Kansas Travel Blog

Chronicling changes to KansasTravel.org and Keith Stokes' adventures while exploring and photographing Kansas restaurants, attractions, museums, festivals and art. Contact Keith at sfreader@sff.net.

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Stoltenberg Christmas Light Program - Lawrence, Kansas
Friday - December 31, 2010: The final meal of the year was at Blue Nile Cafe, an Ethiopian restaurant in Overland Park. The original Blue Nile Cafe has operated in Kansas City, Missouri's City Market for many years, but this location opened just a few weeks ago. I was the only person present until about noon when I was leaving.

The Blue Nile has a weekday lunch buffet and it gave me a chance to sample many dishes, including Gomen (collard greens cooked and seasoned with onion, ginger, and garlic), Atiklett (cabbage mixed with chunks of potatoes and carrot cooked with yellow onion and flavored with ginger, garlic, and turmeric), Doro Watt (skinless chicken breast marinated in lemon, sautéed in herbed butter and stewed in a red pepper sauce flavored with a pinch of cardamom and nutmeg) and some dishes which are not on the menu.

My favorite dish was the Mushroom Shiro (roasted and powdered chickpeas and sliced mushroom simmered in spiced red sauce).

Forks were available, but Ethiopian food is not meant to be eaten with silverware. Instead, the food is picked up with strips of injera, a flat, spongy, sour bread. I was turned off by the sour taste of the injera in the past, but it has been a few years and either my taste has changed or the Blue Nile has changed the bread. I still would rather use a fork, but I no longer dislike the bread.

Before leaving the neighborhood, I revisited the Kolache Factory. Sampling apple, cherry and sausage kolaches (Eastern European filled pastries). The fruit kolaches look a bit like a Danish, but the meat kolaches had the filling completely hidden by the dough. I didn't dislike the kolaches, but liked the dough much more than the fillings.

 

Blue Nile Cafe - Overland Park, Kansas Blue Nile Cafe
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Kolache Factory in Overland Park, Kansas The Kolache Factory

Tuesday - December 28, 2010: Three friends joined me this evening for an overdue exploration of Park Place, a mixed used community in Leawood, Kansas. I had driven past the back of Park Place many times on Nall Avenue north of Leawood Town Center where it just looks like a hotel and parking garage.

But the other side of that parking garage is a nice two block street lined with retail stores and several trendy restaurants. There were empty parking spots along that street, but they were all marked with a 30 minute maximum. We did catch a spot opening up in a parking lot just east of the retail stores.

We walked past the outdoor ice skating rink along the busy street to the fairly recently opened Cafe Roux. The fairly small restaurant felt warm and comfortable, with art from a nearby gallery gracing the walls. The service was friendly and prompt.

We began our meal with southern fried dill pickles - large length sliced pickles which had been beer battered and were served with a delicious cracked pepper buttermilk dressing. The $7 serving was large enough for the four of to each have several pickles and they were a big hit with three of us.

Our four main dishes ranged from $16 to $22 and were generous enough, but not the too big servings that many restaurants serve to day. The most expensive dish was the blackened flat iron steak which was served with a root vegetable gratin and Worcestershire sauce. I didn't really care for the strong spice (rosemary?) which was the predominant flavor of the meat.

The braised baby back ribs were basted in a Carolina BBQ sauce that appealed more. It was served with russet fries and Cajun slaw. The fries were quite good and I was tempted to eat more of them than I should.

The other to entrees were pan roasted trout and pan seared red fish. The redfish came with sweet corn cakes in a caramelized onion and sage cream.

We followed diner with a walk past other businesses, window shopping at Picasso Exotic Aquatics which will open soon. Dessert was at Paciugo Gelato next to the ice rink. Paciugo is a small Texas based chain which began in 2000. It has two locations in Johnson County. They make it easy to try several flavors of authentic Italian gelato in a small or medium sized cup. The peanut chocolate chip was the most popular flavor tried.

 

Park Place ice rink Ice at Park Place

Cafe Roux - Leawood, KansasCafe Roux
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Paciugo Gelato - Leawood, Kansas Paciugo Gelato

Friday - December 25, 2010: Following a visit with family for Christmas, we checked out a Topeka Christmas light display which we had noticed near the Kansas Turnpike. It took a little wondering, but we located a fair large display on a huge lot a 21st Street and Croco Road. The display is very impressive, but hard to see with many trees along the fence line. Topeka Kansas Christmas display Topeka Christmas display
Thursday - December 23, 2010: Friends joined me to revisit Garozzo's Ristorante in Overland Park, Kansas, which I hadn't been to in over two years. The stuffed artichoke filled with Modiga Italian bread crumbs and served in a garlic lemon butter sauce was a big hit! We chose the version with miniature shrimp for $10.25.

