Wow, thanks for all the positive feedback! It occurs to me that I left the addresses off the last few places I mentioned, so here they are:
Ben's Chili Bowl
1213 U St. NW
61 North Ave. NW
Ria's Bluebird Diner
421 Memorial Dr. SE
Daddy D'Z BBQ Joynt
264 Memorial Dr.
Moving forward, in April my girlfriend and I set out on a pilgrimage to take her 4-year-old daughter to a recreated amusement park from our own youth, the Enchanted Forest in Ellicott City, MD, and of course we just had to hit some roadfood stops along the way.
We started with an old favorite of mine, Ann's Dari-Creme (7918 Ritchie Hwy., Glen Burnie, MD). The story behind Ann's is pretty cool. It opened in the early '50s. In the mid-'80s, there was some to-do about the possible destruction of the business to make way for the new Marley Station Mall. Ann's wouldn't sell, and today it more or less sits in the mall's parking lot! We got lucky in that the weather was pretty nasty the day we went, so it seemed like fewer people were out; I've been going to Ann's since 1997 (when I lived in the area for college), and this was the first time I'd seen it without lines up to or outside the door.
This fiberglass statue was a new addition since my last visit. I'm not sure whether to commend the craftsmanship or to be very, very afraid!
Inside, there are about a dozen stools at the counter, but everyone knows you don't eat in at Ann's! Like Ben's Chili Bowl, this is another place where the "line" is more like a "crowd." Unlike Ben's, however, the staff has total control. They always know exactly in what order people enter, and they don't bother writing down a single order; they don't have that kind of time! Every order I've ever placed has been perfect. As you can see, the menu is limited. According to one of the many news clippings hanging on the wall, the only change in the offerings from opening day has been the addition of turkey sandwiches to satisfy the yuppies that the new mall brought to the area. Most of the staff has been working here for years, and it shows.
It's difficult to take a picture of a footlong chili dog in your lap, balancing fries in one hand and a camera in the other, but this is my best attempt! It's the best footlong chili dog I've ever tried, hands down, and I highly, highly recommend the cherry milkshake, which has long been my beverage of choice here.
Unfortunately, the bad weather that kept the crowds away from Ann's also kept the park we were hoping to visit closed, at least during the early afternoon. Seeking things to do to keep us occupied and keeping in the spirit of our trip, I suggested we check out the Forest Diner (10031 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, MD).
Opened in 1946 as Gearhart's Diner, the restaurant changed ownership in 1957 and was renamed Forest Diner to cash in on the popularity of this place across the street, The Enchanted Forest. When The Enchanted Forest was established in 1955, it was touted as the world's second theme park, opening just weeks after Disneyland. NBC's Today Show even came down to cover the opening day festivities. It lasted until 1987 and played a huge part in the lives of many kids (including myself) growing up in Maryland during its era. In the mid-'90s, a shopping center was built over part of the park, and following a fire that destroyed even more of the once-popular playland, its remains were left to rot. That is, until a few years ago when a preservation group rescued what was left of the park and recreated much of it on a farm about 10 miles down the road, which was our ultimate destination that day. The shopping center kept the park's original sign and entryway, seen here, to help draw traffic, but to be honest, they've let it deteriorate so much that it seems like a good, strong gust of wind could pretty much finish it off.
Inside, the diner has retained much of its original '40s splendor... with a little commercialized '50s kitsch for good measure. If you want to try this place, however, you'd better get here quick. It was sold earlier this year for development of a commercial office complex. As part of the sales agreement, the current owner has a lease to continue running the restaurant until 2014, then it's good-bye diner, hello wrecking ball.
Girlfriend got the peach pie, while I tried the blueberry. They didn't exactly seem homemade, but they were still good.
Meanwhile, this is the face of a little girl so sad at the prospect of not being able to see the new Enchanted Forest due to weather that even a dish of chocolate ice cream couldn't cheer her up. Fortunately, after our trip to the diner and a brief visit to a nearby mall, where she got to ride a carousel and pick out a birthday present for her great-grandfather, the skies cleared and the park opened for about 90 minutes--just long enough to check everything out and buy some new coloring books in the gift shop.
In March, girlfriend's daughter (now my stepdaughter-to-be) turned 5, and her best friend (and conveniently enough, the daughter of girlfriend's best friend) came down for a weekend to celebrate. We took them to Ocean City, MD, which is about a half hour away from our home, to spend some time at the beach, ride some rides and dine at this establishment, Layton's Dip 'n' Donuts (1601 Philadelphia Ave.).
Layton's is another holdover from the '50s. My mom remembers going there in the '60s, and while I was in college in the '90s, this was always my weekend late-night hangout in the summertime.
Time for doughnuts!
