Green chile burgers for solidarity at Old Mill

The green chile burger from Santa Fe Bite, formerly Bobcat Bite.

The green chile burger from Santa Fe Bite, formerly Bobcat Bite.

Old Mill Tasty Shop owner Mary Wright knows green chiles. She has the most legendary green chile in town on the menu at her restaurant, 604 E. Douglas.

Earlier this week, some customers stopped in and were distraught. They told Wright that Bobcat Bite, a Santa Fe, N.M., restaurant legendary for its simple menu featuring green chili burgers, home fries and little else, had closed.

The group of diners, along with Mary and her son, Don, got themselves depressed, then outraged. Soon after, they learned that the restaurant had moved, not closed. It also changed its name to Sante Fe Bite.

Still, the incident got green chile burgers on Wright’s mind. So this weekend, she’s making some.

The green chile-topped burgers will be available with a side of home fries for $8.95 from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday. They feature 6-oz. patties topped with chopped green chiles.

Old Mill is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays. For more information, call 316-264-6500.

Question of the week: Wichita’s best chili?

The two chili varieties at Old Mill Tasty Shop

I missed the Wichita Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cookoff this year. As my punishment, I CANNOT stop thinking about chili.

Several restaurants in town serve it, including Old Mill Tasty Shop, which not only has its famous green chili but now also has added Otto’s recipe to the menu.

My question this week: Which local restaurant serves the best chili? Answer in the comments section below

Old Mill has Otto’s recipe, prepared to use it

Earlier this year, Old Mill Tasty Shop owner Mary Wright put out a plea.

She was looking for someone, anyone, who had a copy of the chili recipe that original owner Otto Wermke used when he ran the restaurant at 604 E. Douglas. He opened it on March 1, 1932. The Wrights bought the restaurant from Wermke’s sister in 1982.

Wright remembered eating the chili with her dad when she was younger, and it was one of her best memories. She sent out postcards and advertised her search for the recipe far and wide.

Several months ago, she found it. A woman in Eufaula, Okla., mailed the recipe to Wright, saying that her husband — a firefighter — had been a regular diner at Old Mill when Wermke owned it. He loved the chili and managed to get Otto to share the recipe right before he moved to Oklahoma. The woman had heard that Wright was looking for the recipe and wanted her to have it. “She was just the sweetest thing,” Wright said.

Old Mill Tasty Shop owners Don and Mary Wright.

Wright has tested the recipe and says it tastes wonderful. She’s going to enter it in the Wichita Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cookoff, scheduled for Sept. 29, and begin serving it in the restaurant that day. It’ll be available as a special throughout the fall at least. Wermke used to serve his chili from October through May only, she said.

The chili is different from traditional Tex-Mex style chili. It’s made with chunks of steak and has more of a beef-broth base rather than the traditional tomato base.

The Chili Cookoff is scheduled for noon in the 600 block of E. Douglas, right in front of Old Mill.

On a side note, Happy Birthday to Mary’s son and co-owner Don, who is celebrating his big day today, according to The Facebook.

A sticky job, but…

Diane Ward might just be a kind person, but she claimed my strawberry sundae making skills were top notch.

We had fun soda jerking at Old Mill Tasty Shop this afternoon.

Owner Mary Wright put me on “fuzzy” drink and sundae making duty, and Carrie took the lead in the milkshake department.

In an hour, I made three cherry limeades, one cherry Dr. Pepper, one vanilla Diet coke, two turtle sundaes, one strawberry sundae, two hot fudge sundaes and a butterscotch shake. Only one customer complained when I forgot the pecans on the turtle, but she ate it anyway.

Thanks to Deanna for this photo of Carrie, Mary and me. Watch out, people. I have soda fountain clearance, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I realized why the drinks at Old Mill taste so good: It’s because they fresh-mix the syrup with the soda water. I also realized how cut my arms would be if I spent every day scooping ice cream out of that freezer.

It’s a tight fit behind that soda fountain, but Mary and her employees were patient with us. Best of all: Now that we’re trained, Mary gave us permission to go behind the counter and make what we want whenever.

My daughter will be so impressed.

I’m going to be a jerk tomorrow

The famous soda fountain, back in Otto's day.

That Mary Wright at Old Mill Tasty Shop. What a sweetheart.

She was so appreciative of the story I wrote about her restaurant’s 80th birthday a few weeks ago that she made me a very generous offer: The opportunity to  work for her for free.

Starting at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow (Friday, March 16), biz columnist Carrie Rengers and I will be working as guest soda jerks at Old Mill Tasty Shop, 604 E. Douglas. I’m told this job entails mixing up drinks and assembling ice cream creations. How hard can it be?

Actually, I’m honored for a chance to give it a try. I learned so much about original owner Otto Woermke while researching my story that I think I’ll doubly appreciate a chance to work the counter he made famous.

Come see us.

Three new downtown breakfast options

B&C Barbecue in downtown Wichita recently introduced a breakfast buffet.

Wichita loves breakfast, and more and more, Wichita restaurants love to serve it.

