littleapplefoodie heads to the Windy City

Hey foodies! I’ll be in Chicago this week, soaking up the local food scene in the Windy City. I know it’s not our usual subject matter, but I’ll try to share my thoughts and findings while I’m there.

That said, do any of you have any thoughts or recommendations while I’m there? I’d love to hear from you!

-laf

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11 restaurants will participate in Taste of Downtown May 20

In the same vein as the Taste of the ‘Ville, 11 downtown restaurants will participate May 20 in the Taste of Downtown, billed as “Manhattan’s first downtown community culinary experience.”

Tickets for the event are $30 with proceeds to benefit area youth programs and organizations. Those locations participating are:

Bourbon and Baker
Radina’s
Old Chicago
Karnivore
Hibachi Hut
Hazel Hill
Harry’s
della Voce
AJ’s Pizzeria
4 Olives
4 Cakes

The even is organized and sponsored by the Little Apple Optimist Club and Downtown Manhattan Inc. Watch this space for more information as it develops!

For more information, see http://downtownmanhattanks.com/tasteofdowntown.

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Foodie news from Bella’s, Rusty’s, Boulevard Grill and more

There’s been quite a few updates to area dining that have come across my desk lately, so I thought I’d do a quick post to keep everyone informed.

Bella’s Italian Restaurant
The Junction City restaurant is setting up a second location in Manhattan in the former 4 Olives location near the intersection of Seth Child Road and Anderson Avenue. It’ll be nice to have another Italian option in the Little Apple, and their desserts are very good. I’ll be interested to see how well this second location will do.

Paradise Donuts
Right next door to Bella’s is Paradise Donuts, which will be their second location in the area. While Varsity Donuts has the market cornered on gourmet donuts, Paradise makes a large variey of very good, if more common, donuts (it’s akin to a Daylight Donuts).

Rusty’s
A longtime Aggieville fixture, Rusty’s has apparently rebranded as “Rustys authentic Mexican.” From their Twitter account: “Come see Luis and his family and enjoy the best Mexican food in the Midwest! Bottomless chips and salsa!” More to follow.

Boulevard Grill
Formerly Paddy O’Quigley’s Irish Pub and Grille, the new restaurant inside the Four Points by Sheraton at 530 Richards Drive is Boulevard Grill, as in the much-loved Kansas City brewery. I’ve had the chance to eat here and enjoyed it quite a bit. Service was nice, it’s not overcrowded and both Boulevard and local beers are on tap. I really hope the menu expands, however. While there is plenty to choose from, the menu felt short. One thing I would love to see under KC Favorites is ribs or more barbecue.

4 Cakes
An offshoot of 4 Olives, 4 Cakes is “the sweeter side” of the restaurant, offering a nice variety of gourmet sweets. I haven’t had the opportunity to try any of baker Rachel’s treats yet, but they look very good. 4 Cakes is open now next to 4 Olives downtown.

Billy Vanilly
I’m also told that Billy Vanilly, the popular bakery with locations in Topeka and Lawrence, will open a Manhattan location near Hy-Vee and Wheat State Pizza in May. A baker from the shop has been featured on the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.” I’ve eaten at the Topeka location and very much enjoyed it.

Radina’s Bakehouse
Finally, Radina’s is opening a bakery in the increasingly popular downtown area of Manhattan, specifically at 227 Blue Earth Place. I’ve always liked Radina’s baked goods, so I’ll be eager to see what this location offers that their coffee shops won’t. They will be facing tough local competition from the already open 4 Cakes and Hazel Hill Chocloates just up the street, as well as Bourbon & Baker‘s bakery. Given that their 4th Street coffee shop location didn’t last (it’s now the aformentioned Hazel Hill), this will be an interesting business to watch. Should be opening soon.

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Bourbon & Baker bound to please

Bourbon & Baker interior

Bourbon & Baker

My hat is off to the good people of Harry’s, who have been able to create something new and quite neat in Bourbon & Baker.

Newly open and located at 312 Poyntz Ave. under the “B&B” sign, Bourbon & Baker brings the quality of Harry’s to a new idea that’s unique in this area. Foregoing traditional entrees, B&B primarily offers a selection of small plates that range from comfort-food favorites — ribs, grits and fried chicken, just to name a few — to more high-brow fare, including truffle popcorn, “Kobe”-style beef sliders and duck fat French fries.

