US Roadtrip Highlights, Part I

Roadtrip

Maxence and I are back from our roadtrip across the US — still a bit jetlagged, but extremely pleased with how it went. 4,952 miles driven in 17 days through 7 states: in order of appearance, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Stupendous landscapes, extremely kind people along the way (except for that one tattooed psycho in a pick-up truck, but that was fun in retrospect), fabulous roadfood, all the ingredients were there to make our vacation precisely the kind of adventure-filled trip we were hoping for.

So, how does one write up such a journey, where does one begin? I could of course transcribe my moleskine notes here, but even I can’t quite make out what I wrote in some places, so I will just go with a collection of thoughts from the road and the table.

– Feed me a burger a day and I’m a happy girl. I didn’t eat a burger a day because quirkier food specialties beckoned, but I would have otherwise, and still managed to gobble up six of them — about six times more than I normally do in a year.

– Put jalapeño in anything and I’ll order it. Especially if it’s a burger, and especially if they add bacon so you can call it breakfast (Tecolote Café in Santa Fe, New Mexico).

– Put crawfish in anything and I’ll order it. Driving through Louisiana, I thought I might just turn into one. I would have become the world’s first crawfish who blogs.

Fresh boiled peanuts are good. They burn the tips of your fingers if you’re sitting on the passenger seat and are hence the appointed boiled peanut peeler, but their flavor, which comes closer to that of edamame (green soybeans) than that of dry roasted peanuts, will make it worth your while. We got ours from a roadside stand in Florida, where the lady’s eyes clouded with worry when we told her about the trip we were taking: she warned us against the many dangers of the road ahead (bandit hitch-hikers in particular) and gave us perfectly ripe Georgia peaches that made our hands smell like cotton candy afterwards.

Ice-cream always tastes better if someone crushes good stuff into it (say, cookie dough, peanut butter cups, Oreo cookies, or mini-marshmallows) on a cold stone while dancing to disco music (Amy’s ice-cream, Austin, Texas).

– Brewing companies and Irish pubs are great spots to watch the World Cup on giant screens, and you might be pleased to notice that the majority of spectators roots for the French (and why wouldn’t they, I ask?).

Soft-shell crabs are a wonderful gift of the sea, whether sautéed in garlic butter (The Crack’d Conch in Key Largo, Florida) or fried to a golden shade of crisp (Bon Ton Café in New Orleans, Louisiana or even better, Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana).

Drive-ins (where you park, order from a speaker, and wait for the pretty girl in a cap to bring your meal to your car so you can properly make a mess of it on your front seats) are much more fun than drive-thrus, and I like tater tots better than fries (Sonic, a drive-in restaurant chain mostly represented in Southern states).

Pulled pork (pork meat that is slowly smoked over a barbecue pit until it is so soft it can be pulled from the bones by hand) is the American equivalent of duck confit, and the soft, moist shreds of meat are just as irresistible. And after a meal of BBQed meat (tip: you don’t have to finish what’s on your plate), if you concentrate really hard, you will find that there is always a little room to share Mrs. Waits’ goopy banana pudding (The Brick Pit in Mobile, Alabama) or a slice of pecan pie (The Goode Co. Barbecue in Houston, Texas).

– After just a few days of the roadfood diet, you will start having wild dreams of fresh greens. If iceberg lettuce is all that can be found, take it anyway. Just make sure they hold the Kraft shredded cheese.

[To be continued.]

  • gingerpale

    Welcome back! Isn’t it nice to be home, but great to have gone? So glad you liked it! 17 days, 2 people, that’s 102 meals to blog. Recognized by any papparazi?

  • andrea

    Mmm, sounds fabulous.

    I still say the best pulled pork (the best barbeque in general) can only be found in Kansas City.

  • http://somethingsoclever.typepad.com Alicat

    Glad you made it through safely! :)

    Wonderful post — I am happy it was a mostly enjoyable experience. ;)

  • kudzu

    Clotilde — It made me feel great to read your travel treats, especially when you described boiled peanuts so perfectly! We used to sneak them into the theater when I was a kid, eating them from dripping paper sacks (this was before ubiquitious plastic). You managed to find the right things in the right places. Lucky you! Sorry I missed your San Francisco party; I can’t wait to hear about it.

