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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Tioga Suites - Chanute, Kansas
Friday - October 5, 2012: This weekend, we stayed at the Tioga Suites in Chanute. The 6 story, 1929 hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

I can see this hotel getting widely different responses. The old building is pretty cool and they have done a fairly good job of enlarging the rooms and making them comfortable. On the other hand, you have to make plenty of allowances for the age of the place (for example the bathroom facilities) and it is hard to avoid the noise from other rooms. The city of Chanute plays music on speakers mounted on the light poles on the street. The music plays from 8AM to 10PM and could not be ignored in our room.

We had supper at Giovanni's Restaurant, which is owned by and attached to the hotel. The menu was was fairly limited. The service was poor. The server ignored us for fairly long periods and appeared to be texting. She also forgot to bring the appetizer which I ordered. 

The food was fairly good. Baked salmon, ziti with chicken, and the 1/2 pound Giovanni burger were all good and reasonably priced. The ribbon potatoes were great house made potato chips.


Tioga Suites - Chanute, Kansas Tioga Suites

Giovanni's Restaurant - Chanute, Kansas Giovanni's Restaurant

Saturday - October 6, 2012: Staying at Tioga Suites includes a $5 credit for breakfast at Giovanni's Restaurant. The service was a bit better this morning, but the food wasn't as good.

Before leaving town, I visited the nearby Cardinal Drug Store to photograph the old fashioned soda fountain. On the way back to the hotel, I discovered that a 30' globe is painted in the middle of the intersection of Main and Lincoln. There is also a Google logo.

Googling the intersection later in the day, I learned that when the Macintosh version of Google Earth starts up, the default position is this intersection in downtown Chanute, Kansas. It turns out that Chanute is the hometown of Dan Webb, who was the software engineer responsible for deciding the center of Google Earth. Similarly, Lawrence, Kansas is the hometown of Brian McClendon, who grew up in Lawrence, and had already positioned the Windows version of Google Earth on Lawrence.

We went on over to Homecoming in Fredonia. It is an annual community event and many former residents return every year. The streets of the main square were lined with food & craft booths and a carnival. There was a parade, but it was mainly interesting to people from the town. About half of the entries were floats with members of various graduating classes from over the years.

The good part of Homecoming was seeing members of my wife's family. Both of her parents came from Fredonia and there were many family members who still live there or returned for the weekend. We must have run into 20 people we knew.

My father and mother in law joined us for supper at the Stockyard Restaurant which is located in the Livestock Auction building. My rib eye was very good. This restaurant is due for a review on this web site.


Chanute, Kansas - the center of Google Earth the center of Google Earth

Homecoming - Fredonia, Kansas Street vendors around the Fredonia courthouse square

Stockyard Restaurant - Fredonia, Kansas Stockyard Restaurant

Friday - October 19, 2012: This evening, we drove to Cottonwood Falls and checked into the Grand Central Hotel, which is the only AAA 4 diamond hotel in Kansas. The hotel was nice, but not worth paying twice as much as you would pay for a comparable hotel in that region.

The room was large and attractive. Instead of numbers, the rooms are named for ranches which were one in the area and the doors are marked with the brand. Cute, but not so convenient when searching for a room.

There is no hotel registration desk, we were checked in and out by the people working in the restaurant. There was no one available after 10PM and things like ice are then unavailable. 

We had supper at a new restaurant, one mile away in Strong City. Ad Astra is located in an old storefront building. The outside isn't much to look at, but the interior is much more interesting, with stone & brick walls and a tin ceiling. Ad Astra was packed when we walked in, so we had an appetizer at the bar as we waited about 20 minutes for a free table.

The food was reasonably priced. The menu doesn't have a lot of items, but it does offer a wide variety. We had a lot of food, but our meal still came to only about $50 with two appetizers, a dessert and one mixed drink. My rib eye was very good, as was Linda's Apple, Bacon and Bleu Salad with maple mustard vinaigrette. The flourless chocolate torte was outstanding, and they make all of their desserts in house.

