K-State fans will always have Aggieville, but downtown Manhattan (centered near Poyntz Avenue and North 4th Street) is bursting with new food and beverage options to tempt gridiron pilgrims on Game Day. One of my favorites is Tallgrass Tap House, which opened in June.
I melted onto a barstool and inquired about light options for lunch. The cheerful bartender walked me through a list of intriguing salads, including the Ruhnke, a reimagined Waldorf with balsamic vinaigrette instead of mayonnaise. A waste of time, turns out, because I couldn’t shake my impulse to order the pork belly Cuban, which was fairly screaming at me from the menu.
The sandwich did not disappoint. The bread was generously buttered, smooshed and griddled to a crispy golden brown. All the non-negotiable Cuban fixins were in place: ham, Swiss, mustard and pickles. And the pork belly, a genius upgrade from the standard sliced roasted pork, was sublimely, lip-coatingly greasy — a perfect accompaniment to cold craft beers on tap. I got the half sandwich for $7, which includes fries, but regretted not getting the whole for $9 because I would have enjoyed the other half the next day.
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I was tempted to play it safe with Tallgrass Halcyon, my favorite Kansas wheat beer. But I can get that popular production beer at the tiny liquor store in my rural county, so I decided to try one of the small-batch beers brewed at the Tap House.
I wanted to like Bitter Ex because of the name, but a gratis sample confirmed previous findings that bitter beers are not my thing.
The Farmhand, on the other hand, a tart, slightly malty saison beer with a clear wheat flavor was a delight. Its restrained fruitiness cut through the pork fat and a hint of effervescence made it eminently quaffable on a summer day. Served in a 16-ounce Belgian glass, the $4 price tag gave me reverse sticker shock. It wasn’t even happy hour when, from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays, all beers are $1 off.
The large dining room strikes the right balance of sophisticated design and casual boisterousness to draw foodie alums from Kansas City and budget-conscious students, as does the menu, which offers health-conscious and hearty fare.
The Tap House is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday (kitchen closes at 11 p.m.) Reservations not accepted.