We love finding cities that have recaptured the magic of their downtown corridor. For decades this nation has seen the urban flight, which has left the inner cores of our cities empty. With all of the existing infrastructure still in place, these areas are ripe for redevelopment, like what we found in Hays, Kansas. During our first day of exploring, we had an opportunity to sit down to dinner with Janet Kuhn, one of our friends from the local tourism bureau. It was a great time to eat, drink, and enjoy at Gella’s Diner and Lb. Brewing Co.
We want to thank Hays CVB and Gella’s Diner for hosting our visit. Rest assured all opinions are our own.
If you travel back to the start of this century, you will find that many cities were starting to see the potential of redevelopment. While the suburban sprawl was still in full swing, many saw the dire need to recapture what was missing from their city’s core. For generations, locals had shopped, dined, and fellowshipped in the downtown areas. The big question for many was “What can be done to spark an interest in our downtown?”. What many cities discovered was that if you build it, they will come. In Hays, it took a small group of investors that put a serious effort into revitalization. The formation of the Liberty Group offered a vehicle that would drive this change.
After a few years, there had already accomplished the renovations on a couple of dozen buildings. Stepping back to look at their work, they realized that there needed to be a flagship restaurant that would anchor the Chestnut Street District. Drawing people into the downtown would require places for shoppers to eat, drink, and enjoy themselves. It was decided that this new eatery would give a nod to the city’s German heritage. The name Gella’s is German for “yes”, and the Lb. in the brewery’s name is short for “liquid bread”. To add an extra layer of historical charm, the interior is decorated with vintage murals painted by Fort Hays State University students.
Eat, Drink, and Enjoy
Being surrounded by all of this history definitely adds an extra level of special to a meal. While Crystal and I are not big beer drinkers, we did find some cold drafts that we wanted to sample. Gella’s is well-known for its hand-crafted root beer and crème soda. We weren’t about to pass up these frosty beverages. Sure enough, both were delicious and had a nice depth of flavor. My root beer paired well with the Frontier Burger, which starts with a juicy 1/2 lb. patty. Throw on some crispy bacon, crunchy onion rings, and a drizzling of BBQ sauce to make it better than a backyard barbecue. Their crispy Sweet Potato Fries were a great match for this hearty entrée.
Crystal had to go and pick a chicken dish, which I knew she would. When I’m reviewing a menu and see a dish with avocado or pesto, I can bet she will order it. Sure enough, the Grilled Pesto Chicken Breast was right at the top of the entrée list. They start with a boneless breast that has been grilled to smoky perfection. Then they slather it with a generous helping of homemade pesto. The dish comes with sides of roasted new red potatoes and sautéed vegetables. She ensured me that the entire meal was delectable.
Janet, who had been filling us in on the behind the scenes in Hays, had her own favorite dishes at Gella’s. As our server was taking our order, I heard her choose the Beef Stroganoff. It is rare that my mind is swayed, once I have chosen my dish. This was one of those rare occasions, and I could picture the silky sauce drizzled over the egg noodles. Oh well, I would stand by my decision and just relish in the opportunity to have more dishes in this article. Once we began eating, it was obvious that Janet had the inside scoop. Her dish was constructed with loads of beef and mushrooms, which are braised with an Oatmeal Stout made in-house. I cataloged this dish for the next time we are in Hays. Kansas.
As though we hadn’t eaten enough food already, our server came by to remind us of the desserts at Gella’s. I am never one to stand in the way of sampling more flavors from a menu, so I twisted my tablemates’ arms to grab a couple of dishes to sample. Between the three of us, we figured we could polish off two selections. One of them had to be the German Chocolate Cheesecake, which is a sinfully decadent dessert. The German chocolate frosting is packed full of pecans and coconut. The second pick was French Toast Brûlée, which is soaked in vanilla custard and flash-fried to perfection. A sweet syrup and caramel sauce takes this dish over the top. Yes, we were able to finish them.
Gella’s does Hays Right
This is one of those times that we are thankful we took our selfies before dining. By the time we finished our evening, it was nearly closing time. Our conversation with Janet had covered so many topics in and out of Hays. These are some of our favorite times when we visit a new destination. This chance to eat, drink, and enjoy the company of another gives us lots of insight into the community we are visiting. We learned about the ups and downs that the city has experienced and how the progress of moving it forward is working. This common thread is shared in cities and towns all across the nation, as each strives to provide its citizens with the best that they can do. It makes us realize that no matter where you travel, it is all about the people who call the city home.