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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Yarn tree cozy in Topeka, Kansas
Saturday - June 7, 2014: We drove to Topeka to purchase hot (horseradish) pickles at CW Porubsky Grocery and Meats in the Little Russia neighborhood. The small family market was founded in 1947 and is now operated by the third generation of the Porubsky family. 

While we were there, the pimento cheese spread caught my eye and we purchased both regular and hot. The hot (Kroegers Country Meats) is really hot and I am quite impressed with it. You might not get that much heat in the first bite, but you will have it after 2 or 3.

We drove just a few blocks away to check out Bradley's Corner Café in the NOTO arts area of Topeka. The 13 year old restaurant was busy and we had to wait a few minutes for a table. My burger and fresh cut fries were just OK, and Linda's chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes was better, but the highlight was the pies. There were 27 pies, all made in-house and the sour cream raisin meringue pie was one of the best pies I have ever had! Linda's chocolate peanut butter pie was also very good.

After checking out a couple of other neighborhood businesses, we started back home with two meat markets to revisit. The first was Kroegers Country Meats in Lecompton, where we learned that they have added several new house made sausages.

The second was Steve's Meat Market in DeSoto, where I wanted to get pickled beef tongue, but they were sold out.


C.W. Porubsky Grocery and Meats - Topeka, Kansas C.W. Porubsky Grocery and Meats 

Bradley's Corner Café - Topeka, Kansas Bradley's Corner Café

Kroegers Country Meats - Lecompton, Kansas Kroegers Country Meats

Saturday - June 14, 2014: I returned to Topeka to pay a second visit to Bradley's Corner Cafe and to do some additional photography of CW Porubsky Grocery and Meats. While I was talking to the cashier at Porubsky, I picked up an exciting tip. I love the chili, but it is only made on Monday through Thursday, so I have only manage to get there a couple of times. It turns out that during the chili season you can call on Thursday and ask them to put aside some chili to be purchased cold on Friday or Saturday. I will be taking advantage of that!

While in Topeka, I also photographed the recently restored Kansas State Capitol Building. Across from the Capitol, near 8th & Jackson, I spotted a tree wearing a crocheted cozy. 7 other trees were spotted nearby. Researching online this evening, I found that about 15 trees were "Yarn Bombed" on April 19th to bring color and attention to the area.

This evening I added a new page devoted to CW Porubsky Grocery and Meats.



Yarn tree cozy - Topeka, Kansas Yarn tree cozy

Wednesday - June 18, 2014: We tried the new Sizzles BBQ Bar & Grill in Shawnee. The menu is much longer and more interesting than the name suggests. The chef is working to take the food and presentations to a higher level than most Kansas City BBQ restaurants. The pricing is a little higher than many similar restaurants, but the servings are large and could be shared or box

Overall the food was good, though the crown beef ribs were a little closer to charred than I wanted. They still tasted good. If I was comparing Sizzles to the existing restaurants, I think the nearest comparison is Jack Stack BBQ.

The service was very good.


crown beef ribs at Sizzles BBQ in Shawnee Crown beef ribs with sautéed spinach and garlic bread
Saturday - June 21, 2014: We revisited the Overland Park Farmers Market in old downtown Overland Park, Kansas. It is a fun place to purchase produce, live plants, homemade preserves and fine baked goods. It has grown over the years and now has more hot food such as roasted peaches and elote (roasted Mexican corn. 

Some little boys were having fun in the fountain.


Overland Park Farmers Market fountain
Playing in the fountain
Sunday - June 22, 2014: We used my birthday as an excuse to throw a party promoting our web sites WWW.KansasTravel.org & WWW.MightyMac.org today.

The party featured a wide variety of specialty foods, wines and beers from around the state of Kansas (plus a few from Michigan).


