Chef’s Surprise: Food on the Go

 

The janitor for my VFW post hustled to finish the morning cleaning before dashing off to his second gig, a pizza and wings shop. He proudly announced that a local network affiliate had featured his pizza joint as a “hidden gem” among restaurants located inside gas stations. This prompted memories of food along the road map of memory. I remember hot dogs at Howard Johnson, fresh crusty rolls with cheese and meat in small Bavarian towns, and the Triple T truck stop restaurant in Tucson, Arizona.

Early in life, when my parents took me and then my first sister, on the road, Howard Johnson was known as a safe stop with clean restrooms. My memory is of a special toasted hot dog bun holding a thin hot dog in a paper tray. A quick search online confirms that HoJo had its own bun design, almost like a slice of bread formed into right angles.

A hot dog and a glass of milk would be a safe and economical choice for a small boy’s lunch on the highway in the 1960s.

As a young lieutenant in Germany, in the late 1980s, there were many occasions when we were out scouting locations and routes without our troops. In these tactical exercises without troops (TEWT pronounced Toot), we would sign and pay for first-generation MREs, but one or more of us would be expected to make the run to the nearest Bäckerei and Metzgerei for fresh crusty rolls, cheese, and meat. No young officer would be without a knife, folding, or sheath, so we were prepared to enjoy a continental breakfast while consulting map overlays on the hood of a HMMWV (pronounced Hum-V): warm crusty bread, good cheese, and meat in the fresh country air.

When I moved to Tucson, Arizona, the Triple-T truck stop on Interstate 10 was known for its old-fashioned diner. They had an excellent steak and apple pie a la mode. Sadly, this place was recently poorly renovated and made into an apparently unappealing generic eatery, if the majority of recent reviews are to be believed.

Now a “hidden gem” in the Valley of the Sun is on my restaurant radar, with the promise of a pleasant surprise by an entrepreneurial chef. I am far past the day when I could get away with consuming a whole deep dish pizza. Grabbing a slice from NY Pizza and Wings, a small shop inside a Chevron station sounds like a much more sensible idea these days.

What chef’s surprises have you encountered on the road?

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  1. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    This post is part of our Group Writing Series under the February 2021 Group Writing Theme: “Chef’s Surprise.” Stop by soon, our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #1
  2. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Oh, I could never eat at one of those places; especially when there’s fine cuisine such as White Castle around. (Down South, it’s generally Krystal.) only go to the finer establishments…

    • #2
  3. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Man oh man, I loved a visit to HoJo’s when I was kid. CAB is right on the mark: the restaurants were uniformly clean, the food was a fair-priced good value, and the consistency was a novelty back when national food franchises were far less common. It’s hard to believe they’re gone, because at one time they were so successful they dominated that market, like PanAm, RCA, General Motors and IBM.

    Mad Magazine had a funny parody of their notoriously slow service, though. Two HoJo’s waitresses compare pregnancies. “I’m in my twenty-seventh month”, one brags.

    • #3
  4. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    For the past month I’ve been enjoying some of the Jacques Pepin Cooking at Home videos. The video is a mashed potato casserole, but it’s really a soufflé. He was a good friend of Julia Child. He also used to work in the Howard Johnson test kitchen. :-)

    • #4
  5. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Fat Smitty’s in Discovery Bay, Washington. Huge burgers that it’s hard to get your mouth around. They have been there for at least 50 years.

    • #5
  6. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    Fat Smitty’s in Discovery Bay, Washington. Huge burgers that it’s hard to get your mouth around. They have been there for at least 50 years.

    I would absolutely have to stop in here. Are those concrete, more than life size?

    • #6
  7. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    The Fat Smitty’s photo prompted a memory from outside the gate of Fort Harrison, MT. The Atomic Cafe was in a free standing building for years. It has since moved onto the base, providing contract food support as well as public dining, if I read things correctly.

    Atomic cafe Montana

    Atomic cafe table

    • #7
  8. Goldgeller Member
    Goldgeller
    @Goldgeller

    Very neat post!

    On the go… I’ll say working Jefferson Parish LA (NoLa but across the river) a lot of gas stations internalized a food culture. So while I didn’t see a lot McDonalds in Gretna LA, I could go to a gas station and get a po’boy (I did chicken because I don’t really eat seafood). That was something I never really experienced before. I travelled parts of the country a lot. I was used to being able to get a coffee or (under duress) maybe a cheap hotdog on the little rotating machine but I had never been to a place where most random gas stations just had chicken tenders and fries and some french bread. It was really neat! The other thing about New Orleans area. There was a drive through Fat Tuesdays (liquor slushy drinks). I loved the one in Ft. Lauderdale and I was like “wait, you are going to give me a liquored up drink ‘to go’?” And they were like “just don’t have that straw open.” Okay! (I was responsible, also, it was basically across the street from my hotel.)

