The Dish on Kansas' Food Scene
Farm-to-table. Fried chicken. Barbecue. Doughnuts. While those items have recently topped foodies' trend charts, Kansas has been nailing these hot culinary categories for decades.
2 BBQ Meccas
Kansas City crowns itself as the Barbecue Capital of the World for having more than 100 places to savor slow-roasted meat in the metro area. Hungry visitors line up outside a former gas station to try the signature Z-Man brisket sandwich at Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Q. In a small house-turned-restaurant, Woodyard Bar-B-Que lists chili topped with burnt ends among its specialties. Black linen napkins set the tone for a classy night of pit-smoked 'cue at Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue in the suburb of Overland Park. Also in Overland Park, Q39 (opening spring 2017) serves a burger of brisket topped with sliced burnt ends and spicy pickle slaw.
Woodyard Bar-B-Que, Kansas City. Photo: Nate Luke
With more than 30 barbecue restaurants in Wichita, the intoxicating smell of meat cooking over smoldering wood is never too far away. Seasoned with 14 spices, the spareribs at Bite Me BBQ cook 16 hours for juicy, fall-off-the-bone tenderness. When Pigs Fly BBQ cuts a chicken in half, rubs on a homemade blend of seasonings and smokes it over pecan wood. Barbecue championship ribbons and trophies cover the walls at Pig In Pig Out BBQ, home to some of the state's most succulent pulled pork, ribs and brisket. Try a variety of their meats by ordering a few sliders.
Bite Me BBQ, Wichita. Photo: Ryan Donnell
4 Doughnut Gems
Varsity Donuts, Manhattan Kansas State students line up for Bacon Bomb fritters at the bakery's food truck, open until 2:30 a.m. on weekends. The younger crowd opts for the Fruity Pebbles flavor as well as one decorated to resemble Cookie Monster.
Varsity Donuts, Manhattan. Photo: Blaine Moats
Druber's Donut Shop, Newton Chocolate frosting and homemade peanut butter icing cover the wildly popular Peanut Butter Roll, a twisted raised doughnut.
Hurts Donut, Wichita For around-the-clock cravings, this 24-hour bakery serves more than 70 doughnut varieties, some topped with pretzels or strawberries and others iced with brightly colored designs of mermaids and campfires.
John's Space Age Donuts, Overland Park Savor a cinnamon-infused apple fritter while on one of the swivel stools in this classic joint (celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017).
Chefs around the state take full advantage of Great Plains farms and gardens for their seasonal dishes. Known for U-pick blackberries, Elderslie Farm near Valley Center serves beautifully plated entrees like short ribs in a balsamic-red wine reduction during its farm-to-table dinners. In an 1870s home in the shadow of the Capitol in Topeka, RowHouse Restaurant chef Greg Fox crafts berry-poached apple and kohlrabi salad using ingredients from the on-site garden.
Harvest Kitchen and Bar in Wichita sources beef from Creekstone Farms (50 miles south) and white cheddar from Jason Wiebe Dairy (65 miles north) to create its Angus burgers. Goat cheese from Goddard Farm fills pasta served with lamb sausage and fresh herbs at 715, a European-style bistro in Lawrence. At Renée Kelly's Harvest (inside a Shawnee home resembling a European castle), Renée Kelly pan-sears duck breast and serves it with potatoes fried in duck fat.
715, Lawrence. Photo: Blaine Moats
5 Fried Chicken Classics
Chicken Mary's, Pittsburg Mary Zerngast started serving tender fried chicken to customers in her kitchen in 1942. It's one of six long-standing fried-chicken restaurants in Crawford County.
Chicken Annie's Original, Pittsburg Down the street from Chicken Mary's, this restaurant also has humble beginnings: Annie Pichler turned her living room into a dining area in 1934 after a coal mine accident disabled her husband.
Chicken Annie's. Photo: Bob Stefko
Hays House, Council Grove One of the oldest continuously operating eating establishments west of the Mississippi River (it opened in 1857) fries chicken to a golden brown in cast-iron skillets.
Al's Chickenette, Hays Visitors travel many miles to binge on crispy chicken and silky mashed potatoes at this diner sporting its 1949 neon signage. Other popular menu items include chicken-fried steak and fried catfish.
Brookville Hotel, Abilene For 147 years, heaping platters of chicken fried in lard have remained the main attraction of family-style dinners that come with a side of homemade sweet-and-sour coleslaw.