Québec, Ontario, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois on the way to the grand Festival of Cheese in Chicago. Much of the trip was in quest of eating miles and the food was what was there when the driving stopped, although we hoped for the best. The best (aside from the festival itself); we were able to choose — St. Elmo’s in Indianapolis, Aja Steak House in Chicago, and my sister’s home cookin’. The worst — when we just had to eat something: Wendy’s in Logan, Ohio. We just stumbled onto the Palace Grill in Chicago’s North Loop — by far the best value. The yawning middle of quality included novel destinations — Hooters, Harry Caray’s — and restaurants on an agenda in Lancaster (see also Ohio Eats).
Here we continue the trip as we cross the Ohio River bound for Lancaster.
The plan was to drive for a while and then stop for some sort of breakfast. We got through Fairmont and then got on Route 50 bound for Clarksburg and Parkersburg. The road was big and empty and beautiful as it rolled through the short and tall hills of West Virginia. I had always felt West Virginia more rugged than beautiful, but I hadn’t been on this road. What we saw of Clarksburg had no attractive food options, nor did Parkersburg.
Once we crossed into Ohio, more of nothing continued. We drove straight through to Wendy’s in Logan for a pre-lunch; Junior Bacon Cheese Burger, “made fresh for you.” NO, it was not, cold in the middle.
With no other attractive options, we settled for the familiar, Bob Evans in Lancaster for lunch. We were served by the cute and perky Michaela, and learned that she had just turned 18. “I’m an adult now,” she said. “Is she coming on to me?” I dreamed. I had my usual Fried Mush and Sausage Gravy. Eric ordered the Big Breakfast of eggs, home fries, and sausage with an order of Biscuits with Sausage Gravy on the side. Big food.
Now for the obligatory dinner at Texas Roadhouse. Alan called ahead for six o’clock. Jon joined us. Roger opted out. Prime Rib was good. How do I describe this? I consulted the 11 bottle wine list — 5 white, 5 red, 1 blush — and ordered a glass of the $15 bottle of Beringer Cabernet which paired well with the $15 Prime Rib. At St. Elmo’s in Indy, we had a $40 Zin, perfectly complimenting their Prime Rib.
Primrose Retirement Community
I feasted on a breakfast of Eric’s yogurt with a sliced banana. About a half-inch of butter caps the top of the quart jar of Eric’s White Gold yogurt. I dug that off and spread some on toast. Yum. Real butter with the yogurt tang.
Eric and I got our laundry in and went off on an errand for Q-tips and V8 juice. (time killer #1) We took Liz to Jon’s barn so Eric could see if he wanted some boxes of canning jars left from the house (he did, time killer #2). We proceeded to the bank so Liz could get cash for Bus to have handy. (time killer #3) We picked up Bus and went to Bob Evans — once again — for lunch. While waiting to be seated, we ran into Trudy, Uncle Shotts‘ widow. She looks the same and is just as nice as when I last saw her.
I had the Cobb Salad this time and Eric the Fried Mush with Sausage Gravy.
Jon pretty much insisted on dinner at Billy Cricket’s since I had never been, so we assembled; Bus & Liz, Jon and Michelle and Michelle’s mother Alice and Michelle’s daughter’s kid, Kelvin. Michelle told me that this is Lancaster’s answer to fine dining. Hmmm, dark bare wood tables, not even placemats, dark carpet, dark ceiling, no flowers or other décor, flat stamped flatware, what’s all the fuss about?
The menu is pretty long, featuring a lot of “crusted” entrees. Both specials were crusted — Mahi Mahi with potato crust and Chicken with pecan crust.
I had the Veal Parmesana with Angel Hair Pasta. I love Veal Parmesana. I almost always order it when it is on the menu. It can be delicate and light with a spare but flavorful sauce and a soupcon of pasta on the side. It can be overwhelmed by too much sauce or pasta or cheese and that’s too bad because the veal should be the star of the dish. My favorite is at Fino on Post Street in San Francisco.
The Billy Cricket version was served with linguini, not with angel hair pasta as advertised. The server said it was a typo and they meant to get it corrected. Two veal parmesana were placed on a too large pile of pasta. When I moved the veal parmesana to cut it, the breading and cheese kind of deconstructed. Not a pretty sight. Through it all, the tastes were good — the tomato sauce had a pure tomato flavor, the veal was real and tender, the cheese was proper mozzarella, there was just too much of everything and it was not thoughtfully or artfully presented.
Eric had the Meatloaf with Jalapeno Gravy and Mashed Potato and liked it just fine, although he noted that it was very mild.
Primrose Retirement Community
I walked as usual and had some banana bread from yesterday’s Bob Evans lunch with Eric’s yogurt butter.
The day was perfect for driving. We retraced our miles back through Columbus and on into Indiana.
