There’s an iconic restaurant in the big city that’s a favorite of ours. Although 85 years in operation, the current menu reflects the last 35 years of ownership. And it’s a good menu. The original soda fountain with marble counter is still there, too, where you can get sundaes, sodas and “malteds” done right. You could take my word for it, or Alton Brown’s. Yep, after his visit to Wichita in 2014, Brown listed the Old Mill Tasty Shop as one of his favorite Wichita restaurants. He mentioned it again on his podcast earlier this year when he was interviewing the Ace of Cakes himself, Duff Goldman, who mentions the Old Mill’s soda fountain as he discusses his great-grandmother working as a baker, and also running a hat shop in…Wichita. Amazing who eats around in Doo-Dah, isn’t it?
Brown and Goldman could feel right at home there because it’s that kind of place. Completely unassuming, standing solely on it’s longtime reputation for good food and good service, it’s the type of place where you’ll see Wichita’s movers and shakers slurping sodas and downing bowls of green chili next to construction workers, hipsters, college kids, downtown office workers, grandparents and grandkids, and tourists. The Old Mill has all kinds of tasty stuff daily, as well as some killer blue plate specials. It also has lots of vegetarian options. When I read reviews online I had to shake my head at the number of folks who ended their review with “we didn’t try anything from the fountain, but next time we’re here…”. I can’t imagine eating there and not ending the meal with a treat from the fountain. Here’s how it works: eat half your meal (order something that you can get half of, like a sandwich, or take the rest home) and fill the other half of your stomach with something from the fountain. It’s just logic, people.
If your dining companion likes the same thing you do, you can always share. Mark and I usually share a turtle sundae, which the Old Mill makes correctly. Correctly being with butterscotch, not caramel, syrup. Amen. But I won’t have room for my half of the sundae if I eat too big of a meal first. And no, it doesn’t occur to me to just go for ice cream. I want it all!
With so many good eats there you might think the Old Mill would surely be noted for something unusual and out of the ordinary, or something uniquely Midwestern. But their most famous dish is…chicken salad. Womp. I know, but it’s actually New York Chicken Salad. Fahn-cy name. I have no idea what New York has to do with it, it’s just what they call it. The original recipe of the owner’s mother, it’s an unadorned (no fruit, or anything like that), basic chicken salad with the unconventional addition of cashews. It’s served (half or whole) on plain egg bread, with nothing else on the sandwich save a slice of Swiss cheese. That’s it. And it’s so good, I (and hundreds of other people) eat it regularly.
But I can’t get to the Old Mill as often as I’d like, or I’d surely be there every week. So I set out to make a chicken salad somewhat similar to the Old Mill’s. I’m not calling this a copycat recipe, just something that satisfies when the chicken salad urge hits, and is reminiscent of theirs. Theirs is my chicken salad muse, so to speak. I have nothing to go on but what’s listed on their menu as the salad ingredients, and some of the ingredients I use don’t match up. My love is divided: I love theirs and mine, too.
I use boneless, skinless chicken breast, which I cook myself, with some seasoning on it. If you’re pressed for time, purchase some baked chicken breast from the deli and use that. Deboning the already cooked chicken won’t take quite as long as cooking your own, although it probably will cost more. You’ll need 3 cups of shredded chicken for this recipe, so that probably equates 4-6 bone-in, cooked chicken breasts, unless the chicken breasts at your deli are pretty large. Whether you cook your own or buy it, you’ll need to cool down your shredded chicken before mixing up the salad.
I’ve added garlic powder to this recipe because it seemed like it needed a little something something. If you don’t like it, leave it out. If you like just a little, use just a little. Season this according to your taste. The chicken salad at the Old Mill definitely contains celery, which I love. I love it more than the rest of my family does. I usually only add one rib (that’s one whole, long piece) to keep the masses happy, but if it was up to me I’d gladly add another half or whole rib. So add celery to taste, too. And, of course, use your favorite bread. Croissants are a fun way to go and make a nice presentation if you’re serving this to guests. More often than not, we eat this on whatever we have on hand. It’s yummy on club crackers, too. If you’re going low-carb, skip the bread and serve on lettuce or fresh spinach. And since we’re talking diet stuff here, you can make this with regular or light mayonnaise. If I was young and skinny I’d choose full-fat every time. But let’s face it, this contains a good amount of mayonnaise. By choosing light mayo you can cut almost two-thirds of the fat! Use a quality brand if using the light kind.
Try chicken salad for an easy lunch or dinner, served with fresh fruit or veggies. Have you been to the Old Mill Tasty Shop? Comment and let me know what your favorite menu or fountain item is. If you don’t live near Wichita, tell me what your favorite (non-chain) restaurant is and what you eat there.
Cashew Chicken Salad
- 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast (or use pre-cooked deli chicken, shredded to make 3 cups)
- ½ Tbs. seasoned salt (omit if using deli chicken)
- ¼ tsp. garlic powder (omit if using deli chicken)
- ¼ tsp. onion powder (omit if using deli chicken)
- 1 ¼ c. light or regular mayonnaise
- ¾ tsp. onion powder
- ¼-1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- ½ tsp. seasoned salt
- 1 -2 ribs celery, chopped
- ½ c. cashew halves
- Step 1 TO MAKE YOUR OWN SHREDDED CHICKEN:
- Step 2 Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Step 3 Spray a baking dish (one that can accommodate the chicken breasts without crowding or overlapping) with non-stick spray.
- Step 4 Mix together ½ tablespoon seasoned salt, ¼ teaspoon garlic powder, and ¼ teaspoon onion powder. Sprinkle evenly over chicken breasts.
- Step 5 Cover dish with foil and bake 20-30 minutes. Time depends on the thickness of your chicken-always check with an instant-read thermometer.
- Step 6 Remove from oven and let rest, covered, 10 minutes.
- Step 7 When chicken is cool enough to handle, place it in a deep bowl and use 2 forks to shred it-or slice it and put it in a food processor bowl. Pulse 1-3 times to shred.
- Step 8 Let chicken cool in the refrigerator 30 minutes.
- Step 9 TO USE DELI CHICKEN:
- Step 10 Remove all skin and bones from chicken. Shred chicken in a deep bowl using two forks (since you’re pulling it apart as you’re de-boning it you can probably shred it pretty easily with just forks). Measure out three cups. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
- Step 11 In a large bowl mix together mayonnaise, onion powder, garlic powder, and seasoned salt. Stir in cooled chicken.
- Step 12 Mix in celery and cashews.
- Step 13 Serve on sandwiches or with crackers. Store tightly covered in refrigerator up to 3 days.