Kansas specialty foods A small part of the foods at the party
Wednesday - June 25, 2014: We made a six day trip to Mackinaw City, Michigan and the surrounding area to update our sister web site, www.MightyMac.org. Mighty Mac is one of the nicknames for the the 5 mile long Mackinac Bridge which links Michigan's two peninsulas and a nickname for the largest Ice Breaker on the Great Lakes, the Mackinaw.

We flew out Wednesday morning with United Airlines, changing planes in Chicago and going on to Flint, where we picked up a rental car for the 3 hour drive north.

Our supper was at Darrow's Family Restaurant in Mackinaw City. Just a plain restaurant, it was started as a drive-in by the parents of one my classmates when I was three years old and is run by my classmate today. I had deep fried whitefish and Linda had deep fried perch, both were fresh and perfectly cooked. Darrow's also has good pies, soups and salads, but we settled for the fries and coleslaw which came with fish.

For several years I have been wanting to stay in the second floor end room at the small Riviera Motel in Mackinaw City. When planning my previous visits, the end rooms were already booked, but when I checked on this in May, room 212 was available for Wednesday & Thursday nights. The motel is just a block and a half from the foot of the five mile long suspension bridge and has the very best view of the bridge from any motel, with this room being the very best. The room itself was nothing special, rather dated and with two double beds that were too firm for Linda to be comfortable.

But the view was all that I expected and my favorite part was waking up in the early morning to use the bathroom and taking photos of the bridge and sunrise from the room before crawling back into bed.

The only down part was the midges. The small, non biting flies have been a growing annoyance near the water in recent years because of their large numbers. They should have been gone long before late June, but the late spring had pushed them back nearly a month. Their numbers slowly dropped during our trip.



Riviera Motel in Mackinaw City, Michigan View of the Mackinac Bridge from our room at the Riviera Motel

Thursday - June 26, 2014: We were up early. Even earlier because of the time zone change. But I wanted to drive to Munising, Michigan in time for a 10 AM cruise at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I have been there three times over the years, but Linda had not and she had heard many people say how great they are.

The three hour cruise goes out of the harbor, past Grand Island and the 1868 Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse, then east about 12 miles along the shore with its huge rock formations rising out of the water, colored by iron, copper and tannic acid. A beautiful sight with rocks, trees, Lake Superior, waterfalls and birds.

Linda enjoyed the three hour cruise, but felt that it had been too hyped up. She had expected more and was a little disappointed.

Back in Munising, we had lunch at Johnny Dogs. The five year old place has gourmet hot dogs, whitefish, burgers and sandwiches. It was recommend by the boat crew and had good reviews online. Arriving at Johnny Dogs, we discovered that the tiny place had only three stools inside, with the rest of the seating on a deck outside.

The fresh cut, seasoned fries were pretty good. My whitefish had a heavy batter and was the only fish I had during the trip which I didn't like or finish. Linda's shrimp po' boy was good. Perhaps I should have tried a specialty hot dog.

We then visited several waterfalls which are right in or around Munising. Munising Falls, Tannery Falls, Memorial Falls, Horseshoe Falls, Alger Falls and Wagner Falls. Tannery Falls and to a lesser extent Memorial Falls were not marked and were pretty much undeveloped. The mosquitoes were a distraction, but not too bad.

I had planned a couple of stops for the drive back to Mackinaw, but it was getting later in the afternoon than I expected and we drove straight through to have supper at Scalawags Whitefish & Chips, where this time I had the perch and Linda had the whitefish.

After a little down time at the motel, we went to Shepler's to catch the 8:30 PM Lighthouse cruise. Put on by Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry and the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, it was their first ever night excursion. We went by Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and under the Mackinac Bridge, hurrying on to St. Helena Lighthouse where we dropped off a woman and her two children who would be working on the light for the next week and picking up another worker who had finished her week.