These small plates are all pretty affordable, from $3 to $8.50, with most around $5 or $6. The idea, as our waiter explained it to us, is that you can order a few plates, share them and then order some more — even on a busy Friday night, the kitchen had the high-quality plates coming out at a fairly good speed.

If you’re not in the mood for small plates, that’s bad news. Outside of a few sides and an expansive bar menu, the only other foods available are family-style entrees that serve four and cost between $70 and $90. Luckily, there are enough options on the menu you’re bound to find something that suits your mood.

While I like the small-plate idea, I’d be interested to see how many diners order seconds or thirds. My date and I filled up on our first orders — she got the $5.50 corn bread slider (which was a little dry), I got the outstanding oyster po’boy slider ($6.50) and we each had an order of the $6 fried chicken & a biscuit, which was heaven on a plate — and ended up canceling our order of duck fat French fries ($5) which the kitchen luckily hadn’t started yet.

I’m glad we saved room for at least a few bites of dessert, because it was decadent. The $6 cake of the day was a raspberry chocolate cake layered with a cream cheese frosting that I can’t wait to try again. Here’s hoping they announce their daily cake offering via social media.

There are a few downsides, though they are mostly incidental. The place was packed on our Friday-night visit, partly because there was a K-State game the next day, and partly because the downtown location just isn’t that big. The space is long and narrow, and though I’m sure it seats as many people as possible, it still feels crowded. The loud music and plentiful TVs displaying sports didn’t help matters as it made it hard for my date and I to hear one another.

There is a small waiting area, which is great, but at its center is a long table that I’m told is for communal dining — you sit down, some others do the same, and you all eat at your own pace. However, while we were waiting, the table was populated by one party of sports fans, and it would have felt awkward standing behind them while they dined.

I can’t help but think that the area would be better populated by some benches, as communal diners have a rather long bar they could eat at.

But again, these complains are minor and incidental, and it’s likely that this new eatery will grow and thrive in downtown Manhattan. I know I for one will be back. I can’t wait to see what the other small plates have in store.

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Less than heroic — JC Greek restaurant a flawed experiment

Slovlaki

Slovlaki

While many nationalities are represented in the dining options of the greater Flint Hills region, we’re far from a UN of flavor. That’s why, when a new ethnic restaurant opens, hopes are high.

That’s also why, when such a new restaurant isn’t very good, it’s even more disappointing.

That’s the case at Greek Heroes. Located at 1032 S. Washington St. in Junction City, Greek Heroes serves up Greek cuisine and culture as if the staff have only been told of it by rough description.

Despite being open more than a month, Heroes has done little with their drab location — the paint and minimal decoration could have just as easily belonged to a Russian eatery or Ugandan deli. Truly, this is a greasy spoon with a Greek flag on the menu.

Said menu, which offers entrees, sandwiches, wraps and for some reason “a touch of German,” is decent but features glaring omissions. Most egregious, the gyro is made with pork, or chicken by request — lamb is not an option. In fact, outside of chops, lamb appears to be entirely absent from the menu.

I don’t know what you call a gyro without lamb, and frankly, I don’t want to know.

I was also excited to try the soup of the day, which a sign placed at the restaurant’s entrance said was a homemade cream of mushroom soup. When I asked our waitress for a cup, I was told it was actually the previous day’s special and that another staff member, well into the lunch rush (though hardly anyone was rushing to this nearly empty eatery), had yet to update the sign.

My lunch companion and I ordered the fried mushrooms ($4.99) for an appetizer. These were not bad, and actually tasted as if they were made with fillo dough. When we asked our waitress (who admittedly was on her first day) what made them taste as they did, she mused “Greek spices?” and walked away.

Gyros being out of the question, I ordered the souvlaki — pork or (in my case) chicken marinated in Greek Balsamic vinaigrette, skewered with onions and peppers, then grilled for $11.49. This was actually quite good, but a little on the pricy side for what you get.