We were closing in on Indianapolis and I said, “I can’t believe we passed through Indianapolis and didn’t even think of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.” We decided it was an EZ off-on from I-70 and proceeded west on W 16th Street, saw the stands, but didn’t have time to stop. But we did stop at Hooters‘ Speedway for lunch. Eric had never been to a Hooter’s. He had the Hot Hot Wings and I had a Cheeseburger and took a picture of our Hooters girl.
Eric was nervous about his full day Thursday and suffering from the hot hot wings, so he declined dinner. I was hungry. I walked around and found Edwardo’s Pizza, a sit down restaurant. The thin crust mushroom, sausage and bell pepper pizza was just okay. Maybe I should have had the Award Winning Stuffed Pizza instead of the thin crust.
Corner Bakery Café
I got back to the Architecture Foundation a little before noon. The Corner Bakery Café is — guess what — on the corner of the building and large storefront windows open it up to the streets. It looked like a good place to have lunch and kill the remaining hour before my scheduled Modern Skyscrapers Walking Tour at 1pm. I got a Ruben Sandwich and Root Beer and and watched Chicago go by on Michigan Avenue.
Travelodge Hotel Room
When I got back to the hotel, six samples of butter awaited with instructions to open the little containers and sniff, then taste. Oh yes, a cheese expo is going on. I had no crackers or bread, so I did a naked tasting from the little plastic spoons Eric provided.
Many Chicago restaurants created special menus to feature particular cheeses while the American Cheese Society was in town. Eric selected the Cowgirl Creamery Dinner at the Custom House Restaurant nearby, well in advance of the trip. On this Thursday evening it was nice not to have to make a choice.
Cowgirl Creamery Dinner
July 24th 2008
Cowgirl Creamery Fromage Blanc/15 month aged Tennessee Ham
Oven Dried Tomato
NV DOMAINE SAINT-VINCENT, METHODE CHAPENOISE BRUT, ALBUQUERQUE, NM
Citrus Cured Salmon
Cowgirl Creamery CrÃ¨me Fraiche
REISLING ESTATE, MONCHHOF, MOSEL GERMANY
Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam/Chanterelle Mushrooms/Manilla Clams
CHENIN BLANC, DE TRAFFORD, STELLENBOSCH, SOUTH AFRICA
Cowgirl Creamery St. Pat Cheese/Shallot Puff Pastry Tart
COTES DU RHONE, “LE BEC FINS,” TARDIEU-LAURENT, ROHONE, FRANCE
Cowgirl Panir & Plum Strudel
Sweet Corn Ice Cream/Carmel Corn
NV BEUGEY CERDON DOMAINE RENARDAT-FACHE, DEMI SEC, BEUGEY, FRANCE
Dinner $50, Wine Pairing $25
I’m going to the cubs game! I had it all planned out: Leave at nine o’clock, go to Harry Caray’s for brunch and get in Wrigley Field early for batting practice. But when nine o’clock rolled around, it seemed too early for a 1:20 game, so I waited around until ten.
It was no strain getting to Wrigley Field. The Red Line station is at State and Harrison (yes, our hotel is on Harrison Street, a namesake of the street where we lived for 23 years in Newton MA), less than two blocks from the hotel. The lady in the station said, “put $4 on the CTA card to get to Wrigley Field and back.”
The ride was longer than I remembered, maybe a half hour underground and the last two stops elevated. I walked into Harry Caray’s a little before eleven and was able to walk right up and sit at the bar. I ordered a Pulled Pork Sandwich and a Sam Adams and settled in to watch about six TVs at once (not to mention some nice lookin’ young wimmen in low cut black tops with HOLY COW on the front). When I left, there were no seats vacant and a sizable line outside. Good timing fella.
I walked across the street to Wrigley a little before noon and picked up a Bud on the way to my seat. $5.75! (It’s eight bucks at the Giants ballpark.) I like Wrigley! SWEET SEAT! First row, on a rise above an aisle, about half way up the lower deck, at first base, and IN THE SHADE. Perfectomente! Worth the bucks.
Hey, they sell cold beer in the stands here. I like Wrigley!
Aja Steak House
Eric and I texted stuff and I learned that he was tied up with his cheese group for Awards and Reception. I’m on my own for dinner. That’s OK. Having had the subway experience to and from the game, I felt bold enough to do it again for dinner. OK, just take the subway to Chicago Station — that’s right up State Street — and walk back on State Street until I felt something click.
A big sign on the side of a building said, “Aja Steak House, State at Erie.” That’s the next street. It’s on the first floor of a hotel and I was seated in an elegantly modern room looking out the huge glass window back onto State Street. Nice. The waiter brought Macallan 12 in a huge stemless snifter as I perused the menu. The place features Kobe beef — steaks sold by the ounce ($16 per), minimum 4 ounces — Wagyu beef, steaks sold by the cut — and American Beef, steaks sold by the cut. They also had a sea bass and a Miso-Glazed Black Cod. Having recently been to a steak house, I got the Cod with a twice-baked potato side. Dare I say, YUM.
