Exploring the world of fresh food on a road trip through America’s Heartland

A food writers’ conference, “Eating Words” sponsored by the Edible Institute, in Iowa City, Iowa, was ample incentive for a freelancer with that writing specialty; planned visits along the way at innovative restaurants, specialty food stores, farmers markets and a working organic farm with an aquaponics greenhouse promised subject matter for future stories. A brief respite from DFW’s mid-90s temperatures was yet another reason to drive away in early October. It all came together as a six-day road trip that spanned almost 2,000 miles.

There’s something about road trips! Turning off the highway can mean unexpected pleasures, even if it’s just the promise of a different pace. The stiffness that accompanies long hours of sitting seems to vanish quickly with the sight of a glorious sunrise, miles upon miles of golden corn fields, and the bucolic simplicity of cattle grazing on green hillsides. This trip showcased America’s Heartland at its best! And the unexpected pleasures just kept coming!

First dining stop was Anton’s in Kansas City, an unusual eatery that didn’t disappoint in any way. This relatively new taproom and restaurant, in an old brick building that once was Nabisco’s headquarters, began its life as a grocery store in 1898. Between bakery and today, it served for 30 years as Irene’s Restaurant and Lounge, the local “3 Martini” lunch spot. So, its current incarnation is entirely appropriate.

But it’s different.

There’s an aquaponics system in the basement, a great, funky bar and open kitchen on the main level and an art-filled dining room on the second floor. Waiters are friendly, the on-tap and bottled beers should satisfy any palate, the wine list is long and the food is delicious. Best choices, of course, in this beef capital, are the cut-to-size on-site aged steaks, your choice of grain-fed or grass fed.

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Being different, I chose a sampler of smoked salmon served with egg salad, olive tapenade and crostinis, with a side order of potato latkes. It was more than delicious. It was also more than I could eat. But smoked salmon for breakfast isn’t bad!

Following a morning walk to a nearby health food grocery that has been serving residents of the midtown neighborhood for more than 40 years, my “mate” and I drove to the impressive grounds of the World War I Memorial and Museum that dominates the skyline between KC’s Federal Reserve Bank and Union Station.

The site was originally dedicated in 1921, and the Egyptian Revival Liberty Memorial was completed in 1926. An underground museum and research facilities are more recent and the grounds are now designated as the National World War I monument. It was an unexpected surprise. Its grand dimensions, c20151002_095753oupled with its simplicity and its symbolism, combine to make it one of the most impressive monuments I have ever encountered. Visitors to the underground museum enter over a glass bridge spanning a field of red poppies — 9,000 of them, representing one flower for every 1,000 deaths in the “world war.” It boggles the mind. Visitors can also ride an elevator to the top of a 217-foot memorial tower for a spectacular view of the city and surrounding plains.

We left Kansas City then, driving on to Liberty, Missouri, for breakfast. But Kansas City will remain with us for a long time.

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