Category Archives: Road Trip

From one of our many road adventures.

RT…and we’re off!

Today began at 4:45 am. I never sleep the night before I fly and we set two alarms. It was dark of course as I struggled out of bed, but I was happy to be “getting on the road”. Our younger cat, Scout was asleep at the bottom of the bed, all puffy eyed with sleep and none too happy about the disruption. It is still a full hour and a half before she is supposed to lick me awake and failing that, knock my lamp on my head. Our older kitty Smudge is off pouting somewhere, as she has been since she saw me take the suitcases out.

We have a 7:30 flight to Charlotte and then connecting on to New Orleans. Our flying experiences have taught us not to depend on Ottawa international for sustenance so we bring along Chinese BBQ pork buns from Green Fresh, the perfect on-the-run snack, and some sweet cherries. Both flights are on time and have us in to New Orleans just after noon. Its 42 degrees, and humid. We are dressed for a cool Ottawa morning and a cold plane ride. Getting the rental car was unusually painless this time and our room at the Hotel Monteleone was ready for early check in. The travel fairies are in our corner today. Coincidentally there is an international food bloggers conference going on in the city and it is hosted at our hotel. Many of the bloggers I personally follow will be in attendance. We might possibly sign up for an event or two if there is space.

The view from our hotel room of the Mighty Mississippi.
French Quarter iron work

After unpacking, changing and settling in, we decide to grab a pint and a bite. Acme’s Oyster House is around the corner. We visited on our last trip and decided to brave the line and headed over. The line is long but if you are just two and say you will take a table or the bar, it gets you in faster. We were seated at a small table for two at the front window. Pleasant view except for the delivery truck blocking entire said view. No matter. We are hungry, thirsty and thrilled to be here.

We immediately order Blue Moon beers, a favourite of ours that is unavailable at home. We would have ordered a pitcher but it is so hot, it’s pointless. It would be warm before you could get to the bottom of it. The beer goes down easy. We order two more beers and an order of craw puppies, deep fried crawfish meat, spices, green onion and corn batter, which are much like seafood croquettes. The puppies come with a horseradish cream sauce, with a bite bigger than it’s bark for sure.

Next up, Rob ordered a shrimp po’boy, dressed, and I asked for a 1/2 shrimp po’boy with a cup of their crab and corn bisque soup of the day. Po’boys of course are classic N’awlins fare. The bread is slightly crispy with the perfect chewy factor. The shrimp on this po’boy were good but really indistinguishable from any fried fare. I am spoiled by the shrimp po’boy at Guys from my last visit to the city. At Guys the shrimp is lightly battered allowing the delicate flavour of the Gulf shrimp to shine through. The crab and corn bisque was a classic chowder, with a strong corn taste and a nice mild crab flavour.

We finished our “bite” with a shared dish of Acme’s bread pudding, highly recommended by our server. Hot, sweet with a solid pudding texture. Delicious!

Now fortified, we headed back into the heat of the French Quarter ready to explore a bit. But then, we looked at each other and realized more than anything, it was nap time.

Revitalized for the most part after a snooze, we headed out into the evening “blast furnace” that is New Orleans in late August. We strolled through the French Quarter, reminiscing about the last time. Our walk was peppered with foodie landmarks, all yet to be experienced by us., including Paul Prudhomme’s K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA, and Central Grocery where the muffaletta sandwich was born.

We found ourselves headed to Coop’s Place where we had enjoyed an inspired rabbit and ham jambalaya on our last visit. Still travel weary, we were not terribly hungry, but we were awfully thirsty.

Coop’s Place is an awesome dive bar. The bar, dim but warmly lit features a raw, rough oak top that owes its sateen finish to the oil, sweat and beers of thousands. Staff is accommodating but far from effusive. We took our “regular” seats at the bar, with our backs to the pool table, the Packers game and an altar of sorts, and ordered up a couple of beers.

We had to of course have some more of that amazing jambalaya and it can be ordered in a cup size. Perfect. Two cups of jamabalaya and a shared shrimp remoulade salad. The jambalaya was smoky and spicy with hot sauce. The andouille mild and flavorful. The salad was comprised of nice mixed very fresh greens, with large wedges of tomato and rounds of cucumber. The shrimp were plump and sweet. the dressing came on the side and was creamy and mild, a little herbaceous and slightly sweet.