    Happy Bastille Day!!!!

  • Robin

    How did you choose your food stops? Did you get recommendations from readers, a travel guide, other?

  • Julie

    ah yes, The Crack’d Conch in Key Largo. I’ve eaten there a few (too many) times following a day of scuba diving. Glad you had a great time.

  • girmander

    hmm.. i wish you could have made it to columbus, ohio. there are a couple of fabulous places i will miss when i move out of town.

    1. jeni’s ice cream

    2. pistachio

    3. dragonfly neo-v

    4. stauf’s coffee (he buys 70% of all kona produced!!)

  • http://www.writegrrrl.com/blog.html rachel

    This blog entry could’ve been titled “Roadtrip USA – or why Americans are Getting Fatter.”

    I mean that in a good way of course ; ) I love Sonic….

  • Cecilia

    Glad you ate at Goode Co. My favorite here in Houston when it is too far to drive to the Hill Country (ie most times).

  • Lilia

    Welcome back, Clotilde! We missed you at the forum and most of all for me, missing you in San Francisco. C’est la vie! There is always a next time.
    Eating boiled peanuts take me back to my childhood in the Philippines (which is more years than I could count). You always trigger fond memories when I read your blog.
    Merci mille fois!
    -Lilia

  • Diane

    We also found an abundance of kind people in France when my husband and I took a mini road trip there this spring. So glad you enjoyed it!

    Let’s hear it for tater tots!

  • LeeAnn

    Funny…when in France I can’t get enough of the cheeses and bread…..oh so funny that you avoided our Kraft cheese…..me too.

  • http://www.winosandfoodies.typepad.com/ barbara

    Welcome home Clotilde. Sounds like you had a fun time.

  • http://pageofguh.org Ken-ichi

    Sounds like you had a good one. I just got back from a roadtrip across the US myself, and I know exactly what you mean about craving greens. Which is why my first meal back in the Bay Area was at The Greens, in San Francisco. My companion for most of the trip attended in his full KCBS-certified BBQ judge attire, but, sadly, garnered no comments.

  • pastilla

    It’s so gracious of you to think of so many American delicacies to praise . . .

    Soft-shell crabs and crawfish . . . mmmmmmmmm.

  • http://chocolateandsage.blogspot.com Catherine

    In Pennsylvania, especially in Pittsburgh, not only is Kraft’s and other types of shredded chese used, but french-fries are added and usually tossed with a buttermilk based dreassing! “Hold the fries, please”, a phrase I never thought I’d say when ordering a salad…until I was in college. :)

  • Victoria

    Welcome back! I have recently had a chance to visit the South of US, and I was won over by properly made grits. Grits served with sauteed shrimps are heavenly.

    It is my first time commenting on your blog. I discovered it recently, and I had a few fun days reading through your archives. Your passion is one of the most wonderful things about your writing. I am looking forward to reading more!

  • Lesley

    It’s so exciting to read about your adventures. I’m glad you liked Amy’s ice-cream in Austin! (:

  • http://inpraiseofsardines.typepad.com/blogs/ Brett

    Hi Clotilde, it was fun to meet you at the one smokey bar in all of San Francisco! I thoroughly enjoyed this post and your photos, looking at the US from your perspective. I must say that it looks rather tasty. I’m tempted to boil up some peanuts this weekend!

  • http://blissfulbanquet.blogspot.com Anni

    Glad to see you are safely home!
    It was enjoyable meeting you and Maxence. I’m only sorry we didn’t have time enough to chat more. I look forward to future exchanges and future posts.
    Maxence was quite charming sharing with us some of your adventures and giving us his perspective of Zidane’s misfortune.
    Thank you, again, for helping us celebrate our birthdays this year in a most memorable way!

    Tootles,

    Anni and Ander :-)

  • Suz

    I read your blog regularly and love it, but nothing has ever made me salivate like this post. I am American but live in Munich and spend the summer in Provence….the food is good all over, but there is no way to beat a good old American burger with tater tots from the drive in! And crawfish. Oh my gawwd. Ah home sweet home.

