Whether you became a fan of Tanya Tandoc during her time in the kitchen of Larkspur, at one of her cooking classes, from her self-published collections of recipes, or from her restaurant reviews on KMUW, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the Wichita food scene who hasn’t been influenced by her.
Tandoc’s list of Wichita dining recommendations got me started when I first moved here, and while I can’t count myself among her rabid fan base that made her eponymous Soup Kitchen rise from the ashes after seven years gone, I still find myself standing in a line that reaches to the door for an opportunity to taste what she made today.
The large, open dining area has plenty of tables but fills up quickly between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Its floor-to-ceiling windows create a bright and convivial atmosphere that pairs well with the amount of elbow-rubbing you’ll have to do to squeeze in to your table among the sea of people. Weekend diners are less inundated by the lunching white-collar crowd.
I’ve wondered why a 20-year veteran of the Wichita restaurant industry would still largely limit herself to soups, but the consistent and overwhelming business indicates the city is OK with Tandoc sticking to what works. Besides, if famous food writer M.F.K. Fisher is to be believed, it is impossible to think of any good meal without soup in it. Four different soups are made every day at Tanya’s and are offered alongside a static selection of sandwiches and salads. Friday and Saturday dinnertime offers a more substantial entree that is carried through the weekend.
The soups offered on any given day run the gamut. Generally speaking, two of the soups play it safe, offering more traditional preparations that are sure to please. The other two feature unconventional or exotic ingredients; they aren’t always surefire home runs but usually can still be enjoyed. The restaurant offers all of the daily soups as a flight, so you can sample to your heart’s content. It’s no secret why the tomato bisque tends to appear frequently in the rotation: It’s perfect, and should be consumed in copious amounts whenever available. Other variations on a tomato base appear frequently, and they’re all usually safe bets.
Sandwiches aren’t as easy to guarantee. Not all of their proteins can stand up to the substantially sliced bread, nor can their price always justify what you get. The Olive, with large chunks of chicken, dried cherries and walnuts with big hits of marjoram, proved to be a hit, but the mild provolone and conservative use of the blueberry barbecue sauce on the Blue Key North resulted in a diminutive and ordinary cold-cut turkey sandwich. All sandwiches are served with a heaping helping of pasta or potato salad that serve as a way of extending the value of the less successful sandwiches.
Dinners vary but lean toward sharp and creative items that can be cooked earlier in the day and kept warm for the dinner crowd. On a recent visit, a salmon roulade, with its crispy puff pastry, creamy salmon cream cheese spread and tangy goat cheese, hit the spot.
Tanya herself sometimes takes the time to make rounds and say hello to her patrons. It’s hard to tell if the people she’s hugging are longtime friends or just infatuated loyal customers, but she has a large personality that draws the attention of the room. Make no mistake about it: Wichita loves Tanya Tandoc.
ATMOSPHERE: Bright, homey and eclectic, though the large views of South Kansas Street and the parking lot are less than inspiring.
SERVICE: Quick, even during peak hours. I questioned the use of servers in what is otherwise a fast-casual concept, but in addition to keeping your drink full, they help move along the squatters, ensuring everyone gets a table.
PRICES: All sandwiches are $9.25 or $9.50 and come with a small soup or serving of potato salad or pasta salad. Soup prices vary depending on size and “according to ingredients.” A typical two-item lunch at Tanya’s costs $10.
RECOMMENDED: Olive sandwich, Milano sandwich, tomato basil bisque, roasted red pepper bisque, chicken tortilla soup, Ecuadorian cheesy potato and spinach soup, pasta salad