The restaurant focuses on serving locally produced produce and meat.

We returned to our hotel and walked across the street for live music. There is different acoustic music in Cottonwood Falls every Friday evening. In good weather, it is held in the street outside the Emma Chase Cafe, but with cold weather it was indoors in the community center. That is an interesting location, because the sides of hall were lined with a wide array of crafts for sale from local artisans.

It was the 3rd Friday of the month, so the music was Tallgrass Gospel Pickin. Anyone who wanted to play was welcome and they took turns with the other musicians joining in as they became familiar with the tunes. The audience was invited to join in as well. I think it was the first time I sang "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood" in 35 years. The quality of the musicians was all over the place, kind of like a filk circle at a science fiction convention.


Grand Central Hotel - Cottonwood Falls, Kansas Grand Central Hotel

Ad Astra - Strong City, Kansas Ad Astra

Ad Astra dinning room dinning room

Music at the Emma Chase - Cottonwood Falls, Kansas Music at the Emma Chase

Saturday - October 20, 2012: Saturday morning we drove on Durham, Kansas with a couple of stops along the
way. The first stop was at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, north of Strong City. I have visited the Preserve several times in the past, but wanted to check out the new Visitor Center. It is a large, low building, but most of it must be offices and meeting rooms. The only things for us to see were a small gift shop and a couple of displays.

The next stop was to photograph a springs and memorial markers at what had been Lost Springs Station, 2 miles west of the community of Lost Springs

We arrived in Durham at 11AM to join the "Kansas Explorer Club Adventure in Marion County." It began with lunch at the Main Street Cafe, a Mennonite restaurant which served very good food. Linda had the sausage special, which I had chicken fried stead. But the highlight of the meal was the house baked pies. The peach and chocolate peanut butter pies were great and we hear good things about the other pies from the rest of our party.

We then boarded an old school bus to see some of the unique Marion County geological features. Although this region is toward the east central part of Kansas, we were taken to many areas which felt more western. We stopped at neat springs, waterfalls and Dakota Sandstone outcroppings. The day include bumpy rides across range land and plenty of walking and climbing. 

The first stop was at Elm Springs. We didn't actually see the springs, but were led by a steep trail to a place where the creek fed by the springs has a 30' fall, in a spot reminiscent of Alcove Spring. The spot is overgrown and heavily shaded. The most interesting thing was the many snakes in the pool of water at the base of the falls. Local legend is that cowboys would use the falls to take a shower.

Next up was a stop at Sand Canyon which is formed from the Dakota Formation that is associated with the Smoky Hills, rather than the Flint Hills.

The next stop was just over the county line in Dickinson County. Stirling Rock is several unique hilltop formations of Dakota Sandstone that are somewhat reminiscent of Rock City.

The bus returned us to Durham and we traveled on our own to Florence, Kansas, before returning to the bus for one more visit. We were met by Pat Sauble, the rancher who owns Miller's Springs. After telling us about the background, we were led into a canyon below the springs. The flow is very low after the draught we have been having, but there was still a small waterfall coming out of the cliff face, it formed a creek which flows on past a beautiful, huge cottonwood tree.

All of these geologic formations are on private land and must be visited with a Marion County tour.

We concluded the day with a steak diner at the private event space at the Doyle Creek Mercantile. Is is part of the Doyle Creek Ranch in Florence, Kansas. The steak wasn't has good as the night before, but it was still a very good meal. People were raving about the green beans and the bread with herb butter. I'm not a big green bean fan, but I ate all of my serving of the sweet beans, wrapped in bacon. The cheesecake the finished meal included homemade crumb crust.



Main Street Cafe - Durham, Kansas Main Street Cafe 

Kansa Explorers hiking to Elm Springs

Sand Canyon - Marion County, Kansas Sand Canyon

Stirling Rock - Kansas Stirling Rock

Miller's Springs - Florence, Kansas Miller's Springs

Doyle Creek Mercantile - Florence, Kansas Doyle Creek Mercantile

Monday - October 22, 2012: I had lunch at Fred P. Ott's Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas. The review of the restaurant on the Olathe Restaurant Guide has now been updated with the new menu, which we introduced a few weeks ago. 

