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Saturday, February 25, 2017

"TravelValue: Lawrence, Kansas"

Welcome To Lawrence, Kansas 
aka "LFK"

Lawrence is a medium size city of around 90,000, not including 28,000+ students attending the University of Kansas (KU), in East Central Kansas about 40 miles from the Missouri border and the city of Kansas City, Missouri.


Lawrence is the sixth largest city in Kansas, was founded by the New England Emigrant Aid Company, and was named after Amos Adams Lawrence (bust and photo below) who provided finances to establish the settlement. Lawrence was a Union town during the Civil War and site of a massacre of nearly 200 men and boys on August 21st, 1863, also known as Quantrill's raid. Many of the town's wooden structures succumbed to the raider's torches, burning to the ground and leaving a select few that still stand today.

Most well known for KU's infamous basketball powerhouse program with 10 out of the last 12 Big 12 Conference titles and 5 national championships, KU is a charming college town and a liberal enclave in a VERY conservative state. Allen Fieldhouse, named after famed KU and Olympic basketball coach Phog Allen, is home to KU's basketball team. Beside the team's incredible home record, Allen Fieldhouse is one of the most intimidating venues for visiting teams in the NCAA.


A new addition has been built on the east side, ground level, of historic Allen Fieldhouse, making room for thousands of photos, National Championship Trophies, game balls, uniforms and many other displays highlighting the history of KU sports and the University of Kansas Hall of Fame, not just for basketball. Many of the displays are chronologically arranged, making a trip back through KU sports history a breeze. 
Lawrence is also loved for its historic downtown, "Mass Street", so named after Massachusetts Street on which the majority of shops and restaurants can be found between 6th Street to the north and 12th Street to the south. Many of the buildings date back to the mid to late-1800s with a few modern monstrosities mingled in for good measure. You can even find an old fashioned department store, Weaver's, that has been in the same spot since 1857 and is still going strong today.


The Granada Theatre, also on Mass Street, was built in the 1930′s and started as a silent movie theater, continuing to show movies until the 1980s. The Granada has been a well known venue for live acts, mostly music groups, since the late '90s, hosting famous performers such as Marilyn Manson, Smashing Pumpkins, and John Mayer just to name a few.

The KU campus is most charming and the hub of activity and employment in Lawrence with older, classic buildings going back many decades - Wescoe Hall being one of the exceptions - and sitting atop Rock Chalk hill (actually, "Rock Chalk" is the name for a limestone outcropping found on Mount Oread on which the KU campus is perched).



There are several notable museums in Lawrence, among them KU's Spencer Museum of Art with its eclectic and impressive collection, including works by Andy Warhol, Angelo Bronzino, Albert Bierstadt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Édouard Manet, and John Singer Sargent just to name a few.

Having been to some of the world's greatest museums, including the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay and l'Orangerie (Paris), the British Museum and Tate Modern (London), the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Guggenheim (NYC), the Vatican Museums, Galleria dell'Accademia and Galleria degli Uffizi (Italy), Museo del Prado and Museo Picasso Málaga (Spain), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art to name just a few, I must compare the Spencer to them. Although not on the same level as any museum listed above, the Spencer  is impressive on several levels, an excellent value, and entertaining way to spend two to three hours.


Lawrence also has plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, including Clinton Lake State Park to the southwest, three top-rated golf courses (Eagle Bend, Lawrence Country Club, and Alvamar), several miles of walking and biking trails, the Kansas River and several city parks, the largest being South Park (established 1854) with its gazebo-style bandstand (built in 1906) where you can enjoy free concerts on summer evenings and numerous fairs and events throughout the year.




There are numerous restaurants in Lawrence, from chains like On the Border, Chili'sBurger King and Applebee's to fine dining as is the case with Cafe Beautiful. I have not been overly impressed with the quality or choice of restaurants in Lawrence, but some of the better ones are Zen Zero (Thai/Asian fusion), Limestone (pizza), Dempsey's Burger Pub and Burger Stand at The Casbah (hamburgers), Mi Ranchito (Mexican), Thai Diner (Thai), and Korean Cafe (Korean). Lawrence does not have a decent Italian restaurant (an Olive Garden would be the best Italian in town if there was one) and if you want French or German, you have to travel 30+ miles to Topeka or Kansas City. 


