Thursday, September 23, 2010

Windy Wichita, the R-Kansas River and the Old Mill Tasty Shop

One of the many whimsical sculptures found
along the sidewalks of downtown Wichita.
     True to Dorothy's Kansas Tornado scene in Wizard of Oz, Wichita always seems to be blustery whenever I fly into Mid-Continent Airport. They take full advantage of the Wizard of Oz relationship to Kansas by selling T-shirts and other memorabilia in the airport shops related to Dorothy and Toto's adventure.  We stay at the beautiful Hyatt Regency Wichita within walking distance of Old Down Town.  The Hyatt is on the banks of the river that runs through Wichita, but don't call it the "Arkansaw," here, it is the R-Kansas river though it is spelled the same as the state of the same name. The river is lined with parks and wide walkways for biking, running or strolling.

     Wichita is the home of many aviation industries. Cessna, Lear, Beech aircraft are headquartered here. Being a pilot here is rather ho-hum to the locals who are probably tired of us, but aviation certainly has and still does fuel the economy.

     Walking through the downtown area, especially along Douglas street you will encounter numerous bronze statues of life-sized figures. Adults, children and animals in various poses are randomly placed upon the sidewalks. Some of them even have water features, such as the man in a business suit with his shoes off about to wade into bubbling water coming from the sidewalk. His bronze briefcase and shoes are apart from him as separate sculptures on the sidewalk. It makes for an enjoyable stroll and really adds to the ambiance of downtown Wichita.

 As my copilot and I wandered around we encountered "The Old Mill Tasty Shop" at 604 East Douglas Ave. It piqued my interest. I knew nothing about it (though afterwards, I did an internet search and realized what a gem we had found) but it looked extraordinarily interesting from the street. It was after one pm and needing a lunch, we walked through a time portal and discovered an old fashioned soda shop complete with soda fountains, marble counter and classic round stools. We were welcomed by friendly servers and chose to sit on the stools at the counter. I watched as Dustin, our waiter made a cherry limeade for another customer, squeezing two limes into a glass, adding cherry syrup and soda and stirring it all up with a spoon. If you order a Cola, they mix it themselves: syrup and soda in a real glass. I had a chocolate peanut butter shake while my copilot got a chocolate malt. The shakes and malts are made in the stainless steel mixing cups served alongside your shake or malt so you can pour the rest in as you unavoidably slurp the last sumptuous bit at the bottom of a tall parfait glass.       You could stop there and be totally satisfied, but the sandwiches and soups are delicious. I had a simple ham and cheese with potato salad and my copilot had a Reuben on marble rye.   In our conversation with Dustin, he realized we had never been there before. Before we knew it we were being brought small samples of the other amazingly good stuff:  chicken salad, beef stew, tomato bisque soup, seafood crab salad and a "green" chili made with tomatillos that was spectacular.  We were so impressed with the flavor of each sample that they gave us. Everything have an "just made" fresh flavor and it is obvious that the Tasty Shop chefs put a lot of pride into everything they make.  The special of the day was lasagna, which I deemed too heavy for my lunch, but I did see others enjoying it.  On top of all the great food and service, the prices are extremely reasonable. I learned later that often the wait times are long during the lunch hour. We were lucky to show up when we did and promptly sit down. I would rank The Old Mill Tasty Shop as a "must see" (and eat) location when in Wichita.  I am certainly spreading the word about it to my fellow crew members.