It’s sort of strange to think about our trip east now outside of the context of The Beloved’s dad passing away. But there was a trip out before Christmas (which seems like it was four years ago) – and it was good. In the past, trips had often involved going to a National Park or other destination, but this trip left little time for that. Our scenery was mostly seen at 75 mph. In fact, for the most part, we scheduled stops for two reasons: where to eat and where to exercise Penny.
Let’s talk about eating. In a way, I felt like we ate our way across the country. We relied on the book “Roadfood” – which detailed places all over the country. The book was a great reference — all the recommendations were top-rate and kept us from eating at fast food or boring-mediocre-food places (I'm looking at you, Applebee's).
Because we ended up taking the same way back and forth (not our original plan), we really did get to sample several places in each of the major food zones described here.
Dateland. Now, Dateland isn’t a zone, but a place in AZ about an hour inside the AZ-CA border. There’s a large grove of date palms and a store that features “World Famous Date Shakes”. They’re awesome – and a treat that says “You’re out of California” or “You’re nearly home” — depending on which way you're going. Stop and get one the next time you’re cruising down I-8.
Chile Pepper Region. After The Beloved’s years in Santa Fe, we’re very familiar with hot Mexican food made with both red and/or green chiles. We miss it a lot and so crossing all of AZ and NM provided ample opportunity to sample the goods. The best had to be Nellie’s in Las Cruces, NM. Now, I’m a bit of a green chile purist, but their red chile sauce on the lunch plate? Awesome.
Bar-B-Que Region. Rather than drive north from Las Cruces on I-25 to ABQ and then west on I-40 to Amarillo, we decided to save miles (and as it worked out, time) by taking the hypotenuse of that triangle, which is US-70 northeast through Alamogordo, Roswell (yes, that Roswell), Clovis, NM and Hereford, TX. Hereford – now there’s an interesting town. The self-labeled “Beef Capital of the World” had a lot of cows. I mean a LOT of cows. Their high school’s mascot is the Hostile Herd. That's a shirt I'd wear proudly!
We had great Texas (beef) BBQ in Amarillo at Dyer’s, but the most interesting had to be the BBQ (pork) at a place called Craig’s BBQ in DeVall’s Bluff, AR (a building that looks fairly close to being condemned). I suppose that it was a take on Memphis-style, but the sauce was tangy (mustard) and maybe even a little citrus-y. Superb on a bun with cole slaw – maybe even divine.
Meat & Three Region. Now this was a revelation to me. I’d never spent much time in Tennessee or southwest Virginia, but the big-thing at the stops we made there were “meat and three” – which is a mid-south phrase for a platter with a main protein and three side dishes. The best we had was at Rotier’s in Nashville after a particularly long day on the road. The staff was welcoming, the place cozy and the fried chicken I had was crispy and juicy and fantastic.
Ham Biscuit Region. I don’t know if it’s fair to characterize all of eastern Virginia with this name, but ham biscuits (thin-sliced Smithfield-type ham warmed in a certain kind of roll) were like currency at The Beloved’s parents house. There was an uproar when her mom had sent the last of the ham biscuits back to Alexandria with The Beloved’s brother. Fortunately, more rolls and ham were secured to satisfy the need.
I must admit that after three weeks of eating out and exploring new places, even I was ready to stop and have a salad or a simple bowl of pasta. I hate to think of all the calories that I consumed (and didn’t burn off while sitting in a car), but you have to take advantage of your opportunities to try local delicacies!