Ariston Cafe, Litchfield, IL

Built in 1935 (and on the National Register of Historic Places), the Ariston Cafe located on Route 66 in Litchfield, Illinois is the longest continuously running cafe along the route’s whole stretch. So I planned my trip so as to include a meal here.

IMG_1890

According to Wikipedia, with the exception of having added a banquet room and a few other minor tweaks, the interior of the Cafe has not been altered substantially since it first opened. In most other locations would be a bad thing, but on Route 66, it’s a selling point.

IMG_2705.JPG

As restaurants go it has a highly confused menu; they have: Mexican, Greek, Deli, classic American, Southern, Italian, Steak, and Seafood … with 7 different kinds of fish — where most places would do one or two

fullsizeoutput_4e73

IMG_1893

but I guess if you’re a restaurant in a small town you sort of have to be all things to all people. That said, they also have an all you can eat soup and salad bar which had some tasty stuff on it… even if it is kind of seriously old-fashioned.

fullsizeoutput_4e74.jpeg

I asked the waitress what the difference was between the pond and fillet catfish dishes. The pond catfish is two big catfish served on the bone for $15, while the fillet is one catfish filleted for $14… as two would have been too much food me, I got the fillet… but if I lived nearby I’d have ordered the pond for $15 and taken home leftovers.

IMG_1902

That said, the Catfish was rubbery and had a funny after taste …which I think the chef was trying to hide with all the spices. But with seven different kinds of fish, unless fish is VERY popular in this town, I don’t see how they can be serving anything remotely close to fresh.

IMG_0582

There was a large selection of HUGE slabs of various kinds of cake… but passed. When the owner noted that I was keeping notes about meal, posting to social media, etc., he came over and gave me two postcards and a refrigerator magnet.

IMG_1898

Kingman Arizona

I’ve only been in this town for two days and I already don’t like it. [Postscript… if you can only stay at one, spend a few days in Williams, AZ, rather than this dump of a town]

Airbnb novice users, please note this paragraph!!!!
Firstly, the Airbnb owner who I had initially booked with had double booked the room — if she was to be believed, she was advertising it on multiple sites and got confused — and then tried to manipulate ME into cancelling the reservation. Under airbnb’s rules the person who cancels (using the web site!! NEVER cancel on the website if you can avoid it), is the person who pays their cancellation fees, so asking me to do it when it was her fault was seriously sketchy. THEN she expressly tried to trick me into NOT calling them, saying she’d already spoken with them and it wasn’t necessary … which of course I called bullshit on… so call them is exactly what I did. She knew (and I knew) that once they were asked to read our email interchange they would set the cancellation as HER having done it, not me, even if I initiated the phone call; so not only was she going to have pay their fee for using their site, but as a hostess, she was also going to lose a lot of points in their “trustworthy” rankings. Granted, IF she’d done it herself, she’d have lost some anyway (unless she lied and said a death in the family or some such) plus the fee, but once they read the emails going back and forth (which is also why you should ONLY ever interact with owners via the emails, and not the phone), they could see what she’d tried to pull off and would penalize her. So, I called them and explained the situation in full, they read the interchange, and they cancelled my reservation and gave me a full refund. [Now, to be fair, one person does not a town make, but unfortunately, this did ultimately prove to be the “culture” of the town… to my experience.]

Her home was in the historic section of town, which is where I wanted to be. All other rentals were in the new parts … and if I was going to be there I’d rather be in a hotel since there are SO many of them in this town that rooms here all well within my budget (A quick look on google found about 120 motels/hotels in 34 square miles, with the next largest employer being the hospital… I think it’s safe to say that tourism is their main industry). I opted for Ramada.

That said, no one comes to Kingman to see Kingman. Kingman is on I-40, Route 66, and it’s about a two hour drive from here to either the west ridge of the Grand Canyon and/or the Hoover Dam (… so it’s a good base location for short stays while seeing other things.

When I got to my hotel, my room had no wifi… it turns out that whole side of the structure had no wifi and they’ve known about it for a while and haven’t bothered to fix it. What killed me was how nasty the staff was to me about it. Orlando has a lot to teach Kingman about customer service, especially in a town where your whole economy depends on on it.

