People love to eat. And whether it’s classic Kansas City barbecue, locally sourced bratwurst, Southern comfort food or homemade baked-in-the-oven bread, America’s Crossroads has flavors for everyone.
Whatever your pleasure, these five kitschy, historic or distinctive restaurants are great stops for groups traveling through the region.
Thee Abbey Kitchen at Arcadia Academy
Katherine Rouse, owner of Thee Abbey Kitchen at Arcadia Academy, carries on her mother’s tradition of grinding wheat kernels into flour daily to bake her signature cinnamon rolls and bread. Thee Abbey Kitchen started with bread and expanded its menu to include soups, sandwiches, burgers, steak and pasta.
The restaurant, in a former convent in Arcadia, Missouri, is a destination. Visitors can not only partake of the homemade food but also tour the site’s historic buildings, which date back to 1846 when the property was built as a Methodist High School. They can also grab a craft soda from the old-time soda and root beer fountain, eat some homemade frozen custard and take a horse-and-carriage ride around the property.
Thee Abbey Kitchen can serve up to 300 visitors in its large banquet facility and up to 75 people in the main restaurant. The Rouses host many events there, including murder-mystery dinners, theater performances, concerts and festivals. There is also an antiques mall.
Packed full of history, the complex was initially owned by Katherine Rouse’s family. She and her husband, Darwin, purchased it in 2011 and have been running it ever since. The 16-acre property has numerous historic buildings on it that visitors can tour, including a chapel, and the Rouses opened two bed-and-breakfasts on-site.
Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que/180 Room
Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que was founded in an old gas station in Kansas City. The restaurant’s owners, Jeff and Joy Stehney, got their start in the business by competing in local barbecue contests in the early 1990s, “which are very popular here in Kansas City and elsewhere around the country,” said Doug Worgul, director of marketing for the restaurant.
They won some famous competitions and developed a world-class recipe for barbecue seasoning. “On the strength of their barbecue contest victories, they started catering weddings and graduation receptions for friends,” Worgul said. Their first foray into owning a barbecue restaurant came when a chicken restaurant in a nearby gas station closed down. The couple asked to take over the space, and Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que was born. In 2006, the Stehneys opened their second location in Olathe, Kansas, where the 180 Room is located. The 180 Room can seat large groups of visitors, and the restaurant itself can seat 250 people.
Both Joe’s and the 180 Room serve the restaurant’s classic Kansas City barbecue.
“It starts with good seasoning,” said Worgul. “Our seasoning is savory, sweet, salty and peppery. That’s what a good barbecue rub typically is.”
The tomato-based sauce is also traditional to Kansas City and flavored with molasses, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion and celery seed. “It’s got some spice in there, too, but it is not too hot,” Worgul said. “It is a well-rounded condiment.”
Large groups are encouraged to rent out the elegant 180 Room. At that time, they choose which menu items they would prefer. The same Kansas City barbecue is served in all three of the restaurant’s Kansas locations.
Superior Bathhouse Brewery
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Rose Schweikhart was a home bathtub brewer before she decided in 2011 to open the country’s only brewery within the confines of a national park. In a former historic bathhouse in Hot Springs National Park, the Superior Bathhouse Brewery uses the thermal spring water that is piped into the building to make its beer.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Hot Springs was a vacationer’s paradise. But by the 1980s, most of the bathhouses were closed to the public. Local representatives to Congress requested money to rehabilitate the historic buildings in 2001 and were awarded $15 million. Two of the original seven historic structures in the area still serve as bathhouses, but the rest have been refurbished for use as retail shops and restaurants.
Originally from New Jersey, Schweikhart said it was a challenge to open a craft brewery in Arkansas and “have to face a craft beer culture we did not have.”
The brewery opened in 2013 as a restaurant and craft beer tasting room. She didn’t offer her own beer until January 2015. Now the establishment has 18 craft brews on tap and serves a wide selection of salads, sandwiches, bratwurst and hot dogs made from locally sourced meats and produce. A local farmer provides the meat for the restaurant, and the brewery provides him with its spent brewing grains to feed his free-range heritage hogs.
Tour groups are easily accommodated at the venue, which can seat 100 people. The brewery also offers a package for groups that includes lunch, a flight of beer and a talk about the brewing process.
The Dinner Detective
The Dinner Detective, a dinner theater housed in Oklahoma City’s historic Skirvin Hilton Hotel, is not your typical murder-mystery show. Gone are the hokey costumes and Colonel Mustard-type bad guys. Instead, The Dinner Detective offers a four-course meal with a side of “‘Saturday Night Live’ meets ‘Law and Order,’” said Tavis McClennon, co-executive producer of the dinner theater. Based on real cold cases, the mysteries presented are quite difficult to solve.
The three-hour show is “super fun,” said McClennon. After 10 years with the Dinner Detective, he says he still laughs at every single show. Actors are placed among the guests, and each has their own back story.
The only ones wearing costumes are the detectives who follow a loose script as they drop clues and help visitors solve the murder. The Dinner Detective’s location inside one of Oklahoma’s most haunted hotels adds to the overall ambiance of the night. Dinner includes an appetizer; salad; a choice of chicken, fish or vegetarian entree; and cheesecake for dessert.
The venue can seat about 80 people during a public showing and up to 750 people for special events.
South on Main
Little Rock, Arkansas
Matthew and Amy Bell opened South on Main in 2013. The restaurant puts its own spin on some classic Southern dishes like catfish and chicken fried steak.
The Bells wanted their restaurant to “showcase Southern food in a way that is elevated, but in a way that is comfortable and accessible,” said Amy Bell. That means preparing traditional dishes like catfish, coleslaw and hushpuppies alongside more exotic dishes like trout with Arkansas basmati and mashed carrots, and duck confit with sweet-potato hash and a sunny-side-up egg.
Matthew Bell has been a chef for 14 years, working for some of the country’s top restaurants. He was looking for jobs outside Arkansas when he was approached by Oxford American magazine to open a restaurant and bar in its building that could also host events sponsored by the magazine. The Bells jumped at the chance, and one of Little Rock’s most beloved restaurants was born.
The Bells work with local farmers to incorporate as many seasonal foods as they can.
“We’re trying to find that story a Southerner identifies with,” said Matthew. “We’re not trying to re-create grandma’s dish but give them a taste profile that is nostalgic.”
South on Main hosts concerts, book readings, film screenings and lecture series, all while serving its full Southern menu.