  • http://dirtpusher.blogspot.com Judith in Umbria

    Clotilde, I am so proud of you for not carrying European US-food prejudices in your carry-on! Road food can be the worst we have to offer, but you managed to get some really good eats. Softshell crab is inexplicable, and a great treasure.
    Next time, travel the northern route and you will find entirely different, and still terrific things to try. Start in Maine and her lobsters, mussels and fried clams. You might have to stay a week to get enough.
    Brava!

  • Neil

    Crawfish, softshell crabs and pulled pork.
    Louisiana, Maryland and Tennessee. Three great tastes of America in three great states. Glad you had the tastes, although I am sorry that two were not in, what I consider, the best states. Looking forward to the rest of your posts. Oh, and by the way, tomatoes are in season here and it is time to retry the French toast.

    And another by the way, here in the South it’s ‘Naner puddin’.

    My best to you and Maxence.

  • Jenn

    An avid reader of your website, and SO thrilled to hear you were able to experience the wonder of Goode Company BBQ and the best pecan pie in the world. I live so close to Goode Co. that I often open my windows just to smell the delicious smokey flavor and let it tempt my appetite. Fun to imagine that you were there, as the cliche says, it is a small world afterall.

  • formerbondgirl

    We live in NYC now, but I clapped and cheered with delight when I read that you stopped by the Brick Pit, the tiniest hole-in-the-wall of a place with the best BBQ and banana pudding. We lived in New Orleans for years and spent a lot of time in Mobile.

    The Bon Ton Cafe is wonderful and I’m so glad you enjoyed the crawfish in LA. I’d love to know the other restaurants you visited. And thanks for mentioning Breaux Bridge – we hope to visit there some day.

    I could spend hours going on about food and good restaurants (luckily for you and your readers, the New Yorkers are training me out of this habit.)

    So glad you enjoyed your vacation.

    p.s. I’m a Memphian, so if you ever get there, Interstate BBQ should be your 1st stop. My native New Yorker husband is in love with their BBQ spaghetti!

  • Annie

    Oh, I wish I’d known you were in N’awlins! I would have kept an eye out for you both and waved if we had crossed paths. Glad you had fun.

  • http://www.pbetouffee.blogspot.com doodles

    Clotilde – don’t think I have heard to many bloggers say they have been to The Crack’d Conch…….lived in Key Largo for 20 ++ years….hope you enjoyed it. The conch salad is also a wonderful gift of the sea.

  • joan

    welcome back dear Clotilde..such a journey…could we perhaps have a photo of a page of thy moleskine? you paint such wondrous work pictures…thank you for sharing your gift!

  • http://digitalartphotographyfordummies.blogspot.com/ Digital Traveler

    I could live on those roads. Many people do in RVs. What a great eye for framing photos. Looking forward to reading more.

  • Rose

    Heya —

    Lovely to hear that you had such a wonderful time in the US. I have missed your posts and look forward to the next installment. I actually managed to write over a 1000 lines of code at work, because there was no C&Z posts to distract me. ;)

    Cheers
    Rose

  • pouke

    Bonjour Clotilde,
    I am the french woman who lives in the Bay area, and came to tell you how much I loved your writings…wished we could have conversed longer.
    But now, I have the evocative stories of your ‘adventure’ to read. a bientot, peut etre !
    pouke

  • http://moon-pie.blogspot.com Kate

    Your trip seems to be a success so far! Though missed the best state in ther Southeast – Georgia! At least you got a peach. I can vie for the goodness of boiled peanuts – mmm! I’m on a trip south as well (visiting family), and can’t wait to get a bag of those myself.

    Can’t wait for the next update!

  • eander

    I’m glad you “found” Goode Co. while you were in Houston. When I saw the pictures of the BBQ, I instantly thought, “that has to be Goode Co.”, and sure enough, it is. There aren’t many places for better BBQ.

  • jessica

    Clotilde, it wouldn’t be a Great American Road-Trip without a tattooed psycho in a pickup truck ;) So glad that you enjoyed what the States can offer in cuisine! Next time, Virginia and Northerly!

