Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mr. Nice Guy's Hot Box

This article was originally published in seveneightfive magazine in August 2015.

I’ve found the perfect hangover food: a Philly from Mr. Nice Guy’s Hot Box in Oakland. After a night
out, this sandwich is what my stomach needs to recover quickly for the next day ahead.

A small, hole-in-the-wall at 2601 NE Sardou Avenue, Mr. Nice Guy’s Hot Box is just that, a little hot box. There are two large booths and one smaller one along one wall, and the ordering counter and kitchen on the other wall. That’s about it and I love it. Another local favorite.

I’ve only tried the Philly Guy once before and I got one measly bite. This time, I got the entire thing to myself, and that’s the only way to do it, I don’t like sharing. It comes with a bag of chips, but chips are chips, am I right? The sandwich is on a hoagie-style bun and overflowing with beef, peppers, onions, mushrooms and white cheese sauce. Just looking at it as the waitress brought it over I began salivating and I heard my tummy rumble. It was love at first sight, (ok second sight, but I still loved it the first time!) 
The cheesesteak is served with a fork, but I like getting my hands dirty so I threw aside the fork and ate it the way a sandwich is supposed to be enjoyed -- with my hands. The cheese melted down my fingers, but that didn’t stop me and added to the experience. I think by the end it was even running down my face. There are plenty of napkins for later, so I just dug in. The cheese melts throughout the sandwich and coats the meat and the veggies, but there’s enough that some stays on top, too. It’s ooey, gooey and messy but that’s part of the fun.

I must note that I normally order items like this without peppers or onions. The first time I tried a bite, the friend’s sandwich had both of those ingredients on it, and I found I didn’t mind them. I feel like, a true Philly Cheesesteak has to have peppers and onions on it, so I went ahead and ordered it the way it’s meant to be. The peppers were cooked just to the point where they are still tender but not crunchy, so that really helped. The flavor of the sauteed green peppers, onions and mushrooms complimented the sandwich and I was appreciative that I left them on.

After a night of drinking and eating greasy food, the Philly Guy is there to comfort you. It’s not greasy but it has lots of meat and cheese, all stuffed into a soft bun. And if a Philly isn’t something that suits your fancy, breakfast is served until 11 a.m. and they have all kinds of pulled pork and barbecue items on the menu. I have to say, though, I’ll probably stay faithful to the Philly Guy every time.

Monday, August 31, 2015


(this still shows the location as Kim's Vietnamese, but trust me, it's Kyoto now)

I've been trolling the Topeka Restaurant Group on Facebook for a couple months now and the consensus is most definitely that Kyoto is amazing. So, I decided to go check it out and see for myself.

Ryan and I ordered sushi and hot food from the hibachi. For sushi we got a rainbow roll, my favorite, and he got some other sashimi that I'm not too fond of. The rainbow roll is basically a California roll topped with raw salmon and a white fish (the menu said "white fish" so I'm not sure the exact type it was) and this particular sushi chef decided to top his with roasted garlic. I liked the garlic, but Ryan did not -- he scraped it off of his portion. I didn't mind it because there was a small amount on each piece of sushi and I felt it complimented without overpowering the raw fish.

After our meal, our waitress asked us if we like sushi and if she could recommend a few rolls to try next time, (there will be a next time and soon). She pulled out her phone and showed us three or four rolls that are her favorite, including the Hawaiian roll. That's the one I'm looking forward to ordering next time.

I ordered the hibachi ribeye that comes with a soup, salad, rice, noodles and vegetables.

The salad had a sweet ginger dressing -- that I could have drank by the cupful -- with crunchy noodles, carrots on iceberg lettuce. The soup was just a broth with green onions and thinly sliced mushrooms floating around in it. I liked it but the weather was too hot for me to want to eat much of it. I ate my entire salad because that dressing!

The hot food all came on one plate. The noodles were thin and sweet, I could eat just those for dinner they were so tasty (with a cup of that ginger dressing, of course). The fried rice was steamed and then fried and chewy but in a good way. The vegetables were cooked just right, al dente and not soggy. There was a lot of zucchini and carrots, my favorite.  My meat was cooked a perfect medium rare just as I asked and I really just have no complaints about anything at all.

The portions were huge and even though the menu is pricey, you get your money's worth. I have lunch for tomorrow.

When we were on our way out, the waitress asked us if we had ever tried their Ramune drink, a Japanese soft drink. She said it's made with real sugar. We were intrigued so we said of course we'll try it. The one we tried was strawberry flavored. When she opened the drink, I was confused about what exactly she was doing, but with further research on the good old world wide web, I found out all about it. Sometimes, this soda is also referred to as marble pop, and that's because the bottle is sealed with a glass marble. It's opened by forcing the marble out and into the the drink, where it clangs around while you drink.  Hey, but who cares about a marble, the soda was good and I would buy one next time I'm there.

I will return and try other items on the menu. The people working were friendly and seemed like a family. The atmosphere was inviting and there was a cute little kid walking around smiling at people. He even said goodbye to us and followed us to the door waving. How cute. I can't wait to return.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Palette Restaurant

Tucked inside Trampo-Lazer-Rockball Park is the Palette Restaurant. When I heard about this place I was skeptical, it just seemed unlikely that the food would be anything more than nachos and hotdogs. I was way off base.

Pizza dip with pretzel sticks
When I walked in, I was surprised at how nicely the tables were set, each with a bright colored flower in a green vase and modern looking black dining tables and chairs. The walls are a turquoise color and contrast nicely with the black tables and chairs and flowery rugs on the floor. Linen napkins were used, so I figured it would be a little nicer menu than places that have paper napkins. 

