Man Friday, a Mexican/Int’l Cafe on Magnetic Island, Queensland, Australia

Man Friday is a BYOB cafe, open only in the evenings, that describes itself as serving Mexican food, but doesn’t. It is located in Nelly Bay on Queensland’s Magnetic Island (which for gubernatorial reasons is technically considered part of the mainland city of Townsville). I shouldn’t be too hard on it; my travel partner, who is originally from Sydney, but has lived for almost half his life in California and has spent a lot of time in Mexico, likes to try every “Mexican” restaurant he finds in Australia, in large part because almost NONE of them get it right. He’s always curious, and hopeful, that he’ll find one that does, but admits its pretty rare that it happens. This would not be one of the NOT ‘authentic’ ones…. but it is tasty for all that.

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My travel partner and I spent a week at an Airbnb in Nelly Bay, and as there were only a handful of food options in Nelly Bay we did our best to try all that we could, and this was one of them. And like I said, this was one of the ones he was wanting to try … as part of his ‘do they have real Mexican food’ test. To the owner’s credit, she (I think it’s a she) recognizes that Mexican and Tex/Mex are not in fact the same thing, and that’s exemplified by her menu.

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That said, the owners are not actually clear on which is which. Nachos, for instance, while technically created in Mexico, and she has them listed as such …. are not considered to be “authentic” Mexican food; they’re Tex/Mex because they were created AT the Mexico/Texas border for the consumption of Anglos, aka white people. The story is that at a Mexican border-town hotel with a restaurant… back when the border was a lot more porous even than Trump is trying to make it today, the owner, who went by the nickname of “Nacho” … short for Ignatius, had white customers who came in after the kitchen was closed asking for something to eat with their Margaritas. The owner, looked in the kitchen, and threw together a bed of leftover tortilla chips, slopped over them various leftover ingredients, heated it up a bit and served it.

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This is essentially the same way the “Chinese” dishes of Chop suey and Egg foo-young came into being …. dishes which you won’t find in any self-respecting Chinese restaurant in American that caters to the Chinese community rather than serving mostly white customers. I am always amused when I take friends to a REAL Chinese restaurants and they get frustrated that they can’t find either on the menus. All of these dishes are essentially what you do with leftover ingredients … they are not “cuisine.”

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That said, both my friend and I were, in spite of the in-authenticity of the food, happy with our meals. The woman who runs the kitchen can actually cook. My friend ordered a vegetarian burrito. When I asked him how it was, he said, “Very Tasty! But wrapping is crispy, I’ve never had a crispy burrito before” to which I responded,  “OH, that’s because it’s not a burrito, it’s a Chimichanga” which is ALSO Tex/Mex rather than Mexican. It was created in Arizona but there’s a disagreement as to whether it was a restaurant in Phoenix or Tucson that first did it. That said, it’s yet another example of how Man Friday’s Chef knows there is a difference between the Mexican and Tex/Mex, but don’t fully understand what that difference is. (That, and the refried beans weren’t, they were just beans… the way the British might serve them.)

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For my dish, since this sort of Mexican food does NOT meet my food needs because of my fatty liver disease — my liver right now isn’t all that different from human Foie gras — was a negotiated affair of what they had in the kitchen that could meet my needs… and I have to say they did a VERY good job of it. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20fa.jpg

My dinner was a grilled bit of chicken breast, nicely spiced up that was VERY juicy (YAY!!!) with a salad with NO dressing (because that has oil in it) and a little side dish of balsamic vinegar for me to dip my food into. I was happy.

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That said, Man Friday’s is for the most part, out-door seating in a VERY pretty garden. There’s not much space, and even less so in-doors, so make sure to make a reservation, and like with all restaurants on the island, be prepared for a LONG wait between ordering and getting your food. Either snack in advance, or order in advance.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Del’s Restaurant Tucumcari, NM

Del’s Restaurant in Tucumcari New Mexico, which Yelp ranks as one of the top three restaurants in town was kind of a major let down. But in a town with only 27 options, half of which are national chains… well beggars really can’t be choosers.