We added salmon to the $15 fettuccini Alfio (served in parmesan, butter, and cream sauce) for $5 and it was a large serving of very tasty fish. The $5 portion of shrimp added to the capelli d’Angelo (Angel hair pasta tossed in a fresh crushed tomato sauce with garlic, fresh basil, olive oil topped with Romano cheese for 16) was also generous.

Garozzo's is known for chicken spiedini (chicken breasts marinated in Amogio, rolled in Modiga Italian bread crumbs, skewered, and char broiled) and we tried two of them. Linda had the spiedini alla Georgio which came with fresh crushed tomato sauce and sautéed fresh spinach over angel hair pasta topped with Romano cheese for $19.

I used to always get the spiedini Gabriella which comes with a spicy red Diablo sauce, but this time I tried the spiedini alla Atkins diet which came with Alfredo sauce, prosciutto ham, spinach, and artichoke hearts for $20. It was also good and, assuming that it really is lower in carbs, is probably what I will have in the future.

 

Garozzo's Ristorante in Overland Park, Kansas Garozzo's Ristorante
Saturday - December 18, 2010: We drove to Lawrence, Kansas this evening to check some more Christmas Light Displays for consideration on the Lawrence Christmas Light Tour. But first we checked out 
Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse on Massachusetts Street. It had been several years since I had been to Bob's BBQ, but I had been fairly impressed with the food on my last visit.

This time was not as good - not bad, but nothing special. Though I will grant that they give you a lot of food for the money. The best items sampled were the onion rings and apple fritters. 

We went on to visit several households which were on a recently assemble map of Lawrence Christmas light displays. We stopped after visiting 4 of them. They were neither better or worse than the neighboring light displays. We couldn't decide why they would have been offered as worthy of singling out for consideration.

Before leaving Lawrence, we also went by one home whose owner had contacted us directly. The display was attractive, but not something I would feel comfortable telling people to drive out of their way to see.

 

Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse - Lawrence, Kansas Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse
Thursday - December 16, 2010: We revisited two Johnson County restaurants today - My Big Fat Greek Restaurant in Olathe and Waxy O'Shea's Irish Pub in Shawnee. 

The gyro wrap sandwich turned out to be a traditional style gyro rather than a "wrap." It was a generous size, but really could have used more tzatziki sauce. It came with the choice of fries or a Greek salad for $9. The fries were ordinary shoestrings. The $13 chicken souvlaki dinner was also large for lunch. The chicken flavor came mainly from the grilling and I couldn't detect the marinade at all. The best part of the meal was the lemon roasted potatoes.

The dessert menu has not been printed yet and the server didn't really describe the items offered. The baklava turned out to have thick layers and the only flavor was cinnamon.

I don't care for My Big Fat Greek Restaurant's web site. It requires a huge flash download to give any info besides a list of the chain's locations. Once you do download the flash, the menu does not list the prices.

We were much happier supper at Waxy O'Shea's Irish Pub. The seafood boxty (fresh shrimp & scallops mixed with peppers & onions in a boxty pancake and toped with a smokey cream sauce) was huge and very good. The corned beef and cabbage cam with a delicious mustard tarragon cream sauce. The fish and chips were good, but not a standout.

 


 

chicken souvlaki dinner - My Big Fat Greek Restaurant chicken souvlaki dinner
 
 
 

Waxy O'Shea's Irish Pub - Shawnee, Kansas Waxy O'Shea's Irish Pub

Saturday - December 11, 2010: We were guests in the KCTV5 suite at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri for the University of Kansas versus Colorado State men's basketball game. Admission to the suite included access to the Founder's Club with its private bars and snack bars. It was nice having comfortable, center court seats.

 

Friday - December 10, 2010: Four friends joined me for supper at the Brick Oven Courtyard Grille in Topeka, Kansas. The building is very attractive and I was happy with the service, up until we were finished. It took a good 20 minutes to get the server to being our check and to pay.

The pork spare ribs and ribeye steak were very good and I liked the onion strings which came with some the meats. But all of the sides sampled (French fries, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, baby red cheese bake, fire roasted asparagus) sounded much better than they tasted. Most of the dishes ran $23-28, but the Carolina pulled pork and spare ribs was a bargain at $14.

They we went on my annual scouting for the Topeka Christmas Display Tour. My friends drove, navigated and took notes as I jumped in and out of the car photographing Christmas lights. Every one that had been up last year was still up and still worth visiting. There were several other displays which had either contacted me or I had found through research. One of those was not turned on, but all the others have been added to my tour.

There were a couple of really interesting ones. The Kenny and Virginia Kingman Christmas Display in northern Topeka even exceeds the famous display on Falmouth Street in Prairie Village.

Topeka Bible Church has a sound and light program with the music broadcast on low power FM. For most of the Christmas season, the music is a recorded. But this weekend they had live musicians in the windows of the building used for the light show. I give them high marks for concept and the managing of getting cars parked before the show & out afterward. They also did a nice job on the music. But they could use some creative help on making story and songs work together, as well as making the lights more interesting.

