Kansas Travel Blog

Chronicling changes to KansasTravel.org and Keith's exploration & photographing Kansas restaurants, attractions, museums, festivals and art. Contact him.
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Friday - March 30, 2012: The final restaurant investigated in March was Bigg's BBQ in Lawrence. I had enjoyed their smoked meats as one of the better options at KU basketball games in Allen Fieldhouse, but this was a chance to see how good there product was when served fresh in their Iowa Street restaurant.

I settled on the $9.99 lunch combo, 3 ribs and the choice of one other meat and two sids. Unsurprisingly, the burnt ends were much better than Bigg's serves at Allen Fieldhouse. They are among the best I have had. The ribs were meaty and tender - not quite as good as the burnt ends, but still above average. The corn on the cob was just OK, but the fries were also very good. Wither made fresh, or darn near the same.

 

Biig's BBQ ribs aand burnt ends BBQ rubs & burnt ends
Wednesday - March 28, 2012: Today's lunch was a second visit to The Rub in Olathe. I am preparing to add a new review of this restaurant to the Olathe Restaurant Guide and may add it to the page devoted to unique Kansas Restaurants. Both the meats and sauces are heavily spiced and will be a treat to those who eat Kansas City BBQ often and at various restaurants.

 

Smoked meat at The Rub in Olathe, Kansas BBQ metalloid & burnt ends
Monday - March 26, 2012: I revisited Five Guys in Olathe for the first time this year. This place is no longer drawing the big crowds that it did in its first year of operation. They still go a nice job on the fresh French fries and I like the wide assortment of items which can be added to the burger at no extra charge.

But they added new self serve pop machines that weren't going over very well. Unlike the old easy to use machines, these have a touch screen that isn't intuitive and have just one dispenser. I finally figured them out and helped other customers, but I could see someone disliking them enough that they might not return.
 

 

 
Saturday - March 24, 2012: Mary and Linda joined me in checking out El Porton Cafe in Overland Park. The small South American and Caribbean restaurant is run by the same people who had a great little Central American restaurant in downtown Kansas City, Kansas. The restaurant operated under three names: Cafe Venezuela to Cafe Colao to Rice and Beans Cafe.

This meal was very good, from the arepas & empanadas we had as appetizers to the carne asada and pollo adobado entrees, the food was all good. I need to return to this restaurant soon.

 

El Porton Cafe in Overland Park   El Porton Cafe
Friday - March 23, 2012: I am sorry to report that Taste restaurant has closed in Overland Park. But glad to hear that a Peanut is going that space. We are already regulars at the Peanut location in far south Overland Park.

Linda and I had supper at Happy Banzai, a Japanese Steakhouse in Shawnee. The performance at the teppanyaki style grill was typical of other area restaurant, though the chef did have one trick that we hadn't seen before. The food was fine, near outstanding or poor. The prices are very reasonable. Several dollars cheaper than competing local restaurants.

 

 
Tuesday - March 20, 2012: Linda and I paid a visit to The Rub in Olathe. We had mixed impressions of the place when it first opened, but it seems like it has been in place long enough to have established itself.

I was blown away by the food. The smoking and dry rub add a lot of flavor to the meats. These may not be for everyone, but if you like a lot of flavor in your meat, The Rub is the place to go. The burnt ends were as good as I have ever had, the ribs were about average, and the smoked meat loaf is a nice alternative. The cheesy corn didn't do much for me, but the fresh cut fires and onion straws were very good.

Linda likes milder flavors and wasn't as excited with this meal as I was, but I will be back soon!

 

 
Saturday - March 17, 2012: Today I checked out to Topeka, Kansas restaurants. The first was brand new to me - The Shack near the Lake Shawnee Dam. I had heard good things about their burgers and onion rings, but found them to be just average. The onion rings were cooked from frozen, and while I can understand people enjoying them, they were not special. The burger was also ordinary. They didn't ask how I liked it cooked or offer anything to make them stand out - such as grilling the onions.

Don't get me wrong. There was nothing wrong with the food, but the menu is short and the items I tried are not worth driving out of your way.

