Emporia gal here! Glad to see the path of your trip. The Flint Hills have their own beauty at all times of the year, but fall should be particularly gorgeous with patches of gold, brown, and green on the rolling hills. Sunsets in KS are also not to be missed; every second changes a bit with streaks of purple, magenta, rose, etc.
If you are on I-35 or I-335 coming from Topeka, you will see the usual list of fast food and chain suspects on the Emporia exit. Go on into town for the local options. My fiance and I are devoted boosters of Roadfood, and here's what we like (PM me if you want or need more details; as with so many Roadfood destinations, it's advisable to call ahead at these places for hours):
For an excellent ribeye steak and smoked baked potato, try the Wagon Wheel Bar and Grill at 2909 W 9th Ave (I will really sound local; it's behind the Emporia Motors car lot!)
Phone # is (620) 343-2525 and here are some reviews from Yahoo! Travel: http://travel.yahoo.com/p...agon_wheel_grill_bar-i
If you are in town over a lunch hour, I recommend Amanda's at 702 Commercial (it's downtown in an old Kress Center building; rather historic and fun to explore). Phone # is (620) 340-0620. It's a low-key non-chain version of Panera. Amanda makes several kinds of bread every a.m. and features several sandwiches, soups, panini, and desserts. Get the Ultimate Brownie warmed up a bit. It's a wonderful gooey version of Mississippi Mud cake, with cream cheese frosting added. My guy and I split one order; it's that rich. If you aren't too full and/or want road snacks, head across the street to the Sweet Granada (805 Commercial, http://www.sweetgranada.com/)
Incredible array of handmade chocolates and fudge. The name comes from the Granada Theatre, a 1920s Art Deco movie theatre that has been restored and is now open for live performances, films, and concerts. Disclaimer -- my fiance worked on many parts of the Granada on retiling, so we really get a kick out of attending events there!
J's Carryout is THE place here for really good hamburgers, Curly Qs, and chili dogs. It's in a tiny building that was also a burger place -- I believe back in the 1940s. Stay for a free soft-serve ice cream cone. The neat part about J's is that you will see a cross-section of Emporia residents. Not unusual to see construction workers and guys in suits and ties sitting next to each other at the counter, all happily immersed in burger consumption. Phone # is (620) 342-5780 and the location is 27 Commercial (south part of town.) More reviews: http://travel.yahoo.com/p...7971540R-js_carryout-i
Since Manhattan is included in your travels, I don't know if you are planning any side trip down highway 177. I hope you can do so. That's another lovely meandering drive through the Flint Hills and Council Grove and Cottonwood Falls are nice stops along that way. Council Grove "was named after an agreement between European Americans and the Osage Nation about allowing settlers' wagon trains to pass through the area and proceed to the West. Pioneers gathered at a grove of trees so that wagons could band together for their trip west." (Thanks to Wikipedia...!) The Hays House in Council Grove is the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi River. Very good food in historic surroundings. Address is 112 West Main Street and phone # is (620) 767-5911.
In Cottonwood Falls, my fiance and I enjoy the Grand Central Hotel Restaurant for a very special evening such as Valentine's Day. Beautiful brick and wood in, yes, an actual older hotel, and super steaks. You can see the menu here: http://www.grandcentralhotel.com/menu.html
Address is 215 Broadway and phone # is (620) 273-6763.
I love day trips to Topeka and Lawrence, but will leave recommendations there for those who have already contributed and who will in subsequent responses. Darn. I wish I had time now for a road trip. Have fun, and take the time to enjoy this part of the Midwest!
<message edited by zeebaneighba on Mon, 09/5/11 8:56 PM>