D is for Diners, Dives and Drive-ins – #atozchallenge

What is April A to Z?

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.

At Nashville’s oldest eatery – Elliston Place Diner – Featured in Antsy McClain’s video
Midway Diner sign on a barn

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)

Goody Goody Diner – St. Louis

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
Antsy McClain

You Are What you Eat Cafe – Boring, Oregon

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.

Cozy Drive In – Home of the famous Hot Dog on a Stick
Cozy Dogs and Homemade Fries – Cozy Dog – Springfield, IL
Lambert’s Cafe – The Home of Throwed Rolls – in Ozark, Missouri
Throwing Rolls at Lambert’s

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?

Hillbilly Hot Dogs – Lesage, West Virginia
Hillbilly Hot Dogs, home of the Homewrecker
Fat Smitty’s, a burger joint near Port Townsend, WA.
Fat Smitty’s ceiling covered with money.
The Shack Burger Resort storefront – Texas style fun in Cypress, TX
Outdoor eating area at The Shack
Mammy’s Cupboard south of Natchez, MS on US 61
Waylan’s Hamburgers – Home of the Ku-Ku – Commerce, Oklahoma

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.

Scotty’s Hamburgers – Idaho Falls, Idaho
Wimpy’s Burgers – Keller, Texas
Big Jud’s Gourmet Burgers, Rexburg, ID
Total indulgence in a Big Jud’s “small” burger
Tightwad Cafe – Tightwad, Missouri
Carrie Fields, owner – Tightwad Cafe

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.

Breakfast at Tightwad Cafe
Bryant’s Barbecue – Kansas City, Missouri

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.

 

Camp 31 Bar-B-Que – Paris, Ontario
Oklahoma Joe’s Neon in Kansas City, KS

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.

Stopping in KC to enjoy lunch with my good friend Brad Sweeten at Oklahoma Joe’s
Giant Ice Cream Cone at Paul’s Drive In – Kansas City
Sumoflam gnoshing on pig tails at Olde Heidelberg in Heidelberg, ON

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.

Olde Heidelberg Restaurant – Heidelberg, Ontario
Trailer Park Eatery in Austin — a hybrid “food truck” type of place comprised of trailers that are actually like food trucks
In the Country Bakery and Eatery on the outskirts of Damascus, VA
A Pal’s Sudden Service building. Lots of fun and it looks like the food is great too. Bristol, TN
Hutch’s on the Beach – Hamilton, Ontario
Story Inn, Story, Indiana
Stoneville Saloon – Alzada, Montana (Cheap Drinks and Lousy Food)
Sumoflam at Mel’s Drive-in in San Francisco
Sumoflam at the Wigwam Drive-In in Ravenna, KY

 

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Going to California – San Francisco to Santa Rosa

WoodflockWoodflock – a relatively unknown destination for those unfamiliar with Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours. For the last six years Flamingoheads from California and other places have gathered in the Sycamore Grove campground along the Sacramento River near Red Bluff, CA to enjoy time schmoozing with Antsy and the band and each other through music, meditation, arts and crafts and food. Held every Memorial Day weekend, the campground turns into a flamingo haven.

Singing with Antsy McClain
Singing with Antsy McClain

I have traveled with Antsy McClain on a cruise to Mexico, I have accompanied him on Field Trips in Kentucky and Texas and have toured with him and the band in Washington, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia and California, but I have never had the opportunity to attend the pinnacle of Flamingohead Fantasy trips…Woodflock. That is, until last week. And what a trip it was!

Flying on the plane to California
Flying on the plane to California

I departed on a non-stop flight to San Francisco from Cincinnati on Thursday. It was a nice four and a half hour flight with views of clouds until we got over the Rocky Mountains In Colorado and oh what a view. The snow covered peaks and the lakes…phenomenal. We went right over Mount Evans, where I have set foot in the past. How fun.

A view of the Colorado Rockies form the air.  Lovely!
A view of the Colorado Rockies form the air. Lovely!
Riding with Carla and her little dog...we were Enjoying the RIde!
Riding with Carla and her little dog…we were Enjoying the RIde!