When I used to frequent Layton's, it was kind of a dive (in a good way) with mounted fish on the walls and a sea captain mannequin with a sign explaining how a sea captain just like him
in all likelihood invented the doughnut to keep his fried cakes secured on his ship's wheel for easy access. Today, Layton's has more of a family-friendly vibe, with this pirate having taken the place of the sea captain, a giant aquarium full of tropical fish (as well as those still mounted on the wall) and a breakfast buffet room complete with a really detailed wrap-around train garden (which is only open in the morning, hence no photos).
I always, always, always get the creamed chipped beef here. I asked the waitress once about 10 years ago what they put in it to make it so good. She shrugged and said she didn't know; they just dumped it on to the biscuits from a Sysco can and warmed it up. Oh well, it's still tasty. The homefries are very good, as well, and Kelly said her sweet potato pancakes with honey butter (no photo, unfortunately) were more or less the best food she's ever had.
But, you know, the restaurant doesn't have "donuts" in its name for nothing.... My favorite used to be the raspberry swirl, but they didn't have them that day, so I settled for the next best thing.
This was huge (note the quarter for comparison) and oh so good! I took half of it home and had it for breakfast the next day. Kelly tried a regular-sized chocolate-peanut butter doughnut, which you can see in the upper right-hand corner of the doughnut case photo, and said it was also good. The girls got regular powdered sugar, the remnants of which they wore for the rest of the night.
In June, with girlfriend's daughter visiting her father in Indiana for an extended period, girlfriend and I embarked on our first vacation together, a tour of amusement parks, museums and roadfood from the Mid-Atlantic to the Midwest and back. It was in doing research for this trip that I discovered Roadfood--though our dining plans were pretty well set by the time I ran across it.
Our first stop, on the way to drop off stepdaughter-to-be, was Olivia's Restaurant, a converted gas station we found via a road sign in West Virginia (239 County Hwy. 11, Bruceton Mills, WV).
It may have still had '70s-era gas pumps standing sentinel on the outside and weeds growing in the parking lot...
...but that was no reflection of the interior. Talk about a pleasant surprise!
My meatball sub was very good, and girlfriend gave her chicken breast sandwich two thumbs up. I was told by stepdaughter-to-be that the chicken strips were "schmangy"--which, for the uninitiated, means "good"--but then, they always are. The best part was, lunch for the three of us came in under $20. That's something that doesn't always happen outside of McDonald's.
Many hours later, we reached our hotel in Louisville, KY, which was to be the drop-off point for stepdaughter-to-be. For those who have heard of the Galt House Hotel, you'll know what a treat that was. This is the official hotel of the Kentucky Derby, and every square inch of it is gilded in class. An even bigger treat, however, was that thanks to Priceline, we got our room at this luxurious four-star hotel for less than the average stay at Motel 6! We had been on the road for 13 hours at this point, so all we really wanted to do was find someplace to eat and crash in our room. Though girlfriend used to work in this area, she wasn't sure what was available within walking distance of the hotel (the last thing we wanted to do was get back in the car), so we asked the concierge, who made us reservations at the nearby Bristol Bar and Grille (300 N. Hurstbourne Pkwy.).
From the day after my vacation in San Antonio to the night we left for this trip, I had been on a fairly strict diet, the few exceptions coming mainly for the restaurants I've mentioned so far in this report. During those four months, I lost nearly 30 pounds for the summer vacation season. Now that it was here, it was time to celebrate with a nice, juicy steak! The meat itself was pretty good; the flavored butter that came with it was outstanding! Girlfriend got a salad (which had been my dining-out diet staple since February--my, how the tables turned!) and said it was very good, as well.
My stomach not used to big meals again yet, I was pretty full between the steak and the sub from earlier. However, Kelly insisted that I had to try derby pie. I'm glad she did! This warm chocolate-nut mixture was amazing and well worth the extra stomach space.
The next day, we killed some time before our scheduled tour of the Louisville Slugger Factory by visiting this tourism center-cum-shrine to roadfood (and later fast food) legend Harland Sanders.
Lunch that day was with some of girlfriend's old friends at the Old Spaghetti Factory, a chain I had never heard of before, but which turned out to be quite good. Our plans were to visit Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom that afternoon, then return to downtown Louisville for dinner. One of her friends recommended a good place near our hotel for a hot brown. However, upon driving back from Kentucky Kingdom, we spied a billboard for this place, which I insisted we had to try. Thank goodness for GPS!
The Dizzy Whizz Drive-In (217 W. St. Catherine St.) apparently is somewhat of a Louisville legend, serving the area since 1947, though girlfriend said she had never heard of it during her time spent working in the city. I've been to drive-ins before, but none this small-town authentic (not that Louisville is a small town--that's just the vibe this place gave off).
