Filed under: get set..., on your mark..., Texas | Tags: Quick trips, Restaurants in Texas, Travel through Texas
Terry and I are headed to Amarillo, Texas, on a sudden trip to see my grandmother, who will be 100 in August. I was informed that she had been moved into Hospice care and I feel a strong need to see her. I wish we weren’t 2500 miles away, but we are. Terry happens to have this week off from work, so he made the very happy suggestion that, instead of a self indulgent trip to Atlanta, we make a drive to see her.
And so it is!
I am taking my camera, and a couple of changes of clothes (and a toothbrush. And a can of Pringles and some bottles of water. And coffee.), and my favorite traveling partner (Terry), hopping in the little red convertible, and going to see Grandmother.
Our route will be Statesboro, Ga to Columbus, Ga- Meridian, Mississippi-Shreveport, LA then down a bit to Clarkesville, TX for the Main Street Cafe’s miraculous smoked brisket, then scoot around Dallas and up to Wichita Falls, and up HWY 287 to see camels herds and some zebras and lots of oil pump jacks and the speed traps known as Estelline and Chillicothe and topping the lovely Llano Estacado (where Real Women Are Born, according to Aunt Martha) and finally reaching the CowTown To End All Cow Towns known as Amarillo. No, we will not attempt to eat half a cow at The Big Texan, but Terry wants to have a serving of the amazing chicken fried corn on the cob at the Calico County Restaurant.
We will spend some time with my grandmother, not enough time, but as much as we can.
On the way home, we’ll take a little bit of Route 66, enough to get to McLean, TX and have an early dinner at Red River Steakhouse, where men actually hitch their actual working horses on an actual hitching post and and track actual cow poo in on actual wood floors and the waitresses fuss at them. I know this because it happened the last time we ate there and our 8 year old son practically wanted to ask for an autograph. The food was good, too.
Anyway, it is a bit of a whirlwind trip. I’d love to take 2 weeks and amble through the countryside, but Terry only has a week off from work, and we have to get Eli to camp on Sunday, so, so can’t leave before then, and he returns from camp Saturday, so we have to be back by then. I will take as many pictures as feasible, and report on the restaurants. And maybe offer some ideas on how to pack for emergency trips to places where it’s 102 degrees in the shade.
I love making plans. Half the fun of a trip is in the planning, the optimism…it’s like planting a garden, you just know it’s going to be fabulous!
So anyway, when we were in Atlanta last weekend (and I am considering that small adventure to be a sort of traveler’s snack, the antipasto of journeys, just enough to whet the appetite), we started talking about Where To Next. Terry has 10 days off in July, and by golly we are NOT going to waste it sitting around watching war movies and complaining about the weeds.
So we started tossing around ideas. The Blue Ridge Parkway? A Low Country tour up to Kill Devil Hills and Ocracoke Island? What if we just got on Hwy 301 and drove to Delaware and back? None of it felt right. Then Terry said “you know, I’ve always wanted to see the Shaker Village in Kentucky” and That Felt Right.
So yesterday I got online. There is a perfectly lovely non-interstate route to Kentucky, on a road that we can get on mere yards from our house. Through the mountains, up into Kentrucky horse and bourbon country…gorgeous stuff, folks. So I plotted a route, planned stops, and made us a reservation at the Inn at Pleasant Hill with plans to stay there for a day and a half, then a short trip an hour north to Frankfort, where there are 3 bourbon distilleries that offer tours.
Terry is a HUGE bourbon afficianado. You know how people collect fine wines, and know what each one is good with, and the history of them and all? Terry is like that with bourbon. He knows which kind goes with what sort of cigar, which one is best suited for drinking during a NASCAR race, and which one is best savored slowly as a delicious after dinner or late evening celebratory treat…he knows all that. So I thought a tour of a distillery that makes one of his favorites would be quite The Thing.
After that, we’ll turn back to the South, and head toward Knoxville, which is right next to Oak Ridge, where there’s SCIENCE! And HISTORY! And COOL STUFF! I admit to getting my geekitude jumping when it comes to stuff like this, all girlish and squealy and handflappy…well ok maybe I don’t squeal or flap my hands, but this stuff is FASCINATING, and is my equivalent of a bourbon distillery tour. So anyway…
After seeing Oak Ridge, and I am wondering if it would be possible…would they have any…unranium glass? I have no idea…I am sure we’ll be ready to sleep in our own bed and head home.
