Memories of Leong's
My first memories of Chinese restaurants, go back to Springfield, Missouri in the 1960's.
Growing up, my family spent a lot of time in Springfield, visiting relatives. I have vague but fun memories, of Leong's Tea House.
Leong's Asian Diner
In 2016, Don and I visited my Dad in Springfield and tracked down the new version, still owned by the same family.
The Leong's of my childhood looked nothing like this. This is how it looked in 2016, when Don and I had lunch with my dad. It looked more like a Barbecue Barn than an Asian Tea House.
I didn't get a photo of the interior on our 2016 visit, but it actually was very nice. However it looked nothing like the old "tea house", with tidy white tablecloths.
We didn't see Mr. Leong when we visited in 2016, but he was still a part of the family ownership. I remember reading the menu and being impressed with the story of David Leong, who created the well-loved Springfield Cashew Chicken dish. Mr. Leong emigrated from China in 1940 and served his adopted country in WWII. He opened the Teahouse in 1963.
Springfield Cashew Chicken!
On our visit we ordered a few different things, but the Cashew Chicken was the most memorable.
If you Google "Cashew Chicken" you'll see the story of Springfield's special version. Mr. Leong came up with the idea of frying chicken pieces rather than stir frying, because he cleverly noted that locals loved their fried chicken. The sauce had a bit more of a gravy flavor as well.
We left that day feeling satisfied that we had at least had the famous Springfield dish, in a restaurant owned by the Leong family.
I wish we could have taken Dad to the original Teahouse, but it closed in 1997. Mr. Leong's son, Chef Wing Yee opened Leong's Asian Diner in 2010. Sadly Mr. Leong died at the age of 99 in 2020.
The Rickshaw Chinese Restaurant
For a little comparison, Don and I had an outing to another Springfield restaurant, when we made our next Springfield visit.
We had noticed the corner building with its artwork, on the edge of downtown. The sign above the window let us know we could SIT IN OR CARRY OUT.
We parked across the street and headed over with fingers crossed. The place looked a little worn. We could get food to go, if we decided not to SIT IN.
The neon letters spelling OPEN, were lit. The yellow sign by the door encouraged us too, "Try our hot and Spicy Daily Lunch Special... $5.99." How could we not?
I'm a sucker for tradition. I loved the the red lanterns and Asian art on the wall.
We stepped up to the counter to place our order. A very sweet looking man asked, "You have cash?" We did.
The older couple (meaning my age) behind the counter, welcomed us warmly, but hardly had time for chitchat. They seemed to be doing all the work that day.
The man chuckled a little when I asked how long the restaurant had ben there. He said they'd been working 26 years and he had less hair now!
I was curious about the displays.
Every space was decorated, even this one above the trash can.
In the glass case below the counter, there were shelves covered with treasures.
All of the figures and decorations looked like they were from faraway places...
... but not the same places. Were those Hummel Figurines I saw? From Germany? I'm sure there were stories behind all the statues and decorative pieces.
While a little country music played in the background, Don worked on his plate of Garlic Chicken. The plate with its rope design, matched the music.
Don paid an extra 50 cents for all white meat. Interesting to have a choice.
I got the lunch special for $5.99, with Springfield Cashew Chicken! It came with an egg roll and 2 puffs. My divided plate reminded me of grade school lunch plates. There was something so sweet and old school about our meal.
A lot of customers ordered carryouts. Most of the people seemed to be regulars, ordering without pondering the menu.
I wish I could have asked them some questions about the sweet couple who worked so diligently to prepare the meals. I wanted to know who painted the Rickshaw art on the window...
As I look back and remember my 2 Cashew Chicken feasts on 2 different Springfield visits, I finally got around to Googling Rickshaw's. It looks like Savan Yim and his wife Kim, retired and turned the business over to family in 2020. They had operated the biz for 27 years, after buying the business from a friend, in the 1990's.
But even more touching, was to know that the Yims have repeatedly thanked Springfield for their support. They escaped to Missouri as refugees in the early 1980's, after being captured and abused in Cambodia. I had wondered about the stories behind their "treasures", but now I know there must be many more important and sad stories to tell.
It makes me happy to know that both the Leong and Yim families were able to pass down their businesses (and recipes) to family. I'm ready to go back for a visit and enjoy some more Springfield Cashew Chicken!
Early April Morning
It was early and it was chilly, when Don and I found our way to Bennett Spring State Park, last April.
The old C.C.C dining lodge from the 1930's, looked pretty cute on a cold blue morning.
