There's a lot of history within Strataca at the Kansas Underground Salt Museum?about 275 million years' worth. It was way back then when the once mighty Permian Sea dried up, and its receding waters revealed something that would forever change the Hutchinson area: salt. Salt as far as a terrified slug's eyes could see. The mineral covered some 27,000 square miles, and it waited there for eons, until Ben Blanchard?an oil man?accidentally discovered it in 1887. Then salt companies began mining the area, eventually clearing out enough room for a museum, 650 feet deep within the Earth's crust.
To reach that depth, visitors travel down a mine shaft on Strataca's double-decker transport. And that ride is only the first of many. Surrounded by walls of exposed salt, the Dark Ride sends guests on a tram through the mine's exhibits on air flow, hazards, and history. The Salt Mine Express then journeys to an area of the mine virtually unchanged from the way it was 50 years ago. Aside from these permanent attractions, the museum also hosts special events, including its Salt Safari, which sends groups wandering through miles of dark tunnel with only a lighted hard hat.
Between the two of them, longtime friends David Schwartz and Gary Nardilla have nine children. That is a number of mouths to feed, and the fathers do it with fresh, healthy ingredients. So when the friends opened Epic Bowl, they decided to cook for every guest as they would for their own families. Using whatever organic fruits and produce they receive from the farmers’ market that week, the chefs fashion dishes they think will taste great, whether that includes sprout salads, smoothies infused with young-coconut water, or pesto-caprese sandwiches layered with cucumbers, tomatoes, and hearty slabs of cheese. Hot and cold bowls include ingredients such as organic acai, organic chicken, quinoa, and swiss chard. Through the stone-flanked entryway, an outdoor patio is scattered with tables and oversized umbrellas that protect patrons from feral satellites.
The scent of Caribbean Coffee Company beans wafts through The Good Cup's doors, drawing passersby into a parlor filled with comfy seating and freshly baked pastries from D'Angelo's and Debbie's Delights. Once inside, they discover baristas pulling steamy shots of espresso and customers with heads buried in novels and hands grasping ice-cold lattes. Aromas such as mint and lavender emanate from pots of SerendipiTea loose-leaf tea, whose rising steam forms the crossed pattern of a Union Jack proudly waving above fresh-baked British scones. Italian and French influences also shape the menu, which teems with sweet scoops of gelato and savory slices of quiche. The outdoor patio opens up for al fresco dining on warmer days, when the sun’s rays compete with strong Wi-Fi signals for customers’ affections.
Photographic-style wallpaper depicting shelves packed with books and a chalkboard scrawled with the day's menu are just some of the playful touches inside Book Ends Cafe. Despite its lighthearted decor, though, the eatery is serious about food: everything on the menu is made by hand using organic ingredients from local farmers' markets. Signature sandwiches include those featuring a brisket banh mi, pickled beets, or lemon-marinated chickpea salad. To complement the cuisine, the cafe also serves local products such as Green Star coffee and Pop Culture sodas.