Every April, bloggers from all over the world participate in the April A to Z blog challenge, and you can too. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a great way to meet other bloggers. To play along, all you do is make a blog post for each letter of the alphabet during April, then visit as many other bloggers as you can.
Road trips would never be the same without the opportunity to stop at local diners, dives and drive-ins (OK…I gotta give credit to Guy Fieri). Food is such an important part of a road trip. Obviously, no matter where one drives they always come across the chain shops like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFC, etc. With those places, the food you get is always the same.
But, for me, the real joy is stopping at a local Mom and Pop shop or local Drive-In and trying out the fare. Someplace well known in that little town or region, but maybe not known anywhere else.
My good friend, singer/songwriter/storyteller/artist Antsy McClain did a song a few years ago called “Mom and Pop Don’t Work Here No More” in respect for these places that are quickly becoming a dying breed. (see the video)
“There used to be more flavor in this country that I roam I feel like I’m a stranger, no place to call my home I can eat the same cheeseburger from New Mexico to Main The same darn cup of coffee, just to link in someone’s chain No, mom-and-pop don’t work here no more”
So, when I am on the road I really make an effort to find the local places to eat and I have found many of them across this wonderful country of ours. For example, there is “Cozy Drive-In” in Springfield, IL which supposedly is famous because of its creation of the corndog.
Then there’s the place in Missouri called Lambert’s Cafe that is famous for its “Throwed Rolls.” Or how about the diner outside of Natchez, Mississippi that looks like an old 1930s black woman servant on the outside and service homemade sandwiches on homemade bread with deserts of homemade pie and cake? And how can I forget “Hillbilly Hotdog” in West Virginia or the unique burger joint called Fat Smitty’s that is plastered with dollar bills in Washington. And what about The Shack Burger Resort in Cypress, Texas?
Along the road there are always the burger joints, the ice cream places, and the roadside cafés. One never knows what they will get in some of these places. But, chances are the food will be much better than what one will get at a fast food chain place.
And each of these local places has their “speciality,” such as the Ku-Ku burger at Waylan’s in Commerce, OK on Route 66.
I recall visiting the “Tightwad Café” in Tightwad, MO. Amazing breakfast made for a king and not a miserly tightwad. The only indication that it was a “tightwad” type of place was that they only took cash — no credit cards.
But check out the food. This giant breakfast was very affordable and kept me filled up for a good part of the day.
Of course, there are the barbecue places. Oh yes, the myriad barbecue places across this country. I have had barbecue in North Carolina, Texas, Kansas City, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. In fact, one of my favorites was in Paris, Ontario in Canada!! And they’re all different and wonderful.
One such great barbecue place is Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City, Kansas. The café is inside a gas station and people are always waiting in line out the door to get their famous barbecue. And when I finished, my friend Brad Sweeten, and athletic director at one of the high schools in Kansas City, Missouri, took me to a local ice cream place that makes ice cream cones as tall is the Empire State building.
Honestly, I could write about the dozens and dozens of places I’ve visited over the years. Every single place has its own personality and tasty cuisine.
Following are a few of the photos of the diners, dives and drive-ins that I visited over the years. I have dozens that you can read about in my blog. I only have room to include a few. One piece of advice though… don’t go looking for a sandwich in Sandwich, NH. Been there…failed that. No sandwiches in Sandwich.
Everywhere I go I see old neon. These signs remind me of the my youthful days in the 1960s and 70s when we traveled. Alas, for many, the only signs they see are the same unoriginal fast food, gas station and motel chain signs all over the place. But, in the by gone days there were few McDonald’s and Motel 6 spots. Instead, there were the little cozy motels with the old metal chairs in the front and the unique neon signs. There were the local burger joints with their big shiny signs. And there were the drive in movie theaters and the downtown theatres with their unique names. Here is a trip down memory lane with neon I have captured along the less beaten paths and just a few comments, when appropriate.