MORE ABOUT LAWRENCE, KANSAS

COMING SOON


Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

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Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!



Title: Welcome To "TravelValue: Lawrence, Kansas"

Key Words: Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurants, parks, museums, golf, course, Mass, Massachusetts, street, raid, Quantrill, KU, University of Kansas, university, Jayhawks

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lawrence, KS: Port Fonda's Ship Will Soon Set Sail ... Into Oblivion

Port Fonda
900 New Hampshire, Ste B
Lawrence, KS 66044
Phone number: (785) 856-2535
Website: portfonda.com
Prices: $$$$

I forgot my phone in the car, so please excuse the lack of photos. I have been wanting to try Port Fonda since they opened, but, to be honest, the menu never did do much for me. I like traditional Mexican food and am not enamored with the many Mexican-fusion menus and ingredients that have become so cliche lately. However, before I leave Lawrence and the Midwest for the Left Coast later this year, I thought I should give them a try.

I met a friend downtown and we walked over, entering a large, but mostly empty, dining room that looks more like a sports bar than a Mexican restaurant. I despise paying for chips and salsa, but we ordered it anyway ($5), coming in a small tin bucket accompanied by choice of two salsas (we got the corn and roasted tomatillo). The chips were  a bit skimpy, but fresh and obviously homemade, and the salsas good. but not great. I was a bit disappointed for $5.

The "special" sounded good, a deep fried chimichanga filled with chicken, rice, pork belly and some other stuff topped with a poblano (or was it serano?) chile cheese sauce ($14). The chimichanga was quite tasty, but very greasy, feeling my arteries clogging with every mouthful. It was about half the size of your average chimichanga and came with zilch, zippo, nada, making it the equivalent of a $28 chimichanga, ale carte, no rice, no beans, at your run of the mill Mexican place. Not a great value.

Because my ratings are based on value, bang-for-the-buck, and not on just the quality of the food, I cannot in good conscience give Port Fonda even an average rating (5 Bombs Out Of 10). Let's face it, their ala carte chimichanga belongs in the $6 to $8 range max, not $14, particularly at lunch. Additionally, I detest restaurants that charge for chips and salsa and $5 is ridiculous for what we received. The highlight of our lunch was the server, who was very attentive, but then she should be as we were two of the few customers in the place at noon on a Thursday.

Now I know why the place is empty and why they have received such mediocre ratings. I doubt that this place will be around much longer and am surprised they have remained open for over a year.

CombatCritic Gives Port Fonda 3 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!

Three Bombs Equates To:
Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp - Elite '14/'15/'16/'17 - 650,000+ Views A Year

Tabelog - Official Judge (Silver)


Zomato - #1 Ranked "Verified" Foodie - Over  1,890,733 Review And Photo Views

View my food journey on Zomato!



... And Don't Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube


Read Chris S.'s review of Port Fonda on Yelp


Tabelog Reviewer CombatCritic
View my food journey on Zomato!


Title: Lawrence, KS: Port Fonda's Ship Will Soon Set Sail ... Into Oblivion

Key Words: Port Fonda, port, fonda, New Hampshire, Lawrence, Kansas, Mexican, Mexico, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, business, review, Yelp, Zomato, Tabelog

Translation for Civilians: SNAFU = "Situation Normal, All Fucked Up"

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Lawrence, KS: Taco Taco, Just Give Me A Taco!

Taco Zone 
13 E. 8th Street
Lawrence, KS 66044
Phone number: (785) 424-7123
Website: thetacozone.com
Prices: $$$$

