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I’m Going to Kansas City… here we come!

Posted by deborahmclaren on October 2, 2011

directly in front of negro league and jazz mus...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come! BBQ, Baseball and Jazz… I’m going to get me some!

This summer I drove down to KC with nine of my most  immediate family. We loaded into two vans and headed south from the Twin Cities to Kansas City. On the hottest day of the year. Really! It was 102 degrees and one of the vans did not have a/c.  Our mission: find the best KC barbeque and visit the birthplace of KC jazz and black baseball.

Before you read further I will admit to a few of things. I got the hives from the heat and had to stay in bed almost 48 hours. My mostly Muslim family went to Worlds of Fun/Oceans of Fun without me (still in bed) and were unindated by Christian music which was constantly (and loudly) broadcast throughout the amusement park. No worries about those carnies that love blasting Slow Ride here. And we did not find the best bbq in Kansas City. Despite that, we found some real gems in KC. This information is from my accumulated experiences though.

My husband, Rob, and I have been exploring KC for a few years. Every time we travel South to visit my family we go through KC (and Joplin but that’s an entirely different story). For a long time it was just a gas stop or an overnight cheap hotel on the way to Oklahoma (or that five hours we spent in a snow storm waiting it out at Chuckie Cheese). Finally we started making time for… you guessed it… food and music. That is what life is about, right?

One night we were driving through KC just about supper time. Rob had been trying to find a good steak house every time we passed through town without luck. We gave up on the steaks and decided to go for my favorite type of southern dinner – BBQ.  I grew up in the south so BBQ often means really soft meat sans the spicy ketchup sauce. The meat is smoked, melts in your mouth and the taste can’t be hidden by any kind of sauce. So of course I was hoping to find that. My husband, having been born and raised in India, prefers as spicy as you can get. We always try to find a happy medium (and an extra bottle of hot sauce).

With my new cell phone and all its fancy apps I was able to track down the closest BBQ place we were passing by on the highway. Happened to be BB’s Lawnside Blues and BBQ.  “B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ is Where BBQ Meets the Blues in Kansas City. For 20 years, B.B.’s has served slow-smoked meats (sausage, beef, chicken, pulled pork and ribs) from its 60+ year-old pit, Plus, B.B.’s menu includes signature Louisiana dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, red beans & rice and goulash. And, when you combine that with world-class blues entertainment, you get a unique Kansas City experience only found at B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ.” Yep, that’s right off their website but it certainly sums it up.

We drove a few miles through a deserted industrial area to get there, and yes, there is some kind of piece of grass next door to the parking lot. It’s a bit of a stretch to call it “lawnside,” but maybe in that area it passes. The inside is pretty much that scene from the Blues Brothers, where Jake and Elwood have to play in a honky tonk behind some chain link fencing and everyone throws empty beer bottles at them. Fortunately for us there were no crazy crowd or chain fences, nor flying beer bottles, just great food and amazing blues. There was a band of at least 10, including a hot horn section, and at one point two members of the band ran into the audience and did a great chest bump in the middle of a tune. Obviously a lot of energy and entertainment goes on at BB’s Lawnside. Great homestyle BBQ, long shared tables, awesome local brew and amazing music. And it was all very reasonably priced.

During our visits to KC we had learned about The Historic District of 18th and Vine.  The district was the center for black culture and life in Kansas City from the late 1800s-1960s. Since the late 1990s it has been undergoing a revival. It was the hub of activity for homeowners, business, jazz music, and baseball enthusiast. Just outside of the district stands the Paseo YMCA building, which was built as a black YMCA in 1914. It served as temporary home for baseball players, railroad workers, and others making the transition to big city life in the Midwest. It was here that the Negro National League was founded in 1920. Although the district and the YMCA building were becoming blighted by the 1980s, they were recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

During the late 1990s, plans were underway by city officials to create a new home to showcase Kansas City’s jazz heritage and to revitalize the Historic District. City officials and the mayor worked to raise over $20 million in bonds to build a new facility to host the new American Jazz Museum and a new, permanent and expanded, home for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. This new 50,000 square-foot building opened in September 1997 and the Baseball Museum opened in November.

