Three months into our relationship Erik asked me if I wanted to drive from North Carolina to Seattle and back. I said “sure, as long as we can stop in Graceland”.
With the exception of Graceland I was in charge of the food and Erik the sites. As we like to say in the South – “Bless his heart” as he had no idea what was in store. – he had just created a monster. I had the whole United States at my culinary whim. I prepared a detailed “production book” which Erik asked me politely to ditch for a more general plan. No problem, I can make anything work. So I packed the essentials –a gallon of pickles, beef jerky, my homemade curry seasoning and a cooler with you know the stuff that needs a cooler.Planned spontaneity ensued. Over the next few weeks were lots of campfire meals consisting of interesting finds in local markets, hole in the walls with character, open-air markets and a few well-known places in between.
The stage was set in Memphis. We were standing in front of Sun Records and I announced, “I smell biscuits”. And of course, inside the gas station across the street was a little old lady making these delightful smelling treats. Yum! I ran across the street as fast as I could and grabbed us a few of the most perfect, fluffy, butter biscuits ever. We took ours to a whole ‘nother level and added the quintessential griddle fried sausage and slathered the biscuits in yellow mustard. I am talking dripping down our faces delightful.
After our scrumptious biscuits, breakfast was primarily prepared at our campsites. Does anyone out there know how to make coffee with one of these Coleman coffee percolators? Just checking. We are trying through experimentation on how to do this exactly. There may be a science to it. Or is it just a bunch of hooey? Okay never mind about all that coffee stuff … back to breakfast.
Bacon was the key ingredient – I just wanted to roll out of the tent into a cool river and come back and eat good, local bacon – and how heavenly that bacon was with wild blueberry pancakes, custardy French toast with powdered sugar and spicy Texas style scrambled eggs on the side.
Our campfire dinners were quite nice as well. There is nothing like the sound and smell of a bloody good steak over the fire sizzling in the cast iron pan. Add the onions, peppers and mushrooms and OH MY! Finish it off with burnt marshmallows for the s’mores and you have the perfect meal.
When we were not eating by the fire we’d venture out and find a local favorite. Mind you, I do a little crazy dance when I find a good hole in the wall.
In Oklahoma we stopped at Charlie’s Chicken for lunch because they had all you can eat chicken gizzards on the buffet. Not chicken livers – yummy, chewy chicken gizzards – just like Momma used to fry.
We had the best fried eggs with “lace” and green chili at the Durango Diner for brunch. It was actually Mother’s Day – and all the ladies got a free glass of champagne in a diner juice glass — what a hoot. For dinner we had a Durango must — pizza at Farquarts.
In Baker CA, we had to stop for snacks at Alien Jerky – I mean who could resist jerky in 114° weather and an Alien sitting in an abandoned car out front. They had everything from Road Kill Original to Abducted Cow Pineapple Teriyaki.
Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco was as salty and mouthwatering as the sea air itself. I felt like a fisherman that had just come off the boat and was enjoying the day’s bounty. We devoured colossal Dungeness crab dipped in butter. We ate oysters in little plastic cups topped with spicy horeradishy cocktail sauce. We had fresh shrimp prepared every way possible. The capper was the warm and creamy clam chowder filled with clams and perfectly cubed potatoes topped with those awesome little oysters crackers and lots of crushed black pepper. I get excited at even the prospect of having a reason to crack open a little bag of those oyster crackers – it means something mouthwatering is about to follow.
I dubbed Pikes Place in Seattle – my own food amusement park. Lots of fresh seafood stands, produce stands and flowers stands. There was a rather eclectic lady selling fresh pressed hazelnut oil. And a Lebanese woman with whipped garlic spread – so good we bought nine.
Eventually we stumbled upon Elliot’s Oyster Shack. Let me tell you I was like a kid in a candy store without her Momma. There were 83 different varieties of oysters on the bar. I was teary from the crack of the shell to the slurping of the liquor and everything in between.
Ah, Deadwood SD. There is nothing like a good Old Western shoot out to get you in the mood for some Rocky Mountain Oysters at Big Al’s Streakhouse. Might I add, gunshots and bulls’ balls pair quite nicely with a shot of straight warm whiskey. Grimacing and smiling with pure excitement, I felt like I was the modern day Calamity Jane.
We did treat ourselves a few times to some notables.
Kansas City is known for its barbecue. I am a bit partial to Gates so there was really no comparison. But then there is Stroud’s. Yep, they started as a barbecue joint but during WWI turned to chicken –and became home of the Pan Fried Chicken. They even won a James Beard Award for Excellence in the “Home Style” category. Of course they did! I am talking mounds of piping hot, juicy pan-fried chicken. We got ours with chicken noodle soup, smashed potatoes, green beans; the world’s best gravy and fresh baked cinnamon rolls. And of course we had to start with the largest bowl of fried chicken livers and gizzards. Portions so large we had left overs for days.
Eating our way across the nation and we are 7150 miles into our trip when we had our favorite meal. We are able to score a lunch reservation at Jack Fry’s in Louisville – I have been to a lot of Kentucky Derby’s and this is not an easy task as you have to know someone who knows someone … but since it was not Derby weekend we were in luck. Jack Fry was an amateur boxer in the 30’s with lots of connections in horse racing. He did not box for long and opened the restaurant. Story goes — folks could come in the restaurant and run their bets. Well let me tell you – there is no gamble on the food here. Even the side salads were exquisite! We had shrimp and grits, Black Sea bass with sautéed mushrooms and grits, grits and grits. We followed our grits extravaganza with flourless chocolate cake topped with a praline ice-cream, tangy bananas foster sauce, whipped cream, fresh red raspberries and a sprig of mint. Voila!
After this meal, we were officially stuffed sausages. We’ve seen it all, eaten it all – and we are homeward bound. We were excited about our first home cooked meal and the idea of incorporating some of the things we had learned from the trip. Since I chose the start of the trip in Graceland, I thought it only fair for Erik to choose our welcome home meal…..
Me: “Honey, why don’t you decide our welcome home meal …. “
Erik: with a slight smirk “How about a peanut butter sandwich” –
Me: “Perfect, let’s stop at Let It Grow Produce on the way in and get that good fresh extra crunchy peanut butter, some radish sprouts and avocado and ooh that good seeded bread that we can toast up well done and then smash it all together ….. and maybe some caramelized baked Arkansas Black apples on the side ……..“