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Looking at the exterior you’d assume it was a steak place … because cows…

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BUT NO! It’s sort of a Mexican/Southern American combo type place that can’t quite make up its mind what it is….

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other than all the staff have to wear white cowboy hats… Oh and note the upper right corner of the menus… the woman next to me ordered the “light bite” of macaroni and cheese, and it was this MASSIVE plate full of the stuff… and note that there’s NOTHING low-calorie on that list… Light bites in the southwest apparently doesn’t mean what it means everywhere else

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The place has a fairly large gift shop (the room after the tables, AND the check out counter) that sells pretty much all the obligatory goods and not much else.

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and an all you can eat soup and salad bar, where most of the salads are swimming in mayonnaise (welcome to culinary sophistication of the southwest)

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I got my salad (blue cheese on the side) and the mushroom soup (because a waitress told me the bean soup wasn’t very good)…. and then I ordered the grilled salmon. I am pretty sure I was NOT brought salmon… it was fish, and other than it was woefully over cooked it wasn’t bad… but it sure as shit wasn’t salmon… Sockeye salmon possibly… but that’s not Salmon… it’s in the trout family… and to be honest what I was eating tasted more like something in the tuna family than trout.

 

 

Lunch and a tour: Grand Canyon Caverns;Peach Springs, Arizona

Located just off of Route 66 in either Peach Springs Arizona (according to their website) or Seligman, Arizona (according to Google) is a rather unique tourist trap that’s kind of hard to explain because it can’t really make up its mind what it is.

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The first thing you’ll encounter is a gas station/laundromat and gift store that calls itself Radiator Springs and claims to be the inspiration for Pixar Movie of the same name. (I have NOT found any external verification of that claim)

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what I was interested in was NOT the gas station, although it was a little cute, what I had come for was about a mile behind the building, via a private road

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there, above ground, you’ll find a restaurant, motel called the Caverns Inn & RV park, Restaurant and gift-store… but I didn’t take a lot of pictures of that cause it wasn’t what I was there for…

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Read the transcription below

In 1927, Walter Peck, a cowboy and woodcutter was walking through this area on his way to a poker game, when he nearly fell into a hole in the ground. The next morning Peck and his friends returned to the hole with lanterns and ropes. Peck was lowered into the hole. He purchased the property and began making preparations for a gold mining operation. Once the assay reports were completed, he learned that his potential mother load was iron oxide. Peck, being an entrepreneur then began charging 25 cents to lower early travelers and explorers down into the caverns. Today travelers worldwide come to visit these dry caverns

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The offerings, and the elevator you take to get down there… yes it’s an official fallout shelter

What I was there for, were the aforementioned underground caverns… and more specifically, to eat in the underground restaurant and see the motel (but no I did not stay the night, it costs $975/night. Too rich for my tastes.)

 

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The view of the restaurant from the path to it
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A view of the restaurant from my table, I managed to get a booking at the last minute

 

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So there I sat, in the Grand Canyon caverns eating one very expensive grilled chicken sandwich, which was at best, ok… I asked around and pretty much everyone was underwhelmed with their food.

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But, of course what you’re paying for is the view, and the experience

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The view of the cavern from my table, and a group of four people who were touring

I suppose it would have been cheaper if I drank cause you can have 2 glasses of wine, and it comes with all-you-can-eat dessert. But I don’t drink, and I’ve finally managed to lower my blood sugar, and I had places to be later that day… so I must definitely did NOT get my money’s worth in terms of the cost of lunch… in my own opinion. But it was worth doing once… and after lunch came the tour

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At this point we ran into a 2nd family which was doing the more “challenging” tour. They were actually climbing through tunnels in the walls, and we ran into them as they were climbing up through one of these deep gaps. (They were wearing helmets with built-in lamps, like what miners wear.)

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And then we watched them climbing UP a staircase that later in the tour we’d be going down (we would ultimately be going up to that same point, but via a gentle twisting slope so that you barely notice it), … in other words our tour was negotiated so as to limit our level of physical effort, while this other group was being made to do it in the most demanding ways possible

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This is when we got to see the hotel room in the Cavern….

