Mr. K’s Farmhouse
Mr. K’s Farmhouse is a favorite in the small Kansas town of Abilene, with a menu that includes homemade chicken fried steak, baked ham, roast beef and orange chicken.
The place was originally named Lena’s, after its first owner, Lena Benson, who bought the 1888 farmhouse and converted it into a restaurant in 1939. She served tourists from both coasts, foreign diplomats, White House officials and even President Dwight Eisenhower.
When Lena retired in 1974, the restaurant closed. In 1995, longtime restaurateurs Ed and June Kuntz revitalized the restaurant, now run by their son.
Lena customarily paddled diners on their birthday, and they signed that particular paddle. President Eisenhower received an early 75th-birthday paddling. His signed paddle still hangs on the restaurant’s wall.
Today, the tradition lives on. Hundreds of paddles filled with signatures hang on hooks and fill old crocks.
“Over the years, numerous celebrities have eaten here, including Jimmy Stewart and Abilene’s own Marlon Fitzwater, former press secretary to Ronald Reagan and George Bush,” said owner Todd Kuntz. “I actually paddled Fitzwater on his birthday.”
Smaller groups eat in the Eisenhower room, where Mamie and Ike watched the first televised World Series. Diners can sit in chairs signed by the Eisenhowers.
Stone Hill Winery
Hermann preserves its Bavarian heritage through historic architecture, food and, of course, its wineries. Set on a hilltop within city limits, award-winning Stone Hill Winery has a labyrinth of underground cellars and more than 160 years of history.
“It’s been suggested that if Prohibition hadn’t happened, we might be the Napa of today,” said Lucinda Huskey, public relations manager at the winery. “Our winemaker, David Johnson, has been here 34 years and is one of the most awarded winemakers this side of the Rockies.”
Thirty-minute tours offer tastings. For an in-depth look, Stone Hill’s winemaker leads a two-hour behind-the-scenes Grapes-to-Glass tour.
Wine enthusiasts will appreciate the large gift shop and Old World tasting rooms. One features a tasting bar created from oak barrel staves.
Outdoors, live music plays Saturday afternoons mid-May through October.
The Vintage Restaurant, located in a restored horse barn and carriage house, specializes in German fare. The sampler platter features sauerbraten, pork schnitzel and bratwurst, accompanied by potato salad and braised red cabbage.
The in-house pastry chef makes a popular German apple strudel with alternating layers of phyllo and apples, spiked with a bit of sugar and almond flavoring.
Union Depot’s Harvey Girls
At Leavenworth’s restored 1888 Union Depot, ladies dress like Harvey Girls and serve chicken salad on croissants, baked chicken or brisket. Afterward, they perform a skit recounting stories about the girls and Fred Harvey’s creation of the nation’s first restaurant chain.
“Fred Harvey actually lived in Leavenworth, and his home is undergoing restoration,” said Connie Hachenberg, director of the Leavenworth Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Even though we didn’t have a Harvey House restaurant at Union Depot, we like to tell his story.”
In 1875, Harvey opened two railroad eateries in Kansas and Colorado while he worked as a freight agent. After they closed, he approached Burlington Railroad, who turned him down. In 1878, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway contracted him for their routes.
His waitresses, dressed in black and white, became known as Harvey Girls. He advertised back east for the girls to come out. At the time, it was fairly prestigious.
They were kept in dorms and checked every morning to make sure they wore their girdles. Judy Garland helped make the waitresses a household name when she starred in the MGM musical film “The Harvey Girls.”
“I like to loan out the movie, and groups watch it on the coach before they arrive,” said Hachenberg.