Summer road trip stories: Discovering tasty local restaurants
(We're enduring the winter with thoughts of summer, with occasional posts on last summer's family road trip across America.)
One of the fun parts of any road trip is having the chance to try a wide variety of local restaurants around different parts of the country.
I have already written about Burgerville, the local chain around the Portland, Oregon area that we loved on our family road trip vacation last summer.
But Burgerville was just one of many different local and regional chains that we sampled on our trip.
When we drove across the Great Plains, we stopped in at Runza, a Nebraska-based chain that specializes in the Russian/German ground-beef-and-cabbage-filled stuffed sandwich from which the chain takes its name. (It also serves pretty good burgers and fries, too.) The kids were a bit perplexed when they were given their kids' meals, only to be told that they had to return to the counter to claim the "prize" after finishing their lunch. They figured at first it was a cheap way for the chain to get out of giving those cheap plastic toys to every child who ordered - since some kids might not come back up.
But when they discovered that the "prize" was actually soft-serve ice cream cones, they became big fans. And I did, too. A fast-food place that makes the kids eat their meals before getting dessert? Give them a parent point from me.
In Evanston, Illinois, Laurie and I took the kids to one of our favorites places to eat when we were undergraduates at Northwestern: Buffalo Joe's. I fell in love with buffalo wings, thanks to Joe. But in the years since I graduated, my enthusiasm for the ubiquitous game-time munchie has waned. But, what the heck, let's give it a go for old times sake, right?
A few minutes later, after Laurie and I demolished two baskets of wings, we'd realized that it wasn't just buffalo wings that we'd loved. It's Buffalo Joe's buffalo wings. I haven't a clue what makes these so much more edible than any other wings I've tried. They just are.
We felt obligated to introduce the kids to Chicago stuffed pizza, too, so we stopped for dinner at Giordano's, just south of campus. (We insisted on the spinach-stuffed pie, to puzzled looks from our kids. They tried, but still don't get it. Sigh.)
In Indiana last year, we took the family to our all-time favorite pizza place, Mother Bear's. Driving across the Indiana Toll Road, we were surprised to find an outlet from our second-favorite, Noble Roman's. That chain's been through several owners and formats over the years, and now's found mostly inside food courts, convenience stores, bowling alleys and the like. But we found a stand-alone store in South Bend, thanks to a tip from my sister. The pizza was good, but the big attraction at Noble Roman's is the fluffy breadsticks served with spicy cheese (think nacho) for dipping.
Laurie's family moved to Cincinnati while she was at Northwestern, but she's learned enough about the city to know that if you want ice cream, you go to Graeter's.
We're split on Cincinnati's cinnamon-spiced Skyline Chili, though. Laurie likes their coney dogs, but I think it might be possible that they have too much cheese:
What's your favorite local or regional restaurant chain? Tell us in the comments.
I don't have a picture, but I also should throw in Laurie's favorite barbecue chain, located across Florida:
YAY Midwest! Living not to far away from NU, I will say that they have some great food options including Buffalo Joes (which my mother hates!)
Robert, glad to see you made a stop in my neck of the woods! (We live about 20 miles southeast of South Bend!) One of our favorite "local" restaurant chains is Culvers... they're Wisconsin-based, but there's quite a few of them here in northern Indiana! Whenever we have a craving for a breaded port tenderloin sandwich, that's the place we go to! (While there are a lot of "mom-n-pop" restaurants that serve really great tenderloin sandwiches, we've found Culvers to be consistently YUMMY regardless of whichever one we go to!) Culvers, too, offers a frozen custard treat for dessert in their kids meals, too!
I don't know about anyone else, but as for the State of Virginia there is really no good regional chains to speak of. The last regional chain we had (Five Guys) went National, and anything that is really good is usually not a chain.
Fentons Ice Cream in Oakland and Fairfield Ca. Great Ice Cream and huge portions and the guys over a Pixar like it so much they put in the movie UP.
Mr. Pancake in Wisconsin Dells, WI. Simply awesome buckwheat pancakes.
Next time you trek through the midwest, stop in Lee's Summit MO (just East of KC) to see us at The Fig Tree Cafe & Bakery. We opened last year and source our produce, meat, and dairy from local farms. Breakfast, lunch, dinner Wed-Fri, and the best carrot cake you'll ever eat!
One thing I will say for the Greater Kansas City area is that we do have some really fine local chain restaurants. Here are a few of my favorites (you’ll notice seafood is not a specialty, at least not until the New Madrid fault goes active again and creates some beach front property in central Missouri!):
Love the stops! It all looks great. I think my cholesterol would spike, but isn't that what road trips are for? getting away from the usual and exploring. I remember stopping by a road-side cafe when I was a teen and we had fritos covered with chili and cheese....damn it was good.
Pollo Tropical, man! That's one of the things I miss from Florida. Fast food that's just good food.
Living in Canada, we are devoid of many classic American roadside chains. Believe it or not, we don't have Cracker Barrel, Bob Evans, Waffle House, Bennigan's, and hundreds of others. Many popular fast food joints, like White Castle, Jack in the Box, and Long John Silver's, are also absent. Thus, a trip down south usually entails at least one stop at at a greasy establishment, if only to watch the reactions of my friends who rarely visit the States. My favourite experience involved taking our vegan friend to Cracker Barrel.
Oh, also - that is WAY too much cheese for one dog.
As for Bennigan's, most of us can't go to them either. A majority of them closed down!
I LOVE Skyline! I live just north of Louisville, KY in southern Indiana and we have them here also. My favorite item on the menu is the chili cheese sandwich, which is basically a chili cheese coney with no coney. Just a bun stuffed with chili & cheese. I LOVE it when they have the habanero cheese for a limited time here and there.
I also live in Louisville, KY, and I'd like to add my endorsement for Culver's. We have a Culver's here in the East End of Louisville, and as far as fast food restaurants go, it's tops. You can get a good burger or a plated meal with chicken or fish and vegetables brought to your table. Their custard ice cream is very good and they have the best root beer float I've ever had. By the way, Culver's makes their own brand of root beer.
Oh, we've got McDonald's, alright. There's one 15 seconds away from my apartment. It's a terrible temptation at 4 am when I get off work and don't feel like cooking.
Skyline Chili also works well over rice -- you can buy it canned or frozen in our market area, and for those out of the local area, I think you can order it online. Oh, and Robert, there's no such thing as "too much cheese."
I post on two other park/coaster forums. Interestingly enough, I had never heard of Culvers until I read about it on one of the other boards earlier today. Now here it is again!! Coincidence? I think not..probably just means it's good. But one of the posters above (possibly Anthony?) used the words "butter" and "burger" consecutively in reference to something edible. As those are my two favorite words in the English languange which begin with "bu" and end in "r"..I would like more details, please. Thank you kindly.
Culver's are just about everywhere now, so I am not sure they fit the bill as a regional chain. While their fast food is better than McDonalds, Burger King, or their ilk, I think their burgers pale to insignificance when compared to Five Guys, Red Robin, Chili's, or any of the local gourmet burger places in vogue these days (
Thank, James. I'd try the ButterBurger in a heartbeat(although a sandwich like that might ELIMINATE that heartbeat!) Alas, it appears that I won't be sampling one anytime soon...closest to me are in Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky! Stuck here in Jersey, the good news is we're about to get our first Five Guys in my town..they've had a presence in NJ for a little while, but not anywhere close to me. Be nice to have one near the entrance to Great Adventure..as long as it doesn't replace the Long John Silvers or WaWa. If it replaced McDonald's or Burger King? I can deal with that.
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