It’s hard to believe we’ve completed our second year of travel blogging. The time passes so quickly, but fortunately we were able to make a lot of memories. In 2018, we continued to focus primarily on the Central U.S. While many will consider these the “fly-over states”, those in the know realize that they are chocked full of interesting sites just waiting to be explored. To fuel all of our discoveries, we visited a ton of locally owned restaurants, diners, coffee shops, and dessert bars. Paring down to just our Top 10 is quite a chore, since there are so many great eats to be found all over the region. Let’s take a look at the ones that hold special memories for us. (Please note that these are not in any ranked order.)

The interior of Nexus Coffee is decorated with coffee sacks.

Kick Starting Our Day

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. We are betting that it is because it’s the first chance to have a cup of coffee. During a visit to Little Rock, we started one morning at Nexus Coffee & Creative. This place is truly a local favorite, and they made us feel at home. While they don’t have a massive menu, their friendly demeanor goes a long way. They welcome people to drop in for co-working and will offer up space for fundraisers. Too often businesses overlook their responsibility to be a good community partner, but we find that locally owned shops are more willing.  (You can read more about Nexus here.)

The interior of Peacock Diner is filled with bright colors and interesting sights.

A Different Diner

St. Louis is a city that makes a great family vacation destination. With lots of free attractions, travelers can find plenty to capture the attention of all ages. With six blocks of shops, restaurants, and music venues, the Delmar Loop is a draw all on its own. All of this fun means that we need to fuel up and what better way than to do it in style. The Peacock Loop Diner is a 24 hour play place for us big kids. Here you can order adult shakes to wash down your meal and play a game of skeeball while you wait for it to be served up. It certainly was a diner unlike any we have ever visited and had to be included in our Top 10.  (You can read more about Peacock here.)

You have to arrive early to beat the crowds at The Root Cafe in Little Rock.

Getting to the Root of It

No matter how much we plan, there is always the chance of some unexpected disruption. In Little Rock, that happened to be Guy Fieri and his desire to add The Root Cafe to his television show. Obviously, the owners couldn’t pass up this opportunity and we had no issue rescheduling our visit. Needless to say, we found out why customers line up outside before they even open their doors. Yes, we were in that line ourselves one morning, but the rewards were well worth it.  (You can read more about Root here.)

Crystal poses with her massive burger and fries from Pirate Pete's in Parkville, Missouri.

Shiver Me Timbers!

Lots of people use the volume of business at a restaurant to determine its quality. While this can be true, it doesn’t exclude a place that isn’t busy. A prime example for us was a visit to Pirate Pete’s in Parkville, Missouri. This newer dining option was empty on the evening that we visited, but we had heard a little buzz about it. We were so glad that we did, as the staff bent over backwards to please. Not only was the service great, the food was delicious and abundant. Keep that in mind when you visit, since their burgers are substantial.

Pulled pork sandwich on jalapeno cornbread with a side of onion rings.

Popping Into Pop’s 66

How many of you have heard the saying “Get your Kicks on Route 66”? The Mother Road runs from Chicago to Santa Monica, and is filled with interesting sights all along the way. While we haven’t traveled the entire length, we have visited quite a bit of the portion in the Heartland. What we find are a collection of old and new attractions designed to get people off of the interstates that replaced this original highway system. Just outside of Oklahoma City, we stopped in Pops 66 for a retro lunch break. What we found were some interesting takes on standard meals, as well as about 700 varieties of soda pop. (You can read more about Pop’s here.)

The made from scratch dishes at Tupelo Honey showcase the meaning of southern hospitality.

Cracking the Top 10 in Knoxville

In 2018, Crystal finally got her wish to visit the Smoky Mountains. After our visit, we made a pit stop in Knoxville, Tennessee for a couple of days. We had heard that this was a foodie city, so it required a quick verification. Our stay was focused on one area, but it didn’t disappoint. An impromptu lunch at Tupelo Honey gave us a chance to sample some southern fare. Their made from scratch recipes include fresh ingredients and burst with flavor. Look no farther than here, if you are in search of southern hospitality. (You can read more about Tupelo here.)

The bruschetta appetizer at Red Onion Cafe is reason enough to make a visit to Joplin, Missouri.

An Abundance of Good Eats

When we visit restaurants, generally there are two approaches we will use. Sometimes we will go in under the radar, but often we like to prearrange our visits. It can be a little surprising to staff when we pull out a camera and start taking photographs of everything. Of course, when they know we are coming they will often want to have us highlight a wide variety of their menu. This can lead to a lot of food landing on our table. It gives us a good opportunity to sample options, but it can be difficult to walk after a meal like that. Red Onion Cafe, in Joplin, Missouri, had so many delicious dishes that we wound up stuffed by the time we left.  (You can read more about Red Onion here.)

Chris' Cafe is not what we expected to find during a day trip to the town of Osawatomie, Kansas.

Unexpected Treasures

Not every trip we take is a long journey. Sometimes we are in the mood for just a single day of exploring. One of these day trips landed us in Osawatomie, Kansas for some historic discoveries. In between museums, we popped into Chris’ Cafe for a bite to eat. Small town diners usually offer up standard fare, but this place caught us off guard. The owner took her baking skills to heart, when she decided to expand to create healthier options for her customers. We certainly loved the flavors she whipped up, as well as her amazing desserts. (You can read more about Chris’ here.)

Small bites are the main attraction at Bourbon & Baker in Manhattan, Kansas.

Small Bites in the Flint Hills

Our day trip to Manhattan, Kansas ended up being quite the adventure. While we had visited the city many times with our youngest son, (He attended K-State for a while) we never had truly explored the area. We found that it has lots to offer travelers, and that includes some unique eateries. Dinner at Bourbon & Baker was exactly the style of dining that we prefer. Tapas restaurants are gaining in popularity, and this was one of the first we had experienced. We love the small bites version of dinner, as it allows us a chance to sample a wide variety of the menu, while in-taking a reasonable amount of food. This is important for us, especially when our meal is just before a drive back home. (You can read more about Bourbon & Baker here.)

Decadent Dessert Bar offers plenty of sweet and sticky options for those needing to satisfy a craving.

Getting Our Just Desserts

We would be remiss if we didn’t include at least one sweet stop in our Top 10. This one was really hard to narrow down, since we enjoyed so many great desserts throughout the year. We’ve had  ice cream from Little Rock, pecan pie in New Orleans, and scary good shakes in Des Moines. A little closer to home, we discovered Decadent. This coffee and dessert bar serves up home made treats daily. With so many items to choose from, how could we pick just one? Oh wait, we didn’t! (You can read more about Decadent here.)

The authors pause in their hometown to reflect on their Top 10 eats of 2018.

What’s On Your List?

As you can see, we have no problem finding great eats wherever we roam. Our time tested approach of asking the servers for suggestions has been working wonders for us. 2019 looks to be another delicious year of exploration, and we can’t wait to share our discoveries with all of you. In the meantime, we were wondering what are some of the places that you would include in your Top Eats of 2018? Tell us about them in the comments section below, and we will add them to our wish list. Bon Appetit!

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