Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Topeka Food Discoveries—So Far

I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed since my arrival in Kansas. Three weeks already! And I'm rapidly falling in love with my new home state and having a lot of fun exploring all that it has to offer—and I’ve just started to scratch the surface!

This past week I set out to discover some of the food offerings around Topeka. One of the best ways to do this is to visit the weekly farmer’s market, especially if you're like me and interested in local produce and products. Of course, the peaches I bought were from Georgia since the ones here aren’t yet ready! But I also bought some wonderful herb-garlic bread from The Summer Kitchen (the ladies appeared to be Mennonite,) and a great cinnamon roll for breakfast from Granny’s Kitchen.

Along with all the produce and baked goods, there were also dairy, meat, craft, furniture, and plant offerings. (I bought cat grass for my fur-ball, CJ.) It was a sunny, bright day, so I treated myself to a fresh-made limeade. And I learned about the Topeka Blues Society, who had a band there to entertain the market-goers. ( It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning and I plan to become a regular! (

One sign that you are a serious foodie is when you spend an hour walking around a supermarket just to see what the store has to offer. I was guilty of doing just that at the Dillons in north Topeka—now my favorite supermarket. I also found a terrific gourmet food shop, Ice & Olives, that carries my favorite cheese, Port Salut from France (, and the wine shop next door, Lakeside Wine & Spirits, with a knowledgeable manager who convinced me to try a sauvignon blanc from the Thracian Valley in Bulgaria! (Not much of a risk at $7 a bottle.) And my roommate, Derrick, was already a regular customer of the Iwig Family Dairy in Tecumseh. There is something a bit magical and satisfying about buying milk in glass bottles straight from the farm. I also picked up a yummy coconut cream pie on one of our milk runs! (

I’ve even made the switch to a local coffee—the Coffeehouse Blend from PT’s Coffee Roasting Co. ( It’s a delicious way to get my caffeine jolt each morning as I enjoy the view from my new front porch.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

To Chain or Not to Chain

My first week in Kansas has been joyfully busy. I finally got my new bedroom painted, had coffee with an editor (and meeting with three more tomorrow), and enjoyed a Saturday afternoon learning about the sport of curling, though I spent most of the lesson’s first hour falling on my butt! I also got my favorite vanilla Diet Coke at a Sonic drive-in, a chain restaurant I haven’t been to in years since there are only three in New England, none of which are in New Hampshire.

As I was making the drive west, I realized there were many restaurant chains I haven’t been to in a very long time, and some not at all. I had breakfast one morning at Denny’s and dinner another day at Cracker Barrel, both of which were not in my part of New England. And I’ve never been to a Steak n’ Shake, but there are signs for them everywhere!

How do you feel about chain restaurants? It seems that in the “foodie” world, “chain” is a bad word. When I interview restaurant owners, most always point out how their menu selections and business practices are “not like a chain restaurant,” with the implication being that chains are inferior.

Overall I prefer to eat at local places to support the people following the dream of restaurant ownership and keep my money in the community. I like that the menu was created by the chef in the kitchen, often times utilizing local ingredients, instead of at a corporate headquarters. I would rather go to a local Italian restaurant than an Olive Garden, and a local pub instead of T.G.I. Friday’s or Chili’s. However, on the flip side, I do enjoy a quarter pounder with cheese or a chipotle chicken snack wrap from McDonalds, and a salsa roja tortada from Taco Bell. And a local chain restaurant is usually a franchise owned by someone in the area.

To chain or not to chain—that is today’s question. Do you enjoy chain restaurants or avoid them? What are your favorite restaurant chains and what do you order?