The trip 2 (or was it 3) years ago, on Route 66, taught us how to travel efficiently. A cooler full of cold drinks so we don’t stop and spend $$ at convenience stores. Load up on fruit and such at the continental breakfast bar in the hotel. Brunch at a Mom&Pop restaurant (the one with all the cars parked out front), snack on fruit midday, and an early supper. Brunches tend to be cheap, and that allows for a nice dinner if we want. Cheap hotels (Super 8 has been quite acceptable in our experience), and a loose agenda. There are things we want to see, but none are so Important that the trip becomes more about the destination than about the journey.
Filed under: on your mark...
So, Terry and I are planning the next leg of Route 66: Joplin, MO to Chicago, IL. July 1 or 2 to July 9 or 10, somewheres around there. The mill shuts down the week of the 4th and he’s looking at taking Thursday and Friday the week before so we can have plenty of time to amble our way to Joplin, up Rout 66 to Chicago, then back down to Statesboro.
Planning has already commenced, with visits to websites looking for oddball attractions and potential interesting things to see. Bridges are definitely on the list, and I want to see whatever we ride by that grabs my gnat-like attention.
Stay tuned for more information!
Filed under: Uncategorized
For the trip, we budgeted $30 a day for food, for both of us (that’s for BOTH of us, not per person). And, we ate well. the hotels we stayed at generally had a continental breakfast, and we’d grab a handful of granola bars, some fruit and some juice to take in the car. We’d eat a late-ish brunch, like 10:30 or so, snack on fruit and findings, and then eat an early supper (5:30 or 6). That way we only paid for 2 meals a day, and brunch tends to be pretty cheap- I don’t think we paid more than $5 each for any of it. By keeping brunch cheap and snacking on stuff, we could spend a little bit more for supper, but even then I think we came out at about $20 for the both of us. See, you don’t have to spend alot of money to eat well, you just have to know where to eat.
Terry and I have this (relatively) failsafe way of finding a great place to eat: look for the restaurant with all the cars out front. So far it hasn’t led us wrong.
The first night we found ourselfs someplace in Arkansas, peckish and anxious for something, anything, as long as it wasn’t MacDonalds. So, we saw a place called The Catfish Inn. Ok, only a couple of cars in the large parking lot, that should have clued us in but didn’t. I guess we weren’t thinking clearly and it really didn’t look like there was much else to pick from in the area. We stopped, paid $12 a head for a buffet full of fried everything (even frog legs. “tastes like chicken” said Terry) and these great big glazed cinnamon rolls (everyone loves them! bragged the woman). It was…ok. Maybe $5.99 worth of ok. There was a reason why, at 6:30 in the evening (it’s a Thursday, we reasoned, everyone is waiting until Friday to eat out) there was maybe only 3 other couples there. Kinda disappointing, but great for comparing the rest of our travel food to.
The next day we found ourselves in Clarkesville, Texas at lunchtime. There was this little frame house looking place with a packed parking lot (at 11:15 am) and a sign advertising barbeque. OK! we said, OK! let’s try this place! Oh boy. With a they-serve-it buffet and a pan of BBQ brisket that made me want to lay down in it and die happy, a cheerful country decor (you know, checkerboard tablecloths, wood panelling, some guy named Gus and his father in the corner) and waitresses who called everyone “hun”, we were served perfectly sweetened tea (Peggy’s translation:not too sweet. Not Southern Style Pour-on-the-Pancakes tea, but Just So) and sour cherry cobbler. The brisket was real smoked brisket with a smoke ring and everything, and wonderful vinegary (but not too much so) Texas style sauce, creamy slaw and yummy fried okra. The meat was so tender you could cut it with your fork, and for a cut as ornery as brisket that’s an accomplishment. They don’t own a web site, but if you ever find yourself in Clarkseville, go there for lunch, even if it’s 3 pm and you just ate. The brisket is a miracle.
