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Oct. 14th, 2007

black mountain


The End of the Road

This is a story about food eaten at the literal end of the road.

For Labor Day weekend in 2005, my husband and I decided to take a trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. For those of you not from Michigan, the U.P. is so different from the rest of Michigan it is akin to an entirely separate state. Indeed, many residents of the U.P. (aka "Yoopers") would like to secede from Michigan and form their own state called "Superior." But I digress.

Following the advice of a good friend of mine who is also a native Yooper, John and I traveled all the way to the very, very tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Past Copper Harbor, past Fort Wilkins State Park, past the end of the pavement, out beyond civilization to the end of the earth.

open road


is there anybody out there?

I've noticed it's been awfully quiet in here of late, though not for lack of trying.  I haven't posted any of my stories because I'd like to hear some of yours, and also because a lot of mine have happened along interstate highways, unfortunately.  Time is not usually on my side when I travel.

So, is there anyone who'd be willing to share a story of a memorable road experience?  Photos, narratives, anything.  Sky's the limit.  I'd just hate for this community to go quiet, especially given how quickly you all joined us here.

Sep. 27th, 2007



Some Place in Taos, New Mexico

Per roadwarrior220's suggestion, I'm going to tell the story of how I was guided to one of my most memorable meals.

I was in Taos, New Mexico, in 1998, on one of my solo road trips. I was staying at this little place just outside of town. I asked the proprietors of the inn where I could find something to eat that wouldn't break my wallet. Taos is not really a place for the budget eater. The woman told me how to find the best authentic northern New Mexican food in the area. It wasn't some fancy tableclothed place on the main drag downtown. Forget those. That's for the tourists. No, I had to head north into the country, past the street lights and into the dark high desert until I came to a tiny roadside building all by itself. Thankfully it was still open! (it was about 9:00 at night).

I went in and found myself a table. At that hour I was the only one in there aside from the staff, who were having their own dinners. I ordered a plate of blue corn tacos with chicken. The woman who took my order also made the food. I watched her make the blue corn tortillas from scratch at a long counter, then chop fresh tomatoes and shred lettuce. When I got my meal, the tortillas were still piping hot from being fried on the griddle. Everything was so fresh and beautiful it was almost a crime to eat it and make it disappear from this world. I should have taken a picture. Instead I wolfed it down because I was absolutely starving. It was perfect.

I should rifle through my journals and see if I wrote down the name of the place because I can't remember it. I would love to know if it is still there. My parents are going to New Mexico and Texas for vacation next week. I told them they had to go to Taos, and they are. I told them they had to stay at the Inn on the Rio, and they are. I told them to ask the owners if that little place on the outskirts of town that serves the best northern New Mexican food around is still there. If it is and they get a chance to go there, I will be SO JEALOUS!
open road


*drools like Homer Simpson*

If you're from the Detroit metro area (mightymezzo73, this means you), you're probably familiar with this place.

On Michigan Avenue (US Highway 12) in Dearborn, Michigan, north of the intersection with US-24, also known as Telegraph Road, there's a bar and restaurant on the side of the road in the southbound lanes, across the street from a Ford Dealership and a Bob Evans.  The restaurant has a red paint job and huge letters on the side, which read "Miller's Bar."  From the exterior, it looks like your average no-windows drinking establishment.  But the preconceived notions of it being just a bar end there.

Walk inside, and you'll always find a line.  On the right side is a small dining room with a dozen tables; on the left is the bar, the kitchen (complete with a flattop griddle, loaded with burger patties), and a larger dining room.  There's no hostess, so you just wait for a table to open up.  Once you sit down, the waitress comes to the table and asks you what you'll have.  And this is where it gets interesting.  There are no menus on the table.  You're supposed to know what they serve:  Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, onion rings, soft drinks (pop, for those of you in the midwest), beer, and mixed drinks.  That's it.