I was not extremely impressed the first time we ate here and am not overly so after the second. I hear many in Lawrence raving about Taco Zone, but have yet to see what all the fuss is about other than it may be the best of many mediocre Mexican food options in a city of nearly 100,000.
The food is pretty good, hence my rating (in comparison only to Lawrence, Kansas and the lack of decent retail food establishments), but in Los Angeles, San Antonio, New York City or other food havens, they would deserve 3-stars at best.
I am acquainted with one of the owners (through the American Legion where they do most of their preparation), a very nice man and well trained at the infamous Le Cordon Bleu in Paris on a scholarship from Julia Child no less, but think Taco Zone is trying too hard to be a "trendy", Mexican-fusion outlet when they should focus a bit more on the basics. There has not been a traditional Mexican taco filling option on the menu in my two visits ... "chorizo and potato", "chicken mole", "chile rojo beef and sweet potato", and "braised lamb and green olive" for example. They should stop trying to be quite so trendy and eclectic and stick more to the basics (carnitas, adobada, carne asada, al pastor, etc.), offering at least a couple traditional Mexican taco fillings.
Then there are the tortillas. I have rarely seen such tiny corn tortillas used for serving "street tacos" and when I have (which is rarely), there are traditionally two. The fillings appear generous when compared to the teeny weeny tortillas, but when you can eat an entire taco in three (not so large) bites, something ain't right. Their "Taco Plate" consists of three tacos for $7 or $2.33333333 per taco with no rice or beans, only some pickled carrots. On "Taco Tuesday" you can get the Taco Plate for $5, a much better deal, but the tortillas are still ridiculously small.
Their guacamole is decent, but also small for the price, coming with chips that are better than many places, but fried a little too long and a tad too salty. The strangest thing being the fact that they scrutinize the number of chips they put in each paper bag order, weighing them on an electronic scale to ensure you do not get one chip more than they have deemed necessary.

I really do want to like this place more because I encourage creativity, thinking outside the box, and the entrepreneurial spirit. If you are familiar with my blog or reviews, you know that I am also brutally honest and rarely give 5-stars (9-10 Bombs) and 4-stars (7-8 Bombs) is reserved for those who go above-and-beyond the call to duty. Taco Zone is average in my book, not a bad thing at all, no matter how many reviewers in general and LFK brethren in particular bestow the highest rating far too frequently in my eyes.

CombatCritic Gives Taco Zone 6 Bombs Out Of 10 ... A Slightly Above Average Rating In My Book And A One Bomb Downgrade From My Previous Review Because My Recommendations Were Ignored ... More Bombs Are Better!
Six Bombs Equates To:


Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp - Elite '14/'15/'16/'17 - 650,000+ Views A Year

Tabelog - Official Judge (Silver)


Zomato - #1 Ranked "Verified" Foodie - Over  1,890,733 Review And Photo Views

View my food journey on Zomato!



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Read Chris S.'s review of Taco Zone on Yelp

Taco Zone Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tabelog Reviewer CombatCritic
View my food journey on Zomato!


Title: Lawrence, KS: Taco Taco, Just Give Me A Taco!

Key Words: Taco Zone, taco, zone, Lawrence, Kansas, KS, University of Kansas, KU, university, Mexico, Mexican, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: G2G = "Good To Go"

Friday, February 17, 2017

Lawrence, KS: Undercooked Steak, Paltry Pasta, And "Nosebleed" Table Left Me Uninspired

Merchants Pub & Plate
746 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, KS 66044
Phone number: (785) 843-4111
Website: merchantsonmass.com
Prices: $$$$

I have been wanting to try Merchants since they opened over three years ago, but every time I checked their menu online, it just did not inspire me. Local hipsters and metrosexuals gave them high marks, raving about their food and beer options, but these are the same people that gives 5-stars (10 Bombs in my book, a rating reserved for only the very Best in Value) to some of the many mediocre restaurants in Lawrence. As a matter of fact, links on Merchants' website list them among "The Best Restaurants In Lawrence, Kansas" (KCUR Radio) and "Lawrence is a great day trip for foodies" (Kansas City Star), along with several less than stellar Lawrence restaurants, according to Kansas City media outlets.
We arrived at around 5:30 for our Valentine's Day reservation, having been called the day before to confirm our reservation and asked if I was "disabled", a rather odd question. I said no, even though I am an 80% disabled veteran, because it's basically none of their business, and was told "good", we'll put you upstairs then". Rather than make an issue of it, I painfully made my way up the stairs to not the first balcony, but to the very top floor, two stories above the "prime" dining room. I survived, but felt like a second (or is it third because of the floor we were on?) class citizen.
















