Searching for the perfect last meal on our 2 week road trip!
On the last day of our trip through 9 southern states, we wanted to make sure our last meal was memorable! While my husband Don drove down Old Highway 61 through the Mississippi Delta, I cheated with the i-phone to find a restaurant. We would have "come across" it anyway. It was right on the highway.
The Old Country Store and Restaurant
This was perfect! This old store has stood for over 130 years just outside Lorman, Mississippi. A recent paint job makes it look a little spiffier than some photos I had seen on the internet.
I was relieved to see the inside wasn't spiffed up for tourists. There were white cloths on the tables, but the floors were left worn and creaky and the shelves of sale items were more thrift shop than antique designer goods.
As soon as we entered the restaurant through the big wood doors, Lonie greeted us and nearly shooed us towards the buffet area in the back. She asked us what we wanted to drink as we reached for buffet plates. In the back we could hear the clanking of pans in the kitchen where the owner, Arthur Davis was rushing to fry up one more batch of fried chicken.
Mr. D and His Chicken!
"Homemade fried chicken!" the cook hollered as he rushed towards the first buffet stand with a steaming pan of crispy chicken.
It became clear in a moment that Mr. D (as he is called) is the owner and the only one who is allowed to make the chicken. "I make it every day! I am the Chicken Cooking King!" He announced. I wondered how he kept his white Piggly Wiggly apron so clean. But in this photo it looks like there's another red apron underneath? Maybe he throws the white one on when he comes out to greet.
More Than Chicken
As you can see from my plate, there's a lot more than chicken to choose from. I even had two kinds of okra for lunch. Ribs and sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas and collards! This was an amazing feast for $11.00! The internet claimed Mr. D made the best friend chicken in Mississippi. I'm not really an authority, but it was piping hot, cripsy out and juicy in. I can't think of any better.
Ready to Dig In
Just as we sat down to sample our feast of southern cooking, we had a nice surprise!
A Story and a Song
Mr. D took a break from his cooking and came out to greet the small group of diners. He told us a little about his past. He offered a lot of thanks to his mother and his grandmother, then treated us to a song! In a sweet soulful voice he sang about his grandmother, the Queen of Cornbread! I could sure picture Mr. D standing in front of a church with his voice and stories! (To see Mr. D- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Fd2JYQC6Jo )
After we finished, we hung around for a while. There was something about the place that made you want to linger.
Of course we also were forced to linger becasue I think Mr. D is also the only one allowed to work the cash register and we hadn't paid. He was busy with some chicken for a while.
Things to See
At least there was a lot to look at. After examining the curious rolling ladder and wondering what kinds of goods used to be on the top shelves long ago, I studied the walls and doors that were covered with yellowed business cards. I so wish I could have asked more questions, but Mr. D hardly had time for chatting with all his cooking, singing and money-taking.
On our way out, we took time to visit with the sweetest cat who had greeted us when we arrived.
Nice Way to End a Trip
This dining adventure was the best way to end a 2-week road trip. This kitty was the best way to finish a 1-hour lunch break!!
Hard to Find!
We almost gave up finding this place on East County Road in Cross Creek, Florida. The old restaurant and bar have been serving up "lunch and supper" since 1952, just down the road from the home of author, Marjorie K. Rawlings. The cozy building with its metal awnings and screened porch fit perfectly in the setting of monster trees and swaying moss...with a stormy sky brewing!
The inside was even cozier, with plenty of antiques and book related memorabilia tucked into numerous rooms. Seeing this picture on the wall brought me back to the first time I watched The Yearling on TV when I was about 10. I remember scenes of the boy romping in his bare feet with "Flag" through the jungle of palms and oaks and Spanish moss. I remember this sad scene in the movie... worse than Bambi.
Old Florida Cooking
Sadly, the restaurant is no longer allowed to serve cooter (soft shell turtle) but there were a number of alligator options. However, our server recommended the stuffed grouper. She was kind enough to encourage us to share the meal so we'd have room for dessert! First she brought the salad in 2 bowls which was a meal in itself with nuts and cheese. The grouper with homemade hushpuppies and creamy tartar sauce was delicious. The sour orange pie was rich and tangy. Think key lime pie meets creamsicle!
Don and I had the restaurant mostly to ourselves until a man in a white button down shirt, clutching a book sat in the booth next to ours. I had noticed him earlier when we had toured the Rawlings house down the road. For that reason I figured the book was not the bible and decided to ask him if he was an expert on Rawlings. He was indeed reading Rawlings' Cross Creek and we spoke for while about her books until he and Don got off on a discussion about road trips. I will always remember this soft spoken character and wonder what it would be like to travel alone...reading...chatting when strangers strike up a conversation.
Someone I Wish We'd Met
In the clutter of oddball stuff, I noticed a tiny space that could be considered a stage. An organ, a music stand, a tip jar and 3 old chairs. I had read somewhere that a man named Willie Green often stops by to perform a little blues guitar. He gets paid in tips. I was sorry we missed him. Next time.
One More Person to Remember
We met Harold while we finished our lunch. First we heard him chuckling to himself as he cleared a nearby table. He teased our waitress about a lousy tip. Then we heard him holler "Coming through!" in a playful way as he carried an armful of dirty dishes through a swinging door to the kitchen. He came over to our table a few times to chat. He just shook his head and laughed to hear we'd come all the way from Houston! Once he apologized for the clicking noise of his dentures. "The glue bothers my stomach." He explained. He offered to give us a tour of the nearby cabins that we could rent. He admitted prices were negotiable. I think business has been slow.
