HPPR hosts & contributors
Prairie Ramblings Episode
Fri January 17, 2014
The Best Dining On the Plains is Found in Small Towns
City friends sometimes ask if I miss eating at popular chain restaurants. When I first moved to rural Kansas, I did miss running to Olive Garden or Red Lobster. Now days, I’m happy to wait until a local organization hosts a foodie fundraiser. I’ve learned that’s where you find homemade-by-neighbors fine dining. These cook’s reputations are on the line, so they don’t serve just anything.
Once a month in an area town, the Eagles organization fries chicken that competes with my Grandma Lottie’s best Sunday feast. I don’t know how much preparation goes into feeding hundreds of hungry customers, but cutting up, breading, frying, and serving chicken for a hungry horde must consume most of those good-hearted volunteers’ weekends.
If the main dish weren’t delight enough, they also serve old-fashioned green beans simmered with bacon and onions just like Grandma made alongside real mashed potatoes and gravy. None of those instant flakes for these fine cooks. They top off this sampling of heaven with homemade hot fudge drizzled over vanilla ice cream. The endless line of diners outside the door from the time they open til they close shouts their success to anyone driving by.
I salivate just thinking about fried chicken Sunday, but the strength of this event is how the profits from thousands of poultry dinners support individuals and programs in that community. I wonder if anyone has counted the graduates who’ve gone to college on chicken dinner-generated scholarships or the struggling families and local organizations supported by these individuals’ hard work. A nearby town recently began a similar tradition to support their youth. It’s great to help people reach goals while sending smiling diners home patting satisfied bellies.
Fried chicken isn’t the only menu item that makes taste buds pop. During Lent, Knights of Columbus members in area towns fry fish and hushpuppies, accompanied by homemade coleslaw, and other local treats for friends and neighbors. Once again, participants enjoy visiting over a delicious, fresh food made by people who care. Good eating doesn’t get better than that.
Throughout the year, little towns in western Kansas offer the opportunity to stand in line for a hot bowl of homemade soup. Grinning attendees sample the best chili, chicken noodle, or vegetable soup they’ve enjoyed since they last visited their favorite cook. Not only is the main course delicious, these dinners usually include a pie table that’ll drive you nuts when you have to choose between fresh apple, cherry, chocolate, lemon meringue, or coconut cream flavors. These fundraisers often support a specific person or cause so when you attend one, you help a neighbor in need.
Add fair food booths that sell handmade bierocks, ham pockets, galuskies, buffalo burgers, or freshly grilled brats to this list, and it’s easy to see that locals don’t lack good eatin’ opportunities. Notice I didn’t mention homemade cookie, cake, and pie stalls. It’s nearly impossible to stay on a special diet at these events.
Friends who think I live a food-deprived life are wrong. Good eating in this region may require delayed gratification and intentional scheduling, but I regularly sample some of the best eats in the country. That ought to be a Food Network show.