We had driven only about 30 minutes from our overnight in Phillipsburg, MO. We'd found no breakfast options in that small town, but heard the park was worth a stop.
It was around 1900 that fishermen really began flocking to this area. 40,000 mountain trout were introduced to the spring-fed stream. I didn't see a trout or a fisherman, when we drove into the park.
One of the First
Around 1924, the state of Missouri bought the spring and surrounding land. It became one of the first state parks. In the 1930's the Civilian Conservation Corps began building cabins, roads, trails and this dining lodge.
I love imaging all the people who were involved in C.C.C. building projects, nearly a century ago. So many workers were a part of this stone and timber building. I wish I knew their stories.
Welcome to the Eighties
We stepped inside and found a little sitting area, just before the dining room entrance. Besides one rustic table set, the decorated space made me think it was the 1980's.
As we headed to the dining room doors, (where all who entered were blessed) I was reminded that it wasn't 1980 or 1830. Hand sanitizing stations have become such a part of our world. But the standing dispenser sure doesn't fit the lodge decor.
Yay for Coffee
There were only a few diners when we first arrived. They had something in common with the wait staff. They were dressed warmly.
For some reason it was freezing in the dining room. Everyone kept their coats on. But when our coffee arrived in a thermal carafe I knew I'd be warm and awake. My favorite way to have coffee served.
There were fireplaces at both ends of the room.
The stonework would have looked a lot more attractive, with a fire crackling inside.
As I studied my menu, more dining filled tables. It became clear why I hadn't seen any fishermen.
They seemed to be all coming in to eat, before they hit the banks. Which seems really odd, because the tiny bit of trout fishing I recall from 40 years ago... we were up fishing long before the sun.
As I looked around, I realized, maybe these folks were having "lunch" at 8:30. Maybe they had indeed been fishing at sunrise. I was enjoying the people watching. I spotted a pair of waders under one table. Don and I definitely were not dressed properly. Well, Don had a hat at least. But, he didn't have his license pinned to it.
My photo of Don's food, looks like it's sliding into his lap. I was snapping quick, before he dug into his eggs, taters and pancakes.
My Biscuit and Egg sandwich tasted heavenly. But my crumbly biscuit was impossible. I ended up eating with a fork.
We finished up and took a few minutes to look around. I wondered if this room had once been a porch.
I asked our waitress if it might have been a porch. "Oh it's always been a room." she answered. Probably always... since she has worked there for 2 years.
I've only caught about one trout in my life. It wasn't 15 pounds like this one, displayed on the wall.
The fish didn't make me hungry, but it made me curious. I wondered who caught this big old fish, who never even got eaten.
Good Bye Fish
We spent a little time in the park, before heading off on our road trip.
The sun was warming the air. A few trees were starting to show spring leaves.
And a few fisher people were hoping to get lucky.
River Bottoms Brewing Company
In April, Don and I made a memorable stop, on our Missouri road trip.
Genealogy was the main reason for our visit to the small town of Carrollton. Our lunch at River Bottoms, was the icing on the cake!
Don and I have only been to Carrollton once before. We spotted a few new things on this visit. This mural on the side of a building, made me wonder about the town, a century ago.
It was actually further back than that, when my relatives lived in town. As we drove around, I tried to picture both of my great great grandmothers strolling by the shops, in the late 1800's.
Sadly it was hard to imagine. The town's population has gone down to around 3,500. Many of the old homes and buildings are in need of facelifts. I wish I could have seen what Carrollton looked like in 1897, when my Grandma-Daw, was a baby.
Daw is posing with both sets of grandparents, in this photo. The Ely and Jewell families both lived in Carrolton, before the turn of the century.
I was given my grandmother's maiden name as my middle name. As a kid (and adult!) I've always been excited to spot the name Ely, in different places. Especially on a street sign, Carrollton.
We even found Ely on some stained glass windows, in the Baptist Church. We found no hints of the Jewell family. They had fewer years in the small town. Their name got a bigger spotlight after moving to good old Springfield, MO. Oh I loved the puzzles of family history!
Our search for old family houses, turned to a search for lunch. Street numbers have changed and houses have disappeared. It was frustrating and we were hungry.
I tried not to get my hopes up when I found a brewing company on Mapquest. It's hard enough to find a decent diner in a small town, during these pandemic times. The town seemed too small for a brewing company.
Not only was River Bottoms Brewing Company open, but it was in a great historic building!
