Des Moines. It’s a charming town with Dutch roots – lots of small local businesses, and windmills. Apparently in the spring the tulip festival is something to see. Here’s a little shot of the Main Street area with the tourist office in the windmill.
We stopped at Jaarsma Bakery (roadfood and friend-food recommended!) – and went a bit overboard. Lots of amazing cookies and pastries, and we picked up a butter almond cake to take with us to my friend’s for dinner that evening. We strolled a bit, stopped in the meat market for some local summer sausage, had a drink in a terrific local coffee shop and headed to my friend’s house in Des Moines.
We should have brought the camera to my friend's house and photographed dinner! Iowa chops on the grill (butchered from a hog they bought from a local farmer), sweet Iowa corn, homemade mac and cheese, and homemade blueberry crisp for dessert. It was one of the best meals we had on the trip. I’m trying to determine how I can get something similar to those chops here in Connecticut. A great, but simple rub for the pork, I asked for the recipe – if anyone is interested….
Pork rub – ½ cup chili powder, ¼ cup brown sugar, ¼ cup salt, 2 tbl black pepper, 2 tsp cayenne.
Tomorrow – the Iowa State Fair!
We had been dealing with some strong storms off and on, and the weather forecast for the entire week was spotty, but the day dawned sunny and beautiful for the fair. We headed over early, and went scouting. Pork for breakfast? Sure! We found this place that had been at the fair for 96 years, and decided we’d try that for our first breaded pork tenderloin in Iowa. It was tasty – tried mine with a little mustard, but overall I wasn’t overwhelmed. I’m sure there are better in some of the small diners that seem to be all over Iowa.
Welcome to the land of enormous vegetables! Don’t be fooled by the pumpkins at the bottom of the pic – the big ones (over 1,000 pounds) were outside!
Have you ever seen a 22 lb cabbage?
This enormous building had lots of farm products and local food stuffs for sale, along with many of the agricultural exhibits and ribbons – and – the BUTTER COW (plus, interestingly enough – a butter astronaut, and lunar landing module, along with a butter TV showing the moon landing!)
You can tell Iowa is the country’s largest corn producer –
There was a long line for the free eggs on a stick!
You can’t go to the fair without checking out the 4H beef judging.
More options for snacks – cheese curds, a corn brat (like a corn dog, but with a brat – in case the name didn’t clue you in!) and a local favorite – the nut roll! The nut roll is nougat, covered with caramel, rolled in nuts of your choice, and then dipped in chocolate.
We had a marvelous time watching the Outhouse races – teams of 5 (4 runners, one sitter) build outhouse facsimiles with wheels – race them down a course, and the “sitter” pops out, wipes clean a toilet seat covered with chocolate syrup (with their hind end!), runs to a tub filled with grey-ish water and full of vegetables to find the “golden corncob”, then replaces a roll of toilet paper they’ve had to carry during these tasks. They then race back to the other end of the course. Very entertaining!
Any idea here?
There was a great old dancehall that was used to hold a few exhibits, and a flea market, and these marvelous fiddle players were putting on a great show!
After 11 hours at the fair, it was time to head out!
Back with the 2nd half of the week (and LOTS of KC barbeque!) soon...
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