Small town offers ethnic eats and customized cuisine

Main Street Kansas

ARLINGTON, Kan. (KSNW) – Most small towns are lucky to have one sit-down restaurant, but this tiny town in Reno County boasts two cool cafes.

Carolyn Bontrager shows off her specialty dish, verenike.

For 30 years, Carolyn Bontrager’s ‘Essenhaus,’ or eating house in German, has served Mennonite dishes cooked from scratch.

“We have verenike, which is a dish that the Mennonites brought here from Russia. They’re similar to pierogis or ravioli,” said Bontrager.

She boils them in advance, then fries them on the grill and covers them with ham gravy.

Caroline also makes a coffeecake with pudding inside called ‘bienenstich,’ or bee sting in German, but that’s just the start of her distinctive desserts.

“We’ve got the all-time favorite, coconut meringue, and chocolate peanut butter,” said Bontrager, pointing out different slices of pie in a cooler.

Her assortment of treats and home-cooking has created a loyal following.

Customer, Doug Smith, admits that he eats there almost every day.

“Can’t you tell?” he said, laughing and rubbing his stomach.

But it’s about more than food.

“Companionship and talking, visiting everybody each morning,” said Richard Sipe, who drinks coffee at Carolyn’s Essenhaus in the morning and iced tea in the afternoon.

That’s why having another cafe right up the street is a bonus.

They’re not in competition, but complement each other. Cara’s CafĂ© & Pizzeria makes sure to have something different on the menu.

Cara Ellis, owner of Cara’s Cafe & Pizzeria, makes all kinds of desserts, too!

“If we have it, we’ll cook it,” said owner, Cara Ellis.

That’s right– whatever you’re craving, she’ll make it!

Her weirdest request?

“We have a Mediterranean burrito. It has feta, turkey and olives, but then he added peanut butter and apple butter,” said Ellis. “It was just like, ‘This is so gross!’ But I made it!”

But most customers are so happy with what Cara dreams up, they can’t pick a favorite!

“Definitely the bacon bleu burger, that’s great. The sweet potato fries. Breakfast is always good. Everything is good,” said Darcey Fanucchi, a regular customer from Turon.

Cara also caters to the community by keeping her restaurant open when the other cafe is not.

Carolyn’s Essenhaus is closed on Sundays so Cara’s Cafe closes on Mondays.

Folks always know there’s a hot meal and warm welcome waiting.


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