Wackiest Festival – Punkin Chunkin in Bridgeville, Delaware. Engineering geeks (and I use that term lovingly) from all over the country spend a weekend at the beginning of November in a empty field with home built trebuchets, catapults, torsions, air cannons and centrifugals trying to see which team can make their pumpkin fly the farthest. Spectators get to watch the fun while munching on festival food, shopping in vendor booths and drinking beer. When we were there the team from the Discovery Channel show Mythbusters was covering the event.
Most Beautiful Municipal Park System: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Trails around town connect citizens to playgrounds, amphitheaters, hiking trails, scenic vistas, tennis courts, boat launches, water fountains, public art, live entertainment events, people watching, and more.
Best State Park: Itasca State Park in Minnesota. In addition to featuring the headwaters of the Mississippi River, this park spans 32,690 acres. It was the first of Minnesota’s state parks, and it is the second oldest state park in the United States. Visitors can enjoy just about any outdoor activity they prefer: fishing, birding, biking, hiking (33 miles of trails), horseback riding, kayaking, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, boating, camping, lodges, restaurants, and any other thing you can think of.
Best Local Radio Station: Trail 103.3 in Missoula, Montana. (It should be known that I am partial to KGSR 93.3 in Austin. This station in Missoula is just as good – or maybe even slightly better).
Best Lunch Prepared on a Sidewalk – Boise’s Basque Market street-side paella is available at noon on Wednesdays and Fridays. I was told to arrive early because once they sell out it is over… and it goes fast. Indeed! We went on a Friday, and the owner said that the previous time it was served, they sold out in 27 minutes! We were the first ones in line. We got there at 11, and enjoyed some Spanish beer and frozen sangria while we watched the dish come together. It was delicious and well worth the wait.
Best Musical Discovery (By us)
When we arrived in Memphis during the first part of the fifth month, we had no idea there was a thing called Memphis in May. We also knew nothing about the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Well… weren’t we lucky! The week we were in Memphis in May was when the Beale Street Music Festival was “on stage”… actually five stages, on the river, for three days, all day and all night. Then we heard Rhiannan Giddons sing a ballad, and we were fans for life. She’s big now… just saw her featured on CBS This Morning a few weeks back. Stopped everything to watch. We like to think we were part of her discovery! Of course, we were not. But we will, however, be fans for life.
IIncidentally, The Beale Street Music Festival was another winner. Something to which we will probably return.
On one of our last nights in Ozona, Florida we enjoyed a wonderful al fresco dinner at the Ohana Café and were treated to fabulous musical entertainment by a father-daughter duo named the Barnkickers. Two hints… she should sing on Broadway and the ukulele rocks. I’ve tried to find out more about them online, but can only discover youtube videos. We are so happy we purchased their CD – Up Before Noon.
While we were in St. Louis we had a late lunch at The Shaved Duck in the South Grand Neighborhood. The food was OUTSTANDING. We ordered a table full of samples, and took home a shopping bag full of leftover containers(including a pint of their Black Isle BBQ sauce).The next morning, we had more for breakfast! We must also give a shout-out to our awesome server, James – a fellow Texan AND Longhorn. After talking to him about Austin hotspots and Texas traditions, we were all a little homesick for the Lone Star State! If you have plans to be in St. Louis, check out their menu at www.theshavedduck.com. I think I can give them the award for Best Duck Dish: Duck Confit Flatbread with spinach, cranberries, smoked mozzarella, and a sweet bourbon sauce drizzle.
Best Picnic: Watching the Boston Symphony perform Beethoven at their summer home: Tanglewood Music Center in Western Massachusetts.
Best Road- Side Bar in the Middle of Nowhere: Holly’s Road Kill Saloon, McCleod, Montana. I later learned that Michael Keaton, Tom Brokaw and Whoopie Goldberg each have ranches in the area. If I had known, I would have been scouring the face of every human at that party!
Best Cookie: Double Chocolate Walnut Cookie (which was more like a colossal gooey brownie blob with a crunchy outer shell) from Persephone Bakery in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I sampled two others worth mentioning too. The Chocolate Chip Walnut and the house made S’mores (complete with house made marshmallow) were also outstanding.
Best Mom & Pop Establishment: Casale’s Halfway Club, Reno, Nevada. Oldest restaurant in Nevada featuring hand made pasta, ravioli, lasagna, and meatballs.
Best Bar: Montana Bar, Miles City, Montana. Established in 1908 and hasn’t changed since. Beautiful wooden bar, stained glass, tile floors, pressed tin ceilings, longhorn mounts on the wall. Impeccably clean. Good drinks, delicious food. Not disturbed by modern day technology… TV’s are in the adjoining sports bar next door.
Mike’s Favorite Bar: The Ugly Pirate Car & Cafe, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Probably because their clock was set to 5:00 at all times.
Best Green Chili Stew: Tubac Jack’s Bar & Saloon in Tubac, Arizona. I’m going to try and recreate the scrumptious soup that features black beans, corn, potatoes, pork and cilantro, but I doubt I’ll be able to because the pork is slow smoked over mesquite fire wood before it is chopped and added to the stew. I added some fresh squeezed lime juice and sliced avocados to mine. We ate at the restaurant four times while we were in Tubac, and I ordered the stew three of those times!
Sexiest Restaurant: Elvira’s in Tubac, Arizona. The décor was dramatic and stunning, and the mole wasn’t too bad either!
