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.
Oftimes when we think of a road trip, we typically think of some far off location with fun sites and unique places to visit. Indeed, we may often overlook what is right in our backyard. Thus the word “Staycation” was born. A staycation is typically defined as a period in which an individual or family stays home and participates in leisure activities within driving distance, sleeping in their own beds at night. Most of the time it involves dining out more frequently than usual. Staycations achieved popularity in the US during the financial crisis of 2007–2010.
I personally have taken a few of these in my own home town of Lexington and in surrounding areas around Kentucky. Last Monday was one of those days that I wanted to get out on the road, so I took a mini-roadtrip to travel along part of Kentucky’s Scenic Byway Highway 89 from Winchester through Irvine and into McKee. I had received inspiration to take this trip from a friend’s posting on Facebook about a small drive-in restaurant in Ravenna, KY called The Wigwam Drive-In. (I posted about that yesterday) Though only a four hour trip, it was well worth it both in beauty and in the refreshment of just getting out on the road and seeing the beautiful hills of the Bluegrass.
From Lexington I took US 60 to the lovely historic town of Winchester (which I’ll cover in another Staycation post in the future). From there I took Kentucky Highway 89 south towards Irvine, which begins on East Washington St. in Winchester. This drive weaves its way through farmland and hardwood forests passing through a few sparsely populated communities and their small churches.
The first community along the way is Trapp. Originally called Round Tree, the town had a school, post office and other stores. Trappers would visit the community’s stores, which is how the school was dubbed Trapp in the early 1900s. Nowadays the town has a few homes and a small grocery store called Fox’s General Store, which is advertised on the side of a building with a nice wall advertisement.
From there 89 crosses a bridge over the Red River into Estill County and the small community of Palmer. It is there that the Welcome to Estill County sign can be seen. I like its catchphrase “Where the Bluegrass Kisses the Mountains.” And indeed, this is where the mountains of eastern Kentucky really get started. From this point southward the drive is a natural wonderland of forest, wildflowers and rolling hills.
Soon I was driving into the community of Hargett which welcomes the driver with a rare sighting of an old Mail Pouch Barn, one of only six or seven I have seen in Kentucky. Originally known as Woodwards Creek, a post office opened in 1879 and was renamed Sams for a local store owner in 1886. It later moved to the nearby Louisville and Nashville Railroad’s Harg Station and was renamed Harg in 1914, just before closing. A Hargett post office opened in 1915 and closed in 1943. It is now a small unincorporated community with an old auto repair place that has a number of really old cars. There is also a fire department.
About five miles down the road I entered Irvine and was welcomed by a Priceless Foods store (actually I think it is Price Less, but I like the Priceless better–HA!!). Irvine is the home to locally famous Mountain Mushroom Festival at the end of April. Irvine and nearby Ravenna are known within Estill County as the “Twin Cities.” It is also the home of the famed Backstreet Boys Kevin Richardson and actor Harry Dean Stanton, who has appeared in a number of films including Cool Hand Luke, Alien, Red Dawn, Pretty in Pink and the Green Mile, among a myriad of others.
As noted above, the driving force for taking this mini-roadtrip to was to find my into Ravenna and visit the Wigwam Drive-In Restaurant. Ravenna is a twin city to Irvine and is accessed via KY Highway 52, which in town used to be affectionately called “The Wam.”
Before it was incorporated, Ravenna was apparently known only as “The Village”. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad was responsible for the name of Ravenna, the building of the shops, yard, office building, passenger and freight station, and many other things that were built for the establishment of a railroad terminal in Estill County just east of Irvine. After the completion of the terminal in 1915, the county decided it would call it “Ravenna”, which stems from the word “ravine”. Some early railroad officials reported that an Italian foreman and interpreter, with a construction crew of approximately 60 Italian men building the railroad yards, requested that the railroad officials name the station in honor of his birthplace, Ravenna, Italy, and it was so granted by the railroad officials in charge of such matter.
