Kansas Country Eats — a visit to Sedan
After two weeks of holiday traveling — almost five days of it on the road from Virginia to Oklahoma to Kansas and back — there were plenty of highlights and, overall, far too much eating.
There was a four-day streak of big meals in Oklahoma (we consumed so much butter that we ran out and had to ration it on Christmas dinner). There was the last jar of minced meat made by my husband’s sweet Granny, who passed away in 2012, which the family made into one last pie (we estimated the jar’s contents had been fermenting for some seven years, but the mix contained only fruit and tasted mostly like liqueur — I liked!). And there were, of course, the half dozen casseroles and the breakfast strata and the brisket dinner with the Hartsfields (though we missed the Jackses this year).
By the time we hit the road for Kansas, I was in the mood for a weeklong fast. But, lo, there was more eating to be done!
Sedan is a small town of about 1,200, tucked among the cattle-spotted flint hills about two hours outside of Wichita, Kan., which is where I grew up. My dad and stepmom recently bought a business and house in Sedan and have been gushing details about its character and wonderful people ever since. I love a good story —and had heard murmurings about good food, too — so I couldn’t wait to visit.
We arrived the day after Christmas and headed straight to one of the eateries that first welcomed my folks to town: Buck’s BBQ. The cabin-like interior is indicative of Sedan’s intense hunting culture, with animal heads mounted on the walls. I had never seen a boar head so big, and dad could already tell me who had killed most of them. Apparently, when you have too many dead animals on your own walls, you bring them to Buck’s. The food was, as you might have guessed, a meat-based selection of briskets and barbeques with a nice selection of beers on tap. I loved the woodsy interior of the back room we sat in, and the way my dad already seemed to know each person that strolled in. My sister and I tried to be good with salads, but the brisket on top of mine was definitely the highlight (And the fried okra appetizer.)
We started the next day with a visit to the shop at Economy MFG, meeting all the friendly people and customers at the new business. We loved chatting up the crew, hearing more about the fascinating history of the business (which I hope to write about in the future) and getting to know some of the people in my parents’ new world. I heard some thoughts on what makes Sedan unique — that it’s far enough from all the other towns that it has had to stand on its own two feet, have its own character and, thankfully, its own lunch spots. Soon enough, we headed to one of the best ones in town.
Tom McCann’s is just what you want in a small town café — a stellar salad bar and an ever changing list of home-cooked plates with just enough choices for us indecisive types. The first day, I had the meatloaf atop butter noodles and covered with a red sauce that put my usual ketchup-and-Tabasco topping to shame. And I got to kick it off with the salad bar (vegetables taste so good when you’re recovering from a butter overdose… so does pasta salad (recipe below). Dad raved about the Green Chile Chicken Soup (recipe below) and I vowed to order soup the next time. My husband had the featured chicken dishes each day, one a cheesy, homey casserole, that I was glad to have the chance to sample, too.
But as good as the food was, the small-town service was the best part. While Tom cooks in the kitchen, Janet McCann is the face out front, greeting each customer by name and even hanging with my dad’s constant grief giving. My dad has a knack/bad habit for spelling words backwards and was thrilled to be the first to tell Janet what her home town, Tulsa, is spelled backwards. Dad was convinced she was the only former Tulsa resident who hadn’t heard that, so she tried to prove him wrong the next day, asking tables of customers if it was news to them. Dad cackled as we overheard the exchange.
The McCanns once owned an evening restaurant in town, but have “retired” to run the lunch-only café. I’m glad they’re still in the business. When Janet heard I have this blog, she offered up a handful of laminated recipe cards for me to include with this post (below). How many restaurants do you know that do that? She said she had them leftover from a year when she gave away recipes as gifts. The meatloaf wasn’t included in the cards, but I’m sure I can snag it if I bat my eyes and ask real nicely, right Janet?
Janet says that she would fully retire, “but where would people eat?” It’s a sentiment shared by at least one other restaurant purveyor in town. Linda Heinlein at The Green Door said pretty much the same thing when she stopped to chat with us over dinner that evening.
We swung into the cozy diner about an hour before its 7 p.m. closing time the week after Christmas. And boy were we in luck — the evening’s special was order anything you want off the breakfast menu! Breakfast for dinner is one of my favorites, and I had been sad to miss The Green Door for breakfast that morning.
For once, I ordered one of the best things on the menu, the “Hobo.” It was a mass of eggs and peppers and onions and sausage and cheese and home fries — hot off the grill. My husband’s chicken-fried pork, which we heard on the way
in was what the place is known for, was pretty spectacular as well. Linda and I agreed that the best way to keep pork steaks from curling on the edges — is to batter and fry ‘em. It was a great breakfast for dinner, made better by the homey feel of the diner, made warm by a nearby space heater, with its chef and owner sitting next to us for a chat. (I only wish I had had my camera handy).
Along with the diner (which she runs “to feed people”) Linda and her business partner also keep up a half dozen homes in town as rentals for visitors. It sounds like a tremendous amount of work, changing sheets and vacuuming floors in the early morning only to stand over a grill for the rest of the day at the diner. She mentioned that someone from the LA Times once drove through Sedan and wrote about her food. “It was nice, but I don’t think anybody saw their paper that morning, jumped in their car and drove to Sedan,” she said with a smile.
Sedan certainly has charm. And good food, to boot. I am eager for my next visit and to write more about the people behind the food and businesses, buildings and history that make up this country-charmed town. And a special thanks to Janet for the following recipes à la Sedan!
Tom McCann’s Pasta Salad
- 1 lb. spaghetti, cooked
- 1 c. mayonnaise
- 2 large cloves garlic, chopped fine
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/3 c. evaporated milk
- 1/2 c. finely chopped red onion
- 1 c. chopped tomato
- 1 c. chopped celery
Cook spaghetti by package directions “al dente.” Drain and rinse with cold water. Drain well. Place in large mixing bowl and add a little olive oil to prevent sticking. Chill two to three hours. In a small mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise, garlic, salt, pepper, Parmesan and evaporated milk. Mix well and refrigerate. When pasta is chilled, add onions, tomato and celery. Add dressing and toss to blend. Adjust seasoning to taste. Place on large serving bowl or on individual, lettuce-lined plates. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley.
Makes 4 Main Course Servings or 6 Side Servings.
Tom McCann’s Green Chile Chicken Soup
- 1/4 c. water
- 5 Tbs. cornstarch
- 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 4.5-oz. can chopped green chiles
- 1/2 c. diced carrots
- 1/2 c. sliced celery
- 1 Tbs. chicken base
- 4 c. water
- 1 tsp. each of salt, sugar, ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 1 c. cooked diced chicken
In a very small mixing bowl, combine water and cornstarch. Stir, making sure there are no lumps. Set aside. In a medium saucepan over moderate heat, sauté onion and green chile until onion is soft. Add carrots, celery, soup base, water, salt, sugar, pepper and cumin. Stir. Continue cooking until mixture comes to a boil and vegetables are tender. Remove from heat and stir in heavy cream. Taste and adjust seasoning to preference. Return to heat and as soon as soup starts to boil slowly stir in the cornstarch mixture until you reach desired consistency. You may not want to use all. Add cooked chicken and continue cooking until soup is heated through.
Makes 6 one-cup servings.