Dinner by dive-bar light.

Our Annual Monster Road Trip

We are about to embark upon our annual Monster Road Trip. This year’s adventure will find us traveling from New Orleans to Chicago along three pre-interstate “mother roads”:

  1. The Great River Road from New Orleans to Natchez Mississippi
  2. The Natchez Trace, from Natchez to Nashville, through Jackson, Mississippi
  3. Route 66 from Saint Louis to Chicago
Google Maps route for this year’s journey.

As always we’ll be following our long-standing and religiously observed rules for road trips:

  1. Stop for any photo
  2. Stop for any story
  3. No interstate highways
  4. No chain restaurants

If you’d like a preview of what to expect: here are links from the starting pages of our previous road trips. Each one is the start of a dozen or so posts covering daily updates from the road – the sights, the events, and most of all, the FOOD! These are all from the “Happy Mouth Classic” version of the blog, our previous environment.

Road Trip 1 – From Austin, TX to Las Vegas, NV.

Road Trip 2 – From Seattle, WA to San Diego, CA and Palm Springs, CA

Road Trip 3 – From Austin, TX to Myrtle Beach, SC

See you from the road. Stay tuned!

Funky Breakfast Grits

We discovered the awesomeness of grits on our last road trip through the American South. Creamy, buttery cheesy goodness. This will be my second attempt to get my Canadian friends to try this amazing southern staple. Once you have good grits you will be forever sorry that I introduced you to them because they are not waistline friendly. There are no DIET grits.

My last attempt to convince you skeptical Canadians was with Cheesy Grits and Shrimp. I do not understand why, but there are still doubters among you. Maybe you didn’t want to risk the shrimp, I don’t know. So, this time, I’m going to start you off slow and easy. Breakfast grits. Quick, rib sticking, delicious. You can add a side of Canadian bacon or regular bacon, or pour maple syrup over them and pretend you’re not really eating GRITS!

Recently, I came across a recipe for Grits with Corn, Goat Cheese and Roasted Tomatoes on The Kitchn. It reminded me of the creamy wonderfulness we stumbled on at Tomato Jam on a sunny morning in Asheville, North Carolina. This was our first ever time having grits as they were meant to be. Grits that would make any southern momma proud.

I’m going to change The Kitchn recipe up a bit and roast the corn. Then I’m going to fry an egg and put it on top just like they do at Tomato Jam. Try grits, dammit! You are really gonna like them.

Uncle Funky’s Breakfast Grits with Goat Cheese, Fire-roasted Corn and Roasted Tomatoes
Adapted from The Kitchn and Tomato Jam
Serves 4

1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 cup grits (corn meal, polenta)
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups water
2 cobs of corn, salted, peppered and rubbed with olive oil
1/4 goat cheese (or cheddar if its your preference, but use more)
1/2 tsp of salt (more if you prefer)
3 tbsp of butter… or more.  This is one instance where more is better. You can’t use too much butter in grits 🙂
4 eggs
Olive oil to drizzle

Directions:
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss tomatoes in a little olive oil and salt. Spread out in a single layer in a baking pan and roast until a little charred about 40-45 minutes.

2. Turn on grill and roast corn on the cob until a little char appears and corn is slightly cooked, about 7 minutes. Turn to char all over. When cool enough to handle, remove kernels by placing the cob point down in a bowl and using a sharp knife to slice them off neatly.

3. About ten minutes before tomatoes are ready, heat water and milk in a pot until foaming, about to boil. Slowly whisk in grits. Don’t dump them or they will be lumpy. Turn down heat to low and whisk until the grits tighten up. It happens fairly quickly. Continue to whisk for two or three minutes. Add in salt and butter. Taste add more butter and salt if you wish. Then add in cheese, then corn. Mix until all is incorporated and remove from heat. Cover while you fry eggs to keep the grits hot.

4. Fry eggs and place grits in serving bowls. Serve with tomatoes and fried egg on top. Drizzle a little olive oil on top and serve immediately. Ahh, comfort food. You will give up oatmeal and cereal for breakfast.

Click HERE for a printable version of this recipe.


 

The First Road Food Authority

This is the last posting where I describe a 50th birthday present. So far, I’ve posted about my membership in the “jerky of the month” club and about the astounding cake that was made to celebrate the occasion. This last gift I’m going to describe was the perfect gift: one that combines a shared passion between Maureen and I about food, food history and road travel along the older, more interesting highways in the USA.