Of all of the unique neon signs, perhaps the hotel and motel signs are the most fun and bring back the fondest memories. My first ever motel stay was in some non-descript motel in Amarillo, Texas in 1968. At the time I was only 12. It was exciting to sleep in a motel bed, see the paper covered drinking glasses, taste the strange tasting water, sit on the metal rockers on the front porch. We watched the news and stock reports on the local television and ate pancakes at a local cafe before heading to our new home in Richardson, Texas (we were moving from Albuquerque, so yes, we were on Route 66 back then).
And to round off the trip, how about one of the more famed ones….
CAFES AND RESTAURANTS
After a nice evening a a comfy motel, what is better than starting the day off with a great breakfast at a diner, a pancake house or a local cafe. The servings are always big, the mom and pop service is better than any fast food joint. Of course, while on the road you can also stop for lunch and even a big dinner, in some cases even more than you can manage if you are willing to take the chance (think Amarillo, Texas!!)
How about some burgers for lunch?
Perhaps you want to try an ORIGINAL Cozy Dog….a Route 66 Classic indeed. This one deserves two photos
Don’t want a burger or a corn dog? How about a Maid-Rite Sandwich?
Or perhaps some great authentic Bar-B-Q?
And a little Ice Cream for an afternoon treat….
Okay. So this next one is not neon. But it is certainly Vintage. And who can resist stopping for an ice cream at a place that LOOKS like an Ice Cream?
There are lots of places that you can get dinner…many of the old neon places are a combo bar/grill or bar/restaurant. And many have unique signs. Personally, I don’t drink alcohol, but I have certainly enjoyed a few good meals at some of these kinds of places.
And let’s not forget two of the most iconic vintage neon places for travelers….
Maybe you prefer something a bit more ethnic in the evening….
Or perhaps just a late night Philly Cheese Steak? How about two choices and they are just across the street from each other in the triangle….(I actually tried one at each place on the same evening – add the whiz!)
Movie Theaters, Drive-In Theaters and Music Halls
Perhaps you have had a long day on the road and need a break from motel room TV. A visit to an old drive in theater with some popcorn and thus fuzzy little speakers hanging in your window will do ya.
Too cold outside? Then there are some classic old movie theaters around that show some cool movies or maybe even will have a live band playing in them. Many of the old theaters are multi-purpose nowadays, but their old neon signs still draw you in and bring back the memories of 1960s childhood.
Following are a few classic looks with neon I have seen over the years as I travel the back roads of America.
VARIOUS AND SUNDRY OTHER PLACES
Sure, I meant it when I included “Sundry” in this section. That term seems old fashioned now, but the old five-and-dime shops had “sundry” items. There were also the old drug stores that sold magazines, had fountains in the shop and they sold “sundries.”
I also include the “various” in here since there are a few odds and ends neon signs that I want to include in this section.
Now, wasn’t that just a yummy adventure through the past?
One of the important facets of traveling the less beaten paths of America (and Canada) is the food. As I travel the country, I look for good food at local places. This post covers some of the restaurants, steak houses, cafes and fine (or semi-fine) dining places. Subsequent FOOD posts will include Diners/Drive-Ins, Barbecue Joints, Burger Places and Bakeries/Donut Shops.
Ric’s Grill is one of those REALLY unique places to eat. I visited Lethbridge on a cross-country trip from Kentucky to Washington in 2005. I have friends in Lethbridge who took us here for dinner.
Though it looks strange from the outside, actually, the atmosphere and food is very high class. This is a top notch steak house with fancy china, excellent waiters and delectable food. There are 11 Ric’s Grills in western Canada, though this is by far the most unique one.
Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse and Lounge – Paxton, Nebraska
Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse is a unique steak house in the small town of Paxton, Nebraska. Opened on August 9, 1933 (the day after prohibition ended) as a bar by Rosser O. Herstedt (locally known as “Ole”). Originally stared as a tavern, Ole and his friends would talk about their hunting trips. Then, in 1938 Ole bagged a nice buck and was so proud of it he had it displayed in the tavern. This was the first of many animals to make their way into the tavern that later became Ole’s Steakhouse and Lounge. Ole’s also serves breakfast.