Merchants advertises "Happy Hour", but fails to mention anywhere on their website or menu what time Happy Hour actually is. It turns out, after asking our server, that it is from 5pm to 6pm, so I ordered an IPA ($3.50 vice $7) and a porter ($3.25 vice $6.50) before the clock struck six. Both were quite good and a great value at half of their regular price.
For our appetizer, we were trying to decide between the Local Mushroom Arancini ($9 - arancini are indigenous to my wife's hometown of Naples, Italy) or the Burrata ($10) with broccoli pesto candied garlic, smoked pecan, and slices of grilled Wheatfields baguette. Even though my wife is from Southern Italy and I lived there for three years, neither of us had remembered hearing of "burrata", the menu says nothing about it being made from mozzarella cheese, and our server failed to mention the fact as well. Because the arancini came with a tomato-based sauce (my wife is one of few Italians that hates tomatoes), we decided on the burrata. It was actually quite good, but there was too much of the creamy spread for the six very small slices of baguette. At $10, it was a fair value, but would have been better had it come with a couple more slices of baguette to spread the sweet and savory concoction on. The menu should also mention the fact that burrata is a type of mozzarella cheese because even a Southern Italian had not realized that mozzarella was the main ingredient.
For entrees, my wife had the Housemade Fettucine ($16), a rather skimpy and dry plate of reddish pasta, apparently in a white wine butter garlic sauce with spinach, almond, onion confit, dates, and breadcrumbs. Beside being quite a small portion for the price, it was very dry and tasted mostly of onion. Not a very good dish and my wife, who is not a big eater, was still hungry when she finished it. 

I had the Grilled Ribeye ($32), the most expensive thing on the menu, a 12 ounce steak in a peppercorn, red wine-shallot butter and Worcestershire onion jam sauce (incorrectly spelled "worchestershire" by the way, uncapitalized - Worcestershire is a county in England - and with an "h' where there should not be one). I ordered it medium/medium-well, telling our server that I do not like bloody meat and that a "little pink in the middle" would be great. The steak came out more medium rare than medium well, but even though the server offered to have it cooked some more (meaning "thrown in the microwave"), I declined and ate the "bloody" thing. Even though it was much rarer than I prefer, it was actually quite tender and the sauce extraordinary, making up for unappetizing color of the meat. It came with horseradish roasted potatoes, which were decent, and creamed greens (kale perhaps), which were extremely good.



Because my wife was still hungry, and she has a massive sweet tooth, she could not resist the Persian Love Cake ($7), a cardamom sponge cake with "spiced pistachios, rosewater and saffron scented cream, and candied rose petal dust". It sounded quite bizzare on the menu, but was actually quite exotic and tasty, a nice finish to a decent meal.
First of all, our server, Devin, was very good, quite attentive, and the highlight of the meal. The atmosphere is also warm and inviting, even if we were in the nosebleed section. However, I got the impression that the chef in particular or the establishment in general are trying a bit too hard to be trendy and "gourmet", pulling it off on some occasions (the steak sauce and the dessert) and not on others (the pasta and undercooked steak). The prices are not exorbitant, but when you drop a C-note for dinner, it should be closer to flawless than we experienced at Merchants (e.g. my raw steak).


CombatCritic Gives Merchants Pub And Plate 6 Bombs Out Of 10 With Deductions For The Measly Portion Of Pasta (1 Bomb), Bloody Meat (2 Bombs), And "Nosebleed Section" Table (1 Bomb) ... More Bombs Are Better!


Six Bombs Equates To:

Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp - Elite '14/'15/'16/'17 - 650,000+ Views A Year

Tabelog - Official Judge (Silver)

Zomato - #1 Ranked "Verified" Foodie - Over  1,890,733 Review And Photo Views

View my food journey on Zomato!



... And Don't Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Read Chris S.'s review of Merchants Pub & Plate on Yelp

Merchants Pub and Plate Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato









Merchants Pub & PlateMerchants Pub & Plate





Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!


Valentine's Day Menu





Title: Lawrence, KS: Undercooked Steak, Paltry Pasta,  And "Nosebleed" Table Left Me Uninspired

Key Words: Merchants Pub, Merchants, pub, plate, Massachusetts, Mass, Street, Lawrence, KS 66044, University of Kansas, university, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: G2G = "Good To Go"

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