Fried PB&J and French fries
For an appetizer, my friend and I ordered the pizza dip, which is served with fried pretzel sticks. The pizza dip has cream cheese, pepperoni, pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, onion and green pepper. The cheese was stringy, the pretzel sticks soft-but-crispy and the onion and green pepper didn't bother me because there weren't many. I loved the pretzel sticks because they were crispy on the outside but fluffy inside and I could wrap the mozzarella around the stick and eat it easily that way. It was basically a deconstructed pizza, so it was greasy, but I expected it to be because it's pizza. It has to have some grease.

For my entree, I wanted something a little different so I went for the Fried PB&J with French fries.
I'm pretty happy I went for it because it was the best new something I've had in a long time. Texas toast prepared like French toast, dredged in Frosted Flake Crumbles and deep fried all with peanut butter and jelly inside.  The crunchy, sweet Frosted Flake Crumbles was my favorite part along with the jelly and peanut butter. The sandwich was drizzled with honey and tasted like dessert. That's my kind of entree! The French fries are the thin cut fries and a nice and crispy.

Top: Parmeson, Middle: Sticky
Honey Garlic, Bottom: BBQ
Wednesdays are the nights to get 50 cent wings. There are various flavors and I tried three. I already had enough to eat with an entree and appetizer, but I figured I could at least try a few for as cheap as they were.  I ordered sticky honey garlic, parmesan and bbq. The parmesan was my favorite because it was more of a dry wing that was seasoned and topped with parmesan cheese. The bbq was bbq, and not bad, but I wasn't a fan of the sauce they used. My least favorite was the honey garlic. Something about the sweet honey and the bitter garlic didn't mix well and left a weird aftertaste in my mouth. When I told the waitress which ones I liked and disliked she said nobody ever likes the sticky honey garlic, so maybe stay away from those all together. I would order the parmesan wings again and plan to return on a Wednesday to tear some up.

The best part about the wings? They let you order just one wing if that's what you want. As you can see, I ordered three, one of each flavor I thought looked interesting. That was cool.

Overall, I was impressed with this place, hiding away inside an arcade/lazer tag/and so much more place. I just wasn't expecting the lovely meal I had, not to mention the great service, too.  I will be back soon.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Downtown Topeka has a great spot for some tasty barbecue. HHB BBQ -- I should've gone there a long time ago.  But, this is the place that burnt down in January, and then opened up a new spot in May. There was a food truck around but I could never catch it. What matters is that I finally got down there and it was as good as everyone has been saying it is.

To start, I ordered some pulled pork nachos for an appetizer. This could be ordered as a meal and devoured by just yourself. Crispy tortilla chips topped with smoked pulled pork and nacho cheese sauce with your choice of other toppings like shredded cheese, tomatoes, jalapeƱos and sour cream. I enjoyed these nachos a lot. They were different than taco nachos but the same, I liked the twist. The pork was smoked and tender and the portion was large. I liked that you could add your own toppings because I like lots of sour cream and tomatoes. Even eating half of this monster I got pretty full. Honestly, there's not real taco flavor at all, but I didn't care -- the smoked pork was enough for me.

For my entree, which I really didn't need, I had three sliders: One with pork, another with turkey and the third with brisket, served with your choice of a side. I chose potato salad. I was so full but it was all so good. There are a few different sauces available to try and I wasn't a fan of all of them. I like mine a little more thick and sweet-tasting, so I don't enjoy the ones that are too vinegary. There was one sauce -- Cousin Terry's Tangy Carolina sauce -- that I didn't enjoy much because it seemed kind of clovey to me and I'm not a fan of cloves. I liked the other one, I think it was the original sauce. Ryan, of course, really liked the tangy Carolina and he said it was the best on the turkey.

The turkey was juicy, smoked and pulled. I like it pulled instead of sliced because I feel like it's juicier that way. The brisket was good but I was so full I only tried a small bite. Ryan ate the rest of my meal, including the potato salad. I wasn't a fan of the mainly mustard salad -- I don't like yellow mustard and that's all I tasted. I prefer more mayo in my pot sally. There are other sides to choose from, such as smoked mac and cheese, corn, smoked baked beans, cheesey taters, pasta salad or chips. Ryan ordered the smoked mac and cheese, but I didn't really pick up on the "smoked" part. The mac was good, though and I would order it again.

I'm excited to see that HHB BBQ came back from a the fire that burnt down their original location and opened a new one. Click HERE for more information about the fire. The new place is fresh, sharp and clean. The staff is friendly and my food didn't take long, either. Even though I didn't like the potato salad, I plan to return and try other side items. The bbq is good and that's what counts.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Row House - Guest Chef Nikki Fiedler

Tonight, the husband and I ventured out to the Row House. Ryan knows the guest chef, Nikki Fiedler from his childhood and he heard she would be designing the menu this week. Nikki is the director of the culinary program at Washburn Tech and started out in the kitchen at the Row House. I was excited to try her dishes after checking out the website.

Mixed Berry Fizz
The Row House is exactly that: A house, situated near Topeka's downtown on Van Buren in a small row of houses. It's tucked in the middle with a beautiful flower garden on the front porch. Behind the restaurant, there is also a food garden where the chefs get a lot of their menu fare. Nikki said she wanted to serve a lot of the food she likes to eat herself while utilizing fresh garden ingredients at the same time. I have to say, she did well.

The menu at the Row House is different than any other in Topeka. I've found many like it in other cities around the United States, but Topeka is Topeka and there aren't many (if any) fine dining options. The Row House has a $43 tasting menu where you get a taste of every item on the menu. The portions are smaller but there are so many of them, and they are so spaced out, you will be full by the end of the meal. This particular menu had one salad, one soup, three entrees and three desserts.

