Even though Chris and I lived relatively close to Topeka during our college years — he in Baldwin City, me in Lawrence — neither of us had spent much time hanging out in the Capital City.
So when we moved, we started asking the standard newbie questions. Can you recommend a dentist? Who cuts your hair? Where do you like to eat?
The overwhelming answer: Lawrence. Go to Lawrence for all those things.
I’ve already written about how Lawrence is generally considered to be much cooler than Topeka. And over time, we gradually figured out where to go and what to do, where to shop for groceries, and so on. But there was one habit we could never break in the next city over, just 30 minutes to the East.
Free State Brewery.
It was already special to both Chris and me before we started dating. We ate there the night we got engaged. We’ve been there for birthday parties, baby showers, graduation dinners, late Sunday lunches and for Monday night cheap beers. We’ve made Major Life Decisions over onion rings and pints of beer. (And DIY beer floats.) The two-story dining room is great for people-watching — if you can weave your way through the standing-room only crowd to get to your seat.
The food is always outstanding. I usually get whatever’s on the special board, but my go-to menu item is the smoked turkey sandwich, grilled, with Free State’s awesome whole-grain house mustard instead of mayo. With fries on the side (dipped in more mustard) and grapes. This dish gets even better during the annual “March Mustard Madness,” where you’re handed a list of mustard categories from which to choose selections to go with your meal. I inevitably pick from the spicy and garlic categories.
But the beer… is out of this world. My favorite Free State beer is Lemongrass Rye, a seasonal brew which typically comes out around Memorial Day weekend. It has just a hint of lemongrass, which doesn’t make the beer fruity, but crisp and enjoyable on a warm afternoon. A few years ago, they made an Eutiner Lager, a light Helles-style lager that was a collaboration between Free State brewers and the brewers in Lawrence’s sister city in Eutin, Germany. We’d just returned from Germany and decided that it was like we’d never left.
The best news is that they’ve added a bottling line in the last few years, so it won’t be far away. I’m already looking forward to visiting when we head back up to this corner of the state.