There are a lot of good displays in Topeka. We checked houses until 10:30 PM and still had several didn't reach.

 

Brick Oven Courtyard Grille - Topeka, Kansas Brick Oven Courtyard Grille
 

.Kenny and Virginia Kingman Christmas Display - Topeka, Kansas Kenny and Virginia Kingman Christmas Display

Topeka Bible Church - Topeka, Kansas Topeka Bible Church

Wednesday - December 8, 2010: I tried the new My Big Fat Greek Restaurant in Olathe, Kansas. This is the third Greek restaurant in Olathe and the first location in Kansas for this Arizona chain..

The Greek salad was very good, but I thought the spicy chicken sandwich was a bit dry and tough. My Big Fat Greek Restaurant has the same menu at lunch and dinner, which makes it rather pricey for lunch.

 

My Big Fat Greek Restaurant - Olathe, Kansas My Big Fat Greek Restaurant
Sunday - December 5, 2010: Lunch was at Paulo and Bill's Restaurant in Shawnee, Kansas. This restaurant is very attractive, but I don't think the food is quite good enough to justify the price. Today we had the Sunday Buffet and much of the food was not hot.

We had an early supper at El Pulgarcito Restaurant in Merriam, Kansas. I had not been to the Salvadoran restaurant in nearly a year and was pleased to discover that they had expanded the size of their dining room and slightly improved the existing space.

The pollo en crema (chicken in a cream sauce) was still good. I really liked my pork and pork & cheese pupusas with curtido (pickled cabbage salad). It was a lot of good food at a reasonable price.

Then we began 4 solid hours of checking on holiday displays to update the Johnson County Christmas Light Tour. The first stop was Mike Babick's famous Falmouth Christmas Display - the most popular single Christmas display in Kansas. It gets so much traffic, that Falmouth is turned into a one way road during the Christmas season.

I was pleased to discover that all of the displays which were on the tour in 2009 were back up for 2010 including G-Town Christmas in Gardner. G-Town is an animated sound and light program which has added a neat new spiral Christmas Tree.

There were also several new Christmas displays. In 2009, there was only one display on the tour west of I-35, but there were nice new displays in Shawnee and Lenexa.

 


 

El Pulgarcito Restaurant - Merriam, Kansas El Pulgarcito Restaurant
 

G-Town Christmas - Gardner, Kansas G-Town Christmas

Evans Christmas Display - Lenexa, Kansas Evans Christmas Display

Friday - December 3, 2010: We returned to Lawrence on Friday night. This night we made sure that supper was quicker and settled for Bigg's BBQ, which I hadn't been to in at least as many years as Pachamama's. I recently had Bigg's burnt ends at Allen Fieldhouse and decided they were worth a wider sampling. Two friends joined us for this visit.

The chicken at Bigg's was very good, but I didn't think that the ribs or sausage had any flavor from the smoking. The cheesy corn was great and the fresh cut fries and onion brick were pretty good. This meal for the 4 of us cost much less than the previous night's meal for 2.

Then we hit the remaining Christmas displays in Lawrence and Eudora. We were disappointed to learn that two of the more impressive Christmas displays from 2009 are not up this year. A third display by the Stoltenberg moved to a new location on the east side of town. The Stoltenberg's animated sound and light program is quite well done. There was another neat display, just up the street from the Stoltenberg's. It had a second nice display in the back yard, which was visible from the next street.

We added two new displays and eliminated three that are no more, so the tour stays about the same length. Back home, I worked until the wee hours updating the Lawrence Kansas Christmas Light Tour.

 

Bigg's BBQ - Lawrence, Kansas Bigg's BBQ
 
 
 

Stoltenberg Christmas Light Program - Lawrence, Kansas Stoltenberg Christmas Light Program

Thursday - December 2, 2010: We drove to Lawrence, Kansas to check holiday light displays and update our Christmas Light Tour of Lawrence. But first we went to supper at a place where I have been meaning to dine for a coupe of years.

Pachamama's is an upscale restaurant which used to have a beautiful building and view. Four years ago it moved to a homely building with huge windows, flush on a downtown sidewalk. It took a few years before willing to eat at this new location for these kind of prices.

We began with two small plates: crispy crab roll with greens, toasted almonds, and sweet chile aioli; and a camembery with brown butter-apple conserve, maple-candied pecans, and toasted baguette. The crab roll was my favorite item in the meal.

Linda had macadamia crusted barramundi with shrimp risotto, green curried mango, and cinnamon sweet pepper sauce, while I had a mixed grill of lamb, strip steak and shrimp. Each of my meats was served atop another item. The lamb was on mint sweet potato, the steak on garlic mashed potatoes and the shrimp was on a couscous. The potatoes were great, but there was way too much mint in the sweet potato - The little bit that stuck to the lamb spoiled the taste for me. 

The meal came to $85 before tip.

 


 
 

Pachamama's restaurant - Lawrence, Kansas Pachamama's

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