To start, I ordered a cocktail. The Mixed Berry Fizz was fruity and fizzy and garnished with a fruit puree "ice cube" and made with house-infused triple berry vodka, Creme de Cassis, lemon juice and lemon-lime soda. The drink wasn't strong but at the end I could definitely taste the vodka. I liked how the fruit puree slowly thawed out and dispersed within the drink because it helped the drink from watering down. I would order this drink again, and I'm not much of a drinker. This was the perfect summer cocktail.

Our first course was an amuse bouche: Baguette with whipped butter, dill, radish and cucumber. The butter was soft and the dill fresh from the garden. I liked the crunch of the radish and the fresh cucumber all paired well. I was ready for more.

The soup came next. In the summer the menu usually features a cold soup and this one was no exception. A honeydew melon puree with mint and clementines. The mint was robust but not overpowering like mint can be, but the honeydew actually paired well with it. The bits of clementines broke up the texture for me a bit and I kind of wish there were more of those. I didn't personally like the texture but the flavors all complimented each other well.

The vegetarian entree was probably my favorite part of the entire meal. Beet and carrot "noodles", goat cheese, spiced pecans, Swiss chard tossed in a thyme vinaigrette. The "noodles" were shaved pieces of beets and carrots and they were crunchy and sweet yet earthy paired with the Swiss chard that was wilted and soft. The goat
The vegetarian entree
cheese added a sharp, creamy flavor. This was texture heaven for me but the flavors were part of it, too. It had a little bit of everything.

The sliced beef tenderloin with port and plum sauce was my next favorite. The meat was cooked medium, atop a summer squash and corn succotash. The plum sauce was sweet and smoky. I would love to eat a bowl of it like soup. The succotash was cooked to perfection: Edamame, corn, yams, zucchini and yellow squash. I don't usually like yams but these were sweet and tender and I didn't mind them at all. That plum sauce, though.

The salmon was good, but the other two entrees were by far my preference. That does not mean, however that it's not good, it's quite the contrary. The salmon was seared and topped with a lemon dill aioli and served with a golden raisin quinoa and sauteed grapes. The sweet grapes and chewy raisins had most of the flavor in this
dish, and I hardly noticed the quinoa. The salmon wasn't dry, which most salmon usually is and the aioli gave it that lemon zest that goes so well with fish.

Dessert was decadent. The plus side of a tasting menu is you get three desserts, which makes the decision pretty easy. The chocolate zucchini cupcake with ganache was soft and moist and rich because of the ganache. The cupcake was fluffy and rich at the same time and that's usually what I look for in a chocolate cupcake and who doesn't love ganache? The most interesting of the three desserts would have to be the peach and basil crumble with whipped buttercream. The basil was a little overpowering at first, but I think that was because I bit right into a basil leaf, but after a few more bites, the peach flavor came through and I found the basil was more of an undertone. Nice and refreshing, the blue and black berry sorbet with lemon shortbread cookies we the perfect finishing touch to the meal. Cold, fruity and fresh, the sorbet was full of berry flavor and the little lemon cookie was crispy and zesty.

The menu changes weekly at the Row House, so if you want this particular menu you'd have to go Check their website for their weekly menus and special messages from the chef.
Friday or Saturday night. Make sure you call and make reservations, though, or else you may not be served. I know on holidays they are always packed and for days such as Valentine's Day, you have to call weeks in advance for a reservation.

If you haven't checked out the Row House, I recommend it for any special occasion or just dinner on a Thursday night. This was my type of place and I wish there were more here in Topeka. What's cool to me is that the menu changes all the time so you get seasonal items as well as something new every time. The chef, Greg Fox and other kitchen workers all serve the food alongside the front of the house staff and I love how they all work together. Everyone is accommodating and if there is something you can't have on the menu, the chefs will use their culinary abilities to whip up something special just for you. A girl at the table next to us was allergic to melons of all types, including cucumbers. I noticed how she still got every course, but was served something different than the rest of the table.

So, check it out. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Food Truck #4: Noble House Plated Lunch

I have been trying to get to Noble House Hawaiian Plate Lunch for over a month now. I just have a hectic schedule and work through the lunch hour, so I usually miss them by the time I'm off work. So today, I heard they were going to be at 21st and Fairlawn until 6, unless they ran out of food. So, I booked it over there when I got off work and ordered me some Hawaiian food.

I've seen the bright blue truck at the Topeka Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, but I'm not much for fried Spam and eggs, so I haven't ordered from there until today. My husband, however, has and he liked it when he got it. I'm sure you would, too if you like Spam and eggs.

Today I ordered the Chicken Katsu. Fried chunks of chicken on top of white rice smothered in a brown gravy sprinkled with sesame seeds. The gravy reminds me of typical brown beef gravy with a comforting flavor. I wouldn't say it tasted like beef gravy, though, I'm not really sure what it tasted like, but it was good to me. The rice was cooked well, nice and fluffy and I could eat just that with the gravy it was so good.  The chicken was fried crispy, with a Panko-style bread crumb, and still juicy inside. I liked the breading because it was so crispy, even smothered in gravy and after driving home. I was impressed with that because I don't like soggy fried foods, and I wasn't disappointed with this dish when I got it home.

Also, there was so much food, I shared it with my mom and her friend. We each got a good sized portion, and I was full when I finished. They both liked the food, too.

The meal came with some pasta salad, which I enjoyed because it was different. It appears to be typical creamy potato salad, but when it hits your tongue you know immediately there is something different. It's a sweet taste, but I can't place it. I don't have much experience with Hawaiian flavors, so next time, I really need to ask some questions. There will be a next time! There were chunks of carrots and black olives, but not many. It wasn't my favorite dish, but I liked it because it wasn't what I was expecting and the change was nice, so I ate all of it. (I didn't share the pasta salad, haha.)