The next day we ate brunch in Quahna, a little (really little) town up the road from Wichita Falls, after seeing camels and Cadillac Yard Art. The sign on the building said Duke’s and the name on the menu said Briscoe’s, so we don’t really know what it was called. no web site there either. A cheerful 45 yr old waitress was training a tenative and diffident high school student the ropes of waitressing, so service was amazing. The young woman was trying hard but it was her first day so we cut her some slack. the food was simple, unassuming and well made. The biscuits were real buttermilk, big as Terry’s fist (ok, that’s saying something) and served with a bowl of milk gravy. The bacon was…I’d never had any so good. I don’t know if it was some local brand or what, but it was smoky and thick sliced and delicious. Maybe it was the atmosphere, or my inherent Texas sense of superiority (I was born in Fort Worth, which makes me superior to everyone who wasn’t), I don’t know, but brunch was fantastic. Even at 10:30 on a weekday the restaurant was busy, which is why we picked it. There was a table full of old guys in the corner, drinking coffee and arguing politics. Another table had young people, drinking coke and arguing philosophy. Quanah has it’s own high school, with an arrow in the ground and a sign reading “PUHA”. I asked the waitress (she was wearing a 2008 QHS shirt) what PUHA meant. She looked thoughtful, and replied “I have no idea. It’s just what we shout at the football games.” So I asked what if it was a cuss word, or something really insulting. “Oh my goodness,” she said,”that would be bad!” The older waitress wished us a safe trip, and I asked her how did she know we were travelers, and not someone from town who decided to have brunch out. “oh honey,” she said with a tender look, “I know everyone, and I don’t know you. You have to be passing through.”
That night we were tired and hungry so we ate at Denny’s. Yeah, just regular old ordinary Denny’s. It was cheap and right by the hotel. I got a salad (actually, quite good, with real mixed greens and a decent vinagrette) and Terry got a cheeseburger. It was food, cheap and quick and that’s what we needed right then.
The next day, after spending time with Grandmother (she’s 97 and quite fun to be around. she loves Dr Phil and wonders out loud how those people on his show get themselves into those situations), we ate at Calico Country in Amarillo. It’s Kuntry Kookin’ for sure, except that they don’t overcook the veggies into tan oblivion. Oh no, they do the vegs right. The green beans were bright green, obviously cooked from fresh and not a can, with little bits of smoked pork. Terry saw something new on the menu: chicken fried corn. Ok, 2 of his favorite things in one new and unique presentation: chicken fried and yellow corn. they take an ear of corn and batter it just like fried chicken, then fry it. The corn sort of caramelizes under the crust, and gets brownish. He loved it and requested that I try making it at home. I thought, well, isn’t anything better fried? is there any wonder at all we look like Dan and Rosanne and not Becks and Victoria? The service was good, the tea was strong and well made, and oh! Terry had grilled calf liver. he’d never had it grilled and since I do *not* fix liver, he tried it. Grilled liver and grilled onions, probably much better for you than fried (maybe it cancelled out the fried corn) and he said it was delicious. maybe I’ll try making him some at home. I love the smell of cooking liver and onions, but can’t handle the texture. alas, if I don’t like it then no one in the household gets to eat it (never mind that everyone else loves it…I can’t cook something I don’t like, because I can’t tell if I’m getting it right or not). We Liked Calico Country so much we ate there the next day as well.
