My family connection is that I have good memories of visiting both with family. My mom, sister and I discovered both Orsak's and Mikeska's, 11 years ago.
I had not been back to Mikeska's, until yesterday.
It was before noon when Don and I approached the roadside wonder. No need to drive into historic downtown Columbus. The octagonal restaurant was conveniently located, right off the feeder, beside I-10... along with a windmill and a pump jack and a number of hard to miss signs.
We parked near the building, but there was a mighty big lot we could have used.
There were also drive-thru options. Jerry's original location didn't cater to the driving customers quite so easily. After doing business in downtown Columbus since 1956, he moved out near I-10 in 1986.
The Grand Interior
Why would you want to pick up your BBQ from a window, when you could dine within 8 walls, beneath a skylight and a dangling, illuminated antler display?
And All Those Animals!
Then of course, there are the critters that greet you when you walk in the door. Don marched up to get in line, but I moved slowly by the mounted creatures.
I'm not even sure what this beast is, but I remember him! He seemed very serious, but his "parted" horns kind of reminded me of my favorite, silly idol from childhood books. I loved Pippi Longstocking and her braids that curled upward!
Lots of Birds
Photos of Jerry
There might have been as many photos of Jerry as there were stuffed animals, on those walls. I think there were more than 200 animals.
There were photos of Jerry with presidents and governors, red-hatted ladies and gals in sparkly costumes. There were also photos of Jerry and his brothers.
Here is Jerry (in his tie) along with 3 of his 5 brothers. All 6 ended up in the BBQ biz. In our 20 years in Texas, we've pretty much heard the names of all... Rudy, Mike, Clem, Maurice, Louis and Jerry. They all worked in different towns, with different specialties. Jerry... he doesn't like garlic. That's what I learned.
After Don and I got our food, I looked up and saw no line. I wandered over to ask a few questions, but the guys in red, were all pretty young and not really up for chit chat.
I was tempted to ask if Mr. Jerry was in his office. I had read somewhere that he is in his 90's, but still comes into work. Instead I asked if Jerry was the hunter of all the wild game that was on display. "No, he's just a collector." The young man did crack a smile when I asked what it was like to have all those eyes watching him work every day. He had no answer, but he laughed.
I noticed a few bears wearing some clothes. That reminded me, that something was missing. I remembered that when Jennifer and Mom and I came to dine, we were greeted by a pair of polar bears, one wearing a tie.
I went up and asked the young guy at the counter, what happened to the polar bears with the baskets. He said they were still around, they just weren't on display. Hmm? I missed those sweet bears, who held baskets of mints. I remember Mom was pretty amused and Jennifer held our Miss Copeless doll, in the photo. She happened to be the mascot, that traveled with us on our road trip.
Maybe I should have been more bothered by all these eyes looking out towards the dining tables. Some looked a bit fierce and others, just silly... like the squirrel with the raccoon tail, or the rabbit with antlers.
Chowing on Meat
Maybe I would have enjoyed my pork ribs more, if I hadn't been surrounded by furry animals. I'm one of those people who really likes the sides more than the meat anyway. Maybe I should have ordered just sides. But, when in Rome...
This photo is not very appetizing, but my spinach and buttery-soft potatoes were yummy. The pea salad was packed with creamy calories and soft-sweet peas. My ribs were actually better as leftovers, when they were reheated at home... away from the gaze of animals.
Don ordered the chopped beef sandwich, which was actually very good. No need for sauce.
We lingered a bit, absorbing the decor and wondering about the other diners, who all seemed to be regulars. I kept wishing Jerry would just walk out.
No Signs of Jerry
We never saw Jerry, but when I got home I dug out photos from 2008. What do you know! I spotted Jerry in his white shirt and black bowtie.
And I spotted Mom in another photo. There she sat, wearing her favorite knit hat, with llamas. In the image, she looks like she's studying an animal or two.
The chairs have changed, but the tables look the same. I had to smile when I realized that Mom was sitting at the very same table where Don and I sat.
Sweet memories of Mom enjoying our curious dining adventure. I'm glad to have shared another Mikeska's experience, with Don.
Lunch in Fayetteville... Again!
It's been over 10 years since I visited this sweet little town. That's pretty crazy, because Don and I frequently drive by the exit, to Fayetteville.
