The personal authentic travels of a world-wide drifter, you'll always see pics of me at the locations being described (if the other blogs you're reading don't do that, odds are they were NEVER there, just saying…)
Located on Route 66 in El Reno Oklahoma is a cute little diner called Sid’s, which has been serving up delicious food for over 40 years. Although it doesn’t look like all that much, this restaurant has actually achieved some notoriety on the national level for the quality of it’s cheap eats.
While it takes advantage of their route 66 address, and has been written up in guidebooks as part of a Route 66 road trip, it’s important for authenticity’s sake (I believe) to remember that Sid’s is NOT technically a historic 66 diner. Sid opened the place in 1989, five years AFTER route 66 had already been decommissioned (in ’84).
Their claim to fame, isn’t that, but rather the food… specifically their fried onion burgers, which are considered to be so good that the Food Network listed them as among the top 5 burgers in the whole US of A., and the Travel Channel has listed them as one of the must visit road side diners in the country in the cheap eats catagory.
Their burger (i.e., the regular) consists of a large number of thinly sliced onions that are then smashed into the raw meat so that they merge with it, but as a solid layer– a bit like what happens with hash-browns. The King is just a larger quantity of beef.
I watched them making these, and based on the massive amount of fat involved wasn’t going to even try them (as they were completely off of diet). But as I was asking about the sandwich, they insisted I have at least a taste of one for free. (This is a VERY friendly place.) So they made up one and cut me off 1/4 of it so I could try it. Normally the burger includes a huge gob of mayonnaise, but they-made this one without
The remaining 3/4 were given to this this elderly woman sitting next to me, who was a regular. From what I overheard, she’s apparently in dire economic straits and they’re always adding free add-ons to her meals. I therefore insisted that I pay for the whole of her meal, my 3/4 and everything else she was eating.
As a result they insisted that we have a picture taken together. I have to say she was a very nice lady, very cheerful and upbeat.
Like I noted previously, the “French fries” in this restaurant are still referred to as Freedom Fries. That, and the heavy references to American’s armed forces kind of tells you all you need to know about the politics of this town, and the restaurant’s owner.
This is term that was adopted in 2003, and to this day is still used by the most hardcore Republicans around the country. The renaming (let’s keep in mind that french fries are actually from Belgium and not France) was the idea of a guy who owned a diner in Beaufort, North Carolina by the name of Neal Rowland. This patriotic act was in response to France‘s opposition to America’s proposed invasion of Iraq (which we went ahead and did anyway, without world support). Not long after two Republican politicians picked up the idea and ran with it; the first was Walter B. Jones, who represented Rowland’s district’s in Congress and the second was Bob Ney, a Representative from Ohio who in 2008, was convicted on corruption charges and did jail time — why yes this does make me smile. In 2003, Ney was still the Chairman of the Committee on House Administration, and therefore in charge of managing all the general ‘stuff’ for the members of the house of Representatives. What these “patriots” did was to … as a way of sticking to the French (who are always quick to point out that French Fries are NOT French), insist that the cafeterias that serve politicians in Congress change the name of the fries likewise.
And, why YES, the locals who El Reno did in fact, in majority, vote for Trump.
Located on Route 66 in Oklahoma city, Ann’s Chicken Fry House & Gift Shop is touted on all of the “what to do on route 66” sites as one of the MUST-sees if you want to have that classic 66 experience, and the best Chicken Fried Steak in town. In retrospect, I was really annoyed to discover that the place only opened up in 1971 (i.e, barely a historic 66 restaurant, if at all), and I didn’t really enjoy my meal… NOT worth the calories.
First, Let’s keep in mind, that I-44 was bypassing Route 66 in Oklahoma city as early as 1958, when it was first built to link it to Saint Lewis. In fact the interstate STARTED there, and then worked itself out sideways… That said, HISTORICALLY even though 66 hit its cultural hey-day in the early 1960’s, and wasn’t officially disbanded till 1985, by the late 1960’s/early 1970’s it had essentially been made irrelevant. By the late 1980’s, when I tried driving parts of it, it was sort of an impossible struggle — and it’s revival as a scenic byway (the program officially began in 1991) really didn’t start till 1990. As such, I’m sorry, but for Ann’s place falls right into the years of 66 irrelevance as anything other than highways that people don’t even think of AS highways because of just how many paved roads there now were, and their function eclipse by the expressways. As such, for Ann’s to promote itself as an authentic route 66 business is kind of false advertising. I’m sorry but it is. That, and, to add insult to injury, it isn’t even considered one of Oklahoma city’s better restaurants by any of the locals (seriously, read Yelp, or any of those other sites) … i.e., it’s essentially a MAJOR tourist trap and nothing more.
