Tag Archives: favorite food


Last week was a big week in the Kansas culinary world, friends: the Kansas Sampler Foundation named Hays (America) as the Green Bean Dumpling Soup Capital of the state.

It’s a pretty simple dish with just a few ingredients – a simple dumpling made of flour, eggs and water, boiled until perfectly chewy, stirred together with green beans, cream and a light-colored roux. It’s surprisingly rich for its relatively humble components.

I get more questions about eating options in Hays than anywhere else in the state. My top choice is Gella’s, for several reasons – the warm interior, the giant sunflower art, the inventive yet classic beer they brew. My favorite meal there: a bowl of green bean dumpling soup, a soft pretzel, and a shared plate of whatever’s on special that day. (With a pint of Liberty Stout if you’re lucky enough to be there for the seasonal tap.)

Best. Art. Ever.

Best. Art. Ever.

I love that the restaurant celebrates the town’s heritage. The Volga-German settlers who moved from Germany to Russia to Ellis County, bringing with them a culture of growing wheat, brewing beer, and making fantastic food, made barrels of this soup. 

The recipe I made came from Das Essen Unsrer Leute. Women from the small towns in Ellis County compiled the recipes in 1976 to celebrate the centennial of their ancestors settling in the county.

I made a batch last night for an out-of-town colleague, who brought a guest from Chicago. We went all in with the Volga-German theme and made our first batch of bierocks of the year – another Volga-German staple – and some chewy ginger cookies that Andrea shared last week.

I’m far from a seasoned dumpling maker, and am on a quest to learn what the perfect “sticky dough” consistency looks and feels like. The good news is that this soup is great even with wonky dumplings. Perhaps my technique would be better if I actually lived in the Green Bean Dumpling Soup Capital of Kansas?

Finished product, imperfect dumplings and all.

Finished product, in its imperfect and delicious glory.

Creamed Bean and Dumpling Soup
from “Das Essen Unsrer Leute” – 1976

Put one can of cut green beans into 8 cups of boiling water with 1 tablespoon salt. While bringing to a boil, mix 2 cups of flour with 2 eggs and enough water to make a sticky dough. Drop by spoon-full into boiling water, when dumplings float to top remove from stove. Melt 1/4 cup cooking oil in pan add 3 tablespoons flour and brown, pour into hot soup, stirring so it doesn’t get lumpy. Add one cup cream. Serve.



Five Good Things About Topeka: Porubsky’s

The first time I tried to go to Porubsky’s, I went to the wrong place.

Chris and I took a friend out to lunch and decided we’d try the chili-and-hot-pickle place about which we had heard good things. We ended up in Oakland at Steinbock’s – a small family grocery store, with a deli and hot chili. It was very good, but we eventually surmised that it wasn’t our intended destination.

We finally got things straightened out. We inquired around and got better directions: go to North Topeka, head east on the Sardou Bridge – and then take a left in the middle of the bridge to get to Little Russia.

As soon as I stepped inside, I knew that we needed to get better acquainted.

Perfect chili weather. Photo from http://www.transcendentdeli.org

The red-and-white-painted building is divided in half. The west half is a grocery store, specializing in crackers, cake mixes, and one of the best, most local deli counters I’ve seen in Kansas. The east half is a long, narrow dining room with a handful of booths, three long tables and stools at the bar. Old-school beer paraphernalia covers the wood-paneled walls, sharing space with signed photos of Kansas dignitaries.

The menu is simple: cold-cut sandwiches from the deli, on your choice of bread. Can’t decide? Order a cold plate. For about $3.50, you’l get a try of assorted meat, cheese and bread slices, with thin slices of dill pickles and the blazing-hot Porubsky Pickles. The pickles could have an entire blog entry to themselves. They’re whole kosher dills, sliced and doctored with horseradish to create a mind-blowing wave of heat felt primarily throughout your sinuses. Grab a napkin or two — I’ve seen grown men with tears in their eyes immediately upon consuming said pickles.

Chili and Porubsky Pickles. And plenty of hot sauce.

Chili and Porubsky Pickles. And plenty of hot sauce.

They’re best known for their chili, made by Charlie Porubsky on a four-burner stove behind the deli counter. It’s a simple recipe of meat, beans and spices — no tomatoes to be found here. They make their ham salad (or “pig salad,” as I once heard a customer order) there, too. My all-time favorite thing to get, though, is the hot pimento cheese sandwich. Charlie adds paper-thin habenero slices to homemade pimento cheese, with thick shreds of cheddar cheese. It’s creamy, spicy, and awesome on top of rye bread.

My friend Ann and I decided five years ago that we’d start going there regularly and arranged our schedules to fully maximize chili season (Monday through Thursday, September to May.) We got to know Bruce, who works the dining room during the week, and his wife, Becky. Our chili order — hers with a slice of cheese on top, mine without — was immortalized in Matthew Porubsky’s outstanding documentary, Porubsky’s Transcendent Deli.

We’re now at the point where Bruce and Becky know our order, down to the details. No ice for me. A plate of Porubsky Pickles. A pimento cheese sandwich for us to share — half hot, half not.

I’ll miss this place. I’ll miss Bruce’s gravelly voice asking “what are you girls up to?” I’ll miss the diverse crowd of people who make the trek to this tiny neighborhood — elected officials, railroad workers, farmers and hipsters.

But mostly I’ll miss that happy sensation of being a regular. I’m excited about the opportunity to find a new local place. Yet every Monday, for years to come, I predict I’ll still experience a sincere craving for a hot bowl of chili and a warm feeling inside.

Bruce and I on my last visit. Photo credit: Ann Williamson

Bruce and I on my last visit. Photo credit: Ann Williamson

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.

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.