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Trip from Chicago to Central Kansas--long

Trip from Chicago to Central Kansas--long
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  • Trip from Chicago to Central Kansas--long

    Post #1 - August 9th, 2004, 4:29 pm
    Post #1 - August 9th, 2004, 4:29 pm Post #1 - August 9th, 2004, 4:29 pm
    Several notes from our trip from Chicago to a family reunion in Newton and Harper KS may be of interest to others. Stops were planned to improve chances of good food and allow for some sightseeing even if the trip took a little longer.

    We stopped in La Salle IL for lunch the first day. The 9th Street Pub (253 9th St.) was our first try, as their web site menu was promising. What a dive. Unfortunately, there seemed to be one waitress handling all tables, tending the bar and answering the telephone for carryout. Nobody so much as acknowledged our presence for about 10 minutes, so we left, as much because service would likely have been disastrously slow even when we were seated, as out of irritation. Second try was LP Family Restaurant (10 3rd St.). We were a little surprised to see the hostess in Islamic attire, but they clearly didn't have problems with pork on the menu. The pork tenderloin sandwich was suspiciously large. It was flaked and formed or something of that ilk with thick breading. At least it was fried well in a nongreasy manner.

    The first night was in Iowa City/Coralville. Before dinner we visited the Iowa City farmers market, which is on the ground floor of a parking garage. Stalls were typically the width of one or two parking spaces with tables set up right off the trucks' tailgates. There were more vegetable growers than at Evanston FM with around half certified organic. There was only one fruit grower although several vegetable growers had a few berries. The produce selection was somewhat limited but of high quality: large quantities of summer squash, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet corn and large cabbages but very limited amounts of other vegetables. One grower had tiny haricots verts, which made Nichols' product in Evanston on Saturday look like pole beans. The Iowa City farmers market runs on Wednesdays from 5:30-7:30pm and Saturdays from 7:30-11:30am. Coralville has their markets on Monday and Thursday from 5-8pm, so farmers have good spacing of markets and can pick produce the same day for the weekday markets. The other striking thing was the number of producers of homemade baked goods and fruit pies. Dinner was at Mondo's Tomato Pie in Coralville (516 East 2nd St.), which has had favorable comment on CH. The same family owns several restaurants under various labels, so it is part of a small chain. Except for the lower prices and better service, one could easily believe you were in an eclectic Chicago suburban restaurant with a good wine list. I had a wood-grilled portabella mushroom over 'linguini' and some of my wife's rotisserie chicken, which was very juicy and garlicky. The 'linguini' was cooked al dente and appeared homemade but was round like large spaghetti. It's a big place with lots of TV's tuned into sports. (The Chicago Cubs are very popular--the farm team-- the Iowa Cubs, is headquartered in Des Moines.)

    Thursday breakfast was augmented continental at motel. Better than average but last one for the trip. Thursday lunch was at Garden Gate Cafe in the Des Moines Botanical Center. They clearly had more business than they could handle well with many people stopping there for lunch without going to the Center. The attitude of several staff members would keep me from going back. Food was a bit above average for this sort of museum place, but that is not saying much. Waiting a half-hour for a simple sandwich and salad, with deafening noise was not nice. The displays in the geodesic dome would under whelm anyone familiar with the Lincoln Park Conservatory let alone the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. However, the hardy cactus garden outdoors is neat. We have a hardy prickly pear in our yard, but I never dreamed that there were so many varieties that could survive a central Iowa winter. The herb gardens were well thought out and varied.

    Thursday dinner was at Misty's on Havelock (6235 Havelock Ave.) in Lincoln NE. We had nicely grilled Nebraska sirloin steaks with a gutsy zin. The menu lists standard for the varied degree of doneness: medium would be medium rare most places. Both steaks were done exactly as described. This is the original Misty's (a much newer one is downtown). The building looks early 60s commercial from the outside with dark wood inside originally made to look older. The effect is nice now that there are about 40 years on it. We were seated on a banquette opposite the open kitchen. Comments on CH made this seem a good prospect with the added advantages of not having to drive very far from our motel or cope with downtown congestion. At one dinner at our reunion we were seated with a relative from Lincoln. On hearing where we had eaten, his wife said we had eaten at the best restaurant in Lincoln.

    Friday breakfast was at a Cracker Barrel close to our motel. Pancakes with blackberry sauce worked pretty well with plenty of plump berries. FWIW Cracker Barrel was about the only place that had skim milk available on the whole trip.

    The drive from Lincoln NE to Newton KS goes though a lot of open country with few towns and lunch options. Subway franchises seem to have infiltrated even small, out of the way towns. We dropped south from I80 at York NE on a good, lightly traveled highway. Belleville KS was the location of our first try for lunch. Midget Car Races appeared to have overloaded the little town, and the only downtown restaurant's air conditioning seemed out of order. Not good when the temperature is in the 90s with abnormally high humidity for the area. Concordia KS, a few miles south, worked much better. Kristy's Family Restaurant (101 W. 6th St.) proved to be a good option. The breaded pork cutlet sandwich I had was the closest thing to a good pork tenderloin sandwich on the trip. The cutlet was pounded well, breaded nicely and fried well. The potato salad was the best of the egg and mayonnaise type I have had in many years. It tasted as though some of the sour pickles that accompanied the sandwiches had been chopped instead of using sweet relish. Chopped onion added a nice crunch and taste. All too often this type of potato salad is sweet and bland. Not here. Our waitress said that her aunt owned the restaurant and her grandmother made the potato salad.

