Wichita has a fondness for great food, ranging from the comfort of a known commodity to the flashiness of food trucks. The food is delicious and worth the adoration.
In fact, I’m willing to bet that you’ve tried something that originated in Wichita. Brothers Frank and Dan Carney were students at Wichita State University. As the pizza craze took off throughout the United States in the 1950s, they decided it would be a way to fund their college educations.
They borrowed $600 from family and friends to start a small pizza business. You may know it as Pizza Hut. Yep, the original Pizza Hut was opened in Wichita. It was housed in a small building. The brothers had a sign that would nine letters. They wanted Pizza in the name. An uncle supposedly suggested “hut,” because he thought the small building resembled a hut. Thus, Pizza Hut was born.
The original building was moved to the campus years ago. It seems to be a popular photo opportunity for visitors.
By the way, the brothers, who borrowed the $600 startup funds, sold the chain to Pepsico for $300 million. Talk about a good investment.
Several years earlier, Old Mill Tasty Shop opened for business in the Old Town District. The sandwich shop was started in 1932 by Otto and Erna Woermke. The café was known for its old-fashioned soda fountain and Otto’s green chili.
The current restaurant is the second location. The original Old Mill Tasty Shop was a couple blocks away. The Woermkes decided to move partly because they owned the building they moved to. Apparently, Otto and others moved the soda fountain down the street during the winter, using the ice as help.
Otto and Erna ran Old Mill for almost five decades. After he passed away, Erna eventually decided to sell the business. In stepped Mary and Son Smith. They took over the shop and have been running it for more than 30 years, themselves. Imagine one business that’s been around for more than 90 years with only two owners.
Mary recalls coming to eat at Old Mill in her youth with her dad, so the decision to keep the restaurant in business appealed to her. Another potential buyer wanted to turn Old Mill into an Italian restaurant.
While Mary has kept some of the traditions alive, such as the soda fountain, she has made the restaurant hers. The red chili they serve is her mom’s recipe. The green chili is Mary’s recipe. The Smiths are fans of New Mexican food, having enjoyed trips to New Mexico (one of our favorite states).
However, Old Mill Tasty Shop brings back Otto’s green chili recipe on occasion. When they do, the place is packed. “The green chili is what they come for,” Mary said.
We enjoyed lunch during our visit. We started with a sampler of items – both the red and green chilis (people will order bowls of each as meals), tomato bisque soup, chicken salad and steak soup. Every single one of the samples was delicious. Of course, what would make someone think differently? You don’t stay in business serving bad food.
As we ate our lunch of Sancho (beef on a tostada with fresh lettuce, tomato and cheese (and the green chili), beans and rice, the café soon was packed with a lot of Wichita State basketball fans, grabbing lunch before the Shockers’ game at the downtown arena. I initially got my defenses up, as (being a Creighton Bluejays fan) we were in the den of our once-rival in the Missouri Valley Conference. After a few seconds, I realized they were OK, as the Jays are in the Big East conference now and Wichita is no longer a rival. It’s a weird feeling, though. The food was awesome!
Following lunch, we enjoyed dessert. Lisa had apple bread pudding. I had a strawberry shake. The shake was so thick that it came with a straw AND a spoon. Old Mill Tasty Shop still uses the same ice cream supplier as the original owners. The company was bought by Hiland’s Dairy, but it’s the same recipe. We both liked the desserts.
Mary and Don are reaching an age where they need to start thinking of the café’s future. In their 60s, Mary has cut back to working about four days a week. She can’t see cutting back more right now. “I just still enjoy doing it,” she said.
The restaurant is open weekdays 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and until 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Sunday is a day off for everyone.
For more information on Old Mill Tasty shop, check out its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Old-Mill-Tasty-Shop.
Wichita’s food scene stands still for no one. Nationwide, people line up for a chance to dine from a truck. In Wichita, folks are lucky; they get to grab a meal from one of the best food trucks in the United States.
The Flying Stove is considered one of the “25 coolest food trucks” in the country, according to Forbes.com. They didn’t lie. The truck has cool design, incorporating local attractions, such as the Keeper of the Plains, with its winged stove.
I felt a little bad for the other food trucks on the street. The line for The Flying Stove with at least 12 deep, while the others weren’t as busy. But, their business eventually picked up.
We tried an order of grilled pork Banh Mi and truffle fries. The Banh Mi is a take on Vietnamese food. It had marinated grilled pork on a baguette with pickled carrots and Daikon, jalapeno, herbs, cucumber, chile mayo and roasted peanuts. The truffle fries were tossed in parmesan and thyme. Delicious!
Since Lisa is a food truck addict, her thumbs-up is a good sign that The Flying Stove is indeed one of the best food trucks we’ve eaten at.
For more information on The Flying Stove, please see its website at www.theflyingstove.com.
Not to be outdone by traditional fare or a “fancy” food truck, Wichita has one last great eating gig for us – Legends at the Doubletree hotel near the airport. We met James from the Wichita Visitors Bureau for brunch on our last day.
Oh man! This place was decked out with so many options – breakfast buffet, lunch buffet, fruit and dessert buffet, as well as made-to-order omelet bar.
We did our best to try the entire spread. Eyes can sometimes be bigger than tummies. We split up our coverage of the food. Following a breakfast buffet trip, Lisa tried the omelet bar. I sampled a portion of the lunch items – grilled chicken, wild rice, as well as some pasta dishes. It was all so good.
I did eat healthy, as I had some fruit. Pineapple is a favorite, and I swear theirs had to be fresh.
For more information on Legends, please visit its website at www.legendswichita.com.
We ate well during our visit. Wichita has a great food scene. It’s cool to know it reaches from traditional eateries to the mobile restaurants.
Disclaimer: Thanks to the Wichita CVB for the complimentary meals with Old Mill Tasty Shop, The Flying Stove and Legends. However, all opinions and views are ours.