Tag Archives: beer

Beer. Here?

I have been to the Sunflower State’s newest brewery.

And it was weird.

The Walnut River Brewing Co. opened to the public on Saturday in El Dorado.

(For you non-Kansas-natives, it’s important to pause here for a lesson on pronunciation: “El Dorado” is pronounced closer to “potato” than anything else. “Ell Door-AY-doe.” Now you’ll sound hip when you tell your friends.)

Getting back to my point. We went to the grand opening of the brewery on Saturday. Armed with the address, we found a tall, white-washed building at 111 W. Locust with a Walnut River banner hanging haphazardly from the front.

But we couldn’t find the door. This was our first clue that we were stumbling in to something unusual.

After walking around the building, we finally guessed at the entrance (it’s the closest thing that resembles a door on the front of the building) and stepped in to an antique store of sorts, where we were greeted by boxes of “fashion rings,” vintage glassware, ancient electronics, books, baskets and toys.

And, along the east wall, we found a brewery.

I really didn't take enough photos to do this place justice. Check out the bar top - a slice of a very large tree that they encourage you to autograph.

I really didn’t take enough photos to do this place justice. Check out the bar top – a slice of a very large tree that they encourage you to autograph.

The story is familiar, but it’s always a good one: a homebrewer who loves the craft decides to try his hand at brewing beer on a larger scale. So he finds a good business partner and builds a MacGuyver-like brewery out of second-hand equipment in a building that also, coincidentally, houses a second-hand shop.

The result is almost a pop-up brewery, as much as that’s possible with a cooling room and a couple of fermenting tanks.

The beer, however, is really quite amazing. We tried the Kölsch-style ale, one of the closest representations of a German beer that I’ve had outside of Germany; the California Common, which was toasty and reminiscent of an Anchor Steam; and the super-malty Irish Red.

So we stood in this melee of stuff, resting our sample cups on a case full of baseball cards, and marveled at the scene. Great beer? Check. Fantastic people-watching? Check. Need a toaster? They’ve got you covered.

A growler, a sample, and a full case of baseball cards. Par for the course.

A growler, a sample, and a full case of baseball cards. Par for the course.

For now, they’re selling the beer in growlers direct from the brewery, but soon hope to move to restaurants in and around the Wichita area. And there are apparently plans to expand into the entire space, which would not be the same as what we saw on Saturday, but will be very cool anyway.

Now that I think about it, the experience was everything I hope for when I go to a new place for the first time. It’s fun to feel like a pioneer, to see things that you can’t wait to tell the folks at home all about. And it’s fun to find an experience that, while authentic, defies all logic and expectations.

We left with two growlers tucked under our arms and a hope that this place makes it. Y’all should check it out.

You can put sauerkraut on that.

A few months ago, I decided to make sauerkraut.

This wasn’t exactly a spur of the moment decision. Part of it was a desire to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps, and of all the others in my family who made their own kraut throughout the years. Part of it was a plan to become my dad’s favorite child, since it’s one of his favorite things to eat.

And part of it was because I wanted to ferment SOMETHING.

My brother started brewing beer in our basement. His special ladyfriend makes her own kombucha. We’ve dabbled in kimchi and okra pickles the past few summers when our CSA provided us with a glut of fresh veggies. (And if you’ve seen “Portlandia,” you’ll think this is kind of funny. I just pickled this blog!)

Last October, I tasted some smoked jalapeno sauerkraut at a farmer’s market in San Francisco. The heavens opened, the angels sang, and I thought, “I want to do this.”

So the stars aligned in March, when I put a whole bunch of stuff in my Amazon shopping cart because I figured I needed it to be successful.

And then I put it all back when I found this recipe for small-batch kraut. We’re talking VERY small batch: one head of green cabbage, one quart-sized Mason jar.

The first batch was all right. It’s a bit dry, which I think I can remedy with a little practice. I gave half to my dad, who noted the dryness, and mentioned that his grandma never put so much caraway seed in her kraut. (But, he said, keep trying.)

The finished product, divided in two. I was mostly just excited that it looked like sauerkraut at this point.

The finished product, divided in two. I was mostly just excited that it looked like sauerkraut at this point.

Now I have a pint jar of kraut in my fridge, and not a lot of ideas for it.

We eat brats every now and again; obviously it’s an excellent accompaniment to a good smoked sausage of some sort.

Lately, I’ve been eating it for lunch as a quesadilla.

Laugh if you must, but sometimes it’s the true highlight of my day. It’s kind of tangy, and the texture of the chewy kraut and slightly crispy tortilla is at least complex enough to keep me interested. I usually put a little bit of cheese on it to glue the whole thing together, but not always.

One of these days I’ll try it with a little turkey or corned beef, and some nice mustard, and call it a reuben (or a rachel) quesadilla. I’m all about the fusion food.

In the meantime, send me your thoughts on what I can do with the remaining half-pint of sauerkraut. I’m starting to get worried that the novelty of the quesadilla will wear off.

Five Good Things About Topeka: Northeast Kansas attractions

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.

Lawrence

They’re all looking for dentists, too. Photo from kuathletics.com

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.

They also have a most excellent patio.

They also have a most excellent patio.

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.

DIY beer floats

Free State Brewing Co. has some of the very best vanilla bean ice cream I’ve ever had — although this is a very recent discovery.

Tonight we ordered a tiny scoop of the ice cream and a small sample of the Cow Tippin’ Stout and made a miniature beer float at our table.

I highly recommend that you do the same. Oatmeal Stout will also work wonderfully. The beer has the slightest bitter note, offset by the sweetness of the ice cream. Each is delicious by themselves, but the combination of the two is nothing short of amazing.

Five Good Things About Topeka: Hidden culinary gems

Chris has a theory about Topeka: it’s the “indie Lawrence.”