So Don and I made a stop, a few days ago. The pink building looked the same. But, this time I spotted a new banner, beneath the faded happy chef sign. It seemed a little odd to imagine people drinking wine in Orsak's.
Actually there are two buildings that house the cafe. Here I am in 2008 crossing the wide road, that surrounds Fayetteville's town square. I'm giving my camera-snapping sister, the evil eye.
Today, the corner building has one new addition... a wheelchair ramp, leading to the door. There's also a bush growing on the side and some new seating, where a park bench once sat.
But mostly, Orsak's looks the same. You have to love a building with flesh-pink paint. It makes me think of little pigs!
Lunch With Mom in 2008
This is not the world's most flattering photo of Mom or me, finishing our lunches. It was hot that August day, but Mom was happy. Jennifer and I had taken her off for a day of adventure.
Mom loved road trips and small towns. She loved cafes and diners and we found a great one. She had a milkshake with her burger and fries and she was in heaven.
I have bittersweet memories of that day. Jennifer and I had planned this special outing for Mom, knowing that the next day would be a tough one. We would start the process of moving Mom to an Alzheimer's facility... and she didn't know. If only we'd known that all would turn out so well, Jenni and I could have enjoyed our meal, just a little better.
Now and Then
This past Wednesday, Don and I arrived before noon. My view of the two buildings was blocked by a lineup of cars and pickups. Later, I was able to get a better glimpse of the corner building. The cute little building with the chef's image was blocked the whole time. I found a photo from 11 years ago.
I was eager to walk inside and see how well my memory matched. I was totally confused. I remembered the counter and stools, on the right.
The space seemed open and bright and full of diners. Where were those dated, drop ceiling tiles?
The wood walls were painted and covered in license plates and neon. I kept scratching my head. We found a seat in the room with the counter, but I wasn't sure if this was the room I remembered.
A Fine Menu
There were 4 women greeting and attending to tables. Our server was very friendly when she dropped off menus, but she looked too busy to answer my questions.
I headed off on a hand washing mission, to give myself a chance to explore. I passed through a funny little walkthrough connection to find the "Cowgirls Room", in the corner building.
I passed by the yellow wall, with a set of antlers and lots of photos. I peeked into the kitchen, through the window. Then I found the sweet little restroom, that I only vaguely remembered. Luckily there was a sink, so I didn't have to wash up, using the pitcher and bowl.
The Other Room
There were diners in both rooms and I wondered how a town of around 250 residents, could ever have enough customers to fill tables for daily breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I wondered about the Orsaks. Who are they? Who were all the people in the photographs? It wasn't obvious.
Time to Eat
I got back to the table, just in time for the dessert to arrive. I didn't even know my $6.50 feast included a chocolate cake delight! It was hard not digging into our desserts first, but then Don's fried chicken special arrived.
Then my stuffed green peppers and green beans and fresh noodles with gravy was delivered. The dividers on my retro plastic plate did not do the trick well. My overflowing servings spilled into each other. Not a problem. Don and I both agreed my stuffed peppers, (even in their collapsed form) were the tastier of the 2 options. The noodles weren't overly flavorful, but they were a fun reminder of Orsak's Czech roots.
There was a slight lull in activity, when we headed to the counter to pay the bill. I was able to ask about 2 questions. Yes, I was right. The counter and stools had been on the other wall. There was fire, some years back. Lots of changes.
In the car I grabbed my phone. I was ready to Google and find out who the Orsaks were and how long the cafe had been feeding the folks in Fayetteville. Nothing. They have no website and their Facebook page was not helpful... no Wikipedia or random info, not even about a fire. Oh well. Maybe someone will read this and fill me in.
What Will I Remember?
Don and I had a quick and decent feast for about $15.00! Now we have our own memory of the dining in the pink building.
I have to hand it to Mom. She was pushing for the hidden gems, long before that term was overused... long before Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, started spotlighting these great finds. Thanks, Mom!
German Food on the Road, in 2017
I dug this memory from my drafts! Time to give it a spotlight!
Don and I stopped for lunch, when passing through Beeville in January... that would be 2017. We had heard great things about authentic German food at Berliner Bear, but the somewhat dreary little building looked like it was out of business. The old drive up window made me think this could have been a Long John Silvers.
As we parked, we noticed a few men in cowboy hats exiting. Good sign.
