Kingfisher’s Inn a favorite landing for diners

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
If you log on to “The Hundred Dollar Hamburger” Web site at www.100dollarhamburger.com, you’ll discover the Kingfisher’s Inn as a destination for hungry pilots in search of a good meal across the country.

“They feel like it takes about $100 by the time they gas up the plane, fly it, get a burger and fly back,” said Kathy Sprowls, who, with husband, Bob, own Kingfisher’s Inn located at Marion County Lake.

The Marion Airport is about a half-mile away.

“All they have to do is call us, and we’ll go down and pick them up,” she said. “They’ll come here and eat, and we’ll take them back. We do that a lot, especially in the summertime.”

Pilots are among a growing clientele to discover Kingfisher’s Inn.

The inn is closed Monday and Tuesday. Hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.

The family-oriented restaurant draws heavily from the lake vacationer, especially between May and October.

The Sprowls bought Kingfisher’s Inn in 1980 after many years in the restaurant business in Wichita. Bob managed two of the Angelo’s Italian Food restaurants in Wichita, and Kathy worked there part time while raising a family.

The Kingfisher’s Inn was originally built in 1951 by George King-who adapted his last name to identify his restaurant.

“We just took the kingfisher bird as our logo and kept it because everybody knows the name-it’s been that way for years,” Kathy said.

An extensive menu includes char-broiled steaks, pastas, pan-fried chicken, pizzas, submarine sandwiches, salad bar and desserts. Dinners include a choice of potato, corn fritter, homemade bread and salad bar and range from $10.75 for a char-broiled tuna steak to $15.75 for an 8-ounce filet with four shrimp.

For the diner who prefers a lighter menu, Sprowls offer four char-broiled items ranging from orange roughy to chicken breast. Prices range from $7.50 to $9.50 and include bread and choice of two of the following: fresh fruit, potato, lettuce and tomato salad, cottage cheese and tomato, or spaghetti.

To add variety to their popular menu entrees, they offer the following specials, which do not include drinks:

Wednesday and Thursday-Full or half order of lasagna comes with salad bar and bread. Full order is $9; a half order is $6.

Friday-Italian chicken includes salad bar, potato, bread and corn fritter. The costs are the same as the pan-fried chicken options on the regular menu.

Saturday-Manicotti can be ordered with cheese for $9 or sausage for $9.25.

Sunday-Family-style chicken or brisket, or combination of the two, is offered from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is all-you-can-eat, which includes salad bar, whipped potatoes, gravy, vegetables, corn fritter and bread. Prices range from $9.95 to $10.95, and child’s-plate portions and prices are also available.

The Sunday meal is served in bowls.

“We bring out the platters, and if you want more, you just ask,” Bob said. “You don’t have to get up. It all comes to you.”

Wednesday night also features a kids-eat-free special for children 10 and under served from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The salad bar is open during lunch and dinner and tempts patrons with items not frequently found on other salad bars, Kathy said.

A few of the more unusual items are “made from scratch” on the premises, including liver pate, Heidelberg kraut and pickled beets.

“The pickled beets, kraut, corn fritters, corn relish and liver pate-the place has been known for a lot of this stuff ever since Mr. King had it,” Kathy said. “And a lot of these recipes have traveled down from owner to owner.

“Everybody has just come to expect it. You have to have those out there.”

The Sprowls added the Italian entrees to the menu when they purchased the restaurant and have always made their bread and sauces from scratch.

Cinnamon raisin, Italian garlic, white and rye breads complement the menu. Homemade pizza crust is offered, too.

One of the Sprowls’ two sons works with his parents full time. Bob, meanwhile, concentrates on food preparation while Kathy wears a variety of aprons.

“I take the money, clean tables, seat people, and wait on them,” she said. “I do just whatever it takes that you have to do.”

The busiest times are in the evenings and on the weekend, but even the lines on Friday and Saturday don’t require more than a 15-minute wait.

Like most restaurants, the inn has regular customers who continue to return again and again.

“Fridays, for the Italian chicken, is probably when we get the most regulars,” Kathy said. “You’re not going to find that Italian chicken any other place.”

The secret to the chicken dish is in the preparation.

“We marinate it for two to three days in spices and oil,” Bob said. “And then we bake it. As we get orders for it, we deep-fry it. It’s got a lemony flavor, and it’s very good.”

The Sprowls estimate that 90 percent of their business is repeat customers.

“Normally, we pull from a 60-mile radius-like Wichita, Salina, McPherson, Emporia, El Dorado and all the little towns around,” Kathy said.

Reservations are not required but will be accepted for parties of 10 or more. Wedding rehearsals, holiday parties and bus tours are not strangers to the aromas wafting out of the Sprowls’ kitchen, either.

“And this time of year, we get some seed parties,” Bob said. “The seed companies coming in and selling seed to the farmers will have big parties, and they’ll invite the farmers and their wives out.”

Large parties are not charged for the facilities, but a 15-percent gratuity for the wait staff is added to the bill at the end of the meal.

“A lot of times on those (large seed parties), we’ll open up on a Monday or Tuesday just for them because they’ve got close to 100,” Kathy said. “Usually, we have to have at least 50 to make it worthwhile getting the help in on a Monday or Tuesday.”

One couple, who regularly frequent the restaurant, had rave reviews for the food, service, atmosphere and prices.

Al and Donna Coxen live at Marion County Lake and enjoy staying on their diet by dining on the light and broiled choices.

“We like the light and broiled chicken,” Donna said.

Al told of the days when they used to live in Oklahoma City and came up to their cabin on the lake on the weekends.

“After the Kingfisher’s Inn remodeled, they changed their phone number, and I didn’t have it, and I wanted to call them,” Al said.

“I called information and got an operator in Wichita. I told her the number I wanted, and she went on about how it was the best place in Kansas to eat.

“She raved about the Kingfisher’s Inn, and I was afraid she was going to forget to give me the number. So I had to remind her I wanted the phone number.”

After so many years of serving their loyal customers, the Sprowls have decided to sell their restaurant and have listed it with a local realtor.

“We appreciate all the business the community has given us in the past,” Bob said. “We’ll be here to serve them until new owners are here-whether that’s now or until doomsday.

“We’ve been here for 21 years. We raised our kids here in town, they went through the schools, and we’ve enjoyed it.”

The Sprowls said they plan to continue offering the quality food and service that has been a hallmark of their years at the restaurant and don’t have any future plans until they have time to decide after the business is sold.

“And that may be a long time,” Kathy said. “Who knows?”

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