We walked in the door and saw another mural. The interesting artwork was in progress, but it was still helped us imagine the town long ago.
The interior was welcoming, with art displayed on the brick walls and cozy booths. An elk head named was Edwin wore colored lights on his antlers. A propped instrument, made me think the brewery might be pretty fun at night.
But the most welcoming part of our visit, was our server Whitney. Not only was she talkative and friendly. but she had grown up in Carrollton and was passionate about the town and its history.
Gabbing with Whitney
After we looked over our menus a bit, we spent time asking Whitney questions. She said she didn't know any Elys or Jewells, but she introduced us to another young woman who might know.
The young woman had just come across the street, from her job at the library. (To get carryouts?) She said she didn't know of anyone with those names, but she invited us to come over after lunch and visit their genealogy room. What a nice surprise, to speak with 2 young locals, who had an interest in their town.
Food & Drink
Don and I celebrated our visit to Carrollton with a shared flight of beer.
I'm actually worthless, discussing beer. But I'm pretty sure it was an American pale ale, that I liked best. Don was very happy with a Rye IPA . We made sure to toast to Carrollton!
Special of the Day
Whitney recommended that we just split the special of the day. Rarely do servers encourage sharing. I loved that!
The salad was packed with fresh greens, strawberries, goat cheese and almonds... topped with a fantastic peppery mustard dressing! This did not taste like small town food.
Don is a big fan of the Rueben sandwich and I love a pizza. So this was perfect.
There was quite a party of flavors, on that flatbread! Tangy sauerkraut and salty corned beef, red onions, red pepper, bacon and a touch of sweet, in the Thousand Island! Yum!
After we finished up, Whitney shared a few stories about gypsies in Carrollton. I'm not completely sure how much was local folklore, but these stories were definitely passed down in her family. We heard about gypsies, who used to come upriver by boat and stay for a while. Some folks in town, supposedly have collections of teacups, which were common gifts from the gypsies.
We heard about the most well known and well liked gypsy woman, from way back when. She was in the area when a tornado came ripping through town. The woman begged a local to be let inside. She promised to put a spell on the town that would prevent future tornados from hitting the town. Supposedly this woman liked the town and stayed. She lived into her hundreds and is buried in the local cemetery.
We thanked Whitney for sharing some stories and time with us. Her sister came out from the kitchen, to meet us. She took our photo and we headed out in happy spirits.
Post Lunch Exploring
We wandered the town a bit, working off our lunch. I stepped inside to see the old Post Office.
The courthouse and my family's old church, looked impressive!
Last Stop Library
Before leaving hitting the road, we stepped into the library and spent a little time looking at old Census records and news clippings.
There were no huge surprises, but I found the records showing the marriage of my great-grandmother Lillian Jewell, to my great-grandfather R.C. Ely. That made my day!
That's my favorite kind of dining adventure! A little lunch. A little visiting. A little exploring!
Lured by the Sign
In April off 2022, Don and I had ourselves a mighty fine lunch in Nevada, Missouri!
We couldn't resist the neon sign, with a goofy chef image. Words like "Hamburgers, Susie Qs and Shakes" also appealed. Although I didn't know about Suzie Q's. ?
We were traveling through the town of Nevada, on a Missouri road trip.
That's a story for another day...
Well... I'll share just a bit. Daw is my maternal grandmother. She's the standing child, in this photo.
She and her relatives are posing near the Nevada, Missouri State Hospital. Her grandfather was on the board, but I have another relative who came to the mental hospital at another time. He was a patient.
The beautiful and eerie building behind my relatives, is no longer standing.
But we found the cemetery. What markings these graves once had, are no longer visible. Sad history and stories here, I'm sure.
But I said the story was for another time. This blog piece is about a very nice little lunch adventure at White Grill.
We arrived at 11:00 am.
Only one of the 11 stools was taken.
It didn't take long for the counter to fill up.
We took a seat in one of the booths. We had lots of condiments and a window with a checkered curtain. We kept an eye on the busy parking lot and the drizzly weather.
Our server was pleasant, but she was the only one serving. I didn't want to slow her down, so I rushed to order and totally forgot to order Susie Qs! Susie Qs are curly fries, I believe.
The prices looked like they hadn't been raised in a quarter century! A hamburger for $3.25!
Grilled Cheese and Tots!
I didn't exactly go all out, but I was happy with my choice.
My grilled cheese was $2.15. My tots were $190.
Don loves breakfast for lunch, so he was happy, with fried eggs, ham, potatoes and toast.
