There are just those moments when you have to get out of town. It doesn’t have to be far, but it does have to be out of the city limits.
I recommend, when time or the budget requires you to take a long weekend instead of a flight to Paris, go to the Flint Hills.
I realize Kansas does not exactly have a reputation for being a great tourist spot. The Flint Hills, however, have their own unique glory. The treeless rolling plains of the prairie are timeless.
And the eating is definitely getting better. You don’t have to pack a cooler of supplies anymore. Well, perhaps a few bottles of wine, just for safety’s sake.
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Here are few places to eat while you’re out on the range:
Alma, Kan.: Alma has become a real hot spot for Kansas Citians to have a second home. The beautiful limestone buildings are so alluring.
So are the bierocks at the Alma Bakery & Sweet Shoppe. Bierocks are a German meat pie shaped like a rock, filled with beef and cabbage. They taste much better than my description. And you have to love a bakery that advertises these hours: “Open all mornings but may close early afternoon or stay open as late as 4 PM.” The Alma Bakery is at 118 W. Third St.
You also have to love a creamery, The Alma Creamery, where you can buy a chunk of delicious sharp cheddar in the shape of the state of Kansas. The Alma Creamery can be found at 509 E. Third St.
Council Grove, Kan.: I’m drawn to Council Grove because it is so full of history. The Santa Fe Trail went through this spot and soon became an important trade center on the trail. It was so important that we had to “liberate” it from the people who lived there, the Kanza Indians, who later became the Kaw Indians when they were kicked out of Kansas completely. The Kaw Mission Historic Site and the beautiful and lonely Allegawaho Heritage Memorial Park just outside of town will fill you in on the details. When you walk in the park and listen to the tall grass rustle, the years fall away.
The Hays House Restaurant and Tavern has been a part of that history since 1857. It serves what it should serve: good fried chicken and steaks. I was told Saddlerock Café is near the place the livestock sales were held. And it can still feed a hungry cowboy good diner food. Trail Days Cafe and Museum is a little iffy on the food part but very interesting on the museum part. You be the judge.
Hays House is at 112 W. Main St. The Saddlerock Cafe is at 15 S. Sixth St. The Trail Days Cafe and Museum is at 803 W. Main St.
Strong City, Kan.: Plunge south right through the Flint Hills to Strong City. This is where the most delightful surprise awaits you — if it is Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Ad Astra Food & Drink calls itself a progressive home-style restaurant and it delivers. We had homemade potato chips with blue cheese; a flatbread pizza with fig jam, goat cheese and caramelized onions; fried Brussels sprouts; and a huge salad with spinach, roasted pork belly and a delicious lemon-shallot vinaigrette named Pigs in Zen. Progressive enough for you?
Ad Astra is at 318 Cottonwood St.
Cottonwood Falls, Kan.: Be sure and love the magnificent limestone courthouse in Cottonwood Falls and ask a local to point you to the open range that is unique and wonderful. Then have a pork tenderloin or chicken fried steak at Emma Chase Cafe or a martini and a real steak at the restored Grand Central Hotel & Grill.
Emma Chase Cafe is at 317 Broadway St. Grand Central Hotel & Grill is at 215 Broadway St.
Lou Jane Temple’s road to food has been a long and winding one. First as a rock ’n’ roll caterer backstage to the stars, then with her own Kansas City based catering company, Cafe Lulu, food writing, novelist, private chef. Lou Jane has written and had published nine culinary mysteries and one cookbook. She recently moved back to Kansas City and eagerly awaits the next chapter of her food career.