I hope to get back to Noble House sometime soon so I can try something else on their menu. At the Farmers Market they have a different menu, but the one pictured here is the menu I've seen them use at most other events or on their regular days. Follow them on Facebook so you can get updates about where they will be on any given day and photos of their other food. They will even post if they aren't going to be out and about.

Chef Akamu, the owner, is friendly and told me he's only been moved here to Topeka officially, for about a year. The food truck started up in November 2014. I love that Topeka is embracing the food trucks including one with Hawaiian food. If you haven't yet, get out and try something different. Then, let me know what you think by commenting on my post.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Cook's American Grill

A friend recommended Cook's American Grill, and I wasn't disappointed when I took her advice. I've driven past this place a million times and can't believe I've never stopped by.

I should've tried Cook's a long time ago.

I walked in and immediately could feel the down-home glow of the place, which I love. When I looked around I saw a lot of older couples eating lunch, families and working men on lunch break -- my kinda place. I felt at home and welcome in a place I'd never been.
 I ordered at the counter -- a chicken fried chicken with corn and mashed potatoes -- got my drink and silverware and found a spot to sit. Not long after, the waitress brought my meal.

The chicken fried chicken is breaded in-house and the mashed potatoes had chunks of potatoes in it so I'm assuming they are mashed in-house, too. It's hard to say on the gravy but either way it's creamy, peppery and tasty. The chicken is breaded just right and has a crispiness to it, while still being juicy and tender on the inside. I didn't even need a knife to cut into it.

I also liked the corn. Big, sweet kernels coated with butter and sprinkled with a little salt and pepper
Chicken Fried Chicken, mashed potatoes and corn
just like I like it. A roll was also served with the meal, but it was really just a plain dinner roll. It was good, but everything else was better.

Dessert is also available but I'll have to try that next time. I was way full because I ate my entire chicken fried chicken platter and drank a bunch of Dr. Pepper.

In addition to home-style dinners, Cook's offers deli sandwiches, hot sandwiches, hamburgers and salads. I also just saw on their menu some fried pickles and fried mushrooms. Those are in my future. There's also a breakfast menu and I want to try that soon. They aren't open on Sundays, though and that's the day I usually go to breakfast. I'll have to check them out on a Saturday sometime.

Also, if you can't get enough of Tasting Topeka, check out seveneightfive magazine, where I'll be extending my blog to print once a month. Those posts will be in the magazine first, then eventually they'll appear on my blog. Don't forget to pick your copy up at your local bar or restaurant around town. Give 'em a like on Facebook, too.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Bunker Coffee Co. and NOTO Burrito

For lunch today, I went to Bunker Coffee Company and NOTO Burrito in NOTO. I saw a post on Facebook yesterday that Bunker delivers shakes, and I wanted to check it out before I had one delivered. While I was there, I decided to try a burrito from NOTO Burrito because I've been hearing bad reviews from there lately, and I wanted to form my own opinion. (Feel free to do this yourself!)

I haven't been for quite awhile, not since the two businesses joined up. Now, there is a booth on the north side of the restaurant where Bunker Coffee Co. set up. There are still quite a few tables and chairs to sit and eat at.

I ordered a Planting Peace and Love burrito, to go. There weren't any people in line so I was helped right away, the lady making my burrito was friendly and she put my burrito together quickly. I waited probably five minutes for her to build my burrito, grill it and package it up for me to take it to go. I watched her make it and I made sure to look at the ingredients. I've heard some bad reviews on the ingredients being dry or unavailable. I was there at 1 p.m. on a Saturday, and everything looked fresh and stocked.

My Planting Peace & Love burrito
(no chips pictured)
The burrito was huge, so huge I couldn't eat the entire thing. The Planting Peace & Love burrito comes with a choice of two meats, so I chose chicken and pork. (The third choice is ground beef.) The meat was good but the pork was a little salty for my taste. With everything else in the burrito it wasn't that bad or noticeable unless you got a huge mouthful of pork, which happened to me once. The guacamole had good garlic flavor, the pico was fresh and the three sauces added lots of flavor. The guac was good, I just wish it was spread around more -- but that's just burritos in general, it's hard to get a little bit of every ingredient. The rice was soft, the beans were tender and the meat was shredded and maybe just a little greasy. I don't mind a little grease, but some people might so it's worth noting. I think the meat was being held in a fatty liquid so it wouldn't get dry and hard. I made a huge mess because I chose to pick up my burrito and eat it -- a fork and knife just wasn't working on this one, you just gotta pick it up and dig in. I recommend leaving it wrapped as long as possible. The burrito is grilled so that helps seal it together, but by the end, the insides are everywhere.
Sweet Salsa
Mild salsa

The burrito comes with a couple handfuls of chips, fried in-house. I chose a couple salsas off the salsa bar, one mild and the other sweet. I, unfortunately didn't write down the names, but you can probably figure it out from looking at what's available. Both salsas were good. The sweet one tasted like sweet tomatoes, with no real spice at all or any other flavors. I liked it because it was simple and something in my burrito was spicy and it helped counter that spiciness. The mild salsa was mildly spicy with a jalepeno and dried oregano flavor. I liked it.

I paid $10 for my burrito and tortilla chips, which is a little high. The burrito was huge, though, and I couldn't eat the entire thing. It could be two meals, or you could split it with someone for lunch. I do like supporting local and sometimes local can be little pricier, which is fine by me. I love spending my dollars locally.
Strawberry shake
I also ordered a strawberry shake from Bunker Coffee Company and chatted up the guy working there. I found out they deliver within a 5-mile radius (woohoo! I can get delivery where I live), and it's a $12 minimum with a 17 percent delivery fee. So, it would therefore cost around $14 to have two shakes delivered to your house, because I payed $5 for my shake, but it was also the smaller size. NOTO Burrito items are also available to be delivered, too, so that's cool.