His piping hot potatoes were more like fried mashed potatoes. Not his favorite, but I could have eaten a bucketful!
The diner was too busy for a chat with staff. But I had a nice chat with a fellow and his dog, Lucy.
Evidently Lucy is a frequent guest and she gets lots of little treats here and there. She couldn't have been sweeter.
History on the Walls
I was excited to find some framed news clippings, to give me some history. I had to do some math though. This clipping was from 1999, so White Grill is not 61 years old, but 84!
I learned that Harry S. Truman was a fan of the place. His quote was featured, "...best damn hamburgers I ever ate."
Back in 1938
Back in 1938, Harold "Red" McLaughlin opened the White Grill. It was the first of a small chain. Besides Harry Truman, who else dined here?
Nevada is 90 miles from Springfield, MO. My dad was 10 years old living in Springfield in 1938. It's possible that any of my numerous Springfield relatives had eaten here.
Off We Go
We had a satisfying little visit to White Grill. As we headed off, I looked back at the line up of cars at the drive through.
Not that long ago, they had car hop service. All you had to do was honk. Now that would have been a fun step back in time!
Next time I'm having Susie Qs and a shake!
Springfield, Missouri in 2016
Today, I'm thinking back to a cozy rainy day, about 6 years ago. Don and I stopped at a corner fountain drugstore, for a little breakfast.
It was a chilly fall day and that made the place look all the more inviting.
I have fond memories of eating at drug stores, when I was a kid. It probably seems odd to kids today, to think that people would grab a sandwich or have a malt at drug store. Do kids even know the term drug store?
Gailey's doesn't have the drugs anymore, but they did when John and Beulah Gailey opened in in downtown Springfield, in 1942. John was a pharmacist and Beulah cooked up burgers and served malts.
Dining at the Counter
When we stepped inside, I saw the stools at the counter and was reminded of Cunningham Drugs in Grinnell, Iowa. I remember being a kid and heading over to Cunningham's after visiting Dr. Grimmer, for my annual check up. I would carry the prescription that Dr. Grimmer had written out on his pad.
I'd step inside the drugstore along with Mom and a sibling or two. Then instead of going to the pharmacy, we'd go straight to the lunch counter. I loved climbing up on the stool and holding out my prescription... my prescription for "One Ice Cream Cone". Much better than drugs!
Table or Counter?
Don and I were glad we actually had options for seating when we entered Gailey's.
The kid side of me wanted to sit at the counter. But Don was in the mood for a chair. We found a good table with a view of the whole place.
It was 9 am and it was a chilly, damp morning.
As much as I wanted to revisit my childhood memories with an ice cream cone, I needed coffee and breakfast.
Savory or Sweet?
Don's scrambled eggs with tomato, mushrooms and feta was perfectly savory. The waiter handled a little hash brown error, by scraping the sweet potatoes from Don's plate. Eventually his regular hash browns arrived, but they were a bit cold.
French Toast and sausage was my choice! The sweet syrup was just what the doctor ordered on a drizzly morning!
Coffee and Eavesdropping
Actually the coffee was just what the doctor ordered. I wish my doctor today gave me free prescriptions for coffee!
As I sipped away, I listened to all the upbeat jabber at the counter. As I woke up with my coffee, I realized the counter was where all the action was.
A Visit to the Counter
After stuffing myself with sweet break and syrup, I decided to head over to the counter for a little entertainment. I could watch the foods sizzling on the grill and see what others were ordering.
Sadly I realized that I'd missed out on a very curious breakfast option. Pancakes & Peanut Butter Sauce! It was fun watching this very pleasant server, scoop up big spoonfuls of peanut butter and swirl the mix over the tops of 2 huge steaming pancakes! How did I miss this specialty on the menu? Next time!
Before departing, I took a quick look around. I tried to imagine the original Gailey's a half century ago. Was this rounded wall always there?
A quick trip to the restroom, gave me a peek at the original brick. It was nice that they preserved some of the brick, when they remodeled with the earthy-modern sink.
I stopped to peek at some framed news clippings before we headed out the door. I love it when an iconic restaurant or cafe, spotlights their history. I paused and read a little about the Gaileys and their business.
Today I look at the photo and my eyes were drawn to the title, "Gaileys still like to treat the little guy like king." I wish I could read the smaller, blurry words. I've forgotten the story. But I'm happily reminded of when I felt like QUEEN, eating my ice cream at Cunningham's!
I love adventures at old drugstore cafes! I'm glad this one is still around!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.