"A sense of place" is important to help us feel at home, what the academics call "psychologically comfortable in our environment." Beyond climate and geography, small businesses help define a city's character.
I've been thinking about this ever since a Denver burger chain opened up a restaurant on the east side of my hometown, Wichita. The new place was all the buzz, so I went to check it out. I guess the food was OK, but the place had a definite Strip Mall Vibe and I came away thinking: We've already got better than this here. And I feel a certain loyalty to them, these places that give Wichita its flavor.
I can't pick just one homegrown burger joint that's Quintessential Wichita; each one feeds our souls in its own way. I'd start with Dog N Shake, with history going back to 1948 and the slogan: "We butter toast our buns for you!" It makes a mighty tasty cheeseburger, despite leaving that fact out of the name. Then I'd move on to Bionic Burger, which not only has some of the best fries in town, but serves kids' meals in cardboard classic cars just right for Barbie and Friends. Then there's TJ's Burger House, a cafe in the revitalized Delano neighborhood that compliments its burger baskets (did that photo get your attention?) with a mean "Hamburgers (sic) Stew." I've gotta include Nu Way, the original non-patty burger, whose creed "Crumbly Is Good" still draws oldtimers to the little white brick place on West Douglas. (Then again, it might be the house-recipe root beer. Yum.) And I've gotta give props to both the the Oasis' burger on the west side and Heroes' sweet pepper bacon burger in Old Town.
As my waistline shows, I could go on. . . . I'll leave it to others to explore the True Wichita to be found cruising for comfort food at our Mexican, Vietnamese, Thai, Lebanese and other specialty restaurants. I've got my opinions. I'd love to hear yours.