Just around the corner is the 60 year old Wigwam Drive-In Restaurant, famous for its Country Boy Burger (see my post about this place HERE). A unique little diner, this place is loved by many residents, many Kentuckians and others. I loved the old style diner feel of the place!
After leaving Ravenna, I got back onto KY 89 and crossed over the Kentucky River on the old bridge, which was built around 1940. Once across the bridge I continued my trek down KY 89 towards the mountain town of McKee, KY.
Along the entire drive there are barns with quilt blocks on the side. These are commonly seen in Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio, and perhaps other states. Estill County has its own Quilt Trail. There are a number of them in Kentucky, some of which I have visited in the past but not yet documented on my blog.
Purple Martins are North American birds that nest in colonies of 2 to 200 pairs. They like communal living and return to their gourd abodes annually. These communities can be seen all over the southeast and look nice as well as serving a purpose. Learn more about the gourds and the birds HERE.
KY Highway 89 turns into a windy, sometimes switchbacked, highway through the Daniel Boone National Forest. It is a beautiful drive this time of year as wildflowers dot the highway, as well as old beautiful barns.
There are many small community churches along this stretch of highway. The buildings are typically non-descript, but I love seeing the signs. Russell Flat was one of these.
There are quite a few others, many off of side roads.
I made my way into McKee, KY, another small town located in the heart of Jackson County, Kentucky. It is home to bluegrass festivals and more. I will visit there again and provide a more detailed report on this cute little place.
Highway 89 does continue south on to London, KY, but due to time constraints, I returned to Lexington via Richmond on US Highway 421, which is itself a beautiful drive through places like Sand Gap and Big Hill. It was a great trip!!
And, one last road sign….sometimes they can be pretty silly….
ENJOY THE RIDE!! Take a staycation near your home, wherever it may be. You never know what you may see.
Earlier this week I was gazing over Facebook and came across a post by one of my friends about their trip to out of the way Ravenna, KY to eat at a place called the Wigwam Drive-In Restaurant. Mind you, Ravenna is a town of just a bit over 600 fine folks. The town sits along the Kentucky River in Estill County, KY and KY Highway 52 runs through the town (it was called the “Wam” back in the 50s and was a popular cruising road — think American Graffiti). The town borders the larger sister city of Irvine, which has a population of a little over 3000.
So, I wondered two things after reading that post. First was why a friend of mine would drive an hour south into the Kentucky woods from his home in Georgetown just to get a hamburger. Second, was the more intriguing — why is there a place called the Wigwam in the hills of East Central Kentucky? So, on a nice Monday morning I decided to take a drive down KY Highway 89, one of the many Scenic Drives in the state, and make my way to Ravenna to find out (you can read about my Staycation Mini-Roadtrip HERE — posted on May 12).
After the scenic drive, I got to Ravenna around 10:15 AM and made my way to the Wigwam. There I met current owner Tonya Floyd, the granddaughter of the original founders Earl and Mabel Floyd. She shared with me some of the history while I enjoyed a plate of their homemade biscuits and gravy.
The story goes that Earl and Mabel opened the Wigwam on June 17, 1957 and created a signature burger called the “Country Boy,” which is a double cheeseburger with a 3 piece bun, fresh ground chuck or Bison, a big slice of tomato and onion, some pickles and a creamy coleslaw. As my friend Randy wrote on Facebook, “the best double cheeseburger I’ve had in recent memory… I’d go back again in a heartbeat (if I had enough fuel to get there).”
The Drive-In, located at 419 3rd St., opens daily at 7 AM and goes into the evening. You can order breakfast all day and can order their burgers and sliders all day. They recently added a Bison slider, a pulled Chicken slider, a Grippo burger and a Philly Cheese steak slider. Earlier in May the place was featured on the website Only In Your State and listed as one of the 11 Mouthwatering Restaurants in Kentucky (see link here).
Honestly, I loved the ambiance of the diner. Old photos, a painting of wigwams, the old diner counter stools and home cooked food.
And the name Wigwam? Apparently it came from the “wigwam” shaped cone at the top of the building.
Definitely worth a trip..just prepare to drive a while down a lovely winding little Kentucky back road.