That said… Be warned, they are a CASH ONLY business… they do NOT accept credit cards. (The mind boggles)…. and they are closed on Sundays and Mondays… Their specialty is supposed to be the chicken fried steak… so that is what I ordered… but I didn’t take any photos of it (it looked like chicken fried steak, and there was nothing impressive about the plating)….
that it was much better than the previous order of the stuff I’d had along the route — And I ate so much chicken fried steak over the few weeks I was doing 66 that when I got back to Chicago my liver numbers had once again spiked.
Chicken Fried Steak is one of my very favorite dishes, so I HAD to try ever one of the places that was advertised as offering the best example of the stuff.
One day someone should count up the number of Route 66 restaurants that tout their Chicken Fried Steak as the best in the city or the best in the state, or the best along the route …. the number of restaurants is probably very high…
but, all said and done, 9 times out of 10 when I’ve eaten it at these places I’ve been seriously let down to discover it is still just a hamburger fried in chicken batter … and RARELY, is it the much tastier and more expensive pounded filet-of-steak — and personally I’m spoiled; I MUCH prefer it when it’s a piece of steak that’s been pounded —- I love how in republican states they will insist that somehow its NOT a hamburger, and will call it ground steak as though somehow that isn’t just hamburger without a bun. And I’m sorry but hamburgers, no matter how good, don’t taste like steak. So NO, I do not really suggest their Chicken Fried Steak.
That said, I DO suggest finding an excuse to go inside the place as the interior is very kitschy and fun. Its one of those place where not only will they allow you to write on the walls…. they’ll even hand you the pen
That and, according to the owner, her husband (R.I.P.) had been kind a huge Star Wars fan, hence all the high-priced paraphernalia of the sort I’ve always lusted over but would never purchase because … “where would I put it?” … well I guess if you own a kitschy tourist trap restaurant… you can legally deduct it as a business expense.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Meadowlark Restaurant is located on the outskirts of Dayton Ohio, pretty much in its suburbs… and is so impressively good that it’s almost worth the trip. And because it is in a relatively small city the prices are utterly reasonable; were it in places like Chicago or New York they could charge double or triple what they can in a town like Dayton.
(Barely took any photos while here, sorry)
This place ROCKS…and I’m not the only one who thinks so; pretty much ever one of the customer driven review sites gives this place between 4 or 5 stars. Appetizers are around $6-8 each and mains were around $20-$30, so for what it is, amazingly affordable. It is a farm-to-table chef-driven restaurant, i.e., fresh ingredients picked at the height of ripeness at nearby farms, cooked by an honest to goodness chef… I am sorry to say that I forgot to take photos of our appetizers.
I ordered a watermelon Gazpacho with peanuts, mint and a Fried Pork rinds garnish (which I asked them to NOT include) that was good enough that my travel buddy enjoyed it even though he is NO fan of watermelon… While my friend ordered the Shishito Pepper Hushpuppies with pimento cheese (which were deep-fried so not allowed on my diet) which he said were AMAZING… although not quite as good as my soup
For Dinner I ordered blackened catfish with sweet corn butter and “hambalya” which was really really good (I had recently passed my liver blood test with flying colors, and was expanding my diet a bit to include fish dishes cooked as the chef intended… but still steering clear of anything fried.
My friend, who is vegetarian, had the Ricotta&Goat cheese Tacos with Green Chiles in fresh corn Tortillas, topped with Capers and Spicy Tomatoes and served with a dressed cabbage and radish counterpart along with Lemon-scallion rice and creamy, smoky pinto beans ($22), which he also said was more than worth the price — he is not one for pricy restaurants.
For dessert we ordered the Homemade Pecan Pie Ice Cream with pie crust crumbles, which was as good as it sounds.
Route 66 has two endpoints: one is in downtown Chicago, which many people think of as ‘the start’ of the route (because of the order in the “get your kicks on Route 66”, song), while the other is (currently) at the Santa Monica Pier, just west of Downtown Los Angeles, which is where I started my trip. In Chicago route 66 is a little complicated as it exists on two one way streets, Adams, which travels west, and Jackson, which travels east. SINCE most people take 66 going west, that’s where you’ll find most of the signs…
Because Chicago is home and I’ve pretty much walked or driven most of these roads at one time or another without realizing they ARE 66, I have to admit that once I did, I opted to fudge it a bit once I passed Dell Rheas’s Chicken basket in Willowbrook IL (a town I’ve only ever passed by while driving on I-55) and felt that I had for all intents and purposes I had finished the route on the 24th of October. (I admit this is largely because I knew the neighborhoods I would be passing through… knew most of them to HIGHLY unsafe ones with nasty traffic. When I go downtown I stick to safe routes and park my car in safe areas.)