The burgers are massive.  They're easily a half-pound, and they're incredible.  GQ Magazine actually listed these on its list of "20 burgers you have to eat before you die."  I'd literally drive the hour and 20 minutes it takes from my front door for one of these.  And then I'd drive home.  My uncle actually introduced me to this place after he took me to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit one year when I was in high school.  I've been there, easily, 30 times since.

And the other cool part:  There is no menu, so there's no prices.  The entire thing is based on the honor system.  You either leave cash on the table or go to the bar and tell the owner what you had.  And if you lie to him, you'll feel guilty because the place has the best burgers you've ever tasted.  It's cheap--burger , fries, and a Coke will set you back 8 bucks.  Substitute a beer for the Coke and it's 9.

Next time you're in Detroit, ask how to get to Miller's.  You won't soon forget.

And now I ask you, fellow road foodies:  In your experience as a road traveler, have you ever stopped somewhere or gotten a tip from a local (restaurant, gas station, or roadside landmark) that you've found yourself wanting to revisit?  What was it?  What made it linger in your mind and what made it so special?

Sep. 25th, 2007


Bourbon Street

The previous entry reminded me of a restaurant I went to when my parents and I were in New Orleans. I ran the Mardi Gras Half Marathon this past Feb 25, and I was in the city for that weekend, as far as I can remember. We stayed in the French Quarter (at some big hotel), and I mainly stayed around that area for that trip. I do hope to go back to explore more of the city.

My parents and I had walked around some nights, in the Quarter, and one night we went over to Bourbon Street. That was fun.  I remember the first time I saw that street...it was all lit up, music blasting from everywhere, people walking around on the street with their plastic cups...and this was right after Mardi Gras.  Then one night, my Team in Training (marathon training group) went to Pat O'Brien's, off of Bourbon Street.  But I think it was after I ran in the half marathon when my parents and I walked back to Bourbon Street to try to find lunch.

Just to add: I think this is great and I'll really enjoy hearing about places you all have been to and recommend.  And I'll offer what I can.  Happy travelling.
Spare the Pig


I got fed at The Shed

I spent 11 months, between August 2006 and July 2007, living in the Baltimore/Annapolis, Maryland metro area, working with the Annapolis chapter of Habitat for Humanity as a member of the AmeriCorps National Service program.  Most of my year, I spent sitting at a desk, recruiting high school and college volunteers.  By the time the spring rolled around, I was ready to get away from my desk (I hate sitting down all day) and get my hands dirty.  So I was really excited to find out that the annual AmeriCorps national service project was going to be in my favorite region of the country, the Louisiana/Mississippi Gulf Coast.



Sourdough Saloon, Beatty, Nevada

OK, if no one else is gonna, then I will.

In the summer of 1999 I headed out west with a graduate school classmate to do some geology field work in southern Nevada. Our field site was a lithified mud mound in the low hills above the tiny town of Beatty, Nevada. Instead of staying at one of Beatty's fine lodging establishments (basically a couple of casinos and low-rent motels catering to tourists sightseeing in Death Valley (some miles to the west) and on their way elsewhere from Las Vegas (115 miles to the south)), we camped at the foot of the mud mound in an area that was less a campsite and more of a "semi-level seasonal use cleared gravelly area." The only advantage to this location was that it was higher in elevation than Beatty itself and as such was slightly cooler, a decided advantage when one was sleeping in a tent in the desert in June. Other than that, it was definitely lacking in amenities. Namely, everything. No running water, no electricity, no grass, no trees, nothing. We stayed there for nine days. How did we ever survive? The answer lies within...

Sep. 23rd, 2007

black mountain


A Cup of Coffee I Have Known

I'm Sarah. I've traveled extensively in this country (visited 44 out of the 50 states), mostly by car (sometimes with family or friends, but thousands of miles just by my lonesome). I've laid my head down in some very lonely places and eaten many wonderful meals in little towns. Right now I'm going to specifically mention the moment I discovered COFFEE.

