California feeds the country. No one would argue that. And having so much fresh produce available is an irresistible lure to aspiring chefs, chefs who have arrived, and foodies everywhere. The variety of food styles in California is without a doubt one reason why a person might even stay there. If you are looking for ethnic, organic, vegetarian, vegan, or fresh from the ocean fish, you won't have to travel far. For a dedicated Foodie, there is absolutely no place like California for originality and variety and potential for creating the next food trend. And, the food is GOOD. Marry food creativity to beer, coffee, and wine crafting, as well as small presses of pure, unblended olive oils and you have the perfect accompaniment to the rich and varied foods of California. Aside from a few treasured friends, food is probably number one on my list of things I miss the most about California.
And did I forget to mention food trucks? What was once a Mexican food monopoly has spread into a wonderland of food fare that is at its absolute BEST because it comes from a truck. Standing on the street eating whatever delectable choice has fallen into your hands (those serving windows are high) raises the hotdog or pretzel from a cart to a whole new level. Coffee trucks, curry cuisine, corn dogs, empanadas, grilled cheese, kababs, Chinese, BBQ, shrimp and lobster, desserts and donuts and cinnamon rolls, or waffles with anything and everything available to top it off - it's all there. A road trip through California is foodie heaven.
I've driven across the country many times throughout my life and one thing I've noticed over and over again is that food outside of CA is mainly, well, boring. Sure, there are pockets of fabulous and regional foods can leave a person crying for more, but, mainly food is pretty unimaginative. One of my worst memories was ordering a salad and receiving a wedge of iceberg covered with a dollop of mayonnaise. This was just terrible. I happen to love wedge salads dripping with blue cheese dressing, heavy with chunks of cheese and bacon. That's the gold standard for me. On the other hand, the absolute best biscuits I have had were from a local diner somewhere in northern Texas right off of Interstate 70 [update - it was Interstate 40]. There was a hotel, a gas station, the diner, and a tractor/farm equipment repair shop. That was it and all surrounded by 1000's of acres of farmland. Those biscuits just about made me cry. The waitress sent us off with a bag full of warm deliciousness for the road.
Anyway, I come by my food opinions honestly. Between a lifetime of California freshness and creativity to a fair amount of travel, I've earned my stripes as a food snob. So, when I arrived in the Bootheel, I wasn't surprised to learn I would have to do some serious digging to find food that made my heart sing.
My first discovery was that not all bbq is made equal. It also became very clear to me why HGTV loves to show bar-be-que food war shows. People are passionate about their bar-be-que in the South and Midwest. Oddly enough, I discovered that I was too, something I didn't know until I landed in the Bootheel. To say that bbq here is different from California bbq is like saying that Notre Dame Cathedral is different from a chapel. My friend, Jane Medlin, will testify to my bbq snobbery. But, I've learned that I'm in good company. Everyone has an opinion about bar-be-que.
No one would argue that there are endless choices for bbq in the Bootheel. Dixie Pig (not precisely the Bootheel), Chubby's, Cole Mama's, and Brother Doug's, are just four of the places I've tried. Each is good and each is very different from the other. But it was Brother Doug's that sang "Home!". Succulent, red, and shredded, it set off a party in my mouth. My ideal bbq is pork, shredded and dripping with a dark red/brown sweetish sauce. No tart vinegar flavor allowed. It was at Chubby's where I finally got the idea of mixing the skinny vinegar based sauce that's called bbq sauce around here, with ketchup. Pure heaven and the tartness was subjugated.
Patty Ann's has good salads. I won't mention the desserts. Everyone knows they have good desserts. Little Pizza Heaven beats Pizza Hut by several country miles. There is nothing like a pizza that shouts "Just like my mom's". And Brother Doug's makes a darn good burger. Daylight Donuts wins for best homemade potato chips. Who knew homemade chips would be a thing? I love homemade chips, something not commonly found in my part of California.
Something else not usually found there is deep fried chicken livers. Once we hit Oklahoma, we started noticing fried chicken livers on every menu we perused. I tried them all. Lambert's even got a couple of tries, as did Patty Ann's. I was surprised to discover that good as all the various livers were, the standout place, without a doubt is the Roundhouse in Caruthersville. Now here is good, old-fashion eating at it's finest. Unpretentious, stuck in time, friendly, and comforting, Roundhouse fits like a beloved old slipper. I love going there. They set the standard for, not only the yumminess of their livers, but they are super-friendly, remember your name (even when you are a newbie), and my tea is always unsweet, God Bless them.
Like everything else, since arriving here, I'm enjoying the simplicity of life, the simplicity being the offspring of living in a town with few choices. The restaurants and cafes are mainly mom and pop, serve good comfort food and a juicy burger. They may keep odd hours but that works too. People head to Dyersburg, the Cape, or Kennett on the weekends for big shopping and generally end up eating there, too. Anyway, those down times have helped me organize myself so that instead of going somewhere in town, I'm at home, doing what I love best - writing and continuing the re-invention of my new life.
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