So for instance, the above are some photos of me in 2001 having dinner with friends at what was then arguably the best Greek Restaurant in Chicago’s GreekTown (on Halstead between Adams and Jackson … i.e., 66) the now closed Roditites Greek Restaurant, which used to be one of my favorite go to’s (it was open for 45 years). (All of the old Greektown classic restaurants seem to be closing, I think the children weren’t interested in taking over the businesses)but on the 31st of October I had business I had to deal with downtown, and as such took the opportunity to finish my 66 trek (only this time on foot, cause driving into the city is NUTS). I was staying at my friend’s home in Northbrook, and took the Metra Train from North Glenview station to Union Station, which is also located between Adams and Jackson (again, both are Route 66, it just depends on which direction you’re going) with exits to either street. Ironically, I have only ever been in this station once before. The Metra train line adjacent to my parents home went to a different station, the Ogilvie Center, a few blocks north. Unlike that station, which only services local lines, this station is where you go in Chicago if you’re taking an Amtrak line. As such, the only other time I was ever here was when I took the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco back when I was in my late 20’s.The odds are you’ve seen this station before, even if you’ve never been to Chicago, as it’s been used more than few times in movies. The list includes Public Enemies (with Jonny Depp), My Best Friend’s Wedding (with Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz and Rupert Everett), Man of Steel (one of the Superman movies), Derailed, and most prominently in the movie The Untouchables, about Al Capone (Robert De Niro) and Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) … with a scene steeling Oscar worthy supporting performance from Sean Connery… which had a LOT of Chicago locations in it.
From the station I went straight to my 11am appointment, and then double backed to have lunch at Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant & Bakery (click link for my blog post about it), which is located a half block west of Union Station, and is probably the only historic Route 66 eatery to be in the Michelin guide. After lunch I walked back east, along Adams (Route 66 west bound) past Union station and to the Chicago River which forms the station’s eastern boundary.
If you ever come to Chicago I strongly suggest taking one of our Water Taxi’s from Union Station (i.e, Route 66) to Navy Pier (the Orange line on the map above) which travels to where the Chicago River meets Lake Michigan… that said I’m about to go a bit off topic, but really… you have GOT to try the water Taxis
While at Navy pier, before switching to the next Taxi, you might want to go up on the Ferris Wheel (which is sometimes referred to as the Chicago Wheel, as it actually served as an attraction back in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition, i.e., the White City, which was held along the lake on Chicago South’s side) which offers some great views of the city
but then make sure to take the Water Taxi that travels from the pier via Lake Michigan to Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum, even if you don’t want to go to the Museums.
The skyscraper on the left is the Big Willy (see below), the one in the middle is the Standard Oil building — no self-respecting Chicagoan refers to it as the Aon center and if you asked them where the Aon center was I doubt they’d know, and one to the right is the John Hancock (where I used to work back when I was in my 20’s)….. again, NO ONE calls it 875 North Michigan Avenue. Apparently the John Hancock building, the corporate headquarters for the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co, at around 2013 ceased to be their headquarters, and just a few months ago the name got changed to its address. The pics above were from when I did this back in 2013 when my friend, who I knew from when I was teaching in S. Korea, came to visit during a summer break.
But I digress… returning to Route 66….
From there I continued my trek down Adams (the west bound 66). The above picture is looking west down the street, across the bridge I had just passed over… and, the ‘small’ white building just above the black van is Union station.
Again, this photo is looking west. The sky scraper in the distance is the same one shown in the picture from the Water Taxi. Which I referred to as “The big Willy.” It was originally called the Sears Tower (my best friend from high-school has worked there for almost 15 years), and when first built in 1973 (I remember it going up) it was the tallest building in the world. But Sears then sold it to Willis Insurance in 2009, who renamed it as The Willis Tower. Many Chicagoans to this day absolutely refuse to use that name, but I, personally, LOVE IT… because it allows me to call it “the big Willy” (Willy being a British slang word for penis) and just how great is that?! The GORGEOUS historic building in the foreground of the picture is the SIDE entrance (if you can believe it) of the Rookery Building, which designed by deeply important architectural firm of Burnham and Root in 1888. If you have ever read the best-selling novel The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, about the Chicago world’s fair, you know who they are. I didn’t take any pictures inside, but the lobby was design by Frank Loyd Wright. If you’re an architecture enthusiast you will LOVE Chicago.
