I had business trips to Indianapolis and Kansas City in the past week and a half, and wanted to report on some memorable eating.
1. On Saturday, April 17, I arrived at the Indianapolis airport at about 1 p.m. I was aware that Gray Brothers Cafeteria in Mooresville is only about a 10-minute drive from the new airport, so once I picked up my rental car, I drove straight to Gray Brothers.
I got there about 1:45 p.m. The parking lot was full of cars, but happily for me, most of the customers were already eating. The line was fairly short (about 20 people in line ahead of me, including those that were nearly at the cashier), and moved quickly.
I chose "five cup salad" (what I persist in referring to as "ambrosia"), fried chicken livers, green beans, carrots, and fresh strawberry pie (without whipped topping). And lemonade. I never bother with bread or rolls at Gray Bros -- it just doesn't look appealing to me.
The "ambrosia" didn't look terribly appealing, either -- it had been scooped out with an ice cream scoop and was really compacted. But it tasted delicious. My only objection is that it included grapes, and I prefer this dish without grapes. But the pineapple/mandarin orange/coconut combination was very tasty.
The fried chicken livers were very good, and served in a generous portion. However, they weren't as hot as they should have been. I think I got the tail end of the pan -- I believe they were about to bring out a fresh pan.
The green beans were excellent -- tasty and full of porky flavor. The carrots, however, had a weird sort of medicinal taste to them. After two bites, I gave up on them.
The fresh strawberry pie was also excellent, with very good crust. And the lemonade was refreshing.
The ambience is upscale cafeteria, as many of you know. The wait staff were circling the room offering refills on drinks. It was crowded, but not overwhelmingly so, and the noise level was tolerable. I enjoyed my meal, but, as I said, the livers could have been hotter (temperature, not spice level).
2. On Sunday, April 18, I met a friend at Hollyhock Hill for a late lunch (2 p.m.). We had pre-ordered our fried chicken dinner. We each ordered cocktails (I had just gotten out of a board meeting), and they were brought promptly, and were made with high-quality ingredients. Hot on the heels of the drinks, we were served our tomato juice, salads and relishes -- in fact, almost too quickly. Everything -- pickled beets, carrot/celery sticks, cottage cheese, lettuce salad with their special sweet-sour dressing -- was fresh and flavorful.
The entrees with vegetables came next. The fried chicken was wonderful, as usual. I love the fact that they still cut up the chicken the way my mother did -- the breast is in two pieces, but split cross-wise, not length-wise, so that you get a wishbone or "pulley-bone" piece, which is my all time favorite, followed by the wing. Hot, crisp, delicious. The vegetables: I usually skip the corn, but this time, it was actually quite good -- tender and, again, flavorful. The mashed potatoes and gravy were fine, too. The green beans, though, were a little weird -- sort of a pale green. They tasted OK, but weren't anything special.
Hollyhock Hill keeps changing their bread. I'm old enough to remember when they served each table a loaf of dense homemade bread. Later they switched to a hot commercial loaf, which was OK, but not nearly as good as the homemade bread. Then they introduced biscuits. The last time I ate there (about a year ago), they were round biscuits. Now they are square cut. A little doughy, but still good. The apple butter is a nice addition; the whipped butter isn't my favorite.
Dessert was vanilla ice cream with a trio of sauces. I always have creme de menthe, which I love. You can have peppermint ice cream, or sherbet, if you prefer, and the table next to ours chose brownies in lieu of ice cream.
Even though we arrived at sort of the end of the Sunday dinner hour, there were still lots of folks there, including big family parties. Service, as I said, was swift -- almost too fast. And the atmosphere is delightful, although I heard a couple of women complaining about the lack of hollyhocks. Some people are just too literal.
3. On April 22, I arrived at Kansas City airport at about 11:45 a.m. I picked up my rental car and drove straight to Niecie's new location on south Troost. (It took about half an hour to get there.)
It was pouring rain when I arrived at the former Pizza Hut building. I was immediately and warmly welcomed by a gentleman sitting at the counter (who I assume is a Niecie relative). He told another staffer to seat me at a booth by the window "so she can look out at the rain." Everyone was very gracious and nice. I was brought a menu right away. I didn't want lunch -- I wanted the fried chicken dinner. The waitress assured me they were serving "dinner." I chose the all white-meat (a breast and a wing), plus green beans and collard greens, and a yeast roll (corn muffins are also available). And lemonade.
The chicken was crispy and well-seasoned. The green beans were obviously fresh, and a little bit tough, but had lots of good pork flavor. The collard greens were some of the best I've ever had -- really tasty. And the yeast roll, dripping with butter, was fantastic. The lemonade was good, and refills were offered several times. The waitress was attentive, and, as I said, the vibe was very warm.
I couldn't consider dessert, but it looked like they had some good choices.
4. On April 23, I snuck out of my meeting in the Country Club Plaza area a little early so I could have a late lunch or early dinner at the Stroud's in Fairway, KS, which is only about 10 minutes away. (The Fairway location is open for lunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday). I was too late for "lunch" (which ends at 3 p.m.), but that didn't matter, because I wanted the full-scale chicken dinner anyway. I chose the pan-fried white meat (2 breasts/2 wings) option, with chicken noodle soup, cottage fries, and of course the green beans.
The chicken takes a while because it is fried to order, but I got the soup right away: very good broth, noodles, and chicken pieces. The fried chicken pieces were huge, and I knew there was no way I could eat them all. Green beans were good, but the cottage fries -- which I'd never tried on previous visits -- were out of this world! For any British readers, they are very similar to what you'd call "game chips" -- thinly sliced and fried. They serve a huge portion, and they were good with or without the excellent gravy.
The waitress asked me where I was from, and when I told her Minnesota, she told me she was from Wisconsin. I explained I was flying out that evening, so she immediately packed up my last piece of chicken in an insulated bag, along with three cinnamon rolls (which I wanted to take back for my husband). I can report that Kansas City TSA didn't question my bag of Stroud's goodies, and that the cinnamon rolls reheated fantastically on Saturday morning.
And you may be wondering -- where did I have the fifth green beans? Saturday night, April 17, I had dinner with my brother at Murphy's steakhouse in Indianapolis. This is a favorite of mine. We always split a fried mushroom appetizer. I had the fried lobster as my main course, with the "hot salad" (lettuce with a hot bacon dressing) which I think they call the "monster." There's a choice of potatoes, but you can substitute green beans, which I did. And ladies and gentlemen, I must report that the green beans at Murphy's were the best I had of the two trips -- hot, well-seasoned, plenty of pork flavor -- just delicious. The bread is sort of a Texas toast and not worth bothering with, in my opinion.
So -- how would I rate these meals? Well, it's just one person's opinion, but for what it is worth:
Best fried chicken: Hollyhock Hill
runner up Stroud's
honorable mention Niecie's
Best potatoes: Stroud's cottage fries
Best green beans: Murphy's steakhouse
runner up Gray Brothers
Best bread: Niecie's yeast roll and Stroud's cinnamon rolls (tie)
honorable mention Hollyhock Hill biscuits
Best ambience: Hollyhock Hill (aesthetically)
runner up Niecie's (warmth of greeting/service)
I'd return to all five places in a minute.
<message edited by rumaki on Sun, 04/25/10 4:01 PM>