My second meal was a revisit of a more impressive neighborhood joint. Specks Bar and Grill began as the Seabrook Tavern in 1957. It has changed hands a few times, but is now operated by the daughter of the original owners. This was St. Patrick's Day and they brought a small free serving of corned beef and cabbage, which wasn't bad. 

But the standbys are much better. Speck's Bomber hot dog is an all beef hot dog on a bun, smothers in swiss cheese, jalapeno peppers, sauerkraut and onions. It is a great, messy sandwich, available in a quarter pound for $4.39 or a half pound for $8.79.

 


The Shack restaurant - Topeka, Kansas
The Shack
 
 

Speck's Bomber hot dog - Topeka, Kansas Speck's 1/4 pound Bomber hot dog

Friday - March 16, 2012: I had been very impressed with the meal we had a month ago at Joy Wok in Overland Park. The weekend Chinese seafood buffet and been very good. But it seems to have been a fluke. Dishes that were very good last time were cold or otherwise disappointing this time. I will probably give this restaurant one more try in the next few months, but I no longer feel compelled to hurry and add it to the Overland Park Restaurant Guide.

 

Joy Wok restaurant in Overland Park, Kansas Joy Wok
Thursday - March 15, 2012: We revisited Free State Brewing Company in Lawrence for the firs time in nearly 3 years. I really like this restaurant, but several times when we tried to dine here, the waits were an hour to 90 minutes. The last time we tried, Free State was closed for the staff Christmas Party.

I love the menu at Free State. It is creative, interesting and makes the dishes sound great. Linda and fish & chips, which is only $8.95, while I had the bourbon Barrel strip steak for $18.95. I usually order my steak medium rare, hoping to get a medium. More often than not, it is even more done, but the steak at Free State was a true medium rare.

 

Free State Brewing Company steak - Lawrence, Kansas Bourbon barrel strip steak
 
Tuesday - March 13, 2012: Our flights back to the US were uneventful. We changed planes in Chicago and arrived in Kansas City to find that it was 80 degrees in the early evening. In March!

 

 
Monday - March 12, 2012: We had a leisurely morning in our hotel before leaving for the Milan airport. Actually it ws too leisurely. I didn't allow enough time for travel to the airport. We arrived in time to board our plane, but it was too late to check baggage on the EasyJet flight. 

In the grand scheme of things it wasn't that big a deal. I paid the penalty and we took a flight a couple of hours later, but it was stressful at the time.

With our arriving at Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport on Monday and flying out the next morning, I had booked a hotel in the airport - the Ibis Paris CDG Terminal hotel. We were able to walk to the hotel from baggage pickup. The Ibis finally broke our pattern of each hotel getting nicer than the one before. It was clean and fine, but the room was tiny. So small that you couldn't sit straight on the toilet.

After freshening up, we walked back downstairs and only about 50 yards to the train station where we caught the RER B suburban city train into Paris.

We spent the evening exploring the 5th Arrondissement, also known as the Latin Quarter. I had liked what I had seen of this area on previous visits, Rather a major meal, we snacked - first on crepes from a sidewalk creperie, then fondue at the Flagrant Delice. 

We found a couple of interesting churches. One was closed, but the Église Saint-Séverin (Church of Saint-Séverin) was open. It was a little past sundown and their were few lights, but the interior of this church was gorgeous. The sound of singing from a service being conducted in a side chapel added to the wonderful atmosphere.

We finally walked along the bank of the La Seine and repeated the river cruise from our previous trip to Paris.

It was getting late and we caught one of the last trains back to the airport. Well, most of the way to the airport. It turned out that due to construction, the late night trains do not go all the way and you transfer to a shuttle bus for the last of the route.

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

fondue at the Flagrant Delice - Paris, France fondue at the Flagrant Delice
 

Church of Saint-SÚverin - Paris, France Church of Saint-Séverin

Sunday - March 11, 2012: We started the day with a "Best of Milan Tour" which concluded with a viewing of the Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci. The tour mostly covered ground that we had visited yesterday, but it included the Last Supper in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Only a limited umber of people can see the Last Supper and tickets sell out well in advance.

