Before heading out on a 3,200 mile road trip to Yellowstone with our monkeys (Satchel, 7, and Jiro, 5), my husband Warren suggested that we purchase Jane and Michael Stern's Road Food book. Being a big fan of the Sterns—I love listening to them describe food on NPR every Saturday morning—I readily agreed.
Our first stop was at Booches in Columbia, MO. It was a pool hall that has been selling burgers since the early 1900s.
I have to admit that we were underwhelmed, despite the Sterns' glowing review. Clearly they've never had a Shirley Burger at the Lamplighter or rolled into Alex's Tavern at 5am to enjoy one of theirs. If they had, then they might have toned down the Booches accolades.
Regardless, we were out of our element once we hit the Great Plains, so we continued to follow their advice. In Iowa, we saw many signs for, uh, loose women, so it was only natural that we take the Sterns' advice and try a loosemeat sandwich at the famed Tastee Inn and Out in Sioux Falls, Iowa.
Now the loose sandwich IS something to write home about. It's kind of like a Sloppy Joe, minus the slop. Best of all it is served with onion petals, rather than onion rings, and a zesty sour cream sauce. Yum! The kids were not interested in anything but the milkshakes.
Since we were going to be in Wyoming for the bulk of our trip and the Sterns' recommended a lodge close to where we were staying that served Rocky Mountain Oysters, we eagerly looked forward to getting to our final destination. Sadly, we found the lodge specializing in RMOs in foreclosure. We had to wait a week, but we did finally try the fried organ meat delights at the Buckhorn Exchange in Denver, CO. And yes, they were totally worth the wait.
By the time we were making back home through Kansas, we were a little tired of burgers and fried food. In fact, I was questioning my desire to take over for the Sterns' when I retired from the daily grind. Road food is anything but slimming. But, we soldiered on narrowly missing the chance to eat at any of the delicious fried chicken shacks they described in the book.
Passing through Salina, KS we made our way to the Cozy Inn which has been serving burgers since before McDonald's. This was an even more basic operation than Booches and the Tastee Inn and Out combined, We ordered a bagful at a window and had the option of chips and canned soft drinks to make it a meal. The cozies were bigger than a Krystal, but way smaller than a basic fast food burger.
They come standard with ketchup. mustard, pickle, and onion and have that warm mushy layer between the meat and the bun from the steam. This warm, mushiness was a total turn off to the kids. Their uneaten burgers languished in the car for several hours and then were consumed cold by Warren and me. Personally, I think they tasted even better in their old age.
Burgered out by the time we hit Saint Louis, we were happy to find a recommendation for an Italian sandwich shop in the neighborhood known as The Hill. However, after posting a teaser on Facebook, Hamlett Dobbins convinced us to try a sandwich shop around the corner from the Stern recommended one. It was a good call, but again, I thought of a local place—in the case Fino's—that was just as good or better.
We had every intention of getting a concrete milkshake at Ted Drewe's (recommended by the Sterns and Hamlett), but never got the timing right. We did, however, manage to pick up a fresh baked pretzel and pretzel dog at Gus' on our way out.
Warren and I decided that when the Sterns retire, rather than update their Road Food book, we'll go our own way. Asian Road Food isn't as catchy, but it'll be more conducive to being cooped up in a car with other people, if you catch my drift. I've already got my first two entries — Anong Thai in Rawlins, WY and the giant Japanese restaurant just down the road from the Buckhorn Exchange.