Mike and I left home 12 days ago, meandering cross country to Chicago to await the birth of C-boy and P-Dil’s first child. Our departure allows time for our second COVINE vaccine to take effect and to isolate in the Windy City before meeting the newborn.
The cooler packed with veggies, fruit, boiled eggs, cheese, and sausage would provide lunch for a few days. Unfortunately, the cool wind at the Petrified Forest on day one exposed the myth; a picnic lunch wouldn’t always be convenient. It is March, after all.
Reserving our picnic supplies for a light evening meal in the hotel, we used our mid-day restaurant stop for our main meal. My rule while traveling is that we eat locally: no chain and no fast food.
The multiple complications of foul weather, closed venues, and long waits for everything ignited my frustration, sparking hunger for carbs. This is the Midwest. Carbs are abundant especially in the winter.
In Joplin, Missouri, we stopped one afternoon at Fred and Red’s, claiming for itself the title of the original greasy spoon. I ordered the signature dish, the red plate: a plateful of spaghetti covered with chili. Mike opted for the safer option: enchiladas smothered in chili.
Many years ago I thawed a container of frozen spaghetti sauce for the family to serve themselves while I was working. Later, while dishing up my plate of spaghetti, I realized that the sauce was chili. I did not realize this was a trend.
People responded to my Face Book post about the red plate, nostalgic over Cincinnati Skyline chili and chili style spaghetti. Here’s the thing: I think this works only if the chili is tasty. Fred’s is not. Mike thought the enchiladas were good; he was really hungry.
The unique diner left us with full stomachs, acid reflux, dissatisfied taste buds, and priceless memories. It made me hungry for a salad.
(Unfortunately, the local diners we frequent serve iceberg lettuce or, if upscale, romaine as the base of the salad. The thought of spring greens makes me salivate.)
One eats at local diners for the experience, not the cuisine. The cabbage roll soup at a dive bar in Kentucky remains at the top of my list of delicious foods anywhere! The bar TV tuned to HGTV and the history channel and the charming, very feminine ladies’ room fills out the memory.
The price of a bowl of Campbell’s soup on the Navajo reservation was also unforgettable, at the top of the list in price.
No matter how unsatisfying the grub, we will not starve. The cheese and crackers will get us through the day. The best memories are the people we meet, the quirky behaviors, the unexpected connections with other people.
The lone cook/server at that reservation stop informed us she would have to replace our plastic water glasses for paper and then charge a to-go fee if we wanted to sit outside. We were the only patrons at the time. We remained inside where she continued to share stories of her mother who had served the reservation as a midwife.
The servers at Fred and Red’s welcomed us, excited to introduce outsiders to their culinary delights. We have conversed with locals who are excited to share information about their community, including how to pronounce the name of the town.
There’s always ice cream
We continue frequenting the local places. And if really dissatisfied with our meal, we stop later for ice cream.