The strawberry shake was thick, creamy and cooled me off on a warm day. I was offered a chocolate base, or vanilla base and I chose vanilla, but I think the chocolate would be good, too. There weren't really any strawberry chunks in this shake, but I did see little flecks of strawberries. I liked the lack of chunks because I like using a straw and sometimes chunks of fruit get stuck inside the straw and make it hard to suck it all through. I enjoyed my shake, and I look forward to trying a coffee shake next time. I might try delivery and see what's that is about, but I'll have to be feeling VERY lazy to pay extra for it to be delivered.

Here's a link to their menus:
https://www.facebook.com/NotoBurrito?sk=menu. Bunker Coffee Co. has all kinds of coffee drinks to choose from and NOTO Burrito has a variety of burritos, tacos and salsas to choose from. I plan to return and next time I might get their delivery and see if it's worth it. Follow Bunker Coffee Co. on Facebook for their latest deals and discounts, too: https://www.facebook.com/bunkercoffeecompany?fref=ts.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Taste of Holton: Trails Cafe

 I grew up eating at Trails Cafe in Holton, but it's been quite awhile (and a change in ownership), since I've been there for dinner. Ryan wanted a catfish dinner and we were already visiting family in Mayetta, and we remembered
Catfish dinner
seeing a sign there for a catfish dinner a few weeks ago, so we went for it.

The hostess sat us in the main dining room as soon as we walked in. In the middle, there's a salad bar and a few other tables along the walls. One wall has Jackson County Fair posters from the past 20 plus years, which I thought was cool because it was like looking back over the years. The rest of the walls are covered with various posters with silly sayings on them, concert announcements and a lot of Three Stooges-inspired art. Mostly, the walls were the same since I was a kid, with a few new additions.

For an appetizer we ordered the bacon cheese fries. The fries were crispy, the cheese melty and the bacon smoky. This was served with a huge bowl of ranch -- I'm not kidding, there was enough ranch there to eat with my fries, dress mine and Ryan's salads and still have some left over. I just can't imagine eating that much ranch, but I know people do it. So all you ranch lovers out there, keep that in mind when visiting the Trails Cafe in Holton, Kansas. I liked this dish, and the size was just perfect for the two of us to enjoy.

I ordered the country fried steak dinner with mashed potatoes and a trip to the salad bar. The salad bar is good, fresh and you can find some good composed salads on it. I would skip the potato salad unless you just love dill. I like dill, but that's all I tasted when eating this particular potato salad. The macaroni salad reminded me of the stuff you can buy at the grocery store, and I love that stuff, so I got a generous portion of it. The salad greens was an iceberg mix, there were cucumbers, onions, green peppers, cheese and a variety of other toppings for salads. The only thing missing was tomatoes, but I don't think I remember there ever being tomatoes on that salad bar. The broccoli salad is always good -- it had raisins, bacon bits, sunflower seeds, all tossed in a creamy, apple-cidery vinaigrette.

The country fried steak was about what I'd expect most places -- a frozen patty, deep-fried and smothered with white gravy. I don't think they make their gravy from scratch, either, but it's still good. The mashed potatoes were whipped and fluffy, buttery and not lumpy, but that led me to believe they may be from a box, which, isn't a bad thing, just a note. The steak was cooked perfectly crispy and I loved dipping it in the creamy mashed potatoes and gravy.

Ryan's catfish dinner looked pretty amazing. He said it reminded him of fish fries he went to when he was a kid. He also said something about his only complaint being that it had bones in it and he couldn't eat those, (haha). But seriously, if you want catfish and you don't like the bones, Trails also has an option for boneless catfish.

Even though I was stuffed, I still ordered dessert, but to go. Since it's summer and strawberries are
everywhere, I thought I 'd give their strawberry shortcake a try. I wasn't disappointed. I ordered it to go, so I also asked the waiter if I could get the shortcake in a separate container and he was happy to oblige. When I got home and at my dessert, I was not let down. I'm pretty confident they whip their own whipped cream, no container whipped topping, and they sugar their own fresh strawberries, too. I don't think it's just bought whipped topping because by the time I made it home and put my dessert together, the cream had fallen just a bit and was more creamy than whip-creamy, which was fine because it still tasted amazing. The pound cake is bought, but it's a good product -- it held up to the strawberry syrup and still tasted sweet and firm, not mushy.

The menu features many different salads, soup, chili, sandwiches and various homestyle meals. You can find their menu on their website, http://www.trails-cafe.com/.

Like I said before, I've been going to Trails Cafe for years, so this won't be my last visit. I'm never let down, and the service is always friendly. If you're up north a ways, check it out.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Taste of Lawrence: Terrebonne Po' Boys

I love Cajun food. If you love Cajun food, you should check out Terrebonne in Lawrence, you won't be disappointed.  It's located on Vermont street, one block west of Massachusetts Street, and 8th Street.

It's a small, hole-in-the-wall spot, with a few tables set up and a patio outside. The counter is where you order and there's a cooler with goodies like brownies and carrot cake, as well as deviled eggs and beer.

I ordered a deviled egg because they are only $0.50. I was not expecting the burst of spicy flavor I was greeted with when I chomped down on my deviled egg. It was peppery and cajun-y and maybe just a little too much for me in the way of spice. I shoved the other half in my husband's mouth and didn't warn him, but he likes hot/spicy food and loved the egg. I thought it was good, just spicy, of course. It had a good mustard flavor and what seemed to be a cajun seasoning to it. They also have wasabi deviled eggs, and those weren't as spicy as the first one I tried.