So, now one can sit and enjoy a wonderful steak with a moose or an elephant or a buffalo peeking over your shoulder.
All totaled there are over 200 mounts now showcased at Ole’s with animals from all over the world.
Lambert’s Cafe – The Home of Throwed Rolls – Ozark, Missouri
Another fun place to eat and enjoy a great meal is Lambert’s Cafe, the home of “Throwed Rolls”. I have been to the two restaurants in Sikeston and Ozark, Missouri (which is near Branson). They have one more in Alabama.
So, why “Throwed Rolls”? I am not sure, but Lambert’s serves the side dishes family style, all you can eat. The seating arrangement is in a big square with an open center for the staff to bring in the food and throw the rolls.
If you miss the flying rolls, too bad…. But, there will be more. According to their website’s Fun Facts, their ovens turn out rolls from 9:15 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. usually without stopping. and they average baking 520 dozen rolls per day, for a grand total of 2,246,400 individual rolls. in one year. Pass the butter please!!
Besides the rolls, Lambert’s also has what they call “Pass Arounds”, sides that come with the meal and include Black-Eyed Peas, Fried Okra, Macaroni & Tomatoes, Fried Potatoes & Onions and unlimited Sorghum to go on the rolls.
Astoria Shish Kebob House – Toronto, Ontario
If you are in the mood for some awesome Greek food in a totally Greek atmosphere, then try the Astoria Shish Kebob House in Toronto’s Greek Town. We went to Greek town on a whim and fell in love with this place. We enjoyed Saganaki (pan-fried and flaming kefalotyri cheese) and then shish kebob with some of the most savory tadziki sauce my tongue has experienced.
Saganaki is a small Greek frying pan that is best used for frying a variety of sheep and goat’s milk cheeses. Astoria uses kafalotyri, which is a hard and salty cheese. When fried it actually flames and that is how they bring it to the table.
Astoria serves a variety of shish kebob and we tried some. It too was YUMMIFEROUS!!
While at Astoria, I got to meet the owner, who loves having his photo taken with patrons, including numerous celebrities. I am now included in the menagerie!!
Mo’s Seafood – Newport, Oregon
Mo’s Seafood is not a fancy place in terms of the dining area. It is nice inside, but the tables are picnic tables. But don’t let that fool you. Their seafood is amazing.
Mo’s gets its name from Newport native Mohava Marie Niemi, who started the restaurant in 1946 with her partner Freddy Kent.
Mo’s is especially famed for the luscious and buttery clam chowder. Indeed, they claim it to be World Famous, and I can see why. So, I ordered the Halibut (so I could say I came to Mo’s just for the halibut”, but also enjoyed the creamy buttery clam chowder, which was almost so thick my spoon could stand up in it!!
It was a wonderful meal and a wonderful experience to see the Pacific Ocean out the window while enjoying the bounty of the ocean inside.
Armadillo Palace – Houston, Texas
Deep in the heart of Houston, Texas is a cafe and bar and home to some good live music – The Armadillo Palace. Protected by a 20 foot tall silver armadillo, this place is a real kick and gives you a real down home cowboy feel.
This restaurant, owned by the Goode Company, a purveyor of a number of good restaurants in Houston covering the gamut from BBQ, seafood and Mexican, the Armadillo Palace is decorated with mounted longhorns and buffalo, has a bar with saddle seating and the western decor and photos take you back to the days of the Old West.
The old decor and the smell of leather just add to the flavorful and generous portions dished out at Armadillo Palace. One of their signature dishes is Chicken Fried Steak and this slab of yummiferousness is almost as big as the plate. Their spicy green beans and special mashed potatoes help make a rib sticking dinner!