I arrived in San Francisco at about 11:30 AM California time and was met there by my Flamingohead friend Carla, a sweet and bouncy young lady of 70. Carla had worked out a few plans for our day and our drive to Santa Rosa, where she lives.

Mural at the Golden Gate Park Visitor's Center
Mural at the Golden Gate Park Visitor’s Center
At Golden Gate Park Visitor's Center in San Francisco.  Nice murals
At Golden Gate Park Visitor’s Center in San Francisco. Nice murals

We left SFO and began our trip north to the city where we first visited Golden Gate Park to see the lovely mural in the visitor’s center, the beautiful flowers and a cool old Dutch windmill. The park is a beautiful inner city park with lots to see, but we had to move on to see some of the other sights. Here are a few scenes.

A portion of the Golden Gate Park mural
A portion of the Golden Gate Park mural
Another section of the mural at Golden Gate Park
Another section of the mural at Golden Gate Park
A vivid painting under a stairwell at Golden Gate Park
A vivid painting under a stairwell at Golden Gate Park
There were also a number of tile mosaics.  This one was at the entrance to the restrooms in Golden Gate Park visitor's center
There were also a number of tile mosaics. This one was at the entrance to the restrooms in Golden Gate Park visitor’s center

In 1901, John McLaren, together with Park Commissioners Adolph B. Spreckles and Reuben Lloyd, convinced the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission to build a windmill 300 yards from the ocean. This windmill could take advantage of the prevailing winds to pump water for the park’s irrigation system.   Completed in 1902 at a cost of $25,000, the North Windmill was designed by Alpheus Bull Jr., a prominent San Franciscan at the time.  Over the years it has had to go through various restorations, but the blades now function, though the pump has long been removed.

Dutch Windmill (North Windmill) in Golden Gate Park
Dutch Windmill (North Windmill) in Golden Gate Park (Photo by Carla Lockwood)
The North Windmill in Golden Gate Park
The North Windmill in Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park runs along the coast and so there are plenty of beach scenes and birds, etc.

A couple sits on the beach near Golden Gate Park
A couple sits on the beach near Golden Gate Park
A hawk or falcon watches the scene on the beach
A hawk or falcon watches the scene on the beach
A young seagull has his own perch on a light pole
A young seagull has his own perch on a light pole
Mel's Drive-in in San Francisco
Mel’s Drive-in in San Francisco

Our next stop was for lunch. What better place than an old fashioned diner. We stopped at the historic Mel’s Drive-in, a throwback to the 1950s both in style and cooking. Every table had a Rock-ola jukebox with 50s and 60s songs. Though working hard to change my diet, coming to this diner was risky…the meatloaf looked fabulous. But, I stuck with a large salad and a couple of rolls. No butter. Great diner atmosphere and what appeared to be great diner food.

Sumoflam at Mel's Drive-in in San Francisco
Sumoflam at Mel’s Drive-in in San Francisco

The original Mel’s Drive-in, built in the 1940s, was used for George Lucas’ classic film American Graffiti. There are now a few in the San Francisco area and even a couple, with the trademarked name and logo, at amusement parks.  Following is a brief portion of the history from their website:

Rockola Juke Boxes line the store and fill it with 50s and 60s music
Rock-ola Juke Boxes line the store and fill it with 50s and 60s music

Following is a brief portion of the history of Mel’s as taken from their website:

DSC_2290“Mel Weiss and Harold Dobbs started it all back in 1947 when they built their first car hop eatery, inspired by similar restaurants serving motorists in Los Angeles. With a staff of fourteen carhops covering a 30,000 square foot parking lot, they lured the hungry with a local radio personality broadcasting a live remote. As music reverberated through car radios in the drive-ups, the curb-stepping gals of 140 South Van Ness became a new paradigm for service.

DSC_2286At all hours of the day and night, crowds of patrons that fancied dining-in-your-car came early and often. It didn’t take long for the first unit to multiply into eleven! Six Mels became landmarks in the Bay Area with additional cluster achieving their own notoriety in Stockton and Sacramento. They reigned for almost twenty years, until a parade of franchised fast food outlets finally outpaced their service. As the new philosophy of “serve yourself” began to reprogram attitude about dining, Mel’s began its gradual decline.”