We also toured the National Museum of Science and Technology "Leonardo da Vinci," with its great section devoted to Leonardo's inventions. There are many of his sketches and models of his inventions.

In the evening, we went to La Rinascente, one of Milan's most prestigious department stores. It was right next to the Duomo and we enjoyed drinks and snacks on the rooftop bar facing the cathedral. It was a bit cool, but we were under a blank, sharing a love seat. It was a lovely time.

 

Santa Maria delle Grazie - Milan, Italy Santa Maria delle Grazie
 

La Rinascente - Milan, Itlay La Rinascente rooftop bar

Saturday - March 10, 2012: Before leaving Verona, we had enough time to visit the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio. The restored medieval castle houses the municipal art museum and it attached to an attractive restored medieval bridge. We could only see the bridge from a distance, because they were filming a scene for the movie Romeo & Juliet.

We continued by train and arrived in Milan, Italy a little after noon. For the first time during the trip, we did not stay at a central location, but stayed at a suburban hotel. The Acca Palace had a good reputation anc was only 100 yards from a Metro stop. It was the most expensive place we stayed during the trip and we had the largest room that I have had in Europe.

We spent the afternoon and evening near the Piazza del Duomo, visiting the Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral), Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and the the Castello Sforzesco (Sforza Castle).

The highlight of this day was the roof of the Duomo di Milano

We had a great supper at the Al Conte Ugolino, a seafood restaurant in the Hotel Nuovo, near the Piazza.

 

Filming Romeo and Juliet in Verona, Italy Filming Romeo & Juliet
 
 

roof of the Duomo di Milano - Milan, Italy Linda on the roof of the Duomo di Milano

Friday - March 9, 2012: This morning we traveled to Verona, Italy by train. It was about 80 miles and took less than an hour and half with several stops along the way. We are staying at the Hotel Milano, which was located just a few dozen feet from the Roman amphitheater. I think I would have been very happy with the Hotel Milano during a different year, but they were doing major construction and I wish I had stayed somewhere else. In addition to the other annoyances, there was no wifi and I was unable to research the next part of our trip.

Still, the location was great and we walked to many attractions including the Verona Arena, Church of St. Fermo, Casa di Giulietta (Juliet's House), the Piazza delle Erbe, Church of Santa Anastasia, and the Teatro Romano (Roman Theater) & Museo Archeologico (Archaeological Museum).

The Verona Arena is a Roman amphitheater which was was completed in 30 AD. It is the third largest in Italy.

The Roman Theatre Archaeological Museum was one of the best finds on our whole trip. The combination of the hillside, Roman ruins and setting sun were beautiful.

At lunch, I tried horse meat for the first time. It is a typical meat in Verona. The meat had a distinct taste that I have a hard time describing - there was a slightly musty taste, like some stronger cheeses have.

 

Verona Arena is a Roman amphitheater  1st century Verona Arena
 

Chiesa di Santa Anastasia - Verona, Italy Chiesa di Santa Anastasia

Thursday - March 8, 2012: This is our last full day in Venice and we used it to do many of the things we hadn't found time for up until now. We visited the Rialto Markets,  the Ancient Jewish Ghetto of Venice, Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, and Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.

We finished the day with a Gondola Ride and more exploration of the region near our hotel.

 

Sestiere Castello waterfront - Venice, Italy  Sestiere Castello waterfront
Wednesday - March 7, 2012: We started the day with the Secret Itinerary through the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale) and went on to explore much of the area around San Marco, including the Campanile and the Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco.

Today's lunch was at the abcQuadri, the cafe operated by the one star Michelin restaurant, Ristorante Quadri. 

Supper was at Osteria Ae Sconte. At the time I researched Osteria Ae Sconte, it was ranked #1 out of nearly 800 restaurants listed in Venice (It is currently #20). It was a very nice meal, followed by a walk to the Rialto Bridge.

 

Rialto Bridge - Venice, Italy Rialto Bridge
Tuesday - March 6, 2012: We spent most of today on Murano island, which has been the home of Venice's glass making industry since 1291.

