Great local options for your summer roadtrips
Published: July 23, 2009 at 8:41 AM
Often, folks end up eating at fast-food chains and staying in chain hotels while on the road. Hey, I've done it, too. But I wanted to take a few moments today to bring your attention to some family-owned independents we've found on our travels. They don't have national ad budgets, or widespread name recognition, so you've probably never heard of them before. But I can endorse them all, and hope you'll give 'em a try if you're ever in their areas.
I love supporting locally-owned, independent establishments. As someone who owns and runs a couple of independent websites, I feel good about supporting people who are running their own businesses. And I usually find the quality of food and service superior in local, independent shops, as well.
If there's one piece of advice I can give you in finding these indie gems, it is this... make your roadtrip stops in college towns. College towns support a wider variety of businesses than you'll find clustered around random Interstate interchanges.
Colorado Wine Country Inn
Don't let the name turn you off, this is quite a family-friendly hotel, with comfortable rooms at reasonable prices. It's new, just opened within the last year or so and the only knock I could put on this place is the "new carpet" small. (Which I hate.) But, hey, it beats the musty, smoky, doggy smell that I've found at waaay too many hotels across the country over the years.
I don't stay anywhere without WiFi (otherwise, you don't get site updates), and the Wine Country Inn's was just the way I like it: unlimited, fast and free. There's a good free hot breakfast and cook-outs many weekend nights. Set amid vineyards and orchards on Colorado's western slope, the only thing this hotel is missing is a great chef-driven restaurant. But give this place a little time and support and we'll see how it grows.
Reading Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation reinforced my desire to avoid the Frankenfood served up by almost all fast food chains. (I haven't eaten at a McDonald's in more than nine years.) Local Burger is everything a hamburger joint ought to be, serving locally grown, organic meats and fixins. I had a bison burger with the best stone-ground mustard I've ever tasted.
Portions might seem on the small side, but don't be fooled - food of this high quality is quite filling. But skip the fries in favor of the applesauce. The fries aren't as crispy as I would like, but the applesauce is a cinnamony delight.
It ain't cheap - six bucks for a burger, but your stomach, and your conscience, will thank you for spending the extra couple bucks for a good meal.
La Prima Tazza
Laurie loves her coffee in the morning, and found this great alternative to the ubiquitous Starbucks. La Prima Tazza brews up a wild assortment of morning beverages - everything from a great latte to some fun iced drinks. Natalie loved their take on a New York egg cream. Service is engaged and attentive, and the quality of the baked goods a pleasant bonus.
Mother Bear's Pizza
Okay, I've been going to Mother Bear's for years. But I was relived to find that it still offers the same, rich, tasty pizza that I loved as a student. Start with an order of breadsticks and spicy cheese dipping sauce, then get one of Mother Bear's traditional pan pizzas. Just go for a size smaller than you would for a hand-tossed pie. Mother Bear's piles on the cheese, forming a cripsy, browned cheese crust along the edge of the pie. Just. Kill. Me. Now.
The Pour House Cafe
Laurie's old choice for coffee in Bloomington is long gone. (And frankly, it wasn't that good.) But she was very pleased with the Pour House, a comfortable shop on the main Kirkwood strip. We both enjoyed the "Canadian Polar Bear" (espresso, milk - I chose soy, maple and white chocolate). Laurie had her's hot, mine was over ice. There's a large map on one wall, pointing out some of the places that the store's sent its daily profits to support charities around the world. It supports local causes as well, with money going to buy school supplies for local needy kids, too.
Santa Claus, Indiana
If you are a theme park fan who likes to support family businesses, Holiday World is, of course, on your to-do list. I have to complain about one thing, though. Holiday World's free drinks and free parking have spoiled me forever, just like front-of-the-line access for Universal Orlando hotel guests did for me last summer. I winced every time I paid $3.50 for a drink at Kings Island this week, thinking fondly of Holiday World each time.
Which, of course, is just the way Holiday World planned it. Hey, folks who run their own businesses can be pretty smart.