Hot jazz, cool blues, historical and cultural preservation and good food.   Just east of downtown KC. We took the kids to the baseball museum and the American Jazz Museum which showcases the sights and sounds of jazz through interactive exhibits and films, the Changing Gallery exhibit space, Horace M. Peterson III Visitors Center, Blue Room jazz club and Gem Theater. Kansas City is one of the greatest purveyors of jazz – and it continues to offer fertile ground for the music to thrive.

The kids were excited by the museums. The Jazz Museum, especially, is very interactive. Numerous kiosks use individual headphones to tell stories about the musicians, various types of jazz, and historical eras of jazz music. I could have spent a lot more time there as there was so much to absorb and learn.  However, we were off to find food for a hungry crowd.

The original Arthur Bryants in the historic jazz district

Although Arthur Bryant’s was recommended by everyone in the neighborhood, I think it’s a taste acquired by growing up there. The BBQ sauce was vinegary with some lumpy dry spices in it. Have no doubt – the place was packed and there are tons of great reviews about the place (although there have been more unfavorable reviews of late – maybe they are focusing more on their product sales than their restaurant food?) It just wasn’t my type of barbeque. And everyone else in the family agreed. And the family includes some heavy duty BBQ connoisseurs. It is a well loved, neighborhood favorite, it just wasn’t what we were expecting.  To order you must wait in line and order in a cafeteria style set-up. It was rather confusing but we ended up with burnt ends, turkey and fries.

Other places in the 18th and Vine area include Danny’s Big Easy, The Peachtree, the KC Blues & Jazz Juke House, and The Blue Room (part of the American Jazz Museum) which hosts Jazz Poetry Jams every 3rd Tuesday from 7 to 10pm. Other nights they offer up live music starting at 7 pm. The 2011 Rhythm and Ribs Jazz and Blues Festival is coming up on Oct 8.

The next night we tried Jack Stack’s BBQ near the river. The beef ribs were meaty and tender and the sauce was definitely a thick tomato and brown sugar base. The staff at the crowded restaurant was kind enough to set us in a huge booth area where we could all sit together (and not offend other diners with all of our noise and active kiddies).

There aren’t a lot of locally-owned accommodations in Kansas City – or at least we weren’t able to find them. There are a couple of B&Bs in nearby Bonner Springs.  Airbnb lists a few places to stay: from a one bedroom rental in a private home for $40 a night to luxury Lofts downtown for $90 a night.  With three adults and six kids under twelve we opted for a downtown hotel with two rooms and a pool. And we used that pool a lot since it was such a hot weekend. Unfortunately, a lot of b&bs don’t allow children.

Since we were downtown we were close to the restored Union Station (with lots of food, a permanent rail exhibit called the KC Rail Experience, exhibit spaces for traveling exhibits produced by the Smithsonian and other national organizations, a planetarium, an interactive science center called Science City and a vibrant Theater District featuring giant-screen movies and live theater, and much more.) and the Crowne Center which houses a Children’s Theater, the Hallmark Card headquarters (where kids can go to make crafts), a huge Crayola store also with fun activities, play areas (shooting water outside, an Amazon rainforest inside), and plenty of shops to buy any kind of KC BBQ sauce there is.

Also downtown, along the river, is the City Market. Since its inception in 1857, the City Market continues to be one of the largest and most enduring public farmers’ markets in the Midwest, linking growers and small businesses to the Kansas City community. This is where locals go! The City Market is one of the largest outdoor concert venues in Kansas City. There are a number of permanent vendors in the market, and more than 140 vendors on the weekends during the farmer’s market that burst with bedding plants, fruits, vegetables, herbs, fresh baked goods and other sweets, cut flowers and crafts made by local artisans.

We’re going to keep hunting for local places to stay. Please let me know if you have more local haunts to add to our KC stopovers!

Posted in Buy-local, cultural heritage, family travel, food and wine, Missouri, museum, travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

More Quirky Places to Stay in Minnesota

Posted by deborahmclaren on May 16, 2011

I promised to write more about interesting places to stay in Minnesota. I’ve found a former chicken house, a Viking Inn, a light house, another old jail, a tow boat, a house boat and some other cool stays. We’re obviously gearing up for summer travel as the number of visitors to the quirky places I’ve blogged about are rising daily.