In the evening we had a spectacular meal at the Ristorante A Beccafico, followed by a chamber music concert by concert by Interpreti Veneziani in the former Chiesa di San Vidal (Church of St. Vitalis) . The concert included Le Quattro Stagioni and Concerto for viola, cello, strings and harpsichord RV. 531 by Vivaldi, and Concerto Grosso for 2 violins, cello, strings and harpsichord op. 6 n. 12 by Arcangelo Corelli. Vivaldi was from Venice.

 

Ristorante A Beccafico - Venice, Italy Ristorante A Beccafico on Campo Santo Stefano
Monday - March 5, 2012: We flew on to Venice, Italy and are checked into the Hotel Campiello, which located on a quiet alleyway just two bridges east of Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square). We explored the Sestiere di Castello area of Venice this afternoon.

Review and a link to the Venice portion of the trip report.

 

Vaporetto - Venice, Italy Vaporetto pulling into San Zaccaria
Sunday - March 4, 2012: Our flight arrived in Madrid, Spain about 10AM CET, or about eight and a half hours after our departure. We are staying at the Hostal Bruña, a small family run hotel with a great location, just across from the Prado and within walking distance of the old parts of Madrid.

We filled the balance of the day with tons of walking, exploring a park, two museums, the Real Jardín Botanico de Madrid (Royal Botanical Garden) and downtown Madrid. We concluded the day with tapas at a couple of bars.

Review and a link to the Madrid portion of the trip report.

 

CafÚ Vergara - Madrid, Spain Café Vergara
Saturday - March 3, 2012: Linda and I are off to Europe on a photography trip for keith-stokes.artistwebsites.com.

During our layover in Dallas, we found a very nice restaurant in Terminal A. A restaurant where we will eat again on future trips - Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen. Linda had fried catfish and shrimp with a large, loaded baked potato. It was a great meal for $22.68. I had an $8.99 crawfish bisque and $15.99 fried oysters and French fries. Though the serving was large, I thought the bisque was a little pricey. Otherwise, the meal was reasonable for the nice restaurant they were served in.

Pappadeaux is located down its own escalator and has a large attractive space. It does not feel like an airport restaurant. Here is our review and a link to the start of my trip report.

 

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen - DFW Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen 
Thursday - March 1, 2012: We paid a third visit to the new Sweet Siam Thai restaurant in Lenexa. I continue to be impressed with the food and value.

The lunch menu provides several entrees for $7 combined with the choice of coconut soup or side salad with ginger dressing. The dressing was good, but not as impressive as the dressing at Pho 2 in Olathe. I liked the Pad Prik (lean slices of meat with red & green bell peppers, onions, garlic and straw mushrooms in a spicy hot pepper sauce), but would have liked it to have been a bit spicier. 

 

Sweet Siam - Lenexa, Kansas
Wednesday - February 29, 2012: I had recently learned that La Bodega is offering an unlimited tapas bar from 11AM - 2PM for $12 including beverage. That sounded like a great option, and today I hurried to the Leawood location to check it out. It has obviously been popular and the dinning room was packed for noon.

Sadly, the hot foods were not very hot and the staff was not doing a good job of replacing items as they ran out. Overall, the food looked better than it tasted. It wasn't bad, but I wouldn't try the tapas bar again. This was my third visit to this location and I think that the original Kansas City, Missouri location turns out higher quality food in a more fun atmosphere.

 

LaBodega Tapas Bar - Leawood, Kansas La Bodega Tapas Bar
Tuesday - February 28, 2012: We revisited McGuire's Tavern in Overland Park, Kansas. Many of the tables were set aside for poker that would be played later in the day, but we managed to find a high top table in the corner. 

The menu at this fairly new neighborhood bar & grill is still quite limited, but they are doing a fairly good job on the dishes they are putting out. The fish in the fish & chips ($9.99) was average, pre breaded frozen, but the optional house made sliced potatoes were better. The 12 ounce KC Strip ($16.99) was cooked exactly as ordered and came with toast, vegetables and the choice of mashed potatoes, French fries or sweet potato fries. The steak and fresh made mashed potatoes were both quite good.

 

Fish and chips at McGuires Tavern in Overland Park, Kansas McGuire's fish & chips
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