The Blue Planet Cafe is open Monday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch. Their freshly baked-from-scratch items include pastries, desserts, and breads, even the sandwich bread. The scones are very popular and they offer gluten-free and sugar-free choices.
The restaurant buys local produce, recycles, composts and strives for energy efficiency. Their ballroom (yes, they have one) is used for live music, poetry readings, and meetings. The main walls of the building feature a different local artist every month.
For lunch, I ordered black bean and cheese quesadillas. As expected, they were delicious, but I truly appreciated the lack of oil used in the preparation. The tortilla was light and crispy on the outside with melted cheesy goodness inside. Another at my table ordered tomato soup which smelled divine and had nice-sized chunks of tomato swimming in the broth.
Linda and Jeff Carson are the owners of Blue Planet. On the day of my visit, ‘Ma Linda’ (as she is called) made the rounds offering freshly baked Sybil cookies. She named them Sybil’s because they are multi-personality cookies. The treats include chocolate chips, cranberries, macadamia nuts, raisins, etc. How could I resist?
The Blue Planet Cafe is not a fancy place, just a terrific place to meet friends for breakfast or lunch. They cater to vegetarians, but consent to selected lunch meats as well. Ma Linda explained that Saturday brunch was quite something to behold. “Over here I get the church-type ladies, opposite sit the breastfeeding LaLeche Moms, the health food nuts linger around the corner, and everyone else just fills in,” she said.
It’s a happy and happening place.
At dinner time, I didn’t expect to indulge in a world-class meal, but I was served one at Topeka’s Row House Restaurant.
If you weren’t looking for a restaurant, you would never guess it’s one from the exterior of the building. Number 515 is a row home, a charming one with three levels, a garden and patio which all lead to small group and intimate dining experiences.
Many of the fresh ingredients used at the Row House Restaurant are grown in the garden, just steps outside the kitchen. The ground floor sneaks in a small bar, which creates an atmosphere conducive to camaraderie.
Charismatic Chef Greg Fox changes the menu weekly, which is updated and posted on their website. He says, “I base my menus on the season, what’s available, and what I feel like eating. I am inspired by Kansas, by my upbringing, and by the many great women in my family who fed me all these years. You will always find a taste of where I am from in my cooking. ”
Although the menu selections change from week to week, the meals consistently include a salad, soup, three entrees (one always vegetarian), and three desserts. Personalization is available if you decide to ask, for example — a larger portion of just two of the entrees or just one dessert. You get all this at an amazingly low price — just $37.00 per person.
I didn’t make any menu changes because I wanted to experience the Chef’s fresh repertoire. For a late September visit, here is the decadent menu I was served:
Salad of romaine, radish, cornmeal croutons, and capers with Feta vinaigrette. The croutons were crunchably homemade.
The soup, a potato, carrot and kale mixture, sang smooth and creamy, not too thick.
Entrees began with the vegetarian choice: pumpkin and parmesan risotto with mustard greens. It was very fall tasting.
Next, came beef tenderloin, parsley chimichurri, and roasted root vegetables. I especially loved the beets, sweet and earthy.
Lastly, I was served a small portion of crusted chicken breast stuffed with Brie, cranberry cherry fool, and roasted root vegetables. This was my favorite entree because the sweet boldness of the cherries stood up well to the chicken.
Three bite size servings of dessert came on one plate. What a great idea. I wish other restaurants would offer this option. Mine included chocolate cream pie with raspberry swirl, banana crumb cake, and vanilla custard and apple walnut granola parfait. I have a sweet tooth and loved them all.
If I lived in Topeka I would be a regular at the Row House. Greg Fox demonstrated his superior command of the kitchen and his use of seasonally fresh and tantalizing combinations. He’d keep me coming back for more. — Story and photos by Debi Lander, RFT Contributor
515 SW Van Buren
785 235 1700
Open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday. Reservations strongly recommended
Blue Planet Cafe
110 SE 8th Avenue
Topeka, KS 66603
Closed on Sundays.