The carhop was extremely friendly and, upon seeing our Delaware license plate, was very curious to know how we discovered the Dizzy Whizz and what we had seen and done so far in Louisville. If this place ever goes under, she could find a good second career as a tour guide.
Our Whizzburgers were out of this world! This was one of the best--and by far the cheapest--meals we had the entire trip. We each got a burger, fries, coleslaw, soda and "Chocolate Delight" ice cream sundae for under $5 apiece.
The next day began with the breakfast of champions... leftover Six Flags funnel cake!
Our main destination that day was Holiday World amusement park in Santa Claus, IN. First, however, we stopped off just down the road at Santa's Candy Castle (15499 N. State Road 245). This place is the only building left over from a tourist attraction, Santa Claus Town, established in late 1935. Its founder had the idea of a "Christmas village," where children could come tour various buildings sponsored by toy companies, who would promote their wares with samples at the buildings and then encourage parents to shop for their products via catalog. Apparently the idea worked well for a few years... then fell apart during World War II as gas rationing cut tourism and toy companies, unable to get enough materials to fill orders, ended their sponsorships. The concept limped along as a place where children could meet Santa year-round until the early 1970s, when the property was sold and most of the buildings were bulldozed or fell down on their own.
The Curtiss Candy Co., then popular as the manufacturer of Baby Ruth and Butterfinger candy bars, originally sponsored the Candy Castle. In 2006, after more than three decades of falling into disrepair, the castle re-opened as a fully restored, privately owned confectionary and ice cream shop.
In 1929, Robert Ripley featured the Santa Claus, IN, post office in his syndicated "Believe It or Not" cartoon, prompting over a million children to send their letters to Santa there each year. Santa's Candy Castle includes a display from those halcyon days.
Unfortunately, you can no longer send letters to Santa from the castle...
...but that's OK, because he's standing right there, watching you eat your chocolates and ice cream!
Following a thoroughly enjoyable day at Holiday World (even in the rain), we stopped by a brochure rack on the way out of the park and discovered one for the Schnitzelbank (393 Third Ave., Jasper, IN). Again, thank goodness for GPS!
Founded in 1961, the restaurant apparently is as famous for its Glockenspiel as it is for its food.
Well, the inside looks pretty authentic... but what about the food?
We added the restaurant's all-you-can-eat "wunderbar" salad bar to our meals. This was my second plate, and everything on it was delicious!
But then the main courses came out! I got the sampler, which included two wursts, wienerschnitzel, German potato salad and sauerkraut...
...while girlfriend tried the smoked pork chops, which tasted almost like ham. We both agreed it was the best German food we'd ever tasted.
The next day took us into Chicago, where, following stops earlier in the day at Waffle House and White Castle--two chains I particularly enjoy, but which exist nowhere near where we live--we made our way to the famous Lou Malnati's Pizzeria.
The authentic sporting memorabilia on the walls was pretty extensive. These flags originally flew over either Wrigley Field or Comiskey Park; I can't remember which.
I probably watched him rip this shirt on TV at some point when I was a kid....
I'll be honest: Our drive wasn't the best (we got to Chicago just in time for rush hour, then had a godawful time finding our hotel), it poured down rain all day, the walk from the hotel to the restaurant absolutely drenched us, regardless of umbrellas, and we had to wait a really, really long time for a table, so I wasn't really in the mood to enjoy this experience regardless of how good or bad the food was. Having said that, I found the pizza to be just OK, and it gave me some pretty bad heartburn later that evening.
The next day, to accommodate our schedule, we had a bland lunch at the cafeteria in the Museum of Science and Industry. The rain negated our planned visit to Navy Pier the evening before, so we had to squeeze it in on this day and then head on, a couple hours later than origtinally scheduled, to Six Flags America. I would have liked to have stopped at Wolfy's (2734 W. Peterson Ave.) for a snack, but time didn't allow.
We got to spend three hours at Six Flags, just enough time to get in everything we wanted to do there. The original plan had been to stop for a late lunch at Superdawg Drive-In (6363 N. Milwaukee Ave.) on our way to Six Flags and grab dinner between roller coasters at the park, but the Navy Pier addition didn't allow for that, so instead we stopped at Superdawg for a late dinner on the way back.
We spotted Maurie and Flaurie from a mile away!
They were everywhere around here!
We were really hungry by the time we reached the drive-in. We weren't really sure if we needed to press the "order" button or if they had carhops on duty. After a few minutes we saw someone else press their button, so we followed suit.
It didn't take long for us to decide what we wanted, having studied the online menu for some time before. Girlfriend spent most of the time we waited (which wasn't long) making fun of the "ketchup is an abomination" speech the owners give in the "FAQ" section of the Superdawg website.
I opted for the original Superdawg, which was freaking amazing!
