To the north there’s Weston. To the east you can antique and lunch in Lexington, Mo. Greenwood, Mo., is almost far enough south to be considered a day trip.
But you won’t go wrong if you go west and escape for a few hours to Lawrence.
College towns. Don’t you love them? Kansas City has colleges, but it’s not a college town. Lawrence has that weird combination of a smug intellectual college faculty vibe, a sports fanatic fervor for the University of Kansas teams and lots of businesses that cater to the faculty and students of a large state university.
There are very many places to get coffee and hang out. There is a good antique mall. And there are surprisingly good food and drink establishments.
Here are the places I hit on a recent trip to Lawrence.Bourgeois Pig
The Bourgeois Pig, located at 6 E. Ninth St., is open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Somehow that blows my mind. They have been there for 20 years, 19 hours a day. And the Pig really has the look and feeling of the bars in Paris that have been open for two or three hundred years.
The hopes and dreams of the customers, ghosts of their spirits, never have time to be cleared away so they keep layering up, giving the air a charged yet romantic atmosphere. Imagination can run wild here.
There are seemingly hip people drinking coffee, or beer or a cocktail, maybe looking at their computer. There is no TV. There is no food. Coffee and booze. And all those ghosts.Merchants Pub Plate
Teller’s, in the Merchants Bank building is gone. Merchants Pub Plate, at 746 Massachusetts, has replaced it. Those are the hard, cold facts. Time marches on, and in this case, gave me a new place to love. I was very hesitant that I could even like a place with “pub plate” in the name. But the food won me over. It was really good. All of it.
The Midwestern food emphasis in more upscale restaurants in the Midwest has found a very capable interpreter in Chef TK Peterson, whoever he may be.
Arancini are Italian, those crispy risotto balls that are such a tasty starter at restaurants around town. But Merchants’ arancini have sweet corn added and a blackberry chipotle salsa so you’re not thinking Italian anymore, you’re thinking a blackberry patch outside of Topeka, a field with rows of tall corn near Manhattan. You’re thinking Midwest thoughts.
Quail are the state bird of Kansas, or they should be. So it is fitting to create a salad with local tomatoes, cucumber, bread cubes, topped with grilled quail.
Walleye pike is not found much in Kansas but it is still a Midwestern fish as Minnesota counts as the heartland. And I loved my walleye sandwich with a citrus pepper slaw. I can hardly wait to go back and try the Kale and white bean griddle cakes, the rabbit cacciatore, the heritage pork cutlet and of course their version of Mac and Cheese.
We ended the meal with a blondie topped with ice cream and candied bacon. Normally I would roll my eyes at candied bacon on a menu — pretentious — but I’m glad I gave it a try. I want it again.
On the back of Merchants menu is a map of Kansas with pins indicating where Merchants sources its food. The pork is from DeSoto, the rabbit from Leon, the chicken from Oskaloosa. You can’t get more Midwestern than that.Wild Pho
You know how I love Vietnamese food and you know you don’t have to drive to Lawrence to get a good bowl of Pho. But you should. Just look at the photo of that bowl of noodles with chicken floating seductively amid bits of basil and cilantro from Wild Pho at 1008 Massachusetts St. The broth was stellar.
Now put some gas in the car and go to Lawrence.
Lou Jane Temple’s road to food has been a long and winding one. First as a rock n roll caterer back stage 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.