I wasn't much of a coffee drinker in college or graduate school. Occasionally I grabbed a cafe mocha or a latte but I never just sat down with a cup of coffee. I never made my own. Heck, I didn't even own a coffee maker.

Everything changed when I went to the Jailhouse Café in Moab, Utah, in early May of 2000. I was there with a group of students and faculty from my department at the University of Michigan. We were on the department's annual spring trip. Tradition held that breakfasts and dinners were eaten in restaurants, and Moab, where we were camping for several days, had much to offer. Word got around that this place had incredible food and everyone had to try it. Thus it was that myself and some of my classmates found ourselves at the Jailhouse Café one morning. The menu stated that the only kind of coffee they served was 100% Jamaican Blue Mountain. My knowledge of coffee, while limited, did include some tidbit I had heard about Jamaican Blue Mountain being some of the best coffee in the world. I decided to give it a try.

I think my reaction was along the lines of "ohmygod this is the most delicious thing I have ever tasted." I had no idea coffee could taste like that. My experience had been limited to overdone, adulterated things from Starbucks, Caribou, and the like. This was entirely different. It was...incredible. It was sweet but I had not added any sugar. It was chocolatey but it definitely wasn't a mocha. It was amazing! I not only drank about four cups of the stuff but I drank it black. I NEVER drank coffee black. I couldn't bear to put anything in it that might alter the flavor, and it was wonderful without any extras. I came away from that meal knowing I had just discovered something special.

Almost six months later-- in late October of 2000-- I was on my way back to Michigan from California. From the moment I left my grandparents' I started plotting how I was going to return to Moab and the Jailhouse Café. I worked it so I spent the night in Green River, Utah. In the morning I took a 60-mile round-trip detour, leaving I-70 behind to head 30 miles down U.S. 191 to Moab just so I could sit down at the café and have myself another few cups of Jamaican Blue Mountain. My return visit was everything I dreamed it would be. I haven't had the opportunity to go back again...yet. The Jailhouse Café is still there, and I'm sure the coffee is still hot and delicious.
open road


hit the road

For longer than I can remember, I associate road trips with interstate highways and fast food and franchises.  And as I look around at the dwindling numbers of restaurants and establishments that aren't franchises and chains, I've come to realize that it's the places we find at the end of an offramp that is turning this country into a huge advertisement.  We worship the clown in the yellow jumpsuit and the red wig, the 31-flavor ice cream shop, the gas station with a clamshell for its logo, and the steakhouse that claims to come from the Australian bush.  We're poisoning our culture with conformity and sameness.

As a result of this, we've forgotten the diners where the waitresses call you "Hon" and the cooks actually cook.  We've neglected the burger joint where the guy at the grill doesn't steam the burgers and probably selects the meat himself; he cooks it with a metal spatula on a flattop griddle that hasn't been cleaned in 20 years.  We forget about the mexican restaurant and the chinese restaurant where the people who cook the food actually speak the language.  We skip the coffee shop where the owner is also the barista and personally selects every coffee and designs every blend and drink.

We shouldn't be leaving our travel and culinary experiences to some focus group in Iowa or Florida or New York or California who will tell us what we will and should like.

As you join this community and read this entry, please tell us your story.  Tell us who you are, where you come from, what kind of travel and food you really love, and what about the franchises and chains of America that really make your stomach turn.  Because if you really want to know this country--if you want to smell it, taste it, feel it, know it--you have to get on the road.  There's just no other way.

Tell us your favorite experience of a backroads burger joint, gas station, diner,  or motor lodge.  Tell us the story of how the person who cooked for you, served you, housed you, and welcomed you was an individual.  Somebody who had a passion for what they did, and believed in what they did.  Tell us about the person who owned the place you visited.  Because chances are, if the owner was also the operator and the cook or the waitress or the person who carried your luggage or filled your tank, this was a rare and special place.  The kind of place that is vanishing into history.

Tell us your story.  Because these stories are what will help us to preserve real American culture, long after we're gone.