Colloquially referred to as “home cooking,” recipes that have been passed down for generations and are common staples for many households are being served up by myriad restaurants these days. These restaurants are generally the only type found in smaller, rural Kansas areas and, speaking from experience, generally pack a very well stocked home crowd.
Such is the case of our local travel-to and only restaurant on the road. Making the half hour trip to Nelson’s Landing in Leonardville, Kan., I was in search of family atmosphere and tried-and-true recipes.
Luckily for our group, we arrived just before the crowd hit and we were seated in a fairly short amount of time. Others, as we observed, were standing for a good half hour before seating would open up. Awkwardly, however, there is no real waiting area, and with it being a smaller restaurant, we found ourselves staring down the hungry guests from our table. Feeling like something out of Discovery Channel, we couldn’t help but be playfully concerned that someone would jump the enclosure and steal our delicious food.
Once seated, we had the luxury of being hosted by probably the single best waitress I have witnessed during my encounters. Not only was she quick and smart, but she was funny and knew when an opportunity to interact with the customers was a good idea.
Drinks ordered and menus in hand, we got down to business at Nelson’s Landing. Serving up the normal host of bar food appetizers, we took in a variety of the regular favorites.
To begin, sweet potato fries, mozzarella sticks, onion rings and fried pickle spears. There was plenty of all and we dug in.
The coating on each and every dish was so crispy, so crunchy and golden brown that I was sure it couldn’t be as good inside. But it was.
Assuredly, from a cook with plenty of experience, the appetizers we ate were perfectly concocted. Normally, when you eat these finger foods, you get covered in grease, crumbs absolutely everywhere and the filling doesn’t mesh well with the coating. They have it figured out in Leonardville. There was just the right amount of cheese in each mozzarella stick and every single pickle spear was coated consistently and thoroughly. Hidden almost, amid this plethora of food, was a simple yet very delicate addition. Two small loaves of bread were brought out and with each a small cup of butter. But wow did they nail the butter—sweet butter with almost a hint of cinnamon or brown sugar; it took my mind away from the fried food entirely and had me anxiously awaiting the main course.
With a special on prime rib and brisket, I had to go the meat and potatoes route. For a very nice price, I was handed a pile of brisket with homemade mashed potatoes and gravy and a nice cup of green beans. I couldn’t wait to dig in, but I was in shock from what I witnessed across the table from me.
Our party had ordered a variety of foods, but one single dish stuck out like a giant panda in a petting zoo. Chicken fried steak. Not just a chicken fried steak, but the single largest, prettiest chicken fried steak I’ve seen to this day. This too was perfectly brown and with the most crunchy coating and just enough country style gravy to cover the top. Needless to say, we held those who had ordered the chicken-fry in high regard and even higher for those who could finish it.
Cutting into my brisket I noticed the sweet hint of smoke and a very tender piece of meat. The flavor was robust and full, but the meat itself was bordering on dry. I think a bit more juice would’ve made the day, but a splash of their BBQ sauce from the brisket sandwich was also a perfect combination.
The potatoes were so much like home. With some skin still cooked in and chunky so you know they’re fresh, the white gravy was just peppery enough to perfect the duo. The potatoes held up well for themselves; they sat high and the gravy sat on top, not like many restaurants where you get a creamy blob of potatoes that the gravy seeps into. I’m talking about a firm but delicate cloud of rich, buttery potato.
Admittedly, I’m not always a veggie man when it comes to green beans. I like them plain, not done up with bacon and such, and that’s what I got— beans that were actually green and deep with fresh flavors. I would’ve eaten two helpings if I’d had room.
Extra room there was none of after dessert however. As would be par for the course, Nelson’s Landing serves up homemade pie to finish off a meal, and there were plenty of kinds to try. Apple crumb, banana cream and peach pies littered our table.
The apple pie was full of flavor but a bit lacking on the appeal of the apple and filling. A delicious crust and a dollop of ice cream kept the sweet treat nice, but the real impresser was the banana cream pie. With more true fruit flavor and a chunky-creamy mix on top of that perfect crust, I would stop by even just for the pie.
Delicious is the single fitting term for this restaurant. With a sports bar attitude and filled to the brim with local hero Jordy Nelson’s memorabilia, Nelson’s Landing is a must see for any true Wildcat fan. The wall decor was not the eye catcher of the night, however, as Jordy himself made a proper visit, helping serve food and keeping the restaurant moving forward. You really can’t beat the atmosphere when such good food is mixed with such a great staff.