Best Burgers: Sparky’s in Hatch, New Mexico. I had the original Green Chili Cheeseburger and Mike had the Oinker (same burger with pulled pork on top). The patties were hand-made and deliciously juicy. The green chilis and cheese made them super spicy, and that’s the way we like them!
Another Best Burger: The Smoke Jumper, Waddell’s Neighborhood Pub, Spokane, Washington
Two 6 oz. hamburger patties, BBQ sauce, chipotle mayo, smoked gouda, bacon, carmelized onions, smoked BBQ brisket.
The Award for Craziest Salad goes to Raaga Modern Indian Cuisine Restaurant in Santa Fe. Flash fried spinach with house made fried onions, tomato and cucumber in yogurt dressing. Each individual fresh spinach leaf was crunchy like lace. I have no idea how they flash fried individual spinach leaves without making them greasy. If you are in Santa Fe, you must have this salad. Stay for some of their dinner entrees too – delicious! I wish I had had room left in my tummy to try to the house made mango ice cream for dessert!
We enjoyed a delicious breakfast at Adam’s Mountain Café in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Their house potatoes in a sherry béchamel sauce were to die for. This sentence on the menu caught my attention. I agree whole-heartedly.
Best Smoked Meats: The Flying Mango on Hickman Road in Des Moines Iowa. This was a Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives spot. We happened to be watching food network on the night before we were to move our rig to Des Moines. After watching the segment, the restaurant made it to our list of places to see while in town. We were not disappointed. Our meal was wonderful and the service was outstanding. The best part of our evening was when the owner, Michael Wedeking, took the time to sit down and visit with us after we introduced ourselves. He and his wife have built a very successful business and I’m guessing it is because they are such classy, humble and gracious professionals.
Best Bakery: When I walked into the Jaarsma Bakery in downtown Pella, Iowa, I was about 20th in line. I knew it was going to be good! And the selection of treats I bought were exceptionally delicious. I think I might be sending our 2015 Christmas gifts from this location. Just found out I can order online at www.jaarsmabakery.com.
When we were in central New York, I accidentally discovered the wonderland of Hurd Orchards. I wish I had found the place earlier into our visit. I would have been there every day. On the afternoon I stopped in, I was assisted by the most gracious owner as I paid for my parcels of fresh picked peaches and rasberries. We are still enjoying some of the preserves I also purchased. I think I will order my 2014 Christmas gifts from this family- owned treasure located at the whisper of Lake Ontario. If you want to celebrate the epitome of the American agricultural entrepreneurial spirit, please do the same and shop online at www.hurdorchards.com.
Most Unique Dining Experience: Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room
107 West Jones Street, Savannah, GA
Best Ethnic Neighborhood: Greek Diving Village of Tarpon Springs, Florida
Best U-Catch-Em-We-Cook-Em: Mike’s speckled trout at Molly Goodhead’s Raw Bar & Restaurant
400 Orange Street, Ozona, FL
Best Steak (and first time our menu has been on an ipad): Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Senate Street, Columbia S.C.
Best Roadside Shack: Lunts Gateway Lobster Pound
1133 Bar Harbor Road, Trenton, Maine
Most Friendly and Gracious Staff: Blue Moon Beach Grill
4104 South Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head, North Carolina
Most Romantic Dinner: Tuthill House at the Mill Restaurant
20 Gristmill Lane, Gardiner, NY
Best Brunch: Little Palm Island Resort
Little Torch Key, Florida
Most High Society Date: On the way to Little Palm Island
The absolute BEST appetizer we have had since our trip began over one year ago: the Stuffed Hushpuppies at Fleet Landing Restaurant on Concord Street in Charleston. Delicately light and fluffy hushpuppies that are fried, hollowed out, fried again for a super crispy outer crust, and stuffed with shrimp and lobster in a leek cream sauce.
I have two other notable restaurants, but I neglected to get photos from these stops while we were there.
Best Small Town Surprise: Indigo Coastal Shanty at 1402 Reynolds Street in Brunswick Georgia. www.indigocoastalshanty.com
Best Fried Chicken: A TIE!
Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room in Savannah
The Glass Onion at 1219 Savannah Hwy in Charleston, SC. Only served on Tuesday nights, must be reserved in advance! www.ilovetheglassonion.com
Honorable mention on the fried chicken goes to Gus’. (Originally in Memphis, now in lots of locations).
We have also stumbled upon a few hotels and/or resorts that I would like to return to as guest.
Jekyll Island Club Hotel
Jekyll Island, Georgia
Little Palm Island Resort
Little Torch Key, Florida
Chico Hot Springs
Paradise Valley, Pray, Montana
West Glacier KOA (We stayed here in the campground, but I would certainly return as a guest in one of their cottages).
West Glacier, Montana
Mohonk Mountain House
Hudson Valley, New Paltz, New York
I do not have a picture to post because we were wearing shorts (and collared shirts) when we tried to pass through the entrance gate. We were denied access. Mind you… we were dressed for happy hour and dinner. I really wanted to see the place after that!!!
Watch Hill, Rhode Island
I don’t have a photo from this place either… but just trust me. You would want to stay there!
Coeur d’Alene Resort:
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Block Island, Rhode Island
Any hotel, inn, or private residence available for rent.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Any hotel or resort
Bald Head Island, North Carolina
Anywhere you can find to rent.