Thursday, January 14, 2010

Road food: A list of diners and dives

                Eating on the road isn’t always a pleasant experience, which I learned while researching my travel book, Michigan: An Explorer’s Guide.  My goal was to stay away from fast food places, and review and list as many locally owned spots as I could.
                I found plenty of new favorites and renewed some old acquaintances during the year I spent on the road.  I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the small, mom and pop breakfast restaurants, where locals start their day.
                There seem to be more in the Upper Peninsula, probably because they haven’t felt the competition from fast food places.  One favorite is B’s Country Café on U.S. 2 in Iron Mountain.  The wait staff knows the patrons by first name and how they take their coffee. The décor is 1950s, but so are the prices. A cheese omelet cost me about $5 and kept me going all day.  Another U.P. favorite is the Kaleva Café, a fixture in the mining town since 1918. The breakfast I had would have kept a copper miner working hard all day. There’s also a bakery, with bread and pastries.
                I also renewed my friendship with the Union 76 truck stop on U.S.  west of  the bridge near St. Ignace.  I’ve had a fondness for it since the 1970s when I first stopped there on my way home from a back packing trip to the Porcupine Wilderness State Park.  I was young, and didn’t have a credit card, and had just enough money for gas, the bridge toll and one meal. Perhaps, that’s the reason I can still remember the taste of the bacon and eggs at 2 a.m.
               For some reason, I can't help stopping at Spikes Keg 'O' Nails for a burger if I'm in the Grayling area anytime near dinner. My fondness for the place goes back nearly 20 years, when I stopped there with my hungry sons. The power was out but they managed to get me a beer and feed my boys. The experience made me a repeat customer.
                But while I love roaming the U.P., Sunday evening isn’t a good time to go looking for a meal.  I pulled into Ironwood on a late Sunday, planning to spend the night and check out the town. Pretty much everything was closed, so I ended up in my motel room with a dinner of beef jerky, cheese and beer. As I dined, I watched Samantha Brown on the Travel Channel, as she was eating in a small bistro in Italy, and realized not all travel reporting jobs are created equal.
                After my adventure in great eating in Ironwood, I came up with a list of travel food that I now carry.  I doubt it will ever make the Food Chanel, but here it is:
·         Beef jerky.  It’s a great source of protein, and besides I love to stop at those roadside jerky stores and outlets.
·         Pickled eggs. They usually can be bought at the jerky stores, and make for a good, quick breakfast.
·         Canned corn beef or Spam.  Both can be consumed cold they’re cooked, but can easily be fried in a pan.
·         Canned sardines and herring. Both are fish dishes and I’ve convinced myself that they’re healthy and are brain food.

So take that Samantha, you can have your Italian bistros, and please pass me the Spam.

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