Snack food will never know what hit it. Leeway Franks (935 Iowa Street, #7) – a butchery-driven take on a local snack stand – opened in Lawrence last Friday.
“The whole concept was about opening a snack bar, a sausage shop,” Lee Meisel, who owns the shop with his wife K, says. “It’s a little neighborhood joint with upscale concession food. It’s no frills. It’s not fancy.”
Leeway Franks is meant to evoke the classic butcher shop. Meisel, 32, grew up on a cattle ranch in North Dakota and got a job making sausage at Butcher Block Meats in Mandan, North Dakota, while in high school.
“[Butcher Block] is a place that smells like smoke and meat,” Meisel says. “These were burly guys with big hands and big red faces. People would start trickling in around 10 a.m. and pretty soon there was a crowd of 20 people drinking coffee.”
Meisel broke down pigs and ground meat and wrestled with massive Frankenstein saws. And he loved it. But he also thought he should go to college. In 2008, he graduated with a degree in business administration from Haskell Indian Nations University.
A tough economy and the discovery that he missed butchery brought him back to the world of food. He found his style at 715, where he helped break down hogs and sides of beef to make charcuterie and sausage.
“I kind of used 715 as an incubator here in town,” Meisel says. “There are lots of like-minded people. It’s such a tight knit core that’s really changing the scene. It’s an exciting time for Lawrence.”
Meisel’s vision was a stripped down snack stand, a take on the places that he’d loved in his childhood.
“I remember going to Canada to fish in the summer and eating fries with brown gravy,” Meisel says. “It was fresh cut fries in the middle of nowhere. They’d douse the fries with vinegar and serve you them in a paper cone for a dollar.”
Meisel and his wife started building out Leeway Franks eight months ago, demoing the former Daylight Donuts shop. He built the banquet – the shop seats 22 people – and the kitchen.
“I wanted this place to be approachable and not fussy, a reflection of me,” Meisel says. “I really love the DIY attitude of someone who had an idea and ran with it.”
The snack shop has a breakfast sandwich all day. It’s an all pork sausage patty (spiced with salt, pepper and sage) topped with a fried egg, cheddar cheese and a schmear of spicy mayonnaise (Hellman’s, if you’re wondering) on Texas Toast.
“All of my sausages come with natural casings because you’ve got to be able to snap into the skin. The texture and the way it’s made is an important detail,” Meisel says. “Sausage is just a few ingredients, but it can be one of the highest forms of butchery. Everything is done right and simply. It has to become better because there are fewer ingredients.”
The franks, all beef from Creekstone Farms, are cooked on a charbroiler to crisp up the skin and then served on a poppyseed bun.
“It’s a classic, quintessential hot dog,” Meisel says. “It’s delicious and that’s what I recommend people start with.”
Leeway also serves a smoked Polish sausage, sliced and sautéed on the flattop grill. It’s topped with onions, pickles, Kansas City barbecue sauce (he won’t reveal which one he selected) and served on a hoagie bun.
“We steam our buns here. I think a steamed bun is crucial. It adds to the overall experience and makes the sandwich more than the sum of its parts,” Meisel says.
The operation is nose to tail, but Meisel sees that approach as more of a reflection of how you run a butcher shop than a mission statement. He gets whole hogs in from Overbrook, Kansas, and breaks them down. He grinds the pork for sausages, use chops and tenderloin for sandwiches, and roasts the bones to make the stock for the brown gravy on the hand-cut French fries.
“I’ve made enough cutlets over the years that I know my cutlet game is on point. We brine the pork loins for a few days, pound thin four-ounce slices and then use a certain breading technique. Proper breading is really key,” Meisel says.
The fries are thick and hand-cut Kennebec potatoes. Meisel considers them “Belgian-style,” and they can come topped with that brown gravy, a house cheese sauce (block cheddar and whole milk), Texas red chili or Hunt’s ketchup. They’ve also got tater tots to add on for a $1.
Meisel acknowledges that the menu is meat heavy – his background is in butchery. The eatery doesn’t serve salad or desserts.
“I just want to stick with what we’re good with, rather than something that appears to be an afterthought,” Meisel says.
Leeway has a full liquor license. They’re current serving beer in cans (tallboys of Schlitz, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Boulevard), but will eventually add drinks like spiked punch and gin and juice. For non-alcoholic drinks, they have Mexican Coke and Diet Coke. Meisel would like to add sparkling water, lemonade and tea.
The kitchen is tiny – a pair of burners, a grill and a fryer. Standing in between his counter person and a line cook, Meisel expedites every plate. He’ll be the one calling out your name and handing you lunch or dinner.
“The best thing is when I saw a guy take a bite of my hot dog and he closes his eyes and I could just see that look on his face.”
Leeway Franks is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The phone number is 785-856-0890.[Leeway sign image via Faceobok: Leeway, Coney/Tenderloin image via Meg Heriford]