One of the places we ate coming home was Clanton’s in Vinita, Oklahoma. A guy named Joe recommended it after he took our picture at the Route 66 sign (how cheesy is that?). At 2:30 pm and the parking lot was FULL…that was encouraging! When we got seated I started noticing all these awards and recommendations all over the walls. The place was named in the the top 100 best places to eat from coast to coast, was featured on Foodnetwork in the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives show, and in Gourmet magazine. Hum, I thought, ok. So I asked the waitress “what’s good?”. She said she sells over 100 servings of the chicken fried steak every day, and when she eats there with her family she gets the chicken and dressing. Also on the menu were ‘calf fries’. What are those, I asked. I was thinking maybe a beef version of chicken fingers or something. The waitress looked nervous and asked if I was familiar with ‘Rocky Mountain Oysters’. Why sure, I said, bull balls. “Well, calf fries are little bitty…um…rocky mountain oysters”
Ah…thanks. I’ll take the chicken and dressing, please. Terry had the chicken fried steak. Delicious. The dressing was the cornbread version, with sage. Pulled chicken on top, and really good gravy. The green beans were fresh, not canned, and perfectly cooked. Then, the waitress started talking about pie. “We are famous for our cream pies. Coconut, chocolate, lemon, chocolate strawberry are what we have today. Our piecrust is recognized as the best in the country.” hum. Dinner was filling, so maybe if we split a piece. So, we ordered a piece of coconut pie with 2 forks. Immediately I started whining about Terry taking too big bites and he grumbled about me eating too slow and whining too much. The pie was amazing. If you ever eat pie at Clanton’s in Vinita, don’t share a piece. Get your own.
We finished up our trip in Hartsell, Alabama, with our friends John and Janet. They took us to Big Bob Gibson’s Barbeque. Sometimes you can find Big Bob’s sauce in the grocery store. It’s good- especially the white sauce (unusual, I know, white BBQ sauce? Really?) on chicken. Tasty vinegar based slaw, a perfect side with the smoked meat, and really good pie, with a sky-high mereigne..merangue..oh heck…y’know, the whipped up egg whites that are baked on top. (mereingue…dang it) The meal was made wonderful by having it with friends, and was the perfect culinary punctuation point for the long trip.
We ate at plenty of other places, but since I don’t have my book in front of me, I’ll have to fill you in on them later. These were the ones that stuck in my mind.
mmm. Coconut pie. mmm.
Filed under: Alabama, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Weird stuff, what were they thinking?
I love signs. Terry loves bridges. We indulged each other’s loves by not complaining when the other one wanted to sidetrack to see something. I’ll break this down into catagories: Motels, Theaters, Restaurants, and Weird Stuff. Some of them could be in 2 catagories, but for simplicity’s sake we’ll keep them in one.
Not all these signs are Route 66 stuff. Some we saw on the way to Amarillo, some on the way home after leaving the Route in Joplin, but they are part of the trip and deserve a mention.
First, motels. Now, we all know what a Holiday Inn sign looks like. They get the message across with efficiency and little creativity. I like the creative signs, the quirky ones that are one-of-a-kind, like these:
Now, there’s the omnipresent McDonald’s Golden Arches, the Arby’s Hat, and the ubiquitous pig at various BBQ joints. I give you the restaurants we didn’t eat at, but who’s signs captured my imagination:
There were others, but these are my favorite.
It seems that every little town along the way had an elaborate theater sign, as if there was a competition between towns for the fanciest sign.
There’s more, but in the interest of relative brevity, I’ll save them for later.
Strange and Unclassifiable signs…I love them, quirky and funny things, far removed from the bland homogeny of strip malls and chain stores.
ok, that’s all for now. More later!
or, The Big Damn Machine of Sheer Manliness
Big Brutus was a mining excavator, in operation from 1963 to 1974, in West Mineral, Kansas. He was used for mining coal and boron. He is Huge,ok.
You really have to be there to appreciate just how big this thing is. And you probably have to be a man to appreciate the job the operators had when using this thing.
Ok so that’s a sexist remark, but honestly, it was more fun watching Terry play with the controls than it was for me to mess with them.
Oh right, you say, just how big is BIG?
It even makes my Rubenesque proportions seem petite. I like it more every time I think of it.
This is a picture of the guts. You could climb up inside and wander around, get grease all over yourself and marvel at the changes OSHA has made in industry.
Give Big Brutus a look-see next time you’re in the vincinity.
Filed under: Uncategorized
There’s this mystique that surrounds Route 66. I’ve heard of it, and thought the whole thing was kind of cheesy. I mean, it’s just a road, right? There’s this subculture of people who rattle on about The Mother Road, dress in ’50’s style clothing, and wax rhapsodic about WigWam motels and cute little gas stations. Silly, huh…
But y’know, I was raised in the age of the Interstate Highway, by parents who believed that the journey was merely a means to an end. It was all about getting there, the destination. The journey was a chore to be endured and gotten over with as quickly as possible. Growing up, we were allowed a 5 minute stop every 4 hours or so. 5 minutes to pee and dig a drink out of the cooler. I hated traveling.