Frontier Bar and Supper Club – Dunkirk, Montana
A few miles east of Shelby, Montana, on US Highway 2 (The Hi-Line), is a non-descript old whitewashed building with an old yellow sign (above). The Frontier Bar and Supper Club certainly does not look like much, but once you are inside, the atmosphere is rustic and the steaks are to die for!
Upon arrival you are greeted by the whimsical mailbox dude. I don’t know what to call him, but he is a work of folk art.
The atmosphere inside is like many Montana bars. Lots of longhorns, neon signs, a country music jukebox. The dining room is decorated with wood paneling adorned by the many cattle ranch brands of the area. But the best part of this place is the blackened steaks. On this visit I had the Chipotle Blackened New York Steak…. spicy and pricy but tasty good!!
El Toro Bravo Restaurant and Bakery – Roswell, NM
Ok…so, you mix Mexican food and aliens and you get this weird mix…only in Roswell…
Of course, we were hungry so we had the real food….
The Olde Heidelberg Restaurant and Tavern – Heidelberg, Ontario
Olde Heidelberg Restaurant in the small town of Heidelberg is family restaurant and also has a mini brewery. Located in the heart of Ontario’s Mennonite and Amish country, this place is famous not only for its Weiner Schnitzel, but also for its pig tails, something I had never had in the past.
But, I don’t drink the beer, just eat the good food…and here is what I had
Past Time Cafe – Crab Orchard, Kentucky
Yes, there are less beaten paths in Kentucky and many of them lead to Amish Country. Crab Orchard is in the heart of Kentucky Amish country and the Past Time Cafe is right there in Crab Orchard.
This cafe has generous portions of country cooking and is well known for their fried catfish, their soup beans and corn bread. The walls in the place are covered with the history of Crab Orchard and surrounding communities, including many old newspapers and photos. Plenty to browse while waiting for a good meal.
Chriswell’s Trails Inn – Ashton, Idaho
Ashton, Idaho is one of the southern gateways to Yellowstone National Park and is also a western gateway to the Grand Tetons. The small Idaho town is a touristy place and on the edge of town is Chriswell’s Trails Inn restaurant. This rustic place is a steak house and also has some other great meals. Like Ole’s and Armadillo Palace, this place is full of mounted animals, included a rare White Buffalo Head.
Of course, the food is why we were here. We were starved and this placed fit the bill.
This chicken fried steak was HUGE!! Covered the whole plate. Of course, the potatoes were huge too and stuffed goodness!!
Carrie’s Tightwad Cafe – Tightwad, Missouri
I have written about Tightwad in earlier blogs, especially concerning the famous Tightwad Bank. But, there is also a great little cafe in Tightwad called Carrie’s Tightwad Cafe. Originally just called the Tightwad Cafe, owner Carrie Fields purchased the once Cafe and Bar from her aunt and then closed the bar. Carrie is unabashed and very friendly, but she doesn’t take credit cards…doesn’t want to pay the fees (HA!). But, she also insists that she is not a tightwad!
Carrie was correct about the not being a tightwad part. The meals at the cafe are not expensive and they are very large portions. No skimping on the food!! I had “Delmer’s Big ‘In” for breakfast this day which included 3 eggs, ham, bacon, sausage, hash browns and biscuits and gravy, all for about $8.00 (try to beat that McD’s!)
Mud Street Cafe – Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Eureka Springs, Arkansas is a wonderful little town in the Ozarks. In the midst of town is a shopping section known as the underground and housed within is the Mud Street Cafe. This is a one and all – Coffee shop, Bar and Cafe, all in one. My wife and I visited for breakfast one nice morning in November 2012. What a great little cafe!!
Once downstairs we were enthralled by the kitschy decor. Painted chairs, painted glass, sculptures, tapestries…decor that was nice and cozy.
But, the coziness was nothing compared to the food. Freshly made HUGE muffins, fruit salads and tasty breakfast food.
Just a few more places to note….
Coming soon – FOOD FOOD FOOD – Part 2: Barbecue Places and Diners