For dinner, I ordered the jambalaya, which comes with two hushpuppies. I also ordered a few other things to share: Red beans and rice with andouille sausage, some desserts, and an alligator po'boy.  (The po'boy was actually Ryan's dinner, but I tried it!)

The jambalaya was so good, I didn't want to share it. It was full of shrimp, shredded chicken and sausage, I was surprised at how much meat was in there. The shrimp was my favorite part, moist, spicy and not fishy or rubbery. The rice was cooked perfectly, the seasoning was just spicy enough, with a dominant oregano flavor, which I liked. There were chunks of celery and tomatoes, too, but kind of got lost behind all the other great stuff inside. It wasn't too greasy, which I appreciated. Sometimes jambalaya can be greasy because of the sausage but this wasn't bad.

The red beans and rice is another dish I want to order again. The beans were tender, the rice was fluffy and the andouille sausage was juicy and flavorful. The sausage was grilled and put on top -- you can order it with or without the sausage.

I tried the alligator po'boy, but only one bite. It was good, but I wanted to get back to my jambalaya. The alligator meat is fried and it seems a little chewy, but I hear alligator is chewy in nature, so that's normal. It was a good chewy, though, and the sauce they put on the sandwich was tangy and creamy. It comes with tomato, lettuce and onion, too if you want it. I liked the flavor, but it did just remind me of a fish sandwich.

Hushpuppies came with my jambalaya, and I was impressed. I just wish they wouldn't have been burnt. Not all of the hushpuppies were burnt, but a few of them were. I happened to get one that wasn't burnt and it was pretty amazing. It was pretty big, -- probably twice the size of the ones from Long John Silvers and maybe a bit bigger -- fluffy and crunchy on the outside. I enjoyed the chunks of corn inside the fluffy cornbread-textured filling, I'm not sure but it seems as if they may make their own hushpuppies.

I got some of the sweets, too of course. The chocolate brownie, carrot cake, and a peanut butter bar with chocolate. Everything was tasty but my favorite was the chocolate, gooey brownie. It was soft and ooey-gooey and I enjoyed the chocolate flavor. I ate this one the day after I went to the restaurant and it was still soft and fresh. The carrot cake bar was a little dry, but the cream cheese frosting in the middle helped. It was still pretty good. The peanut butter bar had crunchy rice pieces in the peanut butter part and the chocolate was a dark chocolate that was hard like a bar chocolate, whereas the peanut butter was soft and sticky. That one was my second favorite, and for $1.25 a bar, that's a score.

Everything I had was good and I would definitely return. The jambalaya was my favorite and I want more, but I'll have to wait until next time.  It was full of meat and just spicy enough. The hushpuppies were good, greasy, but good. I am ready to go back and try some of the other items on the menu.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Capital City Food Truck Festival -- Day 2

I returned for Day 2 and wasn't disappointed.

First, Visit Topeka fixed some of the initial problems by moving the food trucks apart and spacing
Pulled pork, Mr. Nice Guy's
everything out a bit more. There were also better markers indicating where the lines should go and end, so there was less confusion today. There were just as many people, though.

Topeka definitely turned out for this event, and organizers were not expecting the turnout. I heard over 4,000 people attended on Friday alone, and even more are coming out today, (Saturday). Some food trucks were running out of food, but that happens with food trucks. They only have a limited amount of space, so that happens.

Philly Cheesesteak, Mr. Nice Guy's
When Ryan and I first got there today, we jumped into Mr. Nice Guy's line, which didn't seem too long. We only waited about 30 minutes to order and a few more for our food which was acceptable. We got a pulled pork sandwich and a Philly cheesesteak. The pork sandwich was good, but nothing special. I think they roast the meat as opposed to smoking it, which is fine with me, it was still tender, juicy and good. My favorite barbecue sauce, Sweet Baby Ray's was available for smothering so that was a plus.

The Philly cheesesteak is what I'd write home about, though. I've heard people talk about how Mr. Nice Guy's, located in Oakland, has the best cheesesteak in town, and now I know they weren't lying. I don't even like green peppers but I could eat this sandwich without complaint. I tried a couple bites of Ryan's and couldn't get over the fact that the green peppers didn't bother me. The meat is tender, steaming hot and the melted cheese sauce makes it that much better. I would order it again, never mind the pulled pork.
Chocolate avocado smoothie,
photo courtesy of Bailey Mushok

Next, we tried the Purple Carrot Co-Op, where you can find vegan cuisine. Their line wasn't long but they always seemed to have one. We had to try one of their avocado chocolate smoothies because we kept hearing good things from other people. The smoothie was  definitely different, but still good. It was bright green with chunks of dark chocolate floating around in it. At first I wasn't sure about it, but after a few swigs I quickly realized I really liked it. I The chocolate chunks melted in your mouth and blended well with the strong avocado flavor and I thought the two flavors worked together.

As we were waiting for our shake, X-Marks the Spot showed up so I jumped in line to wait for them to open. We waited for about an hour because they were being inspected, (Blue Moose had the same thing before they could open), but then only waited about 10 minutes for our food to be cooked. I got a grilled chicken wrap and Ryan got the Wrigley Dog, which seemed like a Chicago dog just with a different name. It was a little different, but pretty much a Chicago dog.

I appreciated the chicken wrap because it featured salad greens instead of iceberg lettuce, which most
Grilled chicken wrap, X-Marks the Spot
places use. The chicken was juicy and hot, the mustard didn't overwhelm me and I liked the tomato bacon jam. It was sweet and smokey thanks to the bacon. The tortilla didn't rip and everything stayed together until the very end. I would order this wrap again, but I may try the veggie wrap next time.

