First of all, let me say that Manhattan, KS is one of my all-time favorite cities to travel to. Yes, that's right - Manhattan, KS. The home of Kansas State University. They call Manhattan "The Little Apple" - a take off of New York City/Manhattan being called "The Big Apple." I dated a girl when I was going to school at the University of Iowa around late 1983 - early 1984 who had gotten her under-graduate degree at K-State and was going for her masters at Iowa. When I kidded her about going to school in Manhattan, she said, "Oh, no! Manhattan is a great town. It's a real party city."
We didn't date any more than about three or four months as she was more interested in getting her masters and getting out of Iowa City and back to the family business near Dodge City, KS. But all the time we dated I still was incredulous that Manhattan, KS could be a "party town".
Imagine my surprise about three years later when I first traveled to Manhattan in 1987 to visit an audio/video dealer based in the Aggieville area near K-State and another dealer over in nearby Junction City. The drive to Manhattan along I-70 through the Flint Hills region is rather boring. At the 313 mile marker exit on I-70 it's another nine miles north of the Interstate down into a valley where Manhattan is located. Suddenly, it's like this oasis in the middle of the prairie. I instantly fell in love with Manhattan. Yes, she was right - it was a party city. The Aggieville bars were fun, the restaurants were pretty good and I would purposely stay in Manhattan for two or three nights - sometimes even staying on Friday and Saturday nights - just to have a large time in town.
As time went on, the dealer in Manhattan - The Sound Shop, owned by John Heritage - went out of business - and that was only to concentrate on his two restaurants, one of which was the Hibachi Hut which I wrote about here during a visit over four years ago. (He's long since sold the restaurants.) And the dealer that I used to call on in Junction City had also gone out of business, only to be resurrected when a guy came in and gave him money to re-open his store in Manhattan. But he's more into car audio than home audio.
Long story short, I don't get out to Manhattan all that much any longer. But recently, I had a meeting in Salina - about 70 miles from Manhattan - with Acoustic Sounds, one of the largest vendors of vinyl albums and high-end equipment via the Internet in the U.S. I have stayed in Salina. There are scary looking people in Salina. There's not much going on in Salina (even though there used to be a great bookstore in downtown Salina). I lost $80 dollars in a hotel room robbery in Salina (back in 1988 - I think the maid came in and took the money while I was in the shower). I wasn't staying in Salina. I'm staying in Manhattan.
As I said, I visited the Hibachi Hut on my last visit to Manhattan about three years ago. Next door to the Hibachi Hut is their sister restaurant, Texas Star Cafe. I used to eat there years ago when John Heritage owned the place. It features more of a Tex-Mex menu along with some barbecue items and down-home chicken-fried steaks. I was all set to have dinner there the night I spent in Manhattan earlier this summer.
I got checked into my hotel, changed clothes and headed down to Aggieville to have dinner at Texas Star (see map). I parked across the street in the public lot and walked across the street to go to the restaurant.
Now, if you read my recent post regarding Mader's in Milwaukee, I haven't had a lot of luck regarding restaurants, at least the ones I want to eat at.
When I walked up to the door, it was locked. The lights were off. As I was sort of standing there trying to look into the windows trying to figure out if they'd gone out of business, a 50's-something couple happened to be walking by. The man said, "Trying to get into the Hibachi Hut?"
I said, "Actually, I was set to eat at Texas Star."
He said, "Oh, they're closed on Tuesdays."
In an anguished response, I said, "Oh, you're kidding!" I was completely crestfallen.
We got to talking about some other places around the area and they gave me some suggestions. One was a barbecue place, but I was going to eat at Oklahoma Joe's in Kansas City the next night. I said something about a brew pub or a steakhouse - some place like that. The lady lit up and said, "Oh, you want to go out to the Little Apple Brewing Company. It's like a brew pub and steakhouse in one!"
Her husband said, "Well, the food is much better than the beer."
OK, so I told you that story to set up my entry about the Little Apple Brewing Company. Known to the locals as LABCO, the brewpub has been in business since 1995. Co-owner/chef Russ Loub has been in the restaurant business since the age of 13, eventually earning a degree in culinary arts from Johnson and Wales University. Prior to opening the Little Apple Brewing Company, Loub managed the kitchen at the Manhattan Country Club.
Loub's priority at the Little Apple Brewing Company is to provide his customers with some of the finest beef possible. He uses only Certified Angus Beef for his steaks, but also has a natural, anti-biotic/hormone free Kansas City strip steak on the menu. LABCO also features prime rib on Friday and Saturday nights, and also has a number of standard pub fare items such as burgers, salads, appetizers and some specialty entrees such as a smothered steak and black bean burrito, chicken fried steak and Southern-fried catfish.
I found the Little Apple Brewing Company, tucked back into a strip mall on the west side of Manhattan (see map). From the outside, it sort of looked a little shabby. I walked in and it was like walking into an old west steakhouse. The bar area was off to the immediate right and the main dining room was in the back. I stood at the hostess stand for a moment waiting for someone to come greet me. I looked around at the bar area and saw they had a baseball game on the television and a number of people were eating dinner in there. Unfortunately, the bar, itself, was full, so if I was going to eat in there I was going to have to sit at a table.
A hostess finally did show up and I asked if I could eat in the bar. She said, "Sure! It's open seating in the bar, so anyplace you'd like to plant yourself, go right ahead!"
I found a table for two near the front of the bar area, looking directly at a television with a game on up in the corner. I was given a food menu and a beer menu was on the table. My waitress for the evening, a cute blond with an equally cute name - Cherish - came over to great me. She asked if I would like something to drink and I decided to try their Prairie Ale, a hoppy Indian Pale Ale that is one of their five flagship beers. LABCO also features up to three seasonal beers, but at that time their brewmaster, John, had none to offer.
While I was sort of up for some Tex-Mex food at Texas Star Cafe, I decided to try one of their steaks on the menu. I was thinking of something along the lines of a filet when Cherish returned with my beer. She told they had a special on a natural fed filet that evening for $29.99 for a 10 oz. cut. I told her that I would gladly sign up for that - rare. I had a choice of potato with my meal, so I took the red potatoes. A dinner salad or a trip to their salad bar (located in the back dining room) also came with the meal. I took the salad bar.
The salad bar was very good with a lot of items on the side to choose from. I got some lettuce, a little cottage cheese and a couple other small sides on my plate, then topped the salad out with some of their homemade blue cheese dressing. The salad bar offerings were very fresh and the homemade dressing was very good.
I will say the Prairie Ale IPA was OK, at best. It was a little flat and not quite as forward of a hoppy taste that I've normally found in a good IPA. I thought about getting one of their other beers but really nothing sounded all that good to me. They had a brown ale and a red ale, but I decided to stick with the Prairie Ale for my second beer.
Cherish brought out my steak and it looked very good. I'll call the filet size as a generous 10 ounces. The steak was not over-cooked and had a nice cool red center. It was tender and flavorful. It wasn't the best steak I've ever had, but it was certainly good. There were about five or six small red potatoes on the plate. I think I had a couple of them, concentrating on the steak.
The man that told me the food at the Little Apple Brewing Company was better than the beer was absolutely right. If I were to grade the beer I'd give it a C-. The steak was a solid B+, however. Cherish was a good waitress and I sort of liked the ambiance to the place. For being in a town miles from any large metro area, the Little Apple Brewing Company does a very nice job and is probably one of the top restaurants in the area. Even though I couldn't get into Texas Star Cafe that night, I certainly was far from disappointed with my meal at LABCO.
Next time I go through Manhattan, I'll have to make sure it's not on a Tuesday night...