The ferry went on to the far west end of the Straits of Mackinac to White Shoals Light, a beautiful barber pole striped light in open water. We arrived just before sunset and circled the light while the sun went down, then on to Gray's Reef Lighthouse with Waugoshance Lighthouse visible, but unlit, in the distance. Gray's Reef light had changed quite a bit since the last time I was there and I hadn't noticed the changes from the air during the lighthouse flights in the past year.

It was now getting quite dark and we headed back, seeing all these lights from a distance in the dark and stopping briefly beneath the Mackinac Bridge before returning to the dock.



White Shoals Light - Michigan White Shoals Light

Mackinac Bridge - Michigan Mackinac Bridge

Friday - June 27, 2014: We were lazy getting started and checking out of the Riviera before driving to Sault Ste Marie. This was Soo Locks Engineer's Day, the one day of the year when the security fence gates are opened and the public is permitted to walk over the walls and explore the buildings. I went to college in the Soo in the 1970s, but they never permitted this back then. The locks particularly interest me because my father drove a dump truck during the construction of the McArthur Lock during WW2.

The locks circumvent the rapids on the St. Mary's River between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. Ships up to more than 1,000' long are raised or lowered 21' in the locks. There are about 10,000 passages through the locks each year. One boat (the 642' Ojibway) was already in the closer McArthur Lock when we arrived, but after watching it start being lowered, we went on to the Poe Lock where we watched the 730' Capt. Henry Jackman enter the locks and cycle all the way through. We also toured a couple of the Corps of Engineers buildings and checked out displays from the Corps of Engineers, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Lake Superior State University and other area organizations.

For lunch I wanted to dine at the West Pier Drive Inn. It is located beneath the International Bridge and had great burgers in the 1970s. Today it still gets a lot of positive comments online. Overall it was disappointing. The 1/2 pound burgers were good, but the fries and onion rings were just so-so. The drinks came in three sizes, but the large turned out to be just 16 ounces.

We drove to Shepler's ferry dock in St. Ignace. Although this ferry route doesn't have the beautiful view of the Mackinac Bridge that the Mackinaw City route does, it knocked 15 minute off our drive at this time. The next ferry came with a few minutes and we nearly had it to ourselves.

As we approached the Island, I saw a ship with an unfamiliar design approaching the harbor from the other direction. Using my phone, I learned that it was a 224-foot former Navy submarine surveillance ship, now used as a teaching vessel by the Great Lakes Maritime Academy and named the State of Michigan.

When we left the ferry, we walked out to the end of the dock so I could photograph it. I didn't feel as much like a tourist, when several people who work on the Island came out to photograph it as well.

Since our bags were already on their way to the hotel, we spent some time exploring the downtown. This would be the first time we encountered wedding parties. First one group which was having a wedding the next day, then a bridal party leaving Trinity Church. We enjoyed watching the photography of the party boarding carriages, then saw the photographer hope on a bicycle to race ahead of the bride & groom's carriage to take more photos along the way. We would encounter the same and other weddings during the rest of the stay.

This was the first time I ever stayed at the 385 room Grand Hotel, which was built by the railroads in the 1880s. The hotel is famous for its 660' long front porch and was a centerpiece of the movies "This Time For Keeps" with Esther Williams & Jimmy Durante, and "Somewhere In Time" with Christopher Reeves & Jane Seymour. I had managed to secure a bargain price for a Category One room on a weekend, only $335/night including breakfast. The regular price for this small room with a view of only the out building roofs, was $610 including breakfast and supper.

Although the room was small, it was fairly modern. Fresh flowers and a pound of fudge were waiting for us. The fudge, the porch & grounds, and wifi are about the only thing the hotel provides without additional fees. At least there is no tipping.

The Grand Hotel has a dress code after 6:30 PM (Jacket, tie & dress pants for men. Dress, skirt and blouse or pantsuit for ladies.), but I was wanting to try a different restaurant this evening, so after freshening up, we took a horse drawn taxi to The Woods, another Grand Hotel property on the Island's interior, which I last visited many years ago. It is a beautiful Tudor mansion with enormous windows which look out on the surrounding woods.

