Sunday, July 19, 2009

Road Trip Days 1-5 / Observations on the middle of the country

In many cases, I find it strangely comforting to confirm stereotypes. Not so much stereotypes like, “All people from the South are fat and ignorant,” but stereotypes more like, “Germans eat a lot of sausage and drink a lot of beer” (true). To me, these stereotypes are more along the lines of common wisdom, and verifying their accuracy reminds me that it is possible to trust the words of experience. Case in point – the Midwest. Flat. Mesmerizing. Most of the time, pretty damn boring. Just like everyone said. We had thought that we would find surprising roadside gems, but, in the end, we just found Patti's 1880's settlement, where we did not eat:

and an overpriced animal farm, in which we did not enter:

The road trip took Sally and me up through Nashville to St. Louis and from there, across vast, straight stretches of Kansas, Colorado, Utah (more on Salt Lake later), and northern Nevada. While we certainly witnessed some amazing scenery (see Smoky Mountains, the Great Salt Flats, and Tahoe), many days we had only the masses of trucks on to keep us alert. That, and snacks:

Sitting here reflecting on the journey, I’ve realized that, for those ten days, we mostly just sat (driving) and ate. Pretty well, I might add. I stocked the car with way too much dried fruit, nuts, energy bars, cheese, chocolate, pretzels, tea. In addition, our great aunt Barbara gifted/forced upon us a giant bag of leftover 4th of July popcorn:

Really, had we been in a hurry and too disinterested to stop, we could have survived on my car snacks the whole way. But stop we did. In Nashville, for barbeque:

and we also stayed with family and friends in St. Louis and Kansas City, where we were generously fed homecooked meals. In Denver, we ate at a Ted’s Montana Grill next to our hotel, as we were too drained to search out anything more interesting. We ate at a Subway and a coffee shop, a rest stop and a park, but our best gamble was on a cantina in Salt Lake City.

The night before, we were struggling to plan our upcoming evening in Salt Lake, and for some reason decided to look up Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Confession: I cannot stand Guy Fieri. He came to Portland in the spring to visit Woodstock’s own Otto’s Sausage Kitchen and cast a giant Food Network shadow over the Reed neighborhood for the rest of the day. But his show is a good source of ideas for cheap, good food. And, as it turns out, he does know a good cantina. This place, Lone Star Taqueria, was luckily near our hotel (and after getting lost once already that day, close was important).

The place was small, brightly painted, and packed. All of the cooks in the open kitchen spoke in Spanish. There was an abundant salsa bar. All good signs. As for the menu, you basically had a choice between tacos, burritos (half and full sizes!), or tamales. Simple, but with an abundance of filling choices.

I ordered a carne asada taco plate, and my sister had a chicken tamale plate (after poking around some more at reviews of the place, I wish I had ordered the fish taco of the day – they are supposed to be killer – but “next time,” perhaps). My taco was almost excellent: the steak was juicy and flavorful, the toppings were fresh but sparse (as they should be); I only wish that they used housemade tortillas. While I appreciated the automatic use of double-stacked white corn tortillas (instead of the far less delicious flour), a housemade tortilla makes all the difference between a great taco and the best taco ever.

The rest of the food was good too – the beans and rice were tasty and filling, but I wish I had ordered another taco instead, mostly for varieties' sake. Sally thought her tamale was delicious (I didn’t try it, so her opinion stands).

After dinner, we stumbled back to our hotel, watched a movie, and got some rest before heading out on our last long day of driving into the Bay Area.

Tomorrow: San Francisco, Berkeley, and a surprise lunch!

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