Decent Chinese food in Rural Kansas
Last Tuesday, my roommates and I went to Lyons, Kansas for dinner. To you non-Hutchinsonians, it's about a 45 minute drive. Lyons is significantly smaller than Hutchinson and only marginally closer to Hutch than Wichita, so why on earth would we go there for dinner?
Empire China Restaurant, 105 West 1st Street is why. I discovered the Chinese place in Lyons several months ago when I went out for a drive with my friend Danielle and we just happened to stumble upon the place. The food was excellent and the service was great.
There are two Chinese restaurants in Hutchinson. They both center around dismal buffets with inexcusable amounts of American food. Really, if I wanted to eat ham, I'd go to Sirloin Stockade. Mikaela and David (aforementioned roommates) wanted Asian food, I made the suggestion. It was a sunny daylight-savings-time early evening. We surrendered to wanderlust and the quest for good food and hopped in the car.
Once at the restaurant, we started off with egg rolls and pot stickers (known in Japanese as gyoza). The egg rolls were made with spring roll wrappers and not as great as I remembered, but the pot stickers were great. Mikaela, who grew up in Japan, was so happy with them that she ordered another plate!
For my entree, I had the urge to try something different, something more authentically Chinese if I could find it. After picking over the menu, I had narrowed my choices down to two: the whole fried talapia or the Hong Kong duck (basically Peking duck). After thinking long and hard about the possible ramifications of ordering an uncommon fish dish in a Midwestern restaurant, I decided to order the duck. I was encouraged by the fact that it was a half duck and much less expensive than duck options I had seen back in South Carolina. I think it was something like $12 or $15 - at that price, I was willing to take my first shot at Peking (excuse me, "Hong Kong") duck.
When the food finally arrived, the owner came over to our table. I don't think she remembered me.
"You American?" she asked, looking at me.
*Long pause, me giving her funny look*
"NOOOO! YOU NOT AMERICAN! AMERICAN DON'T ORDER DUCK!"
She laughed long and hard. Mikaela, David and I looked at each other awkwardly.
"American don't order duck or whole fish. American don't like bones, don't like eyes, they like just piece of meat, no bones," continued the owner.
"Well, actually, I was thinking about ordering the whole fish, but I was afraid it wouldn't be very fresh," I said.
"Our fish very fresh, you order fish next time!" said the owner. "You like the duck?"
"It's very good," I replied.
And it was. However, it was very...ducky. It was half a duck cut up into small-ish pieces, bones and all. It included a leg, a breast cut in half, a wing, a neck piece, a couple of rib pieces and a couple of back pieces. It came with a side bowl of steamed rice (or fried, if that's your preference) and a hoisin-type dipping sauce. It was garnished with 4 broccoli florets, the only vegetation present on the plate. The skin was crispy and tasted like it had a sweet glaze. The meat was dark and fatty and delicious. I was only able to finish about half of it, but I brought the rest home for leftovers. All in all, a pretty tasty meal, although some more vegetable matter would have been welcome.
As we were leaving, the owner called out to me, "Hey, you here a couple months ago with tall girl?"
I laughed at her accurate if simplistic description of my friend Danielle, "Yes, yes, I was."
"Ahh, now I remember! You not wait so long to come back!"
I won't. Maybe you'll come with me. If you live around Hutch and want to go up to Lyons for some good Chinese food, hit me up. We'll go. I'll order the whole fried talapia. You'll meet the owner. We'll try and convince her to move to Hutchinson. She'll laugh us off. We will go home sated, happy, adventurous Midwestern-Americans. Maybe eventually we'll tell her that outside of Rural Kansas, Americans LOVE Peking duck.
Empire China Restaurant
105 W 1st St, Lyons, KS 67554
this is my biggest peeve - don't dumb it down and serve what is asked . I LIKE duck in fish sauce and black vinegar, odd cuts, and weird bits. we don't all want Panda's Paradise sweet n sour prok or moo goo whatever.
up in Manhattan KS Hu-Nam used to turn out a good duck (a million years ago) but as the name implies it was sorta half VN and Chinese. not the fast food joint in Aggievile
re: hill food
Unfortunately, in many parts of Kansas, most of the non-ethnic clients don't have enough experience with asian cuisine and/or aren't adventurous to try something different. I'm actually taking a group of friends up to Lyons this Friday to give this place a try and show them that not all white Midwesterners are "culinarily challenged"!