The menu is German influenced and I had a smoked trout appetizer and pork schnitzel for my entree. The food was good, but not outstanding, with my favorite part of the meal being the bread. Linda was happier with her maple baked Atlantic salmon and lobster mashed potatoes. We were both unhappy with the lobster bisque, which turned out to be tomato based and had no lobster which I could find.

It was getting fairly cold and we changed to warmer clothes when we returned to the hotel, before going out so I could take some night photographs and we could have drinks & enjoy live music at the Pink Pony, downtown.



Soo Locks Engineer's Day Capt. Henry Jackman leaving the Poe Lock

Grand Hotel - Mackinac Island Grand Hotel

Pink Pony - Mackinac Island, Michigan Myk Rise at the Pink Pony

Saturday - June 28, 2014: We had another lazy start, just barely making it down to the main dining room before 9:30. We had a choice of ordering off the menu or of a buffet. Since we had been extremely impressed with the lunch buffet in the past, we picked the buffet, but it was not impressive. I was even less impressed when I learned that the can of Coke which I ordered was another $3.75.

We changed to more casual clothes and rented bicycles from the golf shop. Linda hadn't been sure about the 8 mile ride around the Island, but it was mostly flat. We rode at a leisurely pace and stopped many times for photos and for cold drinks at the Cannonball Drive Inn on the back of the Island. I had a fall while walking on rocks with wet shoes during one of the stops. My leg was scrapped pretty badly, but bicycling kept it from stiffening up. It is still tender today.

We had lunch at the Chuckwagon Restaurant. A narrow little burger joint which opened in 1954. I learned of it only a year ago and wish I had known of it before. My burger was fabulous and the Black Russian (smoked turkey, bacon, Swiss cheese, slaw & 1000 Island served on grilled rye) which the person next to us had, looked even better.

After returning the bikes, we walked back downtown to visit a few shops & museums, and then take a private carriage ride. Most people take a tour with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, but this much smaller company (Arrowhead Carriages) does only private tours. Our driver, Adam Smith, is a young man who has worked on the Island for 14 years and lived there for 5. His wife is from an old Mackinac family and they have a 9 year old son. I had selected a route going to some attractions which are not on the group tours, but we also enjoyed learning more about Island life from Adam. Stops included the new Grand Hotel stables which doubles as a museum, a lookout over Sugar Loaf rock, and a visit to Fort Holmes at the highest point on the Island.

This evening we dressed up and had supper in the main dining room of the hotel. Since we did not have a package which included the meal, our dinner was $79/each, which included tax and tip. We both started with escargot. The snails were topped with pastry puffs which I have not seen before, There were good soaked in the garlic butter after we ate the snails.

We each had the Swiss cheese and grilled onion soup, which I enjoyed more the Linda. She is not a big fan of Swiss cheese.

For her entree, Linda had Jack Daniels glazed Berkshire pork loin with garlic mashed potatoes, collard greens & mustard-bacon demi-glace. I had herb-garlic rubbed prime rib of beef with sea salt baked potato, bacon marmalade and Worcestershire sauce. The prime rib was well done, not the medium rare which I ordered. Otherwise, it was all good.

Since our meals included dessert, we had the salted caramel cheesecake with pecan-citrus Anglaise and the warm chocolate brownie with espresso sauce & black cherry ice cream. This was the hardest decision of the meal. Every dessert item looked good.

We had planned to spend the rest of the evening at the hotel and we followed supper with several types of live music: the final couple of songs from the preview of the musical "The Big Bang" in the hotel theater, a piano player in the main lobby, the Grand Hotel Orchestra playing music for dancing in the Terrace Room, and finally listening to another piano player & having drinks in the Cupola Bar at the very top of the hotel with its magnificent 300 degree view of the Island and Mackinac Bridge.