This should be every restaurant's creed!
I promise there's a hot dog under there somewhere!
Girlfriend got the Whoopskidawg. She assures me it was good.
I think this was about the only thing she got the entire trip that I didn't at least get a bite of (she did give me most of her fries, though).
Since I'm not sure I'll get back to Chicago to try Superdawg again, I also decided to try the tamale, which was very good if a bit mushy.
We rounded out our stay in Chicago with lunch the next day from Leon's Bar-B-Q (8249 S. Cottage Grove Ave.).
I hesitated to even take photos here because it didn't seem like the kind of neighborhood where you wanted to advertise you had a camera... or even shoes, for that matter.
This was the menu at Leon's. You ordered from behind the bullet-proof glass window, put your money in a bullet-proof glass-covered Lazy Susan and got your change with your food on that same device.
While girlfriend waited for the food (she grew up in a bad neighborhood, so she swore she could take care of herself had something happened), I went next door to Dat Donuts to pick up dessert--and increase the rapidity with which we could flee this area. In the 10 minutes it took us to order and pick up barbecue and doughnuts, we were solicited no fewer than three times inside the restaurant
We quickly made our escape, not stopping to sample our food until we reached a highway rest stop about 20 minutes away. I got ribs and fries...
...while girlfriend got wings and rib tips. The sauce was pretty good... but definitely not worth going back again unarmed! (I may be wrong and it may be a perfectly safe neighborhood, but that's not the way we felt when we were there.)
Meanwhile, we had two Dat doughnuts waiting for us for dessert. This was the original glazed (next to a penny for comparison), which we ate in segments over the next four days. We also got an apple fritter, not pictured, which I had half of for dinner the next night and then finished the day after the vacation (very good heated in the microwave).
Dinner that night was at the original Tony Packo's Cafe (1902 Front St., Toldeo, OH). We got there around 4 p.m., but the place was already pretty full. It got a lot fuller before we left.
One of the things Packo's is famous for is the celebrity autographed replica foam hot dog buns lining its walls. There were literally hundreds covering most of the restaurant.
Of course, Packo's gained national fame when it was mentioned by Toledo resident Cpl. Maxwell Q. Klinger on the '70s and '80s TV show "M*A*S*H" and even played an integral part in providing sausage casings for use as pseudo-medical supplies in one episode.
But no restaurant survives without good food, and Packo's served up some of the most amazing chili and hot dogs we'd ever tasted! The spicy pickles were great, as well. I wish I had gotten a photo of girlfriend's chili mac to go along with this one, but hindsight being what it is, you'll have to settle for my meal of a Hungarian chili dog, bowl of chili with oyster crackers, spicy pickles and fries. We bought cans of both the hot dog and regular chili, as well as a jar of the spicy pickles and peppers, and break them out for special occasions (we substitute Nathan's hot dogs for Packo's).
Following a day at Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, OH, with lunch at the park and a makeshift dinner consisting of goodies we had left over from Holiday World and those giant Dat Donuts, we set out the next day for the Pittsburgh area and lunch at Primanti Bros. The original location wasn't on our planned route to Kennywood amusement park, so we settled for this outpost in North Versailles, PA (921 E. Pittsburgh-McKeesport Blvd.).
We were here for one of their "almost famous" sandwiches.
There were plenty of "fillings" to choose from.
We both decided on the cheeseburger, which was called a "cheese steak" on the menu, piled high with hand-cut fries, tangy vinegar coleslaw and tomatoes (I'll admit to removing the tomatoes from mine before taking the first bite).
It's a mouthful! I really enjoyed mine, but girlfriend didn't particularly care for hers, so I ended up with a sandwich and a half before it was all over.
"Dinner" was supposed to have been some late-afternoon famous Potato Patch fries (with cheese and bacon, of course) from Kennywood, but by the time we reached the hotel around 8 p.m., we were both hungry again. We were going to just grab something at the Chinese restaurant next door, but upon discovering it was closed (as in there was a "thanks to our customers for their many years of patronage" sign posted on the door, and the tables and chairs had been removed), we turned to the in-room directory and found a tempting ad for the nearby Belgian-style Sharp Edge Creekhouse (288 W. Steuben St., Crafton, PA).
The potato croquette appetizer was out of this world!
I got the mutton burger (which I dubbed a "lambburger"), which was just OK.
Girlfriend, on the other hand, got a Mediterranean pizza, which she raved about. Alas, this was our last roadfood adventure of the trip, us opting to grab lunch at our final amusement park of the vacation, Idlewild Park in Liginor, PA, the next day, and then have dinner at the Cheeburger Cheeburger chain near girlfriend's grandparents' house on the way home.
And that concludes the second quarter of 2009. Third quarter, including Philadelphia, New England and California, coming up!