Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Eating on the Road
Normally at home, we eat a pretty healthy diet- eggs and toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and dinner often has steamed vegetables.  Not TOO many snacks. 
Planning for food on the road is another thing! When Joe had first proposed that the trip be a series of motel visits, I was simply not interested, partly because eating out endlessly would be hard on the digestion-- and I’d always be tempted to eat more than I should. 
Second only to the primary function of providing us with sleeping space each night, Arby’s kitchen accommodations really help with food planning.  With a microwave, three stovetop burners, an oven, and a refrigerator/freezer built in, there are many options.  Add to that the toaster oven and George Foreman grill that Helen left in the RV for us and we’re in great shape.
Joe's fixed lunch- our first outdoor dining Chez Arby! 
Chez Arby, as we’ve come to dub our personal diner, is a great place for a simple, good meal: eggs and toast for breakfast (with the occasional waffle, natch!) - or cereal and milk if we want it; mostly sandwiches for lunch, and simple dinners not unlike those at home.  We presently favor a cool product- precooked quinoa that’s already seasoned, in packets that make one meal for both of us.  Mixed with sauteed spinach, mushrooms and onions, and maybe topped with cheese, it makes a fast, filling and tasty dinner.  It’s marketed as “Seeds for Change” at Costco. 
But one of the absolute delights of travel is road food. It can be a window into local culture that really expands our understanding, and at the rate we’re passing through states, it’s helpful to have such vivid experiences of the differences between places. 
If you bring in a Billy Bass (those talking novelties), you get a bucket of fish.

The menu. You order, then take a seat. No frills! 

Liar's wall.  People submit photos and narratives of fishing expeditions.

Let me start with last night’s dinner in Memphis.  Flying Fish on Second St. was recommended by our friends Rick and Charlotte, who moved to Whittier from Memphis two years ago. I love this place. Casual, fun, one of a kind, and EXCELLENT food.  With a bewildering selection available, I chose the Hog Wallow (two pieces of catfish, four shrimps, six oysters, all freshly breaded and fried, over french fries) and Joe chose the Gumbo over grilled grits.  We were both supremely happy.  The oysters had been shucked right then, and everything was served so hot and fresh. Joe’s gumbo had that rich brown sauce we’d found in Lake Charles, Louisiana, but this place had shrimp  and okra instead of the chicken and sausage from Lake Charles. (At home, Joe makes his gumbo with catfish, country ham and okra. ) Under Joe’s gumbo was a slab of grilled grits. 
We love grits, and were so happy to finally travel far enough into the southeast to find it on some menus. Grits (for those of you uninitiated in its delights) is bland, creamy, boiled ground hominy, that is great with butter, salt and pepper. Some people dress it up in various ways, from adding cheese to tabasco.  It’s an easy, healthy side dish.  In this case, the boiled grits were refrigerated, cut into slabs and sauted in a pan or on a griddle.  This is a great way to use any extra cold boiled grain.  I remember my grandmother serving slabs of grilled oatmeal with syrup, leftovers from yesterday’s breakfast. 
For most of the restaurants where we’ve eaten, without friends’ recommendations, we became quite grateful for today’s technology. Yelp! is my favorite application on the iPhone for locating great food, and I’m deeply grateful to those reviewers who have taken the time to share their opinions.  I rarely disagree with the overall experiences described. Not only does the app give us great recommendations, it warns if the restaurant is closed (as Rendezvous sadly was on Monday night in Memphis) but it also provides a map and phone number.  Having all that information makes it possible for us to have great experiences routinely.  We are so so spoiled.  And the carryout boxes make for terrific meals the next day, even though by then we’re usually in another state!  
Probably the hardest part of writing about food on the road is deciding what foods deserve mention; no one in their right mind would want to read all I have to say about the foods I’ve enjoyed.  But I will be glad to make summary comments of some particularly memorable spots. 
As you enter the Mad Greek Cafe! 
Mad Greek Cafe as seen from the road.  As if you'd miss it! 