Opening a new restaurant is hard, and there are added challenges in opening one with a national theme. Diners want to be swept away to another land, or at least let their tastebuds pretend they’ve been. The staff at Greek Heroes, from management to wait staff, seem to have made minimal effort to make the restaurant a success.

I didn’t have a bad meal at Greek Heroes per se, but the experience was so overwhelmingly disappointing that I will not be back and cannot urge you to give it a try.

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Downtown Manhattan to see new restaurants this winter

This winter should prove to be an exciting time in downtown Manhattan, where the local restaurant scene is set to increase, with at least three new (or new to downtown) restaurants moving in.

New to town will be Bourbon & Baker, a new restaurant opening at 312 Poyntz Ave. by the brains behind Harry’s. No opening date has been announced, but I expect to see doors open in the next few months. From their Facebook page:

New, locally-owned restaurant on Poyntz Ave in Downtown Manhattan Kansas. Enjoy our Restaurant and Bar (hence ‘Bourbon’) via Poyntz Ave front door entrance! Check out our Bakery (hence ‘Baker’) via the back door!

Like us on Facebook and stay tuned for our restaurant opening updates. For the time being, just know we’ll be “cooking and baking soon!”.

B&B Restaurant menu features small plates meant to be shared and continuously brought to the table. You’ll also want to order up – and maybe even fight for the last bite of – the family style traditional entrees. Cuisine is American; but let us delight you with Southern and Midwestern influences, as well as unexpected culinary twists.

Our full bar service features playful cocktails, an unbelievable bourbon list, and wine on tap. Yes actually, wine AND a housemade specialty cocktail on tap. Whoever said you shouldn’t break all the rules in the Little Apple?!

Once we are fully fired up – we’ll be open on weeknights (Monday – Thursday) from 11 AM until Midnight, and on weekends (Friday & Saturday) from 11 AM until 1:00 AM. Kitchen closes at 10 pm, and libations continue until the lights go out. (Closed Sunday.)

B&B Bakery menu features special order cakes and a daily offering of sweet treats (cake by the slice, cookies and more)! Let us do the baking for you. We love big home-style desserts made from scratch with the finest ingredients. Bring home a treat to share with your favorite people; an indulgent celebration cake; or an afternoon pick-me-up sweet treat just for you.

New to downtown will be Hibachi Hut. The Aggieville favorite closed in May, but the name and menu were quickly purchased by Ward Morgan, CEO of local web firm CivicPlus. The new location at 429 Poyntz Ave. is set to open in December.

Finally, 4 Olives Restaurant and Wine Bar will also be moving into the Marshall Theatre Building on the corner of 4th and Houston streets in January. The popular restaurant will continue operation at their current location in the Plaza West shopping center through mid-January, ensuring no stoppage of service. From their newsletter:

On July 13, 2004 4 Olives Wine Bar opened our first location here in the Plaza West shopping center, we have had many great memories here, and made many great friends.  I want to thank everyone who has taken the journey with us!

On January 15, 2014 we will be moving to 4th and Houston into the Marshall Theatre Building, a building that my grandparents went on dates to in the 1930s while attending K-State!  4 Olives will still have every item that you have come to love, the local foods, games meats, cheeses, fresh fish, massive wine list, and killer cocktails, but we will also be adding some new features as well.  We will offer outdoor dining, private rooms, beautiful ambiance, an entirely open kitchen in stainless steel, and an even larger bar area.  You may even see us open at lunch again soon.

Rachel will also open 4 Cakes, a pastry-cake-cupcake bakery that will offer incredible dessert items, custom cakes for all occasions, and beautiful wedding cakes that taste amazing.

We will be open at our current location until mid-January and then moving to our new home.  Again thank you to everyone for your years of friendship and patronage, we have loved every second, and look forward to many new adventures in our new location downtown!

I’m excited for all of these developments. Hibachi Hut has been sorely missed, 4 Olives will benefit greatly from classier digs and anything new from Harry’s is something to pay attention to. We’ll bring you updates and reviews as they become available.

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Taste of the ‘Ville is tomorrow!

Don’t forget that the Taste of the ‘Ville is tomorrow from 4-6 p.m. throughout Aggieville. We will be live Tweeting the event at twitter.com/littleapplefood using the hashtag #tasteoftheville.

Hope to see you there!

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