For awhile when people would ask me where I am currently living, I would say “Anywhere USA“. You know the place-where all of the houses look the same and you are surrounded by strip malls filled with Targets, Applebee’s and Walgreens’. Every state in the Union is filled with Anywhere USA’s so I am not taking a cheap shot at Kansas. It’s suburban sprawl and it seems to be taking over the world.
So a few weeks ago, when I decided to take advantage of the spring-like weather and take a run to downtown Overland Park, I was met with a pleasant surprise: A tall clock tower overlooking a street of local businesses, cafés and passerby’s… just brusting with charm. It only supports my theory that if we just take the time to explore we can uncover local flavor anywhere. Friends, you can find adventure wherever you go.
Despite the huffing and puffing it took be to get there, here is what I discovered:
This shop intrigued me because its full of handmade items from artisans in third world countries. I figured I might be able to pick up a few Christmas gifts and support a good cause at the same time. Inside was an impressive array of Christmas decor along with beautiful pottery, candles and jewelry. Whether or not I picked up gifts remains to be seen, but I did come across a bowl of beautiful hand painted sea stones.
There they were, in all their shiny, smooth, oh-please-pick-me-up-and-cradle-me-in-the-palm-of- your-hand glory, just begging to be given a closer look. Unable to resist, I plucked one from the pile and was so taken by the radiant orange goldfish staring back at me. Something inside me said “I must have one“, and for a mere eight dollars I made it mine. Impulsive? Yes. Was it necessary? I think so.
Walking into the specialty oil and vinegar shop instantly transported me to Old Town Oil in Chicago. It’s chock-full of pressed and infused oils and vinegars from around the world. You want to know the best part? You can sample all of them. Not wanting to be greedy, I only let myself taste a few of what they had including a Milanese Gremolata Olive Oil, which had all the flavor components of an actual gremolata. A Juniper Berry balsamic vinegar, which was delightfully floral. And a chocolate balsamic which I was sure would be terrible, but wasn’t. It would be a great dessert vinegar lightly drizzled over roasted pears with Vanilla ice cream. Ohhhh I want some of that.
Again I was transported back to The Spice House in the Windy City when I stepped inside Penzy’s. Packed with all sorts of exotic herbs and spices it’s a cooks paradise.
I was in the market for some cinnamon and…lo’ and behold…they had an entire section devoted to the beloved spice!
I settled on a Vietnamese Fancy Cinnamon because of its intense, deep and subtly spicy flavors. Plus, it had “fancy” in the name and I liked that (you know those girls who go to the nail salon and pick a hue based on the name at the bottom of the bottle. Yes I am one of those girls). I also grabbed a jar of hot chocolate mix for Jürgen because the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
With my stomach full of oils and spices it was time to eat something heartier. Downtown O.P. has lots of eateries to choose from but I decided on Great Day Cafe because:
A) it was right in front of me
B) I liked the name (there I go with the name thing again)
C) They had outdoor seating and it was an uncharacteristically stunning late November day.
The interior of the cafe befits it’s title: bright colors, mis-matched table settings, inspirational quotes on the walls.
The gentleman who took my order had on a wool cap and a head full of dreadlocks. I thought Hippies were extinct in Overland Park but it just goes to show one should never assume. I ordered the cheddar and zucchini Quiche (only after the counter gentleman had to check with his fellow free-spirited co-worker “Dude! We still solid on both quiches?”…It happened).
Instead of giving out table numbers at Great Day Cafe, they give you an adjective to carry with you. I received “Clever” which prompted my hippie counter gentleman to say “I would have given you beautiful but it’s already taken” (I can’t make this stuff up), to which I awkwardly replied “anyone can be beautiful, not everyone can be clever.” It should be noted that I looked terrible.
I basked in the glory of the delightful sunshine while I devoured my Quiche with a side of cranberry walnut and feta salad. The Quiche was quite lovely…not overly eggy or dense, but rather light and fluffy with a hint of cheddar and a subtle burst of thyme at the end. It was a perfect lunch for an afternoon of neighborhood exploration.
A delightfully niche little gift shop, The General Store has a cool, downtown urban loft feel.
Filled with all sorts of specialty gifts: Jonathan Adler ornaments, sweet-smelling soy wax candles and boutique jewelry. It’s the sort of store which has nothing you need but everything you want.
A pair of fun colored mini-notebooks caught my eye, and since I had already allowed myself to be impulsive once I figured there wasn’t any harm in really going for it. So I also made them mine. In addition I also picked up a wonderfully irreverent little book titled Grandma’s Dead: Breaking Bad News with Baby Animals. Filled with photos of darling puppies, kittens and bunnies and subtitles underneath them saying things like “Your mom blew your college fund on coke” and “It’s syphilis.” I am incredibly mature as you can tell. I gave it to Jürg. He loved it.
As I walked home I made my final stop at the Overland Park Historical Society, located in the Strang Carriage House.
It normally would have been closed, but a lovely older gentleman happened to be there and urged me to come inside where he gave me a brief history of Overland Park. He spoke about how founder, William Strang, purchased a bunch of land in the early 1900’s with the intent to develop thriving communities, how Overland Park was the site of the first airplane flight west of the Mississippi, and the general pride locals have for their neighborhood and their desire to preserve it. I didn’t stay long but it was a lovely look into the history of the neighborhood where I currently reside.
Friends, I have to say, I would have to call this a highly successful exploration day.