    So… gas stations in NoLa were a revelation in terms of food. I’ll just say… working in Jackson MS, I was working with a guy and going over a claim and he was eating a Krystal breakfast. I didn’t realize how much I needed to get grits, eggs, and sausage from Krystal. So for a while that was just what I did when I was in Jackson.

     

    • #8
  9. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member
    MWD B612 "Dawg"
    @danok1

    @cliffordbrown That HoJo’s bun is fairly common in New England, especially the eastern parts. Had many a hot dog in those buns,

    As far as being surprised by food on the road, I went to Bar Harbor back in the ’80s. Got a lobster right off the boat for $7 (it was about 1 1/2 pounds). Grabbed some potatoes and corn, then had a nice lobster dinner.

    • #9
  10. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Way back starting in the late sixties there used to be a Howard Johnson’s that spanned the highway, somewhere around New Jersey I think, and it was one of the memorable things for me sitting in the back of the station wagon while we made the trek from Virginia to visit family in Massachusetts. One year we even convinced my mom and dad to stop and eat there. I can’t say I remember the food, but I do remember the excitement. I don’t remember seeing it last time I went that way, I’m guessing something else is there or maybe it’s not as impressive looking as it was to me fifty years ago.

    Edit: It might have been in Illinois to visit the other relatives. . . .

    • #10
  11. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    HoJo’s fried clams were my favorite for a time. And yes, hotdogs with those buttery toasted New England buns are always good.

    Clifford A. Brown: What chef’s surprises have you encountered on the road?

    Here in NJ, the White Manna in Hackensack is worth the trip. Tiny little building with little greasy hamburgers with onions . . . kind of what White Castle should be but isn’t.

     

     

    • #11
  12. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Nothing says “American Army in Germany” more than driving a company of tanks on the cobbled streets of Hunfeld at 0700, and stopping to get a breakfast of bread, meat and cheese.

    Other than that, two places come to mind and both are long gone. Norby’s in uptown New Orleans had the best roast beef po boys bar none. And Nash’s, a diner in north Jersey where I grew up. They had the best chili dogs I ever had. Nash’s burned down in 1967 and was replaced by a Dairy Queen. The old style with walk up service. Looked like a barn.

     

    • #12
  13. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Although it can’t be classified as a hole-in-the-wall type establishment, I was always partial to an outfit called Max & Erma’s. They have this invention called a “Garbage Burger” which I really liked…

    • #13
  14. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    Fat Smitty’s in Discovery Bay, Washington. Huge burgers that it’s hard to get your mouth around. They have been there for at least 50 years.

    I would absolutely have to stop in here. Are those concrete, more than life size?

    Yes they are. I wouldn’t try eating one if I were you. Discovery Bay is on the back road to Port Townsend from the Hood Canal bridge. It is very scenic. 

    • #14
  15. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Best food-in-the-go surprise was a fantastic green chile cheeseburger from the grill in a gas station on the eastern side of Sandia Peak near Albuquerque (the Grill at Cedar Crest Shell in Sandia Park).

    • #15
  16. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    Speed Queen Barbecue (which I am delighted to learn is still in business!) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin of all places. A grungy little dive in one of the worst parts of the inner city. Mostly counter service (behind two-inch-thick bulletproof glass, of course) with a few cruddy booths. Every surface is sticky. But ignore the surroundings and pick up your styrofoam clamshell of ribs and tips, and go crazy. Awesome.

    • #16
  17. Goldgeller Member
    Goldgeller
    @Goldgeller

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    Speed Queen Barbecue (which I am delighted to learn is still in business!) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin of all places. A grungy little dive in one of the worst parts of the inner city. Mostly counter service (behind two-inch-thick bulletproof glass, of course) with a few cruddy booths. Every surface is sticky. But ignore the surroundings and pick up your styrofoam clamshell of ribs and tips, and go crazy. Awesome.

    The best BBQ places are the grungiest! If I see a restaurant that does BBQ (maybe it’s in the name!) and I see a person with a smoker at a gas station, I’m going to the dude at the gas station! 

    • #17
  18. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    Goldgeller (View Comment):

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    Speed Queen Barbecue (which I am delighted to learn is still in business!) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin of all places. A grungy little dive in one of the worst parts of the inner city. Mostly counter service (behind two-inch-thick bulletproof glass, of course) with a few cruddy booths. Every surface is sticky. But ignore the surroundings and pick up your styrofoam clamshell of ribs and tips, and go crazy. Awesome.

    The best BBQ places are the grungiest! If I see a restaurant that does BBQ (maybe it’s in the name!) and I see a person with a smoker at a gas station, I’m going to the dude at the gas station!

    Accurate!

    • #18