Since then, I have learned there’s a whole ‘nother world out there, off of the Interstate Highway. Interstate travel is just so many 4 lane roads, so many truck and cars all rushing to get to their destination as efficiently as possible. Route 66 travel, and any highway travel, I believe, is another species entirely. You don’t approach it as a means to an end. It’s all about the journey.
When we took this trip, we weren’t actually *going* anywhere. We considered maybe going as far as St. Louis, or maybe Springfield. We made it as far as Joplin. That was ok. No one was waiting for us with a cake. We just decided it was time to turn east and south and go home.
Traveling Route 66 was…I don’t know…Magical. It sounds terribly cliche’ and I hate cliches, but there it is. Rather than bypassing each little town with speed and efficiency, the road goes straight into them, to the heart of little towns bustling with interesting people and peculiar businesses. Normal people punctuated with oddities that they accepted with good humor. The towns themselves were like little gemstones on a long necklace. Each one had their point of pride, a theater lovingly restored or the
*Good Grief What is That* UFO glittering in a front yard. You’d never see these delights if you were on the Interstate.
The people were…awesome. We weren’t looked at like freaks of nature, but greeted with enthusiasm and advise about where to eat and what to see. A guy named Joe whipped into the parking lot where I was taking Terry’s picture and informed us we needed to BOTH be in the picture.
He was driving an appliance repair truck and had on a uniform with his name over the pocket. After he snapped our photo, he told us where to go eat, Clanton’s, and we took his advise and had the best pie EVER.
We would never have known if he hadn’t have stopped.
In another town, we were gassing up the car and a gentleman named Gary W. struck up a conversation, noticing our out-of-town car tags and the fascination with The CrapDuster.
He told us of a fantastic drive in theater outside town, which we would never have known of otherwise. It is an amazing place. If it had been Friday we probably would have stayed on for the Double Feature. As it was, the owner of the theater was weedwhacking there, and told us the story of the place, and how it was a bloomin’ miracle that the original 1949 ticket box hadn’t been shot to bits while the theater was serving as a salvage yard in the 80’s and 90’s. He let us wander about the place, taking pictures and generally falling in love with it.
There is definitely a revival happening. Old places are being restored and new places are cropping up. Pop’s, in Arcadia Oklahoma, is only 2 years old,
and it is the embodiment of the Spirit of Route 66, with it’s funky architecture, full service (gas, food, snacks, cold drinks) sensibility, and silly landmark bottle. The service station in Shamrock, Texas was the inspiration for Ramone’s Body Shop in the movie “Cars”,
and the little service car’s leaning tower of tires was a hat tip to the The Leaning Water Tower in Groome, Texas.
Go on into Tulsa, OK, and there’s all sorts of good stuff, buildings and walkways and bridges, all cared for and there for picking like a perfect piece of ripe fruit.
It’s hard to explain really clearly, this feeling of exploration. All I can say is that it renews my sense of optimism for our country. Being able to drive into some little town I’ve never heard of and see that all the store fronts downtown are full, people are doing business, old men are sitting on the benches outside the courthouse and someone’s still doing hair in their garage. Our sense of humor is intact, as witnessed by the UFO, the truck up on a pedestal
, and the Crapduster.
No one would ever see it, if all we did was rush from one place to the other on the Interstate Highway. Don’t get me wrong, the Interstate is a great way to get to Savannah in 45 minutes, or Amarillo in a day and a half, if that’s all the time you have. But for Terry and me, I’m thinking we’ll plan at least one trip a year to make it all about the journey. There’s so much to see in this country, and not just on Route 66. Highway 301 passes through Statesboro and was a main corridor from Glasgow, Delaware to Sarasota, Florida. Even this little bit we’ve seen locally has fascinating signs and towns (the Paradise Restaurant sign is just outside town here). We are making plans to explore it some more. Highway 280, Highway 84, there’s so many.
Check back in now and then, I’ll be posting on Big Brutus, bridges, architecture, and strange sights along the trip.