Baker, CA: The Mad Greek Cafe. Kitschy, popular with the traveling crowd, wide selection of menu items and terrific ethnic pride.  We split a salad with gyros atop and almost had left overs; delicious and generous! 
Good friend Marti drove in from Phoenix for dinner at the historic Turquoise Room with us, then continued to Albuquerque for the game the next day! 

Winslow, AZ: The Turquoise Room. Splurge dining- pricy, historic, authentic, local and sustainable. Elk medallions with black currant sauce, wild mushroom corn custard flan; papery Piki bread. Smoked baked wild salmon on polenta.
Albuquerque, New Mexico: Middle Eastern Cafe, east side of town. Converted 7-11 with great charm; hanging drapes separate the restaurant from the store; extremely talented and friendly cooks. World’s best hummus, which they have another name for (appetizer), lamb schwarma - best I ever had! 
Great diner architecture, and hatch chili omelets! 

It really looks like this from the road! 

Albuquerque, New Mexico: Owl Cafe, east side of town. Kitschy, googie architecture, sells tshirts with store logo. Omelet with Hatch chilies, home fries. Really satisfying. 
West, Texas: Czech Cafe: local pride of heritage, decor self-described as “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” - a trip pleasantly back in time. Liver and onions, cabbage rolls, and from a nearby bakery, Skunk Eggs (meat and cheese stuffing in a baked roll)
Austin, Texas: Eastside Cafe: localvore pride (garden in back) converted home, GREAT food: Smoked salmon ravioli, beef tenderloin.  Just amazing.
Alligator on a stick?  Now that's regional food...

Austin, Texas: Sixth Street Festival. Street food: we didn’t buy any, but had to put the photo in: you won’t find this in California! 
San Antonio, Texas: Josephine St. Cafe. Also in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” category. Old building with undulating wooden floor, dining room built around a huge living tree trunk. Liver and onions again for me.  Joe-Cajun chicken with cilantro lime sauce.
Corpus Cristi, Texas:  Water St. Seafood. Lively, crowded, popular place. Redfish, excellent crab cakes.
Midday in the pujo St. Cafe; it already feels like Louisiana! 

Lake Charles, Louisiana: Pujo St. Cafe, airy, dark, white tablecloths: Rich, dark gumbo with chicken and sausage.
New Orleans, Louisiana: MiLa, near the French Quarter. Gourmet’s delight, sophisticated, award winning, modern. Duck with kale, beets and a date reduction. Halibut over fava beans and peas in a light cream sauce. Rice pudding with blueberries and a chat with Allison, wife in the two-chef couple. 
And this wasn't the biggest stockpot they sold in the store.  These people cook large scale! 

Modest entry to a fabulous Pat's Seafood & Cajun Deli in Covington, Louisiana.

Stuffed artichokes- only one of many prepared dishes: best was the corn chowder with crawfish. Divine. 

Pat’s Seafood and Cajun Deli, Covington, Louisiana: a cook’s delight; carryout deli with fresh fish counter, cooking supplies including 80 qt and 100 qt stockpots, and 80 qt. cast iron pots. For serious cajun cooks! Take home packs: stuffed artichokes, shrimp rolls, frozen gumbo and the most delicious ever corn and potato chowder with crawfish.

Abita Springs Brew Pub, Abita Springs, Louisiana: friendly family restaurant pub with brewing vats in the back. Abita Golden Ale, Abita Springs Jacomo IPA, crab cake, soft shell crab, pasta with garlic, tomato, cream sauce, gumbo. 

You make these from green peanuts- just boil them with salt.  Really good - I'm a convert. 

Wonderful roadside stand in Wilmer, on the way to the Mobile, AL game. 

Wilmer, Alabama: Hamilton’s Produce Stand.  Boiled peanuts. These are good. Nothing to them but boiled green peanuts and salt.  So tasty, and part of Joe’s experiences growing up in the South. I’m a convert- can’t stop eating them! 
That about wraps it up for the Southwest and this part of our South. We’re headed on to Arkansas, Oklahoma, and the state where Joe and I met and married, Kentucky-- which sometimes calls itself a midwest state! 

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Bonnie! The Flying Fish is on my "must try" list when I get to Memphis.