Chris, theorizing about Topeka, circa 2005.

Chris, theorizing about Topeka, circa 2005.

Lawrence, and to a certain extent, Manhattan, doesn’t need to work at being cool. The influx of tens of thousands of young people alone mean there will be interesting shops, bars and places to eat. And they’re all grouped together for convenience, making it easy to spend a day or night on Mass or in Aggieville without wanting for much more. But in Topeka, you have to work harder at finding the cool. We’ve managed to locate a few of those places. The Row House is arguably Topeka’s finest restaurant, hidden in a block of row houses near the Statehouse. It’s almost like a speakeasy. There’s no sign out front; the hours of operation are unusual and you have to know to get a reservation first. But the food is fantastic — the menu changes each week to take advantage of what’s seasonal and available locally. I once tasted a rustic pear tart (with pears from a friend’s generous backyard orchard) that was composed perfectly, with a flaky crust and sweet pears in the middle.

Half carne asada, half carnitas. Cold grilled onions and jalapenos on top. Delicious all the way around.

Half carne asada, half carnitas. Cold grilled onions and jalapenos on top. Delicious all the way around.

But on the other end of the spectrum… there’s no shortage of authentic Mexican food in Topeka. My favorite joint is one upon which I stumbled one day looking for tortillas. Carneceria Camecuaro is a bright-orange metal building just east of downtown Topeka at 6th and Branner Trafficway. One-quarter of the store is a small Mexican grocery, bins heaving with chayote, peppers, limes and cactus. The remainder is devoted to tiny two-person tables, fresh meat cases and a large flat-top grill. There’s no menu – tacos and quesadillas are your choices. The quesadilla is amazing – a thick, crispy tortilla surrounds a pound of meat, such as shaved carne asada or carnitas, with a secret white cheese. (Hint: think pizza.) And then! There’s a buffet of toppings — everything from grilled whole jalapenos to radishes to that wonderful taquiera salsa made with avocados and tomatillos.

Other places of note:

  • Cafe’ Holliday, 12th and Western — homemade Mexican specials and great sandwiches. Try the posole. And if you haven’t been there in a while – they take cards now!
  • Bradley’s Corner Cafe’, NoTo — The meatloaf, open-faced hot beef sandwich and pie are not to be missed.
  • The Pad, Topeka Boulevard and Broad Street, North Topeka — best pork tenderloin in town. Their homemade vegetable beef soup is amazing as well.
  • Lonnie Q’s, Deer Valley and SE 21st — Lonnie used to have the BBQ place in the Harley-Davidson store. He moved out to a brand-new building next to the RV park in southeast Topeka a couple years ago. All of the meat is good – but you should really make sure to get the cheesy taters.
  • Pizza Parlor, Oakland — Two words: Little Bobby. The house pizza has about four inches of meat on top. Grab a pitcher while you’re there.

Five Good Things About Topeka: Coffee shops that serve great beer

In the last year, two coffee shops in Topeka have really upped their game when it comes to coffee and beer.

It’s not completely unusual to find a coffee shop that also serves spirits — the Bourgeois Pig in Lawrence has been doing it since before I was in college. But it’s a taller order in the rest of the state.

Blackbird Coffee is modest, unassuming, and easily overlooked. Like many other businesses in Topeka, it’s wedged in a strip mall — almost hidden between a pharmacy, a frame shop and an UPS Store. There’s a tiny front porch with tables and a bowl filled with water for Mali and other dogs whose owners have good taste in drinks.

Earlier this year, some good friends invited us to several fantastic events showcasing semi-obscure Belgian beers. Each beer came with a commemorative glass. My favorite beer was the Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge, a lip-puckering Flemish sour ale. My favorite glass accompanied the Kwak – a beer so named for the sound it made leaving the oddly shaped glass designed to fit in a wooden holster specially installed in coaches. (I can’t make this up.)

The glasses came with their own wooden stand. Neat for novelty's sake, if nothing else.

The glasses came with their own wooden stand. Neat for novelty’s sake, if nothing else.

The other coffee shop/craft beer joint in Topeka is the Flying Monkey/PT’s Coffee. It’s a little more than a year old, and landed just in time for Topeka to catch the pour-over coffee craze. (And, PT’s Coffee is probably one of the absolute premier coffee roasters in the U.S. Who knew?) The space is modern, with polished cement floors, industrial metal appointments and warm wooden chairs and tables, all which nearly disappear in the bright sunlight that floods the room during the day. They too have a patio that looks out on to scenic 17th avenue, and Washburn University. (And yes, you may lift your dog over the fence if you like.)

They have a few taps and mostly serve local Kansas beer, but frequently have an excellent IPA or Imperial Stout on tap from the West Coast as well. I love that they serve Black Knight Apple Cider from Renaissance Winery in St. Marys. It’s quite sweet and very strong.

But the coffee at the Monkey is probably the best in Kansas, if not the Midwest. Aside from the pour-over bar, they serve hard-to-find coffee drinks (including a mean flat white) and affogato that combines creamy local vanilla ice cream with PT’s dark-brown espresso. Their food is great too.

flyingmonkeycoffee

Affogato on left, flat white on right. Hipster wooden table below.

We know of a few neat coffee shops in Wichita, but we’ll miss the vibe of these two places. Any suggestions for new places to try? Bonus points awarded for places where we can bring the dog.

Lunch of champions

When in Barton County, you must stop at Mo’s Place. On a recent Wednesday, the daily special – hot beef sandwich, with all the trimmings – sold out before noon. Instead, I enjoyed a thick-cut ham and cheese sandwich with a side of green beans. And I enjoyed a pint of Mo’s best beer, the thick and creamy Gunbarrel Java Stout. Grandpa had a B.L.T. and a pint of Mo’s wheat beer.