Today's meal was the $9.99 Wings N' Things starter - a combination of a half order of beef nachos and 6 Buffalo wings. The wings were fairly ordinary and at the standard wing charge of $5.99 for 6 thirds would not be a good buy. The nachos were much better and included lots of ground beef plus queso, salsa, sour cream & jalapenos. Green onions would be a nice addition to this dish.


Fred P. Ott's Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas Wings N' Things
Thursday - October 25, 2012: We had supper at RowHouse in Topeka tonight. The restaurant operates in an 1876 row house, a couple of blocks north of the state Capitol Building. It is open only for supper on Wednesday through Sunday. The menu changes each week, but is very limited on a given night.

There is always a Salad, Soup, 3 Entrees (one is always vegetarian), and 3 desserts. Most people do a tasting which includes all of the entrees. Tonight's menu began with a salad of kale, baby spinach, dried cranberries, pistachios, edamame, bacon, carrots and stone ground mustard vinaigrette. It was followed by black bean, tomato & basil soup. Neither of these would have been my choice if there were other options, but the rest of our party enjoyed them more.

I was much happier with the entrees. They first served a tiny serving of leek tart with garlic cream sauce. The other two entrees were served together. The pan seared mahi mahi and phyllo crisp were very good, though I didn't care for the fall vegetable succotash with lemon burre blanc which were served with it. The marinated beef tenderloin, wild mushroom ragout and whipped potatoes was good all the way around.

Best of all was the dessert tasting - Dried Fruit Tart, Butterscotch Pudding with Oat Crisps, and Apple-Ginger Upside Down Cake.

$37 per person.



dessert tasting at Row House restaurant in Topeka, Kansas dessert tasting

Saturday - October 27, 2012: We returned to Topeka to have lunch at Speck's Bar and Grill, which began in 1957 as the Seabrook Tavern. The small neighborhood bar is a popular place to watch sporting events and enjoy the fairly large selection of tavern food. The bar was packed with University of Kansas fans today. 

Dishes sampled today included the pork tender, Speck's bomber hot dog, Kansas style Philly steak, bierock, fries and onion rings. The bierock was made using one of their buns, rather than being baked in its own pastry. It was one of the few dishes I have had a Specs which I didn't like.

I thought that the best dishes tried today were the homemade fries and Bomber Dog - a grilled all beef hot dog on a
bun, mothered in Swiss cheese, jalapeno peppers, sauerkraut and onions. The fries were even good cold!

After dropping Linda off at a baby shower, I went on to visit a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) street fair in the North Topeka Arts District (NOTO). It was a rather low key affair with band and a few crafts & food vendors scattered over a couple of blocks on the street. Although the crowd was small, they seemed to be having a good time. Many people were painting street scenes on the inside of the top of pizza boxes.

Moving on to Gage Park, I took some quick photos of the carousel and animal park, then revisited the Topeka Zoo. It had been nearly 7 years since my last visit and there have been some new exhibits. Today the zoo was filled with costumed children taking part in Boo at the Zoo.

With all of the bad press the zoo has been getting recently about their ability to properly care for the elephants, I was anxious to see them, but the elephants were not available for viewing by the public.

The final stop of the say was at Topeka Steak House, which is east of town in Tecumseh, Kansas. The restaurant is very plain, reminding me of the Crawford County chicken restaurants. It has been open since the 50s.

The best thing about Topeka Steak House is the prices, which are quite reasonable if you do not order extras like blue cheese dressing or a hot plate. My 16 ounce porter house was $21.49. It was cooked right and tasted pretty good. The crinkle cut made from frozen French fries were nothing to brag about.


Speck's Bar and Grill - Topeka, Kansas Speck's Bar and Grill

Dia de los Muertos - Topeka, Kansas Dia de los Muertos

lions - Topeka, Zoo Lions

Topeka Steak House - Tecumseh, Kansas Topeka Steak House

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