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Two double beds, a bathroom, and a big screen TV, and along side it a stone dog to protect you

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This is a location where they hold weddings, it is up the slope from the hotel room (a little stage and rows of seating; if you look past the stage area you see the big screen TV very clearly, and the wall that it’s held up by is for privacy in the bathroom…

Much Later, after we finally came back DOWN the stairway the others had gone up, (I’m jumping forward, but will cut back after) we were led to the opposite side of this same ‘auditorium’ where we saw these…

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So, back to the tour…. After we first saw the hotel room and the wedding venue, we walked along the path to the Fall-out Shelter storage area of the cavern.

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We walked through the winding paths of the cavern, and came to a low ceiling point where everyone but me had to stoop to pass it… the d

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The mystery room (upper right corner, above) is called as such because fresh air comes into the cave, but scientists have not been able to verify how. They do know it is coming in from there… but not how it’s getting into there… hence the mystery. There are apparently special tours you can take that take like 5 hours, where you can go spelunking into that part of the cave…. but it’s only for serious caving people

Once we got up to the top we began to going down, via a path that took us OVER the stored supplies for the fall-out shelter

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Apparently when they brought in the pallets, they forgot to measure the size of the pallets versus the size of the entrances… and found they had to take all the supplies OFF them, bring them in, then reload them back on to them.

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I particularly loved the giant sloth figure, apparently they found the bones of one in the cave

At the end of the tour, which took a little over an hour …. the Dutch visitors who were in my tour group started telling me how much they loved Trump, and how they’d have voted for them if they were Americans…
no words

 

 

 

 

I stand corrected: There IS good food near Dollywood! PigeonForge, TN

What I now know is that food in Dollywood comes in TWO varieties, 1) quantity over quality, or 2) quality over quantity.

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Mea Culpa back in May of 2016 I visited the Dollywood area for the first time and had nothing but horrible meals. Just recently I visited the town for second time with a friend who is a vegetarian, and as such, opted away from all of the tourist spots that promised massive portions and/or all you can eat options — as none of them were going to be vegetarian friendly, and instead opted for smaller local/places that offered normal sized meals where we cold pick and choose … and to my delight was MUCH happier with everything that was served to us. In fact I found TWO very tasty places in Pigeon Forge, and another down the road in nearby Gatlinburg.

Hidden among the shops right behind the Old Mill restaurant (where I had a TRUELY awful meal during my last stay) is an eatery owned by the same company called the Old Mill Pottery House Cafe & Grille

It’s a MUCH smaller place (easily 1/10th the size of the old Mill), that seems to attract an older crowd (I’m guessing snowbird types who come through town on a semi-regular basis) and locals, and neither I nor my friend were served anything we didn’t enjoy… and the prices are very reasonable. I had the salmon cakes appetizer with a baked sweet potato and Cheese grits, while my friend had the vegetarian sandwich. (Google maps for some reason refuses to load for the cafe, so I’ve loaded the Old Mill instead, but it’s right next door.

Across the street and about a quarter mill from the Old Mill we found a tiny hole in the wall Cuban place embedded in a strip mall called Smokies Cuban Cafe, which was also very tasty, where we could talk to the cook who directed my friend to what he could and could not eat; essentially she warned us that they only had one fryer, and as such all meat and vegetable dishes that were fried, were done so in that same single fryer. My friend, who has been a vegetarian for many years was given a mental heads up by this … having only really lived in places where vegetarians were normative, he’d never thought to ask about that before.

In this case I had the Cuban sandwich, while my friend had black beans and rice and a side of yucca with garlic sauce — the yucca fries being verboten (see above)

Finally, at the next town over, Gatlinburg, we took the suggestion of a shopkeeper and ate our dinner at Loco Burro Fresh Mex Cantina, a two story restaurant hidden above a Jonny Rockets burger joint and two small shops selling tourist junk. Even though it was a bit chilly we opted to sit in the roof top bar so that we could continue to enjoy the night view. I opted for a collection of side dishes: grilled shrimp, guacamole and black beans while my friend opted for a cheese quesadilla and a margarita.