Hope to Come Back!
Breakfast With Old Carnival Folk
The Tamiami Trail, which goes from Tampa to Miami, was once crowded with tourists. This odd spot at the north end in Gibsonton, FL has seen better days. Motels and restaurants that were once jammed with travelers before modern interstates, are closed down or getting by with mostly locals.
We parked on the side, near two doors and a peeling mural of a chef. The door marked "bar" was the only one unlocked at 10 am. My husband paused before opening the door. "Are you sure about this?" I told him to trust me, because I'd read about this place.
The interior was just as eerie. There were a couple men eating breakfast and a couple women wiping tables and mopping. There was a balance between Budweiser neon and carnival artwork like this one titled, "Ringmaster in the Sky."
We were told that a local man nicknamed "Brownie" had created all the murals. I'm guessing Brownie may have had a job painting signs for sideshows at one time. Gibsonton first began attracting wintering carnival workers back in the 1940's and the town is still home to many retired and wintering workers. Too bad we didn't get to ask him ourselves. Lucy our server said he should be on his way over, but he never arrived in the 90 minutes we were there.
Back in the day, when I was a kid giving restrooms silly detailed reviews, this one would have been off the charts.
Cleanliness issues aside, I would have given an extremely high rating for the excitement factor. The Ladies Room, had no sign, so that added an element of risk. And the creepy mural on the wall could freak a man or woman out. The lifted toilet seat added one more confusing element. I'll let you imagine what the men's room looked like.
Luckily Freddy was in no hurry. He sat at the Showtown table near ours and told us stories about his life as a carnival man. (more details in the Stranger Blog) While we chatted, an older woman came in and sat at the same table without ever interrupting us. After she left, I asked if the Showtown table was for some kind of VIPS. Lucy laughed that it was just the Liar's Table. So I'm not sure I can believe anything Freddy told us.
Since this is a dining blog, I should mention the food. This meal looks about 10 times creepier than it actually tasted. But I also was pretty distracted by Freddy's stories of Lobster Boy being murdered and the monkey circus Freddy's brother started. I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention to my plate of chipped beef on toast with fried egg. I'm pretty sure it wasn't as bland tasting as this bland photo!
A framed wall photo shows the original owner and his sons. Freddy told me that Joe was a "hardworking Pollack", when he opened the place 40 years ago. But when Joe died his son turned it into a bar and the place has gone downhill ever since. Now the grandson, Chuckie owns it and it's barely surviving. Freddy and Lucy complained about the changes, but clearly did not want to see Showtown disappear.
Missing the Party
Too bad we had to leave. The 40th anniversary party was the next night. Freddy said it would be "pretty crazy with lots of freaks." I'm not exactly sure what he meant by crazy or freaks!
Why Tarpon Springs?
I feel like I have to add another Greek dining experience to the blog, because Tarpon Springs is the most Greek city in the US!
Thanks to the Greeks who brought their sponge diving skills to the Gulf of Mexico in the early 1900's, there is a charming historic sponge dock district filled with quaint restaurants and shops.
You have to love the blue theme with this restaurant!
There is a cool glow to this place that makes you feel like you're in some kind of a glitzy igloo! Which was great, because it was pretty hot out for late September.
Decorated Tiles, Murals and Fountains
Even if it's not a meal time, you can stop in for a cold cocktail... or a coffee.
This bartender fit right in with his white shirt and bluish tie. He was all business, which sort of fit the retro feel. We had the place to ourselves, which was nice. But a little people watching could have been interesting if the place had been crowded. We just enjoyed the festive decor instead!
Since there were lots of waiters hanging around, it was easy to find someone willing to snap our photo.
In this pic, we're blocking the bubbling fountain, but you have to love the windmills and twiggy trees with blue lights!
It wasn't meal time, but it's always time for sweets.
The adjoining room with baked goods, felt like an American soda fountain from the 1950's. But, the yummy display behind the glass made me feel like I'd just arrived in Greece!
I don't even remember the names, but these desserts were more than sweet!
The shredded wheat looking item was dripping with honey. The almond treat was my favorite.
I will definitely try to make it back to Hellas for a real dining experience! But nice to know you don't have to dine on a full meal, to enjoy a little of the atmosphere!
Walking off the Sweets... and Beer
We spent an hour walking around the sponge docks and browsing in shops selling sponges and soaps.
After a while, we had worked up a bit of an appetite for one more little Greek Food experience.
This little building was also dressed in blue and white colors!
The inside didn't have quite the glow and sparkle of Hellas, but it had (small) Greek columns and maps and a cozy atmosphere that felt kind of boat-like.
Just a Little Hungry
Again, it was not really meal time.
But Don and I were both up for sampling a Greek specialty!
Just look at that flame! This was my first time sampling flaming Greek cheese. The first few bites were pretty amazing!
What a fun tangent on our Florida road trip! We had stopped in Tarpon Springs, just to wander around and look at some boats. I'm glad those curious blue and white buildings lured us in for some mini-dining-adventures! Next time... a full meal!
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.