A Drive Down Lombard Street in San Francisco

After a good lunch and a break, we drove around town and made our way to Lombard St., the so called Crookedest Street in the World.  The one-way block on Russian Hill between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets has eight sharp turns that supposedly make it the crookedest street in the world. The design, first suggested by property owner Carl Henry and built in 1922, was intended to reduce the hill’s natural 27% grade, which was too steep for most vehicles.  The sign at the top recommends 5 mph. There were dozens of tourists at the top of the road, all along the crooked road and even dozens more when we got to the bottom. A fun little drive, as can be seen from the video above.

Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco
Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco

After our little brake infused jaunt down Lombard St., we then meandered around town over to Fisherman’s Wharf.  Following are a few scenes from along the way.

Giant whale mural on a building
Giant whale mural on a building
A look towards downtown San Francisco
A look towards downtown San Francisco
Another unique mural seen along the way
Another unique mural seen along the way
Colorful houses along the streets of San Francisco
Colorful houses along the streets of San Francisco
Another colorful neighborhood with unique fountain art
Another colorful neighborhood with unique fountain art
A gull and a crow converse on a light pole in San Francisco
A gull and a crow converse on a light pole in San Francisco
Bike Rickshaws in Fisherman's Wharf
Bike Rickshaws in Fisherman’s Wharf
A proud seagull
A proud seagull
A skeleton pirate guards the entrance to a shop in Fisherman's Wharf
A skeleton pirate guards the entrance to a shop in Fisherman’s Wharf
Buildings upon buildings in the Presidio District of San Francisco
Buildings upon buildings in the Presidio District of San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge as seen from the approach from San Fraancisco
Golden Gate Bridge as seen from the approach from San Fraancisco
On the north end of Golden Gate Bridge
On the north end of Golden Gate Bridge

From Fisherman’s Wharf we made our way to the Golden Gate Bridge. There was plenty of construction going on so traffic was slow going. But, once we got to the bridge the fog began to sneak in above the bridge…a beautiful sight. We crawled across the bridge, which was covered in foot traffic as well. Truly a major attraction.

San Francisco as seen from across the Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco as seen from across the Golden Gate Bridge
A paddle boarder in the bay with the city behind her
A paddle boarder in the bay with the city behind her

Once across the bridge we found the viewing area which offered not only a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge, but an expansive view of San Francisco, Alcatraz Island, Coit Tower and more. And the weather was perfect.

A gorgeous view of the expansive and historic Golden Gate Bridge
A gorgeous view of the expansive and historic Golden Gate Bridge
A panorama of the bridge and the city
A panorama of the bridge and the city
Shrouded in fog
Shrouded in fog

I was last in San Francisco in 2009 with Antsy McClain when he and the band performed at the Great American Music Hall (see video below). But we didn’t have time to stop and enjoy the bridge.  So it was an awesome opportunity.

A pelican in flight over the bay
A pelican in flight over the bay
Headed north on US 101
Headed north on US 101

After the bridge we made our way into Novato to join another Flamingohead sweetheart, Ione, who would be lending me her RV (nicknamed IRV) for the weekend in Red Bluff.  We had some great Chinese food at the China Palace and then joined together for a fun picture to memorialize the occasion.

Heading to Novato, CA on US 101
Heading to Novato, CA on US 101
After dinner photo with Ione and Carla at the China Palace in Novato.  The meal was excellent...the company was amazing!!
After dinner photo with Ione and Carla at the China Palace in Novato. The meal was excellent…the company was amazing!!

After dinner, Carla drove us up to her doublewide trailer in Santa Rosa, CA.  She Lives in Aluminum and is happy there in Lot #36 …see the video below if you don’t get it!! (Taken in 2009 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco…video by Sumoflam)

A nice 2500 mile day!

Next post will cover Santa Rosa to Ukiah to Red Bluff!

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