X-Marks the Spot was not serving their pickle fries, (my favorite) but with good reason. The pickles were messing up the fryer and causing longer wait times I'm sure, because when you batter and fry things, much of the batter separates off and leaves little floating pieces of overcooked batter which sticks to other fried items, wreaking havoc on your fryer. I don't blame them for taking the pickles off the menu. Hopefully that is only for the festival and the pickle fries will be back on their regular, daily menu. I didn't ask.

The Wrigley Dog, X-Marks the Spot
The Wrigley Dog looked pretty amazing, probably about like an authentic Chicago dog. The only thing that stood out to me as way different was the bun. It seemed like they weren't as soft and yeasty as the buns I remember in Chicago, they were a little more dense, but that's not to say it was bad. It's not from Chicago, so of course it will be a little different.

Overall, I feel like the Capital City Food Truck Festival was a hit. New events always have kinks to be worked out, and as long as the event coordinators are open to suggestions, things will be better next year. Even this year I thought was a great turnout, good, tasty food and Topekans showed up to support the event.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Capital City Food Truck Festival -- Day 1

The hubs and I checked out the Capital City Food Truck Festival tonight. There were so many people, it was awesome! Now, if only the weather will be as beautiful tomorrow as it was tonight.

Before I headed out to the crowd, I checked the Facebook event page to see what people were saying. Some were complaining about the length of the food lines and others were complaining about finding the end of the line. I have to say, I didn't have an issue with either of those complaints.

First of all, it's dinner time and Topeka is hungry for food trucks, you're going to wait in line. Secondly, there were markers at the end of each line -- a piece of paper with "END OF LINE" then the food truck's name printed on it, indicated the end of each line. I thought it was a pretty clever idea. I just started at the beginning of the line and followed it to the end where I would find that lovely piece of paper. Here's an article by KSNT about how the organizers of the event are already planning improvements for tomorrow, Day 2.

The first truck we picked was called Big Boyz Gourmet out of St. Marys, Kansas.  There were a bunch of different tacos on the menu, so of course Ryan was down for that. Plus, the line wasn't as long as some of the others. We waited 25 minutes to order our food, and probably another 15-20 minutes for our order. (I actually ran over to CoffeeCake KC and got some coffee cake real quick because their line wasn't long). I ordered the chicken feta taco but only because they were out of all the rest of their tacos except the salmon, and I didn't want salmon. Ryan got one and he liked it a lot, I'm just not sure about smoked salmon tacos. I went for the chicken.

Chicken Feta taco
It was warm, fresh and tasty. The grilled flour tortilla was topped with chopped chicken, feta,
cabbage, pico de gallo, chimichurri sauce and basil cream. The feta was a great contrast with the chimichurri and basil cream, but the pico seemed lost to me. I could have used a little more pico for my taste, but overall it was really good. Hopefully, tomorrow they will have their steak tacos back, and I just might try that. I liked their food and plan to check them out again in the future.

Each taco cost $5. They seemed a little small for $5, but there was a lot of meat and filling, so I got pretty full off of just one.

Coffee cake
CoffeeCake KC ran out of cookies and cupcakes, so I tried their coffee cake and a blended mocha drink. The coffee cake was sweet, moist and dense, just like I like it. I don't, however, like white icing, so I removed all of that, which there wasn't much. After that, it was delightful. The only thing I would like to have in addition is some kind of crumb-like topping. That's one of my favorite parts of coffee cake, but this was still good without it.

Each piece of coffee cake was $3. I thought the price was right for the size of piece that was served. The mocha was $4, about what you'd pay at any coffee shop.

 The blended mocha was creamy and chocolatey and ice cold. It would be great on a hot day, and it was still great tonight even though it was a cool 73 degrees. It reminded me of chocolate milk, only frozen. Yum.

I'm looking forward to returning tomorrow and trying a few more trucks. The festival is open from 11 am until 9 p.m. so, we are planning to go for lunch and dinner. There were lots of people tonight, and the lines were long, but I feel like it's a great event for Topeka. It was the first night and Visit Topeka, the organizers of the event, is already planning improvements for tomorrow, Day 2. It can only get better next year, and I plan to be there then, too. Hope to see ya there!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Annie's Place

I felt like some good pie so I went to Annie's Place for lunch.  I know I've been before, but for some reason I never wrote a review for my blog. I did, however, write one for the Washburn Review in 2011, and you can read it HERE.

When I walked inside it was nice and cool and the hostess sat me immediately. It wasn't very busy so my waitress was right over.

I ordered iced tea to drink. I must say, it's some good stuff. The waitress said it's brewed daily, and it's strong, too. I don't usually add sugar to weak tea, but this stuff was strong enough to hold up to some sweetness, so I added a pink one. I even got a to-go cup to take it with me because I didn't want to waste it.

The menu offers a nice variety of items including, salads, appetizers, soups, sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers, dinner entrees and specialty items. Can't forget the bakery that churns out various pies, brownies and desserts. There's also a breakfast menu, which I've never tried. I hope to try it sometime soon.

I went for the Guacamole Burger and asked to add lettuce, tomato and pickle. I got chips because I didn't feel like fries. The chips were just crinkle-cut potato chips that are probably from a bag. The burger was good, but after putting my "salad" on my burger I took a huge bite and got a bad surprise. The pickle chips were not dill pickle chips, they were sweet pickle chips. Bleh. Not what I was expecting on a guacamole burger. It was pretty awful, (which one can argue would still be awful with dill pickles). I pulled the rest of them off of the burger and continued.

