Known far and wide for the Farmer’s Market that spills over the sidewalks on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, downtown Overland Park has established itself as a perfect combination of quirky personality, tasty treats and one-of-a-kind retailers.
Confession time: I’m an urban girl at heart. Having lived double digit years in Chicago before moving to the suburbs of Johnson County, I often crave the comfort of exotic flavors, unique shopping excursions and hidden gems that are distinctly different from what I have come to appreciate about suburban living. For far too long, I thought I’d need to book a ticket and fly back to my old stomping grounds to find that vibrancy and eclectic feel that I sometimes miss. Then I spent a day in downtown Overland Park.
Known far and wide for the Farmer’s Market that spills over the sidewalks on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, downtown Overland Park has established itself as a perfect combination of quirky personality, tasty treats and one-of-a-kind retailers. It doesn’t take long at all to find something that satisfies everything from a sweet tooth to a penchant for gourmet food and wine pairings.
I started with an established favorite, Homer’s Coffee House. Unlike the shop-on-every-corner competitor we’re all familiar with, Homer’s offers not only caffeinated drinks but a homey feel where patrons linger, chat and work. The cafe supports local artists by displaying their work on the walls. Evenings bring local musical talent, but my morning trip starts my day with engaging conversation and genuine smiles as well as an amazing vanilla latte.
Fortified for my morning, I meander up the street and duck into Mysteryscape. A departure from the big box book store, Mysteryscape is smaller and more intimate, and packed with new and used crime fiction. The shelves boast titles that range from traditional mysteries to historical works to science fiction. The big, comfy chairs are enticing and the staff friendly, but respectful.
It’s tough to pull myself away, but I have my sights set on indulging my foodie streak. Of course I’ve heard of the Culinary Institute of Kansas City, but walking through the doors and being offered a glass of refreshing fruity iced tea, I can’t help but stop and snatch up an adorable apron that my daughter will love. Their class schedule is packed with everything from cake decorating to the tastes of Tuscany and their state-of-the-art kitchen is impressive, but it’s the staff lunch that captivates me.
Served on the first Tuesday of each month, the event started in 2008 as a way to foster community in the downtown Overland Park area.
It is a showcase of everything the staff chefs can do; lunches are different each month and usually inspired by seasonal produce. June brought servings of oven southern fried chicken, sweet potato mash with sage, flaky buttermilk biscuits with a twist and seasonal fruit cobbler. Reservations are not taken for this monthly event, and attendees are seated on a first-come, first-served basis.
Lunch is served until they run out of food. The line starts in the retail shop, which packs essentials for every home cook and a corner freezer stocked with prepared meals that can be taken home and heated for an at-home spin on takeout.
A short walk brings me to the Olive Branch Art Gallery, where I debate between hand crafted jewelry, artistic novelty gifts and lovely greeting cards. Only a few steps farther and I duck into Ten Thousand Villages, where I spend time perusing crafts made by artisans in developing countries. Their mission inspires me, and knowing that the artisans earn a fair living in exchange for their merchandise, I shop guilt-free.
I wander a little further to The Tasteful Olive, an oasis of all things savory. I am in awe of the flavors I walk by; Herbs de Province olive oil, blood orange olive oil and hojiblanca olive oil catch my eye. I read their descriptions and learn that olive oils are described in the same way as wine, with characteristics like top notes and undertones.
An equally impressive selection of vinegars fills the other side of the store, and I taste balsamic vinegars infused with espresso, mango and fig. The staff makes these gourmet ingredients surprisingly user friendly, and provide information about complementary olive oil and vinegar companions and suggested recipes. I get lost in the selection of cookbooks and daydream about a kitchen big enough to hold more than a few gorgeous bottles.
While I’m on a culinary adventure, I stop at Penzey’s Spices. A household name for many, Penzey’s boasts a store full of fragrant spices fresh and ready to take home. With recipe cards and a helpful staff, I leave inspired to whip up something much tastier than plain chicken and potatoes. My next stop beckons me with the sweet smells of ripe fruit and buttery crust. At the retro-inspired Upper Crust Bakery I am immediately taken with the kitschy decor and Mason jar flower vases filled with wildflowers. The display of pies— everything from cherry to chocolate cream—are too good to pass up but vie for attention with the assortment of cookies next to the register.
I settle for a banana cookie with browned butter frosting and chat with the lady behind the counter. She shares that the goodies are mostly baked from family recipes and that two sisters, inspired by their mom and grandmother, bake from scratch every day. I am enamored with the rolling pin door pull and repurposed vintage touches that grace the walls. I make a mental note to bring my daughter back for quiche on a Saturday morning.
Fortified with potassium disguised as butter and sugar, I head back out and wander to the Monogram Shop. This boutique is filled with one-of-a-kind items, each gift is personalized for the recipient. As I leave the shop and enjoy an adult beverage at Great Day Cafe, I note the places I want to visit on my next trip: Ethiopian food at Elsa’s, pizza at Papa Keno’s, freshly baked bread at Clock Tower Bakery and a movie at the deliciously vintage Rio Theatre.
My nostalgia for the eclectic neighborhood in Chicago that I called home sated, I schedule a standing appointment in my calendar to return for Third Friday Art Market, live music at Homer’s and cool jazz at the Great Day Cafe. One thing I now know for sure: there is no beige in downtown Overland Park.
Information about merchants and events can be found at DowntownOP.org.
Lisa Allen is a blogger with Johnson County Lifestyle. This blog was reprinted with permission from Johnson County Lifestyle.