Merriam, KS - 2,186 miles
It's a good thing that my doctor isn't along for this ride. America's heartland hasn't confronted me with much traffic on its highways, but it's clogging my arteries.
Lunch yesterday was at Al's Chickenette in Hays, Kansas. It's famous for its fried chicken. So of course, that's what I had. The place looks great, old neon, been there forever, but alas, the chicken was pretty bland. Nicely cooked but without much flavor.
Dinner was a big salad that might have been somewhat healthful if it hadn't come loaded with bacon bits and cheese and a dressing called "Italian" that was rendered from something very fatty. None of which was mentioned on the menu. I ate it though.
So today, having failed to eat great fried chicken yesterday, I went to Stroud's in Kansas City. I've been there before, to their old location which was a truly wonderful old-fashioned roadhouse. It has closed down, and the remaining location is a sort of sprawling antebellum style manse in the far north of the city. The chicken was good though, although I fear my enjoyment of fried chicken has forever been tainted by having had what is inarguably the finest fried chicken in the known universe - that which is to be found on Soi Polo in Bangkok. But Stroud's is about as good as it gets outside of Bangkok - and, well, Ibu Nyanti's in Central Java where fried chicken was reputedly invented. I was hoping to photograph the kitchen - where a line of 20 or more cooks stand at stoves, each with two large, cast iron frying pans in their hands. But in this fancier set up, the kitchen is off limits. Oh well.
In the morning I stopped off at The Raven bookstore in Lawrence. It's a really great store and downtown Lawrence is just what you would want from a midwestern university town. Beautifully kept up buildings dating from about 1910 to 1940, and nary a national or international chain store in sight. There's a thriving, local, independent business community. It's the kind of place where, sometimes, I wish I'd be happy living. But I'm pretty sure I need a much bigger city to avoid insanity.
My event in the afternoon was at I Love A Mystery in Mission, Kansas. It's another really fantastic, large, comfortable store. There weren't many people who showed up, but I had a good time talking with the people who did and the people who worked there. There were a lot of questions about Asia in general.
So then I went to the downtown Kansas City Hereford House for dinner. By most lights, it's the place to go in KC for steak, and KC is supposedly the place to go for steak.
Well, sorry Ashley, no. It was good, but nothing great. The KC Strip is a fine cut of beef, but it doesn't come close to the Cattleman's Cut that one can find at the Sutton County Steakhouse in Sonora, Texas. Now that is the second finest piece of beef I've ever eaten. (The finest was three small bites of top grade Kobe beef at a ludicrously expensive Japanese restaurant.) I ordered the KC Strip in the recommended manor - covered with melted blue cheese and cracked black peppercorns. That was interesting, but the steak didn't have enough flavor of its own to stand up to it.
Afterward I took my hardening arteries over to 18th & Vine, the historic jazz district of Kansas City, which in the '20s, '30s and into the '40s was among the hottest hot spots in the country. They've been trying to restore some of it's former glory, but it's not quite taking. Still, there are some good places that seem to be doing okay. The National Jazz Museum is there, attached to the Negro Baseball Leagues Museum, across the street from the Gem Theater. The Blue Room jazz club is attached to the museum and it's a fun place for drinks and some good tunes, which tonight were provided by Ida McBeth, a local singing sensation.
I took surface streets back to the hotel. I didn't realize KC had such a large Mexican population. I passed a good assortment of taco trucks and taquerias and dance clubs.
Kansas City is a city I'd like to spend more time exploring. It has some truly great architecture, both historic and modern; supposedly has some great art museums; and I still need to consume a bucket of burnt ends - the local bbq specialty - but I don't think I'm going to get a chance before I need to leave tomorrow morning. Somehow bbq, unlike, say, cold pizza, just doesn't seem like breakfast food, as much as I might cherish the chance to further abuse my cholesterol level.