If you love good food, there’s no reason to spend the time and money flying to The Big Apple when The Little Apple™ of Manhattan, Kansas so dubbed by a collaboration with former mayor Ed Koch and New York City, will do nicely for a prime slice of culinary heaven.
This sleepy little Midwest town has won many accolades over the years, including #1 Best Small Community in U.S. for Business and Careers (Forbes, 2011), K-State—One of America’s Best Colleges (Princeton Review, 2011) and One of the Best Places to Live (CNNMoney.com, 2010).
While Manhattan, Kansas hasn’t previously been known as a destination for cuisine aficionados, that may be changing due to an upsurge in economic growth and the addition of creative new eateries dotting the landscape.
Here is a rundown of some of the best Manhattan has to offer:
4 Olives Wine Bar/4 Cakes
Owned and operated by a husband and wife team, one side of this eatery is a wine bar run by Scott Benjamin and the other side is 4 Cakes, a bakery run by his wife Rachel.
The restaurant features small plates and dinner entrees that can be paired with the vast selection of more than 800 wines, neatly stacked against an illuminated green wall. If wine doesn’t happen to be of interest, also offered are their specialty — classic, pre-prohibition cocktails made with precise measurements. Some of the more popular libations include the Old-Fashioned, the Sidecar, gimlets, and the aptly named Manhattan.
For dessert, many choose one of Rachel’s signature cupcakes like orange cream, chocolate stout, white wedding, or spiced carrot.
Bluestem Bistro, situated in the bar district known as Aggieville, may look like any other number of bistro coffee houses that also serve sandwiches, wraps, and salads, but that’s where the similarity ends. In fact, this could probably be called the un-coffee shop as they offer upscale fare with a twist.
Some of this fare includes a tangy Paleo diet-friendly dish: pulled pork and salad made with tomatoes, vinaigrette, a fried egg, pickles, and onions. Or, there’s the featured thick crust deep dish pizza made with sausage and spinach and served with a side of honey. Bluestem is a popular hangout for Kansas State students who come here at all hours to study, socialize, and share a great meal.
For the late night crowd, Bluestem opens a serving window with several offerings, their latest being a waffle lolly. Picture a waffle, strawberries, cream cheese, and Nutella on a stick and you get the idea. All items are made from scratch and the quality of the food commands a loyal following.
Bourbon & Baker
Located in downtown Manhattan, Bourbon & Baker opened in November 2013. The entire space was remodeled to reflect a clean, modern décor with warm wood tones. Many of the design elements have been repurposed from old Victorian homes such as the pastel green chandeliers and tables made of remnants from an old bowling alley.
According to owner Evan Grier, the food is best described as “soul food served on small plates,” and the response from the community has been wildly enthusiastic with lines forming out the door on weekends.
Oftentimes, you can tell from your first bite whether you are going to experience something special, and that is the case here. This is the sort of food you wish you had late at night in your fridge but seldom do.
At the top of the list is their fried chicken and a biscuit ($8) made with buttermilk, cream gravy and honey hot sauce. The chicken is seasoned to perfection and the biscuit melts in your mouth.
Another top seller is the strawberry bruschetta made with goat cheese, arugula, strawberries, heirloom tomatoes (when in season), thyme, and balsamic reduction on their bakery-made grilled baguette. The sweet flavors of the fruits are an exquisite pairing with the slightly tangy taste of the goat cheese and the crisp bread ($8).
The small plate concept is still in its infancy in the Midwest, and difficult to do right. Fortunately, the team at Bourbon and Baker has gotten this down to a science and you won’t find a bad dish on the menu. If you have time for only one meal while in Manhattan, this should be it.
Call Hall Dairy Bar Ice Cream
You probably have never heard of a state university having a dedicated, on-campus ice cream shop but that is exactly the case at Kansas State University. The Animal Sciences and Industry building in Call Hall is home to some of the coolest ice cream concoctions you will ever taste.
The secret to their success seems to be that the milk and cream come from their herd of 260 cows and the dairy product is processed and converted into ice cream in just a few days. This combined with a high butterfat content (16%) results in a smooth, rich and creamy product that has not just students but people in the community buying it by the gallons. Call Hall currently offers 40 flavors, and not surprisingly, simple vanilla is one of the most popular.
When owners Kurstin and Kevin Harris wanted to open a breakfast place in downtown Manhattan, they were going to call it something other than The Chef, the former restaurant’s name in the same location. However, many residents were used to the name, and when Kurstin found the original neon sign in a museum, she decided to acquire it. Today, people line up under The Chef’s sign for up to 90 minutes to satisfy their Kansas appetites at one of the best spots in town for breakfast and lunch.
The interior is decorated in bright and cheery tones of purple, yellow, and blue with colorful accents throughout. The food is impressive, pushing the limits beyond the typical eggs Benedict with their own version called smoked salmon Benedict (house-smoked salmon, dark rye toast and poached eggs with home-made hollandaise sauce).
One of their most popular dishes is the three egg Buenos Dias Frittata made with chorizo sausage, pico de gallo, and Jack cheese and served with chipotle sauce, sour cream, and home-style potatoes. This dish was named the Best Breakfast in Kansas by Food Network Magazine.