Downtown Wichita is a breakfast eater’s paradise these days, what with The Beacon, Egg Cetera and Old Mill Tasty Shop and Rain’s weekend offerings.

Now, three more are joining the bacon-and-eggs fray.

Several weeks ago, Holy land Mediterranean Grill at 217 E. Douglas began offering a daily breakfast that offers traditional items such as omelets, bacon and eggs Benedict along with Mediterranean touches such as falafel and hummus. (I don’t know about you, but falafel and eggs sounds fabulous to me.) The breakfast is served a la carte and is available from 6 to 9 a.m. seven days a week.

Meanwhile, Carey Maurer has added a breakfast buffet at his  B&C Barbecue at 355 N. Washington. It’s served from 6 to 9 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays and includes dishes such as hashbrowns, pancakes, French toast sticks, scrambled eggs and more and is $8.25 a person.

Within the next week or two, Hamburger Hero at 221 S. Broadway, which I reviewed today, also will begin serving breakfast. It’ll offer bacon and eggs, pancakes and biscuits and gravy and will be offered from 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

I’m still thinking about falafel and eggs.

Old Mill Tasty Shop turns 80

Erna and Otto Oermke, Old Mill Tasty Shop's original owners.

I had fun this week writing my story about Old Mill Tasty Shop, a beloved  downtown restaurant that on Thursday will turn 80 years old.

Owner Mary Wright and her manager son Don sat down with me in one of the restaurant’s tiny but cozy booths to tell me everything they knew about the restaurant’s history and to show me a suitcase full of old black-and-white photos.

The restaurant is a true Wichita treasure. It was opened in 1932 by German immigrant Otto Woermke and his wife, Erna. The Wrights bought it after Otto died in 1981.

I particularly love the photo gallery of 31 pictures the Wrights and the Eagle photo staff helped me gather.

Happy Birthday, Old Mill. I and all your other green-chili, chicken-salad loving fans are glad you’ve made it this long.

Old Mill seeking Otto’s secret chili recipe

Wichita’s popular downtown restaurant Old Mill Tasty Shop at 604 E. Douglas is turning 80 on March 1. And there’s only one gift owner Mary Wright wants: Otto’s secret chili recipe.

Otto Wermke was the original owner of the restaurant, which has a soda fountain and a menu of diner favorites. He opened it on March 1, 1932. The Wrights bought the restaurant from Wermke’s sister in 1982.

Otto was famous for the chili he served at Old Mill, which he prepared in a copper pot heated on a candy cooker. Wright has been searching for the recipe in vain for years. She knows it’s out there somewhere. In fact, the late Esther Moses, who owned Sam Zelman’s Clothing Store next door, used to tease Wright that she had it, but she refused to give it up.

In honor of the restaurant’s birthday (which I’ll write about in next week’s Go! section), Wright is asking anyone who might have access to the recipe to share it. Wright said she used to eat it when she was little and remembers it having no beans and no tomatoes but a mix of fabulous spices and a whole lot of meat. If she can find the original recipe, she plans to mix up a batch and serve it.

Anyone with the recipe or a tip on where to find it should call Wright at 316-264-6500. You will be a local food hero, for sure.

Question of the week: Good Wichita chili

Saturday’s Wichita Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cookoff will fill Douglas with the aroma of cumin and chili powder and bubblin’ beef and pork and beans.

A couple of restaurants will enter this year’s competition: Both Old Mill Tasty Shop and Fizz Burgers & Bottles will have booths at the cookoff.

This week’s question: Which Wichita restaurant serves up the best chili? I’m sure there will be plenty of votes for NuWay, but throw my vote in for Old Mill’s green chili served with a gigantic warm flour tortilla and several pats o’butter.

Give me your nominee in the comments section below.

Lots to eat downtown this weekend

A Wagonmaster and his chili.

As I start my weekly assignments for the Go! section today, I’m realizing how many opportunities there will be to stuff one’s face downtown this weekend.

One is at the annual Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cookoff, which will be set up along Douglas on Saturday. Visitors can sample chili made by nearly 50 competitors (including restaurants such as Fizz and Old Mill Tasty Shop.) They also can sample competitive salsas, get free ice cream, listen to bands and (I’m not making this up) watch a group of fire eaters attempt to break a world record by having 200 people swallow fire simultaneously. All the details will be in my Go! story on Friday.

Also this weekend, Old Town is celebrating its 20th birthday with two nights of outdoor parties in Old Town Square. On Friday night, several Old Town Square restaurants will be selling boxed meals to people attending a concert on the square at 2nd and Mosley. Organizers are still finalizing the list of who’s in, but several Old Town Square restaurants will be participating. The Old Town Warren Theatre even will be grilling hamburgers outdoors on the plaza. And on both Friday and Saturday nights, those restaurants will be selling adult beverages that can be taken from the restaurants and enjoyed on the square, along with live music. I’m putting together a story with those details, too.

Both stories should be on kansas.com/entertainment by Thursday.