Inside looked much cozier, with table cloths and roses on each table. A woman with a German accent ushered us to a table and scurried back to the kitchen.
Maps and Flags
Here are two of my favorite prints! Is that a grandpa in the washtub? I wished that I had my friend Sigi with me. She could have read the words under the line up of happy children!
Don and I couldn't have been happier with our meals. Don got the Berliner Schnitzel with fried egg. The meat was yummy-tender. We heard that Gabby pounds the schnitzel meat, herself. There was something extra special about the warm, red cabbage. Bacon!
I read that the Reuben was so good that they often sell out. That was a good reason to order. It was perfect and the slaw also delicious. Sweet and vinegary!
By the time we finished the sweet little cafe was cleared out of diners. We paid at the counter and I tried to snoop a bit more.
German Knick Knacks
I checked out the little kissing statues and the stuffed bears with German dress.
I also peeked inside the kitchen window, where the chef worked in his red hat. Was he related to Gabby? I hated to assume and I hated to ask.
Music and Atmosphere
Without the chatting diners, I could better hear the music playing. Was that German pop music? It wasn't your typical Oompah band.
I've been to German restaurants that cater to tourists, with polka bands and lederhosen. This seemed to be a German restaurant that was all about the food.
Some More Fun Stuff
Nothing seemed overdone at Berliner Bear. The menu was simple and the service was efficient. The decor was pleasant, but not dripping in German goodies. I loved the cuckoo clock and colorful beer stein.
By the time we paid, the place was empty and quiet. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to ask Gabby a few questions.
Gabby was happy to hear we enjoyed our food, but it became clear that she had lots to do. I took a quick glance around and reminded myself that I had only seen her and the man in the red chef's hat.
Don and I had a great lunch, in a relaxed and interesting atmosphere. Sometimes that is just all we need!
Hot Dogs and Root Beer!
How can anyone resist a food adventure, that involves a barrel-shaped building?
If Don and I had spotted this beauty while driving, we would have screeched on the brakes and raced towards it. But we learned about The Barrel, before we laid eyes on it.
The Adventure... That Led Us to The Barrel
Last July, Don and I were in Saugatuck, Michigan. We were off on a morning adventure with my sister and sister-in-law.
First we crossed the Kalamazoo River in a hand-cranked, chain ferry.
Then we climbed 300 steps up to the top of Mount Baldhead. That name refers to the 600-foot sand dune, that is now covered in vegetation. The round bald-headed tower that we found on top, was actually a radar tower, constructed in 1956. The overgrown image was an eerie reminder of the days, when schools did Duck and Cover drills, to prepare for Nuclear invasion... yikes.
A more refreshing view was looking down towards the town of Saugatuck.
Through the trees, we could see where the Kalamazoo River widens, into Kalamazoo Lake, before it flows into Lake Michigan. I chatted with a local, who was doing his daily step-climbing hike. He described the scene in the winter! Snow!
Cool Off Time
After enjoying the view, we headed down and decided to cool off inside a lakeside museum, located inside the old Pump House. (Shown in the vintage photo)
It was in this marvelous little museum that we became more and more intrigued with the history of this wonderful waterside community!
The museum shared much of the community's history, through old family snapshots. I spotted this one, with two kids and the shiny barrel.
When I read the words below the photo, I got excited! The roadside favorite that was built in 1952, had recently reopened!
It stilled served hot dogs and root beer! Yay! I asked the young woman at the counter about the place and she thought it might be too far to walk. She suggested we call for the 2-dollar shuttle service. Yay!
A Barrel on the Lawn!
It took a while for our shuttle, but it was worth it. The van dropped us right off at the corner of Center and Ferry, in Douglas.
What a scene! There were shady trees and kids playing badminton and corn hole. A young woman performed on guitar and summer food smells wafted out of the barrel windows.
The picnic tables were almost full, but there was no line for ordering. After taking a peek at the menu, we stepped right up to the window.
Pick Up Window
Waiting for our orders took a little longer, but that's because food was made to order. This was not a concession stand at the ball park.
It was actually entertaining watching the buzz of activity inside the round space. Three men worked swiftly under the whirling fans. I recognized one as Michael White, from a photo I'd seen. The incredibly polite and hardworking man, is main force behind the business.