I was a volunteer cutting cheese at the American Cheese Society’s 25th Annual Festival of Cheese in the Hilton Chicago Ballroom. Can’t cut cheese into bite-size cubes without tasting a bit, although sandwiches were brought in for lunch. I chose the Ham & Swiss. We worked until 3:30, and came back for the Festival itself at 5:30. I ate a lot of cheese. See CHEESE ROAD, below for all the cheesy details.
Jazz Bar at O’Hare Airport
On the way to the airport, we stopped back at the Palace Grill for brunch. It was buzzing with activity at 10:30, including a table of eight Chicago Motorcycle cops. I had eggs-over-easy with grits and a sausage patty. Perfectly cooked eggs, spicy sausage and creamy grits made it one of the best meals of the trip.
At the airport I got through security quickly and settled in the Jazz Bar, nestled in a food court just inside security. The bartender made one of the best Bloody Mary’s I’ve ever had, right in front of me. I think it cost as much as the breakfast, but oh my, it was good.
Home, Sweet Home
San Francisco, California
Friends from Boston were in town and came over to watch the Red Sox, Yankees game on TV. We ordered in Pizza. Welcome home.
Good accounts of your culinary road-trip! I did want to comment on the meals at which I joined everyone. Texas Roadhouse is, in my opinion, okay, yet another in the ever-increasing list of chain restaurants blanketing the area. (Most disappointing frankly is our new Max and Ermas, a regional favorite; it is generic and bland, not the truly unique original the one and only 1970’s location was in Columbus – although I’m probably looking back at least partially with nostalgia….) While I can’t fault TRH too much for their food (I love their ribs) I’m getting to the age where the rest of the atmosphere is just too-damned-much – too loud, too neon bright, etc. At least the beer’s always really cold and no matter how busy they seem to be, the wait is minimal.
Billy Crickets was a mild disappointment this trip – the first real disappointment we’ve had there. Our long-standing attraction to the place is that it’s not a chain, the owner’s on-site actually working the room, greeting, serving, etc., he and the GM know us by name and the bartenders generally remember what we drink visit-to-visit. I agree the menu offers plenty of choices – again, outside the general realm of chain fare – and they do feature about the best beer, wine and single-malt scotch selection anywhere nearby. Food was good the evening we were all there, just not the best Michelle or I have ever had. In my mind, Tuesday just isn’t the right night of the week for what we look for in Billy Crickets – for us it’s a gathering place best reserved for Fridays and Saturdays – unhurried drinks at the bar, dinner and more drinks at the bar to cap things off. Perhaps a future visit with less rush to it (after all Wheel of Fortune can’t be missed if at all possible…), less youth (Kelton certainly was easier to handle in these places when he was content in a baby carrier…) and more single malt as a nightcap would prove a more enjoyable experience all around.
1) You sure blend right in with those Indiana cops! Which one is you?
2) I gotta say that I remember eating that much before I went into exile but I can’t possibly imagine eating that much again. (Pre-lunch?!)
3) There are those who say that the brain’s job is to direct the body to acquire food for the stomach. There are others who say it’s the stomach’s job to take food and turn it into energy to fuel the brain. I’m more of an ass man, myself.
I’ve gotta set the record straight about the one “pre-lunch” stop: that was an MR only meal…I was holding out for the BahBevansBiskitsEnGravy…
Thinking back about the portions, it was was alarming in a way how much food we were served when we ate out. The prime rib at St. Elmos was 48 ounces (bone in, of course) for goodness sakes! That was an option for one (it didn’t say “prime rib for two” on the menu), but we split it and were still so full that we didn’t even think about dessert. And that meat loaf — which was really good — at the Palace Diner probably could have served four in France. I’ve talked to Norwegians who took pictures of the APPETIZERS they were served in the US because they thought they were extra-large dinner portions.
I have a feeling this all may change now that food prices are starting to track energy prices, especially in the grain commodities…
To address appetizers and portion size myself – over the past several years I’ve taken to reviewing the appetizer section of most menus simply as additional entree choices. I have several regular/semi-regular joints where I have favorite appetizers I order for dinner. To me, an appetizer is a piece of crusty sourdough with some good olive oil in which to dip it, or one or two nice pieces of bruschetta – not the mound of “whatever” the size of my own head. Usually too much even when you do split it as a group. However, from a regional standpoint, I also think many in the Midwest expect/accept such huge portions because, “by God, if I’m gonna pay that much for dinner, it’d better be a lot of food.” JMHO