WICHITA and MANHATTAN, Kansas – I went to Kansas expecting to order beef, beef and more beef – and enjoying every bite – until a salad crowned with a steelhead trout filet threw me off track at the first restaurant I visited.
Food that originally had fins instead of hooves ended up occupying much of my trip through the landlocked heartland. I was delighted that there were chefs who would give seafood a whirl in a state 650 miles from the nearest saltwater. Here are three finds in Wichita and two in Manhattan.
It was Taste and See in Wichita that started it all. I was ready for its Big Red Burger (grilled beef with andouille sausage, red apples, red wine onion jam and Amish blue cheese) until I saw the description of the Skinny Pink, a salad.
There, in the middle of beef country, was a temptation not to be denied – a “sensual and moist steelhead filet glazed with ginger and riding a plantain hashbrown” with carrots, cucumbers, avocados and organic spinach in a Mandarin sesame vinaigrette. A sea-run trout filet salad in Kansas? My friends in the Pacific Northwest would be proud.
In fact, the whole menu at Taste and See is unexpected and geographically diverse. Venezuela-born Chef Jason Febres has been on multiple TV network food shows, and he pops out items with influences from South America, Cuba, China, Indonesia, Spain, Italy, Portugal, India and elsewhere. All that may sound overly ambitious, but it’s not.
The Anchor is the neighborhood bar and grill everyone should want within a short cab ride of home. Concrete floors, funky décor, 58 beers on tap, bartenders who know their stuff and a kitchen that’s primed for bar food.
There are wings, poutine, whole fried okra, fried pickles and more for starters. The variety of burgers will make your head spin. How about a Haystack (a beef patty piled with fries, covered in queso and served on Texas toast) or a Bratwurst Burger (a red wattle pork burger with Havarti cheese, mustard and beer-braised sauerkraut or apple relish that’s served on a pretzel bun)?
So what was my seafood salvation? I found a salmon BLT tucked among the sandwiches. It was a nice hunk of salmon flavored with bacon from the Chop Shop, a butcher shop affiliated with the restaurant, and accented with tomatoes, arugula and red onion and lemon dill aioli. I’d definitely found a bar and grill (and butcher shop) looking to please all types.
In contrast to the funkiness of the Anchor is the Larkspur Bistro and Bar. Interesting art from Phyllis Diller (yes, the comedienne had an artistic streak, too) decorates inside walls, while a patio open to the Kansas skies entices when the weather is right.
The menu is a blend of Mediterranean, French, Italian and American, and the seafood is fresh. I started with calamari and crab cakes, bypassed a tempting entrée of lamb T-bones and settled on a nicely prepared Rocky Mountain trout with caper and pine nut butter.
There’s a good beer scene in Manhattan – not a surprise in a university town – making places such as the Little Apple Brewing Company popular.
Giant steaks rule the menu (porterhouses, T-bones, ribeyes, strips and more), but the staff can suggest one of the many beers to match the Maryland crab cakes that provide an alternative to beef. Don’t let the restaurant’s strip mall location make you doubt this is an excellent dining choice. It’s been serving steaks, beer and crab cakes to the discerning since 1995.
Another big beer statement is made at the Tallgrass Tap House in Manhattan’s revitalized downtown. The main Tallgrass brewery is a few miles away (a wonderful new use for a building that used to house a Verizon call center), but there’s beer being brewed at the Tap House, too. There’s indoor seating and a rooftop deck with a view toward the Flint Hills.
While beer is definitely the main attraction – with permanent selections such as 8-Bit Pale Ale and Buffalo Sweat, an oatmeal cream stout – there’s a solid bar food menu that’s heavy on items such as classic burgers and meatloaf sandwiches. I already was a fan of the oatmeal cream stout when I found yet another Kansas piscatorial meal – a plate of fish and chips made with beer-battered Atlantic cod.