I read the info sheet near the window and wondered about the last two sentences. Who were the rude, impatient people who made them have to address abuse and respect? Everyone working in the barrel seemed top notch to me!
Sharing the Table
We were able to grab the end of a picnic table, just as our orders finished up.
It seemed more authentic, sharing our retro, Root-Beer-Barrel-Dining-Adventure, with a family we didn't even know.
The cold, root beer was straight from the keg. It was refreshing, even if it wasn't served in a frosted mug. I'm now wishing I'd had the root beer float!
Our gourmet treats were definitely a modern twist on the Barrel's original dogs. I had "The Donna", which was smothered in mac-n-cheese, with bacon! Don went a little more traditional with the Kraut dog, served with stone-ground mustard. Both, pretty fun and yummy!
This photo better shows the size of my crazy dog!
It was yummy, but I am a hot dog fan and a macaroni fan. Maybe I would have them side by side, next time.
So our morning adventures led us to a delightful treat! Eating at The Barrel was like taking a trip back into someone else's childhood. I don't have memories of coming to this place as a kid, but I'm guessing there was at least one adult sitting at one of those tables, who had that memory!
It's hard to believe, this iconic place was nearly demolished, after it closed down in the seventies.
Thanks to Michael White and "Friends of the Barrel" who volunteered years of time and lots of money, to refurbish and reopen this fun place!
Small Town Feasting!
More about the hippos, later.
Lunch at 11
We were greeted by welcoming staff, the moment we walked in. My eyes were drawn to the words Grumpy Ice House, in the back of the room... but this seemed to be a happy place at 11:05!
We were seated at the last open booth, where we hunkered down with our menus.
I read some quick history on the front of the menu, but it was the colorful board above our heads that got me hungry. I asked our young server and she recommended the Chicken Fried Steak. I love a place with a Blue Plate Special!
I quickly snapped some pics of the decorated metal walls, since the place was filling up.
The next room had old photos and western decor, covering an exposed brick wall.
The Cowpoke sign was evidently used when filming a TV series in 2013. From Dusk to Dawn was the name of the show, starring Don Johnson. Director, Robert Rodriguez gave the sign to the cafe when filming was over.
In the back of the Cowpoke Room, was a sweet smelling pie case! I didn't count the pies, but there were 30 on the menu! They looked amazing.
After taking this lame photo with glaring window light, I took one more bad photo. Above Don's head, I noticed a small hippo statue, next to the green, swirling window glass. Oh boy! Lunch and then a hippo hunt.
My Blue Plate Special!
My plate wasn't blue, but it was packed with colorful flavors! The crust on the chicken was crispy and seasoned. The meat was juicy. The gravy was creamy good. I wasn't very daring with my choice of mashed potatoes, but I had to have them. I got more creative with my choice of Amish Chow Chow for my second side. Sweet and sour, cool and refreshing, on a super hot, summer day!
Take Home Pie
We really needed to have pie, since the restaurant's name includes it. But I was full.
I love peanuts and the Peanut Butter Pie looked fabulous. But I needed a slice that would travel. We chose the Snickers Pie and it held up fairly well in the cooler. The chocolate was gooey and thick and the peanuts weren't a bit soggy. I'm so glad I waited until I was hungry, because I absolutely savored every bite!
We finished up and headed for the door, before noon! Every table was full at 11:58! I spotted cowboy hats, army fatigues, trucker hats...lunching ladies, scholarly types... a possible hipster or 2 and a big family, being greeted with hugs by the owner.
I was still confused when I read that the original restaurant, had a giant whole cow in front. The cow's name was Ferdinand. When the business moved, they only took Ferdinand's head. What's with this vintage photo? Maybe those parking strips are telling me it's not an old photo. Hmm? I should have asked when I was there. I do love a mystery.
Off to See Hippos
Don and I were in great spirits after our fine lunch. It was time to see some Hutto Hippos.
I was pretty amused by the story behind Hutto's love of hippos. It all goes back to 1915, when a circus train stopped in the area and a hippo got loose. A few years later, the high school adopted hippo as their school mascot. Over the years, hippo statues have multiplied in town.
I had hoped to go on a major hunt to photograph as many plump hippo figures, as I could find... but the temps were headed towards 100. Don wasn't interested in getting out of the car and posing with me. So I captured 2 of my favorites.
Now I have an excuse to go back to Hutto. More hippos and more pie!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.