Courtesy of the Dancing Bear Cafe
By John Drake Robinson
Bela, an aging Great Pyrenees, greeted us in the yard with a friendly bark that said, “What took you so long?” Bela had a point. It took me three years to get here. Mostly my fault. Procrastination. Missed signals. Still, in the interest of full disclosure, dinner at the Dancing Bear requires a commitment, and therein lies the charm. You’re in the sticks. Yes, you need reservations. An onboard GPS will come in handy, too, as you drive east of Higginsville and south through Corder, then down a gravel road sorely lacking signage. That doesn’t deter Kansas Citians from venturing out to taste this hidden gem. It’s worth the trip. We walked into a monument to country style: soft yellow light from lamps with earth-tone lampshades, chairs that don’t mind if they don’t match the tables or each other, and a low ceiling, but not so low that you bump your head on the turn-of-the-century rafter beams. I sat next to an old pump organ as faint sounds of John Hiatt’s “Memphis” played from the kitchen. I looked around at the rugs, tablecloths, and tapestries working together to wrap the room in layers of comfort. Layers is the operative word, because this house, my friends, was originally built as a chicken house. The laying hens are long gone, of course, and the place has been scrubbed but not screwed up. Behind its overstuffed chairs and the warmth of a fire in the hearth, it’s still an old chicken house, and that sets the stage for a food extravaganza. The food, lovingly prepared by chef Katie Crutchfield, is tremendous. We started with ginger butternut squash soup and home-baked breads. I had Red Hot Shrimp & Peppers sautéed in a spicy lemon and butter hot sauce with bell peppers and black olives, served on top of a cheesy polenta. I used every drop of the accompanying cream to tame the Tabasco gravy. Through tears of joy, I devoured the whole thing. My wife had roast loin of pork, cooked in a red ale and served with tender corn cakes, roasted red pepper salsa, black beans, and a cilantro lime crème fraiche. It was the best corn cake I ever stole off her plate. The rest of our party had macadamia nut-crusted salmon, rubbed rib eye steak, and capiello chicken with prosciutto and a sauce with mushrooms and artichoke hearts. We brought our own wine because the Dancing Bear serves no liquor, and the server gladly uncorked it for us. And yes, even though we were stuffed, we couldn’t resist desserts all around: cheesecake, caramel torte, and blackberry cobbler. After all, it’s a long way outta here.