Another thing Chicago is famous for, one of which is visible on Route 66, is our collection of public art. The above is Alexander Calder‘s Flamingo (sculpture). I remember when it was first unveiled in 1974, none of us could make heads or tails of what it was… but it’s pretty.
After this I pit stopped off at the historic Berghoff Restaurant (click the link for a fully review of the place) for a mug of their root beer (they brew it themselves). For some reason this iconic German restaurant which is a landmark of downtown Chicago, its been there since 1898… is NOT in the Michelin guide… shrug?… I remember the first time my mom took me here, I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old. If you look at the image above, and look down the street between the tall building you’ll see the roof of the Art Institute of Chicago, which is not only one of the FINEST art museums in the world, it’s also my Alma Mater. If you love German food, EAT HERE, this place has been rocking my socks off my whole life… if you don’t… at least try the root beer and look around, the interior is just amazing to look at and reeks of Chicago history (photos and murals of Chicago Exposition line the walls)
AND THIS is also a route 66 establishment — and I never realized it was that until this trip. Did I mention I have been eaten here my whole life.
If you look carefully at the building, you’ll see how the sign above… which I’ve never seen before, and keep in mind the roman looking building is Art Institute of Chicago, were I went to school for four years….. and this one below are on either end of the same city block…
Located on Historic Route 66 adjacent to I-55 in Willowbrook, IL, Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket opened in the late 1920’s as a lunch counter in gas station.
As the story goes, in 1938 two women who ran a chicken farm overheard the owner, Ervin ‘Irv’ Kolarik, complaining about how much he hated running the gas station part of business and wished he could just run the food counter. They promised to share their secret chicken recipe with him on condition he bought his chicken from them. The chicken was so popular that by the mid 40’s it was clear he needed a bigger place and in 1946 he opened a restaurant adjacent to the gas station.
One of the cute things that happened was it was the birthday of one of the customers and the whole staff came out to sing her happy birthday, only they clucked the words … as in made chicken noises instead of singing the words
This is one of those places that has been a chicago are institution but I have never been because this is not a part of town I’d normally go to. As such, the odds of me being here again were equally low, so I had to try their specialty, the fried chicken. That said… The chicken was very good… but I’ve had better … the fried chicken at Disneyland’s Plaza Inn was in fact MUCH better. So I’m not in fact sure it was worth the damage to my diet (and in fact when I got back to Chicago I failed my blood test… my liver numbers had jumped again).
My waitress was an obese middle-aged woman with the smile planted firmly on her face who was scurrying around the place checking on everyone regularly, Really friendly and asking all the right questions without being overly in your face about it…all while limping really badly with a sort of waddling walk. At the end of the meal I asked her what was wrong with her leg and she said it wasn’t her leg it was her back and by the end of the day she was in a lot of back pain. To which I exclaimed, “And you waitress?!!!” That woman deserves a reward… I gave her a $20 tip on my $18 bill.
Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant & Bakery located just outside of the loop in Chicago Illinois, is probably the only historic Route 66 eatery to be in the Michelin guide (here’s the link)
In spite of this being a Chicago institution, I think this is probably my very first time eating at Lou Mitchell’s. This is ironic, considering that I was born and raised in the northern suburbs and got my undergraduate degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which is about a 10 minute walk away.
The most likely reason for this is that Lou Mitchell’s only does breakfast and lunch and my family usually came downtown in the evenings, and I ate my lunches during college either in the school cafeteria or at any of the restaurants within a block or two of school.
I got the apple and cheddar omelette because I’ve never had one before… which was served with Greek toast (toast made using greek style bread with sesame seeds on it). The omelette is ridiculously fluffy… it’s good.. but would have been better with a much sharper cheddar, and maybe folding the apples INTO the omelette rather than topping it… and I think raw crispy apples that were tart would have been better than cooked
That said there was clear Route 66 theme to the restaurant, with all the 66 branded stuff being specific to the restaurant rather than any of that hopeless generic stuff.
A lot of my friends boycott this chain, due to their stand on LGBT rights… because the owners donate VAST sums to lobbying groups that try to keep same-sex marriage illegal and members of the LGBT community oppressed… as someone who rejects single issue politics, I tend to be a bit ‘flexible’ in how I look at this business. That said, I can’t discuss this chain without addressing the problem.
