By Don Bradley
Day trips from Kansas City are often about history and learning stuff. Flint Hills, Walt Disney, sunflowers, Amelia Earhart, quilts…
But what’s wrong with driving to a place for what folks say is the best homemade ice cream around? You can get a bowl an hour away just off the Adrian, Mo., I-49 exit ramp at Byrd’s Pecan Delights.
And there’s more in this Bates County town of 2,000 or so. While many small, rural towns struggle to keep anything open, Adrian has a handful of places making this place day-trip worthy.
“We get people in here from all over,” said Byrd’s owner Jennifer Cassaday, who as a toddler took naps on gunny sacks of pecans at her grandfather’s grove. “And they’re not just coming here.”
Downtown is a wine bar and eatery that pretty much everyone predicted would close before the first cork dried out. That was three years ago and now you need a reservation on weekend nights. The Wine Journal is in the old newspaper office.
To break up those culinary visits with a little walking around time there’s Recycled Homestead, a two-floor, filled-to-the-brim antique and vintage store in an old lumberyard.
Two large round silos dominate the front, and the upstairs walls are made entirely of wooden doors from a torn-down Plaza apartment building. Someone’s online review called the place “a palace of wonder.”
The old bowling alley, the only one in the county, has a new owner who’s putting in a new bar, new menu and large-screen TVs. Gray’s Café, across from Byrd’s, packs in the fried chicken and mashed potatoes crowd. The gravel parking lot fills up at noon.
So why does this town get the revival? Because some entrepreneur-minded young people took a gamble to stay and give their dream a go.
“Even my Dad told me this place wouldn’t make it,” Wine Journal owner Daniel Horner said.
He left town after graduation but came back because his family wanted him to run the farm. He knew right off he wasn’t a farmer. So he did pretty much the vocational opposite of plowing and feeding hay. He opened a wine bar in the old Adrian Journal building with a menu offering a “Front page” charcuterie board, flatbreads and “hot off the press” paninis.
“It’s a Westport place without the drive,” Horner said. “On weekend nights, this place fills up and sometimes I don’t know anybody.”
Same story at Recycled Homestead, but owner Noel Clayton knew she had to have out-of-town shoppers because antique stores need broad appeal. Shortly after she opened four years ago, a trade magazine did a piece on her place. Business boomed. Then Covid hit.
“We’re just getting back and people come from all over, a lot from Kansas City,” Clayton said. “Sunday’s our biggest day if the Chiefs aren’t playing.”
A couple of playful, nearly-200 pound mastiffs welcome shoppers from behind the counter.
“People love them,” Clayton said. “They are literally the bull in the china shop.”
Cassaday, who was first handed a pecan bucket at age 4, originally opened Pecan Delights in 2014 in a downtown storefront. Then she added ice cream. Then sandwiches. Then breakfast. Then she moved to a larger place.
Everything from scratch. Pies and pastry and scones. A woman comes in at 3 a.m. to get things started and when Cassaday shows up at 7, there’s a pot of gravy on the stove just waiting for biscuits.
“One thing I notice about this place, I don’t see people sitting looking at their phones,” she said. “They come here and visit, they talk, they laugh. I love to hear that from back in the kitchen.”
Adrian, straight south on I-49, sounds like a full day and that’s how you will probably leave.