The guacamole was creamy, with no real chunks of avocado in it. It wasn't spicy and I kind of wish it had just a little more jalapeƱo flavor to it. Spiciness aside, I like guac on my burger and I would order it again. Although, next time I may eat it a little differently starting out. No pickles and I should try to plan out how I'm going to eat it so it's less messy. I ended up with guacamole all over me, the table and my plate. The guac shot out both sides of the burger the first time I sank my teeth in, covering my cheeks in avocado and dripping all over the plate and table. Awesome. I was lucky it wasn't busy and nobody saw me.

The bun was one item that stood out to me, mostly because they are made in-house. It was fluffy, a little dry (as opposed to chewy), but in a good way, and it held up to my messy burger. The guacamole just slid all over the place and would have caused most buns to become soggy or rip. This one did neither and I was able to eat my burger sans fork all the way to the end. Plus, the bun tasted good and that's what really matters. It durability was an added bonus.

I wasn't done with lunch, I wanted dessert.

This time, I ordered the Mile-High Apple Pie, which is essentially apple pie a'la mode. Oh yum. In
my last article I only ordered the apple pie but this time I added ice cream. The crust was my favorite part, because it's sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar it seems crunchy, but in a good way. At first I thought the ice cream was made in-house, but after asking I found out it wasn't. The scoop they give is a pretty generous one, and I like lots of ice cream on my pie. The apples were tender and sweet, with just enough cinnamon for me. I felt like there was a good texture combination in this dish -- soft apples, crunchy crust, doughy bottom crust, creamy ice cream and rough sugar-crust. Yum.

I think my only complaint for the menu would be the pricing. I spent $18 on my meal, dessert and a drink. For lunch, that seems a little pricey. I did get the pie a'la mode, but that was $6 of my meal. Subtract that completely and I'm still paying around $12 for lunch. I think they have the same prices for dinner, so there's that. I don't mind spending a little bit more money for good food, which it was, and most of it's made right there, in the restaurant every day -- such as the homemade hamburger buns. I would recommend trying Annie's Place for lunch some time or just dessert. (They even sell whole pies.)

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Taste of Texas: Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Q

This past Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I went to San Antonio. As a couple who grew up near Kansas City, we were interested in trying some authentic Texas barbecue. We had some car problems, so we asked the guy who worked at the mechanic shop we went to. He said to go to Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Q because it was the best and most authentic in the area. There were a couple others around but he said not to go to those, go to Rudy's. So, that's what we did.

Chopped meat
Pulling up, it looked like a gas station, but once I got closer I noticed it was a restaurant with a gas station attached. There's an area to come in and wait in line for your to-go order, an outside, covered dining area and an inside dining area. First, we stood in line to order our food. Behind the counter, and right where you can see them, people are chopping meat to order. After telling the cashier what I wanted, he yelled out to the butchers what he needed, then built my order and I paid. Of course, Ryan and I got a little bit of everything.

The food is served on a tray with parchment paper that acts kind of like a plate. Although, there are no plates -- just meat on parchment. It works. I also bought a drink cup and the proceeds went to veterans in need. With Lackland AFB in San Antonio, there are all kinds of armed services benefits around, lucky for my sister and cousin who were with us, they got military discounts pretty much everywhere we went.

Fatty brisket. 
I wanted to try the chopped meat, which was a mixture of chicken, brisket and pork. It came in a sauce and chopped in small pieces, not pulled like I'm used to back home. I think I would have liked it more if I liked their sauce more. The sauce is made with a lot of black pepper and I couldn't get over that, I'm not a fan of a lot of black pepper. It was a thick sauce, just too much pepper. The meat was good, and I liked that they served their meats with thin-sliced white bread because I made a sandwich with the meat. It was good that way. They also give out little bags of sliced dill pickles and raw onions, so I added pickles to mine.

The brisket was my favorite. My only complaint is that I got fatty, chewy brisket that could hardly be eaten, but my mother got a better order of the lean meat, (not pictured), more of what you'd expect of brisket. It was smoked, juicy and tender. I didn't even use sauce because I didn't think it needed it. Same with the turkey and the half-chicken. My sister got the half-chicken and let me try a bite. It was juicy, smoky and tender. No sauce needed, which was good because as I said before, I wasn't a fan of the sauce. I like mine sweeter, maybe even with more vinegar.

Cream corn.
The sides were just as good as the meats.

I loved the cream corn. It's not your canned crap that's like mush. This was whole-kernel corn in a creamy, delectable sauce. The kernels are firm, but tender and the sauce is creamy. While waiting in line, I saw a huge sign about how it's a secret family recipe that many people have tried to figure out over the years. The cashiers hand out samples to guests in line, and I bet most people order the cream corn after sampling it. It's so good. If you don't like cream corn I would recommend trying this anyway, I think you'll like it.

The potato salad and cole slaw were both good. The coleslaw was pretty typical, and reminded me of coleslaw you can get most places like Long John Silver's or KFC. I loved the potato salad. It was creamy, mostly mayonnaise based with some mustard, but not too much. There were a few peppers and some onions, but not too many as to be overwhelming. I would order this potato salad again.

I enjoyed the food at Rudy's. If I come across one again, I would return. You can find their restaurants in Colorado, Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. There are a lot more locations in Texas than anywhere else, of course, and I remember seeing quite a few of them on the drive home on I-35. For all of their locations, click HERE. I did like the food, I just wasn't a fan of the sauce. It was too peppery for me and not sweet enough for my tastebuds, yet I would return. The meat was smoked just right and everything was good. I'd recommend it to any barbecue fan, especially someone who wants to check out Texas-style.

I'm still a Kansas girl at heart and enjoy Kansas City barbecue the best. I like the Kansas City sauce better. It's thick, sweet and sometimes spicy. Plus, there's pulled pork, my favorite, and there was just none to be found at Rudy's. Texas did good, but KC wins this round.