The Broodio

The Broodio

Inside the Broodio

Inside the Broodio

The Broodio, a former “brooder” house (where baby chicks are raised) is a one-room cottage that is part of a Minnesota Valley century farmstead. The simple pleasures of the prairie surround Moonstone’s gardens, arbors and vineyard. A canoe, grill, campfire, sauna and beach are available to guests.

This is a real find! The Viking Inn is Central Minnesota ‘s Nordic Inn Medieval Brew and Bed! Built in an old church by “the crazy Viking, Steinarr Elmerson” who left southern California and corporate America to follow his dream. Steinarr loves to cook and the inn offers a Viking Dinner Mystery or an interactive Viking dinner theater with raids, pillaging, burning and feasting. Rooms start at about $60 for the tiny room built in the church’s bell tower to $150 for Odin’s Den. Soap, Shoes and Viking Vear come with the room!

Runestone Museum, located in downtown Alexandria, Minnesota is not far from the Viking Inn. You can tour historic Fort Alexandria, take your picture with the country’s biggest viking, and see the world famous Kensington Runestone.

The Runestone

Built in 1892 the Lighthouse B&B in Two Harbors is a working lighthouse operated by the Lake County Historical Society. It has three spare but tasteful rooms that share one bathroom, and there’s a half-bath in the basement. The Skiff House, on the grounds adjoining the visitors center, has its own bathroom and hot tub.

The Lighthouse at Dusk

The Jail Haus Bed & Breakfast and Ed’s Museum

Wykoff is a perfect little southern Minnesota village – a perfect blend of hospitality and local flavor. The ladies of Wykoff keep themselves busy. They not only renovated Ed’s Museum, but made their historic jail into a B&B. Stay in the jail for about $68/night then go over to Ed’s Museum to view the display of 1930s lollipop tree, old pin-ups and tons of other junk. It’s also next to the Root River, my favorite place for tubing. For lovers of Americana kitsch.

The Old Jailhaus, Wykoff, MN

On the St. Croix River in Taylors Falls, Minn., the Old Jail B&B occupies an old brewery/saloon and an 1884 jail on a hill at the edge of downtown. In 1869, the Schottmuller brothers built a one-story stone structure with a cave connecting it to their brewery further up Angel Hill and opened it as a saloon, storing beer in the cave. They then purchased a two-story stable and livery, built in 1851, from the Chisago House Hotel and set it on top of the saloon for living quarters. Since its days as a saloon, the “Cave” has housed a surprising array of businesses including a general store, a chicken plucking operation, a beauty shop, and a mortuary. The Taylors Falls Jail was built next door to the saloon in 1884. It was used over the years as an ice house, a shoe repair shop, and a garage. Historian Helen White restored the “Jail” and opened it in 1981 as Minnesota’s first licensed bed & breakfast.

The Old Jail Cottage in Taylors Falls, MN

The Old Jail Cottage in Taylors Falls, MN

In St. Paul, The Covington Inn was built in 1946 as a towboat and now is moored on Harriet Island, across from downtown. Four elegant rooms have fireplaces and superb views; the two-story Pilot House suite includes the pilot house as a sitting room and has a private deck. The boat is trimmed stem to stern in mahogany, brass and bronze. Windows and portals in the boat’s tiered design draw light into each room. Sleeping quarters feature a mix of ingenious built-in cabinets with simple furnishings from the Covington’s work era. Salvaged fixtures, nautical antiques and historic art provide tasteful reminders of the River and the Inn’s past life.

The Covington Inn, St. Paul

In northern Minnesota lakes country, in the tiny village of Dorset, the Heartland Trail B&B was built in 1920 as a schoolhouse and has six attractive rooms, named for different grades. 218-732-3252.

