Monday, June 27, 2011

The Lawrence Food Tour: Part 1 of ?

I love my new home city, Topeka. My sweetheart, Michael, grew up here and is helping me explore all of the different food offerings the city has available, which I plan to share with you along the way. We live in the downtown area, and I’ve just begun to scratch the surface on the food places within walking distance of our apartment. So stay tuned.

However, go east on I-70 a few miles and you will come to the city of Lawrence, home to the University of Kansas. The downtown is filled with shops, bakeries and restaurants, most of which have a great reputation. There are so many places that a food tour would need to be broken into multiple parts to cover them all, not counting return visits to places newly added to your food favorites list.

I’ve made short trips to this city before, each time vowing to spend a longer amount of time discovering all of the delicious taste sensations available. This past Saturday, Michael and I did just that--The Lawrence Food Tour, Part One of Many.

We started with lunch at Mirth CafĂ© (745 New Hampshire, themirthcafe.com). This is the type of place you would expect to find in a university town, with rustic brick walls, tables decorated with flower-filled wine bottles, and an espresso machine creating rich, dark coffee nirvana. It’s easy to imagine Bob Dylan in one corner plucking out a new tune, J. K. Rowling at a table writing Harry Potter’s comeback, a family enjoying breakfast in front of large street-side windows, and two sweethearts sharing bites of each other’s meals.

In my case, that last scenario was reality! Michael, ordered Mirth’s Big Breakfast, with two scrambled eggs, potatoes, sausage and wheat toast. (And, of course, he drenched it all in ketchup.)

I ordered the Ultimate Grilled Cheese—not an over exaggeration for its name. This is the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever tasted! Cheddar, feta and provolone cheese is melted between two slices of white or wheat bread (I had white this time) with fresh spinach leaves and a spread of pesto--hey, I think I can make this at home! I had it with a side of the house salad made with fresh baby greens, cucumbers, homemade garlic croutons, feta garlic dressing and fresh Parmesan. And of course, I ordered a latte to appease my coffee addiction. (Notice Michael's line of jellies waiting for the toast.)

Next, after spending some time (and money) in an antique mall on Massachusetts Street, we went to Brits, a quaint small shop that stocks everything British (929 Massachusetts Street, britsshop.com). I’ve always been an anglophile and I stock-up on the imported items I remember from my two trips to the UK. This time I picked up some McVitie’s Digestives biscuits (a wheat and wholemeal cross between a cookie and a cracker) and Nestle Toffee Crisp candy bars (crunchy rice puffs with caramel, covered in chocolate). I also purchased the book Full English: A Journey Through the British and Their Food by Tom Parker Bowles, the brother of Camilla Parker Bowles, otherwise known as the Duchess of Cornwall and wife of Prince Charles. I have seen Tom Parker Bowles on television a number of times and can’t wait to read his take on British cuisine.

Michael and I also made a stop at the Great Harvest Bread Company (807 Vermont), where we tasted the Italian herb bread—mmmmm! I left munching on a snickerdoodle cookie, and we took home a wonderful loaf of challah, a braided Jewish egg bread.
 
Our final food stop for the day was dinner with my soon-to-be sister and brother in-laws’ family at Bigg’s BBQ (2429 Iowa, www.biggsribs.com). It's an unassuming restaurant with the best barbecue I’ve had yet since my return to the Midwest! I ordered a smoked turkey sandwich with spicy fries on the side. The turkey was tender and filled my taste buds with just the right amount of smoke flavor. I topped the sandwich with the Bigg’s spicy barbecue sauce. (Please ignore the poor photography--I'm still learning.)

Michael had the smoked half-chicken with potato salad and baked beans. He ate it all, so it must have been good!

His sister, Lisa, had the burnt ends, which turned out to be one-inch cubes of smoked brisket with barbecue sauce. She gave me a taste, and it, too, was tender and smoky. For dessert, I had a deep-fried brownie--rich and sinfully wonderful. However, I enjoyed even more the homemade ice cream that came with the dish. It tasted like what my Mom and Dad churn for summer cookouts. Lisa’s husband, Don, is a bread pudding addict, and he ordered the white chocolate bread pudding. He said it was the best he’s ever had, and now he doesn’t want to order bread pudding anywhere else! 

Part one of the tour was such a success, I'm already looking forward to part two, once I've fully recovered from this one. I'm still full! Now I need suggestions of where to go next. So all you Kansans, let me know your favorite spots in Lawrence, Topeka, or anywhere! Until then, I think I'd better start a new exercise routine.

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