{POST NOTE — a few years later someone who used to live there read this post and commented, pointing out that actually drugs was the main economic driver of Kingman, not tourism — see below in the comments section. I have no idea if this is true or not, but it’s something to consider.}

Oh, and I ultimately decided that REALLY there’s no reason to stay in downtown Kingman or even on route 66 (which is where my hotel is). The hotels in the other side of town — which is really only a 5 minute drive away from 66 — are much cheaper, newer, and most I have to assume, nicer than the ones on 66 — even if they’re not ‘historic’ … and the food on that side of town is better (I was told this repeatedly by locals) … although to be honest is still not GOOD — there is not good food in kingman, you’re better off grabbing McD’s.

— as stated previously, if you can spend the night in Williams, AZ which is not that far away, it’s a much cuter town full of farm to table eating establishments, art galleries, etc. — if you must eat in town and don’t want to a national chain see the very end of this post for a suggestion

That said, I tried FOUR different locally owned restaurants during my time time in Kingman only to be DEEPLY disappointed every single time. I even tried the steak house on 66 … my mistake may have been trying to opt for healthy and ordering fish, which they assured me was tasty, only to have it arrive smelling bad and it tasted off. That said the Chinese couple at the next table, who I spoke with, were clearly really unhappy with their steaks, as in DEEPLY unhappy. So I’m not sure the steak option would have been any better — and THIS was supposed to be one of the best restaurants in town. (Later I learned the only edible places where directly adjacent to the hospital in the new part of town, but again not GOOD — see end of this post)

The sad fact is that in this town … with the exception of Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner which not only came highly rated on every site I looked at, but I noticed it was full of the local high-school kids on their high-school’s homecoming night, there really isn’t one restaurant worth trying. BUT, that said, it didn’t have one healthy thing on the menu (it really is all about the burgers, fries and milkshakes).

IMG_7680

IMG_7704.JPG
The girl with the sash is part of her high-school’s homecoming royal court

…. you really are better off eating at any of the plethora of national chain restaurants in town.

I even tried the Garlic Clove, which is supposed to be one of the better Italian mom and pops in town, and having done so, I seriously question if ANYTHING they serve isn’t frozen, or from a can. That and I had the WORST case of gas and acid reflux afterwards — just saying.


OK, as mentioned previously, I found someplace NOT utterly horrible. It’s totally out of the tourist area. It’s past the hospital and out by the car dealership (I have a feeling it’s the affluent part of town)… it’s called the Kingman Chophouse (king of steak). I got a baked (not fried) crab cake, a bowl of bean medley soup and a baked sweet potato… and everything tasted just fine.

Alleia (Italian)

Alleia is a very upscale, tasty, romantic, and (by Chattanooga standards) expensive, chef driven rustic Italian eaterie. It is located in a renovated brick industrial building that sits directly behind the historic terminal station for the now defunct passenger railway line that used to pass through town, and was made famous by the Glen Miller mega hit “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” I was invited to dinner here by my Dalton friends, as we were going to go to a Buddy Guy concert that night at the Tivoli Theater (one of the many former vaudeville & movie palaces nationwide that cities have wisely been saving from the wrecking ball). This is one of the oddities of travel, I’d never heard Buddy Guy live in concert before, even though he’s based in my home town of Chicago — I had to come to a much smaller city at the GA/TN border to do it.

Free parking in that part of town is almost nonexistent, and it was raining, so I was incredibly happy to discover Alleia offers complementary valet parking. Directly behind the stand is the entrance to the restaurant, but good luck on finding the door during daylight. The contrast between the outdoor light and darkened space in which the massive ancient-keep-like wooden door sits, makes it almost impossible to see it till your eyes adjust to the difference — and keep in mind it was raining when I got there. As I had arrived a good half-hour before my hosts the restaurant placed me at a table right near the front windows so that I could spot them arriving, and while there I watched one befuddled elderly gentleman walk right past it — twice, trying to find the entrance. Once you’ve lugged open the door (it required grabbing the ring on the front and leaning back to get the thing to move) you enter into a darkly lit space reminiscent of a church, with massive candles that have been allowed to drip their wax to the floor, and hanging gas lanterns.

My meal was nummy. For my appetizer I had a very finely cut carpaccio with truffle and radish, and then for my main I had quail which lay on a fig, onion, and something else purée that was served with a side of sauteed purple cabbage and new potatoes … all of which was wonderful. The star of the show, however, was my dessert, an olive oil gelato (something that sounded incredibly odd but my friend promised me was something to be tried) with bits of salty pistachio in it. The gelato melted in the mouth in a way I’ve never experienced before, and the counterpoint to the pistachio was just amazing.

 

dinner