    Saturday we had free time for lunch in Newton KS. Following up on Milt's post on his trip to Kansas, we ate at The Breadbasket (219 N Main). We both had petite combos. My wife had a ham sandwich and soup while I had a bierock and the salad bar. The bierock was interesting, but I wouldn't want to eat them every day. The breads were delightful. We bought a small banana nut loaf for Sunday breakfast and then stopped in a Walmart Supercenter for some milk and fruit. If the grocery section is typical of the super centers, the produce would be uncompetitive on price, quality and selection with Cermak Produce on Kedzie. Maybe Walmart has good reasons for saying they don't intend to put super centers in Chicago.

    Note with respect to breakfasts: we have a small refrigerator that can run off the car power tap or AC, so we can cool some fruit and milk even if the motel room doesn't have a refrigerator. Motel room coffee makers will make at least as good coffee as the average restaurant if you use water for only 3 cups instead of the nominal 4. I need to check if Stewarts coffee is available in 4-cup filter packets. Then we could really beat the breakfast problem on the road.

    The only notable meal in the reunion was Sunday afternoon in Harper, where we had whole hog barbecue. This was a big pig that was pretty well picked clean by about 100 people. The caterer had a mobile cooker pulled behind a pickup truck. He told my wife that he started pigs with charcoal but switched to propane over night. The mild but flavorful sauce was served from large squeeze bottles, so you could control the amount. In mid-afternoon this was followed by an old-fashioned ice cream social with the low- butterfat ice cream made in large freezers with wood-stave tubs.

    Sunday evening we went on to El Dorado so we could get to Kansas City in time for lunch on Monday. El Dorado is not a good spot for restaurants on Sunday evening. Several of the most promising listed on the chamber of commerce web site were either defunct or closed on Sunday. We did find an interesting Mexican restaurant, though. Jalisco (626 N. Main St. in a strip mall) had dishes I have not seen in Chicago. I had green chili made with pork. Peppers in the sauce were not very hot (mainly poblano?) with tender chunks of braised pork. They offered a choice of mild or hot salsa and had two bottled hot sauces on the table. The habanero hot sauce presumably could add enough heat for anyone. My wife's beef enchiladas did not have any sauce but were finished under the broiler with a layer of cheese. The hostess didn't speak English very well, so we couldn't ask questions. It certainly was not your common Tex Mex.

    We had lunch at the Boardroom in Overland Park (9600 Antioch in a shopping center at the southwest corner of 95th and Antioch). The Boardroom and LCs have had favorable mention on CH. The address for LCs in Lenexa was a little vague as it couldn't literally be at the intersection of I-35 and 95th. I didn't see LCs, but Boardroom was almost equally convenient for getting back on I-35 at a different point. A relative who lives in Kansas City had told me that he preferred the Boardroom for lunch when he had business in that part of the metro area. By this time we were pretty well porked out, so my wife had half a sliced beef sandwich and salad while I had a combo of half sliced beef sandwich and rib tips. The beef was a little on the dry side without sauce. The rib tips were yummy with or without. We bought a bottle of sauce to bring home. In the same shopping center is Kansas Sampler, which has the usual kitsch and athletic team logo stuff and some nice things. I bought the Kansas City Barbecue Society Cookbook there but haven't had time to read much of it let alone cook from it. It looks quite interesting.

    Monday night was in Newton IA, which has little to be said for it except for the presence of Maytag Dairy Farm (2282 E 8th St. N). We were tired and went to the Perkins Family Restaurant near the motel. About the best that can be said for it is that the broccoli was nicely steamed with some crunch left rather than the usual mush. Tuesday morning we stopped at the Maytag Dairy Farm store, which is in a corner of the office at the plant. They have a small display of old dairy equipment and a cheese case. We bought both Maytag Blue and white cheddar. After mentioning that we could buy the Blue near our home in Chicago, they asked where. They sell through a wholesaler in Chicago and don't know what retailers carry their cheese. People keep buying cheese and asking where they can buy it in Chicago. I told them about The Cheese Stands Alone.

    The final meal on the trip was lunch at the Iowa Machine Shed in Davenport IA. We planned to stop somewhere in the Quad Cities. It was time for lunch, and this restaurant was very close to the gas station where we filled up. It is as kitschy as Cracker Barrel but uses mostly farm equipment. Water and iced tea are served in canning jars. Light level at lunch was much higher than Cracker Barrel. My wife had a good fried catfish sandwich plus thick beef-vegetable soup. Still with wishful thinking, I tried their version of pork tenderloin sandwich, which the menu says is their best seller. The batter coating that worked so well on the catfish was all wrong on the pork, which was the flaked and formed stuff to boot.
  • Post #2 - August 9th, 2004, 5:56 pm
    Post #2 - August 9th, 2004, 5:56 pm Post #2 - August 9th, 2004, 5:56 pm
    We had lunch at the Boardroom in Overland Park (9600 Antioch in a shopping center at the southwest corner of 95th and Antioch).

    The Boardroom has the best smoked sausage I've ever ate. We were there about 8 years ago. We ordered a sampler platter and the sausage was the star..

    I bought the Kansas City Barbecue Society Cookbook there but haven't had time to read much of it let alone cook from it.

    The Lemon Bar recipe in this cookbook is outstanding. My wife uses this recipe and gets raves. She has tweaked it a little though.

    Raw meat should NOT have an ingredients list!!
  • Post #3 - August 12th, 2004, 7:09 am
    Post #3 - August 12th, 2004, 7:09 am Post #3 - August 12th, 2004, 7:09 am
    Next time your in the LaSalle area, try Uptown Grill. Food is really wonderful, service is terrific, great beer selection and good wine list. The decor is very nice and the prices are reasonable. They also do lunch right, always have very creative and well done sandwiches. Soups and salad dressings are homemade,so good in fact that we usually buy a jar to take home. Give it a try, it's right downtown.

    Uptown Grill
    601 First Street
    La Salle, Il.61301