Brownie’s: Revisited

In general aviation, there is, euphemistically, an item known as the $25 hamburger. With inflation and the increased price of avgas, it’s more appropriate to call it the $100 hamburger.

A decade or so ago, the place to fly for that hamburger, breakfast or one of the best BBQ sandwiches in the east central portion of Kansas was Brownie’s BBQ at K81, the Miami County Airport just outside of Paola, KS. It was a favorite spot for weekend fliers and every Saturday morning, the grass ramp next to Brownie’s would be covered, wing-tip to wing-tip with aircraft—spam-cans, bi-planes, homebuilts and ultra-lights. It was the place to go in eastern Kansas.

Yesterday, our church’s free clothing store, The Master’s Closet, was closed as it is every Holiday weekend. Joyce had the day off and after our daily walk, we took off to see what we could see. By mid-afternoon, we’d arrived in Paola.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t visited the airport in more than a decade. I soon discovered it is harder to find the airport from the ground than from the air. An additional hindrance is that Paola is not laid out in the usual checkerboard fashion. The street layout was not helpful. I remembered that the airport was situated on the south-western edge of town. Finding it was more adventurous.

After a bit of hunting and seeking I saw a row of t-hangers along the side of the highway. Memory has a tendency to morph over the years. I remembered the FBO and Brownie’s being next to the highway. Instead, it was a hundred yards off guarded by dual rows of newer hangers.

The BBQ was still there. We could smell the smoke as we turned off the highway but the sign no longer spelled Brownie’s. It now said We-B-Gone. The original Brownie’s was gone but the BBQ remained and was still a family-operated enterprise. It had not changed very much.

Brownie’s, as I remembered, was encircled with grass parking areas with tie-downs for visiting and overnight aircraft. The current BBQ now sported concrete instead of grass. The parking area remained but was paved instead of grass and the occasional mud puddles.

The last time I’d visited was with my wife and daughter sometime around 1994. My daughter was still in high school and we’d come down for some BBQ. The interior of Brownie’s had been covered with photos—some from WW II when the airport had been an auxiliary for the Olathe Naval Airstation. More photos of visiting aircraft lined the walls taken by Brownie and others to commemorate their visit.

Those old photos were mostly gone as I discovered on entry. The FBO on the left side of the building remained with its terminal to the FAA and weather services including a long table covered with old copies of Flying, Trade-a-Plane and Sport Aircraft scattered randomly along its length. A few chairs around the room completed the decor. The rest of the building contained the restaurant with checkered plastic covering the tables.

Most important of all, the BBQ was the same as I remembered. Joyce and I ordered a Beef ‘n Ham combo BBQ sandwich each. When it arrived, the stack of meat was over two inches thick. A couple of pickles accompanied the sandwiches and it was more than enough for a quick afternoon lunch.

The menu had been expanded from the traditional BBQ fare. Hamburgers and hot dogs were available for the kids and a new breakfast section had been added. The last time I flew to Brownie’s was with Charlie Craig on an early morning check flight. The breakfast menu had been limited to Fried Egg and Bacon sandwiches. Now it included various egg platters with Ham and Sausage along with Bacon. Pancakes were available as are Biscuits and Gravy and other traditional breakfast items.

I miss the old Brownies. It had an atmosphere as raw as post-WW2 aviation. But that century is gone and the new BBQ, We-B-Gone, will faithfully maintain the tradition.

2 thoughts on “Brownie’s: Revisited

  1. It's always good to learn of a place where one may eat and watch planes! When I was growing up, my father (an old B-29 pilot) was among the guys who started Executive Aircraft at the old Municipal Airport. I spent a lot of time there it seemed (and wasn't always thrilled about it then). A big treat was having lunch at the restaurant there that had a view of the runways. Those are fond memories! I have some old pics of my grandmother heading off to visit relatives in Phila.–dressed in a suit, hat, gloves–the whole she-bang. What would she think of today's passsengers in their jammies and flip-flops? But heck, she'd wear gloves when she'd go to Lee's Summit for groceries on Friday night! My first flight was a plot–on a typical Sunday drive we ended up at the old State Line airport and my father asked if I'd like to go for a ride (I think it was a little Cessna) and I didn't even think twice (I was six). My mother hated flying (!) and I surprised her by happily climbing in and going for a spin. At that age a little girl would never doubt the capabilities of her daddy–and I didn't know he'd been practicing to get his license. I figured everybody's dad knew how to fly!

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