Located in Kansas Union, the Kansas University restaurant makes lunch quick, cheap and easy.
The hours aren't long, but neither is the line to get in.
The Prairie Room, tucked away in Kansas University's Kansas Union, is open only from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. But with most university students away for the summer, diners looking for a quick sandwich or a leisurely pasta meal will have no trouble getting a table.
When my wife and I stopped in for a late lunch on a recent Wednesday, only one other party was eating. By the time our drinks arrived, we had the whole place to ourselves.
Located on the third level of the Kansas Union, the 112-seat restaurant features a quiet, classy atmosphere that is a welcome change from the usual lunch-hour hubbub. Windows offer views of the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art and the Campanile. White linen tablecloths, flower-filled vases and cloth napkins add the finishing touches to each table.
You'd expect to pay more for the frills, but the menu compares favorably with most styrofoam-and-plastic joints. Sandwiches and burgers range from $4.60 for a turkey club croissant to $5.65 for the grilled chicken sandwich. Specialties, which include three kinds of pasta, a quiche and a taco salad, list from $5.25 to $5.45. Students get an extra 15 percent off on Wednesdays.
All but one specialty includes a trip to the salad bar -- though frankly the salad offerings are pretty standard and are nothing to write home about. A better bet is the Chicken Caesar Salad, featuring grilled chicken breast served on a bed of romaine lettuce with tomatoes, black olives, croutons and parmesan cheese.
I tried the spinach lasagna, which was served piping hot with a side of cheese bread. Be forewarned: The pasta and salad bar combo are hearty enough to make it hard to stay awake on a muggy afternoon. It might be wise to schedule a nap if you plan to finish the whole thing.
My wife had the grilled chicken. Juicy and tender, it came on a toasted bun with tomato and pickle slices and was accompanied by a heaping mound of crispy waffle-cut French fries.
Other specialties include capellini, baked lasagna and the Mt. Oread Quiche ("the lightest quiche around" claims the menu), which features mushrooms, green peppers, celery, onions and Swiss cheese.
On the sandwich side, the turkey club croissant and the Union Burger (billed as the best burger on The Hill) look good. So does the Greek burger -- a Union Burger stuffed in a pita with sliced onions, tomatoes, feta cheese and a special cucumber sour cream.
Perhaps the best thing about The Prairie Room is the service. Our waitress was friendly and helpful, and our water glasses were constantly filled. The food arrived quickly. Thanks to several recent menu changes, cooking time has been trimmed to accommodate workers who only have an hour for lunch.
There is another good reason to try The Prairie Room this time of year. Parking, nearly impossible during the fall and spring semesters, is much easier in the summer.
Metered spaces north of the Spencer Museum on Mississippi Street are usually open. From there, access to the rear of Kansas Union is only a short walk away, if you don't mind hiking up a few steps. Motorists with handicapped tags can negotiate with one of KU's gate attendants for drive-in access.
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