Maureen and I have discovered over the years that our favourite vacation is a free-form road-trip with a considerable number of miles and a very loose timetable. We plan our starting point and end point and like to be fairly flexible over the 2 weeks between them. We have a couple of guidelines we’ve created for ourselves to make sure we take in the whole experience:

  1. As little time on the interstate as possible. They all look the same and are massively uninteresting.
  2. We can stop anytime, anywhere to take photos.
  3. No chain restaurants.
  4. If we want to take an extra day in a spot, we do. There’s no such thing as “making good time”.
  5. Meet the people, and “soak in” the location
  6. Our biggest burden, program the tunes and pre-load the iPod to provide the soundtrack for the miles as they go by.

The road trips these days are fairly easy to plan. We decide on a route with Google Maps, we consult Roadfood.com and WhereTheLocalsEat.com, look at FlavortownUSA.com for and “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” locations near our route, and book lodgings and research places of interest on TripAdvisor.com.  The whole thing – flights, car rental, lodging and maybe a special restaurant reservation or two, takes about an hour to book online. Of course, we have a pre-programmed GPS unit to guide us along the road and through intricate maneouvers in strange cities.

We marvel at the ease of the procedure and have often wondered aloud on how these things were done in the past without the web and without on-line booking. You’d need:

  1. Road maps big and small. In our case we often cross state lines 5 or 6 times per trip. That’s a lot of detailed maps, to get city detail, state detail and area coverage.
  2. Travel books and guides – for each city, state and area
  3. Restaurant guides – for each city, state and area
  4. Long arduous research with a lot of cross matching and planning
  5. Big long-distance bills for booking all of lodging and reservations by phone.
  6. Dumb, hit-and-miss luck – the best road food, the cool point of interest, the one-of-a-kind curiosity? Maybe. Maybe not.

We were watching on of our favorite shows of late, Alton Brown’s “Feasting on Asphalt”, in which, across a couple of seasons, he, and an entourage crosses the USA East to West and South to North on motorcycle with many of the same rules as we use. One of the stops was in Bowling Green Kentucky, where he told the story of Duncan Hines. You know: the cake mix guy.

Before the cake and cookie mixes, before becoming part of a food empire that also features Vlasic Pickles, Swanson Frozen Dinners, Lender’s Bagels, and Aunt Jemima Breakfast foods, Duncan Hines was an actual, living, breathing person with a totally different claim to fame. He was a traveling salesman, and on the pre-interstate American highways and byways, traveling salesmen and truckers knew where to eat. What set Duncan Hines apart was that he appreciated good food and service and soon had an encyclopedic knowledge of the best spots in many town, cities and roadsides in America.

Much of the story is told here (DO click the link, it’s fascinating). He starting creating lists of recommended restaurants for friends and family and the list of recipients soon grew to warrant a minor publishing empire. A listing in the annual “Duncan Hines’ Adventures in Good Eating” guidebook was a badge of honour for a restaurant and was the early equivalence of a multi-star rating from today’s major food publishers. Establishments proudly placed placards stating they were listed and diners from all over America relied on Duncan Hines for advice on where to eat. It was the first guidebook of it’s kind and capitalized on the growing automobile culture in America from the late 40s to the 60s.

An establishment bearing this sign in the window met a high standard of service and quality. Travelers looked for this and made dining decisions based on seeing it.

Maureen gave me a pristine copy of the 1950 edition of the guide. It’s a fairly thorough undertaking. Listings from all over North America are covered, organized by country and state. There are brief  descriptions of a restaurant, its best dishes, and price ranges for each meal time. It really is a slice of American history and is a fascinating look at the foodie culture of 60 years ago when considering food as an integral part of travel was in its infancy.

 

The two listings for Ottawa, both restaurants long gone, the first replaced by modern office buildings and the second, closed to make way for the National Arts Centre (ain’t Google great?). By the way, check out those prices!

Click HERE to see an old ad for the Bytown Inn.

 

A Listing for the Toll House (yes, famous for those cookies.) Thank goodness for the cookies, there’s no liquor!
Other Duncan Hines guides offered to the traveler.

It was the great gift from someone who complains that I’m tough to buy for. I’m glad for that as it makes for interesting presents and this year was no exception.