  • Melissa Skidmore

    Si j’avais su que vous etiez a deux pas de la maison en mangeant de la glace a Amy’s in Austin…….
    La prochaine fois, il faut nous avertir et on vous amenera boire les margaritas et gouter les delices d’Austin (si, si – il y en a)
    And I’m glad you got to Tecolote Cafe in Sante Fe – next time you must try their blue corn and pinon pancakes – (but if you want the recipe – I’ve got a great one!)

  • http://www.vilainefille.com vilaine fille

    Good to read you again! Thank you for the beautiful prose and inspiring stories.

  • Alexis

    So glad to hear Amy’s has won over another. It’s my favorite place in Houston (never been to the Austin one). Did you have some green chile in New Mexico as well as jalapenos? It’s the best.

    You’ve already made me crave some favorite foods of my past. I hope to hear more about your trip soon. Yum!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Gingerpale – Nope, we were entirely incognito for the whole trip! The sunglasses help, no doubt. :)

    Andrea – I have indeed heard great things about the Kansas City BBQ. Unfortunately, you have to choose a route, and ours did not take us to Missouri. Next time, hopefully!

    Robin – Excellent question, I will answer in my next installment…

    Girmander – Thanks for the Columbus edible tips! Of course, driving from Miami to San Francisco in 17 days, Ohio was somewhat out of our reach… :)

    Catherine – I will have to remember that if I ever find myself odering a salad in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Although I might give the fries a try: when in Rome…

    Judith – Indeed, I would love to do this again further north, it would no doubt yield more delectable discoveries.

    Neil – Ah well, your country is just too large, there’s no time to see it all in one trip!

    Doodles – Ah, we missed the conch salad, but we did have fried conch, which tasted very good, although the predominant flavor was that of the batter it was fried it (yum).

    Melissa – We did have a taste of one of Tecolote’s blue corn and pinon hotcakes! Nice and fluffy. After the burger, we really couldn’t finish it, but enjoyed the two bites nonetheless.

  • http://gabrielleluthy.blogspot.com Gabrielle

    Oh, I love Tecolote Cafe, especially their breakfasts!

  • http://madeleines-project.blogspot.com ASMO

    Funny how recipes and food come in series. When I posted about boiled peanuts, most people thought I was crazy, but suddenly they were everywhere! For my own take on them, see http://madeleines-project.blogspot.com/2006/05/madeleine-3-susans-boiled-peanuts.html#links

  • ladyloo

    Thanks so much for reminding me about all the good food there is to eat along the Gulf Coast. Sometimes when you live in it, you forget that it’s something special!

  • http://www.africankelli.com Kelli

    I wonder what food you enjoyed in Arizona? Hopefully you were able to eat some great Mexican food. We also have excellent Turkish, Israeli, Japanese and good ole’ American cuisine in Tempe!

  • http://www.lindamathieu.com Linda Mathieu

    Ah, Amy’s Ice Cream of Austin! Isn’t it wonderful. They make the best shakes in the world. A wonderful, wacky place in wonderful, wacky Austin.

  • Veronica

    When you said you were visiting Texas I thought, “She should stop at Goode Co. here in Houston.” Then thought, “Nah she won’t do that, it’s located too in the city not on a little road in the middle of no where.” As I was flipping through the pictures of the pecan pie I thought, that looks just like Goode Co., (the best pecan pie ever) and it turned out to be where you visited. I think that means I go to Goode Co. too much.

  • http://kitchenchick.com Kitchen Chick

    I first had boiled peanuts at a roadside stand in Tennessee from some farmer who was also selling his sourwood honey. He ladled peanuts and broth from a large banged up cooking pot into a large styrofoam cup. Bees were flying and crawling all over the place, and I jumped when one landed on my hand. The farmer picked it up between his fingers and said, “Aw, them bees are *old*. They won’t bite you.”

    Anyway, some of my friends think I’m crazy, but I love boiled peanuts.

  • http://exilednomore.blogspot.com Tonya

    I loved that. I coud see everything so clearly as I read.

  • http://loveandcooking.blogspot.com Charlotte

    Polka-dot mountains … looks like New Mexico to me! I’m glad you got to eat at Tecolote, it is one of my favorite breakfasts in Santa Fe. Never had their burgers, though!

    It was lovely to meet you and the charming Maxence in SF and I’m glad you enjoyed your trip!

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