Little old school house B&B in Dorsett

Heartland Trail or Little old school house B&B in Dorsett

In the western Minnesota town of Ashby, on the Central Lakes Trail, the Harvest Inn B&B occupies the former 1926 Trinity Lutheran Church and has four rooms. Enjoy winery tours anytime of the day. Feel free to walk around and tour one of Minnesota’s largest horse facilities.218-747-2334. Email: info@harvestinn.net

Timber Bay Lodge and Houseboats is located on Birch Lake near Ely Minnesota and the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area (BWCA). They have both cabins and houseboats! located deep in the heart of the Superior National Forest. Fish, swim, and relax as you pilot your own houseboat. Watch for eagles, loons, and bears. The houseboats range and size and from $185 to $500 a night.

Timber Bay House Boat

Stone Mill Hotel & Suites are in the lovingly restored and very posh Lanesboro FEED MILL. It consists of a limestone and wood (barn-like), building. Renovated to honor their history, the buildings are reminders of Lanesboro’s significant agriculture contribution.

Stone House Mill Hotel, Lanesboro

Stone House Mill Hotel, Lanesboro

The Palmer House Hotel claims residence to a celebrity ghost! The spirit of Sinclair Lewis, a famous local author for which the town takes pride in, is said to haunt the very hotel that he was employed as a bell boy. Sauk Centre is the childhood home of Lewis. R.L. Palmer built the current hotel in 1901. The original hotel consisted of 38 rooms and one communal bathroom. The Palmer House was considered so majestic that a special contractor was hired from Minneapolis to wire the building with electricity, which many considered a novel luxury at the time. The first paranormal conference was held at The Palmer House in 2008. Hosts of the conference was Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Seminars included television celebrities Chris Fleming and Patrick Burns and Darkness Radio host Dave Schrader.

The Palmer House, Sauk Center, MN

Well, there you have it. Please let me know if you visit any of these quirky places… or learn about more!

Posted in cultural heritage, family travel, Minnesota, museum, quite unusual, Saint Paul | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Food Museum and the Potato Museum – yo foodies and travelers!

Posted by deborahmclaren on June 9, 2010

I just came across a gem! The Food Museum! And their sister museum, The Potato Museum! As a lifetime potato girl, I’m intrigued, entranced, salivating and wanting more. They are cool cause they are also online museums and you can visit for free.

The Food Museum examines what we eat and how we eat it, where it came from, how it has evolved, what its impact is on the world, and what its future may be. It researches, collects, preserves, exhibits and explains the history and social significance of the world’s foods. The museum brings artifacts and programs to where people gather, both in person and on-line.

FOOD Museum Online offers exhibits on food history and food heritage sites. Their home page features temporary exhibits and serves as a gateway to food issues, their food news blog, educational programs, book reviews, other food favorites and links.

An American original, the potato is contradictory. What grows above ground is poisonous, what grows below is nourishing. And–though it develops underground, the potato is not a root.

Neither “humble,” nor “lowly,” the potato has traveled widely, stimulated scientific research, erased famine, delighted cook and diner alike, influenced popular culture, inspired artists, and changed history. Lauded as the “world’s most important vegetable,” it produces more nourishing food per acre than any other planted crop.

The tuber’s tale begins in the Andes region of South America, 8000 years ago. Visitors will explore the potato’s travels, how it grows, its influence on history, art, popular culture, and cuisine, as well as controversies surrounding the potato. Both the unraveling of the potato genome and the mystery of the origins of Late Blight are on display, too

The Potato Museum, started (1975) in Brussels, Belgium, is the world’s first museum about the potato and features the planet’s largest collection about this valuable vegetable. The Potato Museum is not a product of the potato industry. They are a non-profit educational organization dedicated to exploring the potato’s fascinating past, controversial present and promising future.

Explore the contrasts, the pros and cons that have swirled around the potato from the beginning, with its poisonous green fruit tempting up top, its powerful fuel hidden away in tubers below.

Check out the Spuds Unearthed!
May 15-October 17, 2010
2400 square feet of potato artifacts, info, imagery, music, genetic material, aeroponically-
grown potato plants, video, clues to the source of Late blight, spudheads, as well as science lectures, “Planet Potato,” a docent-powered Spud Discovery Cart, photography, and more. All in the East Gallery of the U.S.Botanic Garden, our nation’s garden and plant resource showcase right on the Mall in Washington, DC.

Websites:
http://www.potatomuseum.com/
http://www.foodmuseum.com/

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