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I am sitting on the deck, drinking my first cup of coffee for the day. My eyes are closed, and I listen to birds singing as a light breeze caresses my skin. I know the truth when I hear the train whistle in the background.
I am not in Kansas anymore.
I open my eyes, and instead of seeing that lush cornfield that continued until it met the sky, only to be cut through by a train from the Santa Fe railroad, I see my sweet pup and the ball in her mouth that she wants me to throw for her. I throw it and hope that if I close my eyes again, I can almost transport myself back to Strong City, Kansas, in the Heart of the Flint Hills, to Chef Stan Lerner’s latest venture: The Little Restaurant on the Prairie.
My visit was four years in the making, it took him 3 years to restore and renovate the old church he bought, which was adjacent to a trailer park and falling apart. It had no deck or windows and was one strong wind away from being erased from existence. Open for just a little over a year now, it is easy to see how this would be one of those reasons that you need to pull off that 47 miles of the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway as he still plays with his menu and tests what might and might not work for his customers.
The former Flint Hills church-turned-restaurant is a beautiful space with big, airy windows, preserved original flooring, and a wonderful wood-burning stove that screams winter cozy.
The eclectic tables and chairs scream farmhouse chic and are a fun contrast to the Michelin Quality food plated to perfection. You would be hard-pressed to find a unique dining experience to top this. He even describes it himself as “French Country meets Norman Rockwell.”
There is an intimate deck with two tables that overlooks that picturesque view I described, and his food couldn’t be more locally sourced than his own garden out back. That is the heart of his farm-to-fork menu which is lovingly created from scratch.
He keeps it Simple
Let’s talk about the Little Restaurant on the Prairie menu – it is literally only ten items long when you include soup and salad, but they are all done to perfection. I ate there a few times and tried a few different things:
Quiche – that is how it is listed on the menu. It’s an artichoke heart and spinach quiche, seasoned with his house Mediterranean blend and nestled in a real butter crust. It is dressed with an incredible field salad with a balsamic dressing.
My eyes rolled back into my head as I savored every delectable bite.
Salmon – again, it is beyond simply stated on the menu. He hand carves this, poaches it in olive oil, and then seasons it and plates it on a bed of asparagus. Baby potatoes and perfect-crunch-cooked Brussels sprouts surround it. My favorite part? None of that gray portion of tissue lies just under the skin normally. I know that is a fatty deposit rich in omega-3 fatty acids, but I swear it always adds a “fishier” taste to a meal.
While this meal was too large to eat in one setting, I made it happen. The balance of flavors was forcing my fork to take bite after bite…
Egg Salad – again, understated. First of all, it was in his legendary “Prairie Bread” and served warm. Farm-fresh eggs in mayo, with his secret weapon seasoning, turned this into a handheld “burrito” of sorts.
Corn Chowder – it was his much-anticipated soup of the day and one I sadly couldn’t test myself as I am allergic to bell peppers, and it was a creamy collection of diced red bell peppers, corn, potato, and onion that smelled amazing. My lovely host Toni tasted it for me.
Magic Cookie Bars – One of Chef Stan’s legendary desserts blends his homemade cookies and the deliciousness of 7-layer bars. Toni and I shared HALF of one. It was so rich that it had my body begging for more coffee. He sells them online by the pan – you can order them for yourself here: Chef Stan’s Magic Cookie Bars
Lemon Tart – His incredible butter crust houses his fresh version of lemon curd. It isn’t overpoweringly tart, yet it is sweet enough to be refreshing while it tops off one of his meals.
Limited Hours for the Little Restaurant on the Prairie
He is a busy guy, renovating the “Cheapest House in America”, helping others in the community, selling and shipping Magic Cookie Bars, and more. Here is what you need to know: Chef Stans Place is open Sunday 11-2 only…but check his Facebook Page to see when he opts for extra days and hours.
Who is Chef Stan Lerner?
He is like an older version of me, and from California instead of Wisconsin, LOL. Professional Chef who started kitchen experiments before he was a teen. A published author. A farm-to-fork food fanatic. A person who believes in leaving a place better than he found it – building on that sense of community.
He’s a pretty cool guy who learned from people like Wolfgang Puck and hob-knobbed with more A-listers than you can think of and brings all of that history with him for the Little Restaurant on the Prairie.
So why Kansas?
Like many of the 2,500 Chase County residents I chatted with over my visit, he came to visit and was hooked. The beauty of the area. The kindness of the people. The ability to bring unique cooked-from-scratch food to the area would easily command twice the price tag in my area of Madison, Wisconsin.
Undoubtedly, this Little Restaurant on the Prairie is one of those places you will be telling your friends about for years to come. Make sure to add it to your bucket list for your next Kansas road trip. Chef Stan’s Place is a hidden gem in the Flint Hills of Kansas. It’s definitely worth the drive to try his farm-to-table menu items!
Chef Stan’s Place: 225 Church St, Strong City, Kansas