Chuckwagon Restaurant - Mackinac Island, Michigan Chuckwagon Restaurant

Arrowhead Carriages Tour - Mackinac Island, Michigan Adam Smith assisted by Lola and Sharon 

Grand Hotel escargot Escargot

Grand Hotel Orchestra - Mackinac Island, Michigan Grand Hotel Orchestra

Sunday - June 29, 2014: Sunday morning at the Grand we ordered off the menu. I had grilled New York steak with wild mushrooms, garlic demi-glace & potato cake. It was much better than the breakfast buffet from the day before, and the steak was a little closer to medium rare.

We sat in rocking chairs on the porch for a bit, before checking our bags to the mainland and checking out of the hotel. We walked to Fort Mackinac, which was built by the British during the American Revolution. I have been there several times before, but this was a chance to get some new photos for my page devoted to the fort.

We were going to have lunch at the Tea Room at the fort, which may have the very best view of any restaurant in Michigan, but a storm was coming and we decided to make our way to the ferry and eat on the mainland. It was raining hard for our ride back.

For lunch, we went to Bentley's B-n-L Cafe which I first visited in March. It is still a cool restaurant, which was moved to this location in the 1940s and looks like the '50s, but the food is average.

Before leaving St. Ignace, we visited Deer Ranch, one of the places we didn't have time for on Thursday. I don't think you can call it a "tourist trap" since it does provide what it advertises, but there is nothing except a gift shop and several pens with perhaps 40 white tail deer to see for the $5 fee. Although it is only about 10 miles from my childhood home and has been there since 1950, I have no memory of visiting it before. 

We returned to Mackinac for a stop at Fort Michilimackinac before it closed for the day. It is a reconstructed 18th Century French and then British Fort and I worked there summers when I was in college: firing muskets & cannons, giving tours, working in the blacksmith shop, etc. One of my childhood friends who started working at the fort in 1970 is still there and we found him right away, leading a team of children from families visiting the fort, in a game of baggataway, the game that became lacrosse.

After the game, we chatted with Jim, who I had not seen in two or three years, then toured the exhibits in the newest reconstructed building.

We checked into our room, a waterfront jacuzzi room at the Beachcomber Motel at the edge of town. This is the first time I have stayed there and I was happy with it.

Our last meal in town was at the Chippewa Room at Audie's Restaurant. It is the only fine dining in Mackinaw and I try to get there once each trip. I had bison meat loaf with six small perch added. The bison was just OK, but the perch were good and so was the Duchess potatoes. Linda had planked whitefish with Duchess potatoes, which she has had before. The Edgar beer cheese was good as always and we debated getting some to bring home with us.

Before calling it a night, we walked some of the waterfront and downtown so I could get a few more photographs before leaving town.


Grand Hotel - Mackinac Island Webmaster Keith Stokes on the Grand Hotel porch

Mackinac Bridge - Mackinaw City, Michigan View from our room at the Beachcomber Motel

Sunday - June 29, 2014: In the morning I went out for an hour before Linda was up. Stopping first at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, to update the photos which I took in 2008. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at Big Stone Bay Fishery to get some packages of whitefish spread to bring back to Kansas.

The only stop on the way to Flint was for lunch. We had nowhere in mind and started looking at the listings on the freeway signs as we got closer to Flint. Most of the listings were for chain restaurants, but we saw a listing for Tony's Restaurant at Birch Run and turned off to give it a try.

Tony's I-75 Restaurant turned out to be a large, crowded diner which has been featured on several TV shows. They are famous for huge servings and I had one of the dishes which has put them on TV - a BLT that has 1 pound of bacon! Linda's fish, chips and shrimp was equally big, though I came closer to eating all of mine than she did.

Our flight was late getting out of Flint and we probably would have missed our connecting flight in Chicago, but the flights were at nearby gates and I got there as they were starting to call the standby passengers. 



Tony's I-75 Restaurant BLT BLT with one pound of bacon

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