Let’s be clear…I strongly disagree with Chick-fil-A’s politics regarding LGBT issues, but at the same time I do respect them for their general lack of hypocrisy with regards to their interpretation of what it means to be a good Christian. What a lot of people don’t realize is that Americans eat more chicken on Sundays then they do any other day of the week. That said, Chick-fil-A, whose main product is chicken, is closed on Sundays… ALL of them without exception. Even if they are located in malls. The company in effect is choosing to lose $1.019 billion+ per year rather than go against their religious beliefs — and that amount is only the cost of being closed one day out of the week, it does not take into account the BUMP that comes from most Americans consuming more chicken on Sundays. Ergo, for a food chain whose main product is chicken to choose to be closed on a Sunday because that’s God‘s day –a day when they believe their workers should be at home with their families or at church, THAT is really putting your money where your mouth is …. although, that said… others have argued that being closed one day a week is part of WHY the chain is so profitable.
And their adherence does not end there…. for instance, just a few weeks ago, I went in to one in Strongsville, Ohio in order to get a cup of coffee (I REALLY needed some caffeine, the only coffee at the adjacent Costco was full of carbs I didn’t need… and I couldn’t spot a McDonald’s). When I walked in the door this store had hired a girl with a serious case of downs syndrome to open doors for customers (clearly they made work for her so she could have the self-respect that comes from making your own money and having a purpose). Then, when the manager discovered that I was only there for a cup of coffee he gave it to me for free. This is NOT in any way unusual to my experience for Chick-fil-A outlets, in fact its more likely than not.
Truett Cathy, the company founder (memorialized in the sculpture above), and his brother opened a diner at this location, in 1946 and called it The Dwarf Grill because of the little red door in the picture above. The Diner was later renamed the dwarf house, but of course this was back before it was highly politically incorrect to call little people Dwarfs because of their Dwarfism.
Apparently he then had the idea to open a smaller version of the diner (apparently without his brother) that just sold his popular chicken sandwich at a mall (this was well before food courts existed in malls, and the idea was therefore radical) … and thus the chain began
The Cozy Dog in Springfield, Illinois, is one of the iconic locations on Route 66, and is the first restaurant owned by the inventor of the Corn Dog.
As this place closes fairly late (by rural America standards), when I arrived in town first I went to the hotel and checked in, and then I came by here to check it out
From the sign its clear that this place USED to be a Drive-in, it’s not any more. At best, it has a small drive through window along the side but I didn’t see many people using it.
Since all the reviews I had read where going on and on about how this was the best corn dog they’d ever had, I had to try it. Based on the sheer speed it was handed to me, it was NOT made to order, although it was still warm and very crispy on the outside
Was it a good corn dog, sure… was it so much better than any other corn dog that I’ve ever had that I absolutely had to try it … no, not really.
The next day, since I was going to be staying in Springfield for a few nights, I went back to get daytime shots. There must have been some sort of antique car club meeting there because the cars were so pretty
The Cozy dog was the first place I’ve seen so far to have TWO of these Illinois route 66 maps, The tall one, which is two sided — back is the bottom right image, was adjacent to the road, while the small one (upper right) was standing just by restaurant’s front door
The weather had gone from overcast and rainy the night before to clear blue skies and a windstorm… 20 mile per hour winds with 40 mile per hour gusts… and those gusts of were making it very difficult for me to set up my iPhone, walk away, and then use my apple watch’s camera app to trigger the shots before a gust blew the camera over.
According to the guy who owns and runs this place, who I got to talk to, this is the restaurant that invented the idea of the drive-through window. It is in what was originally the caboose of a train where they took the wheels off.
The caboose was built in 1881, The building has been here since 1919 and it had a gas station in the front originally. It was registered as a business in 1924 which is when the tax system came into tax businesses. They’ve been selling loose meat sandwiches since 1919, and from the beginning the layout was as it is now, with sandwiches either being sold direct from the kitchen through the side window, or to customers at the bar. (Later, they expanded sideways and added more indoor seating.) Remember how on the Rosanne TV show, how her shop sold a loose meat sandwich… the Conners live in the mythical town of Lanford IL, which is supposed to be somewhere around here. This is the first place I have ever been to that had it. So of course I had to try it, it is not a sloppy Joe it’s different, they call it a sloppy Joe with no sauce. It was homemade pie, their maid-rite sandwich (loose meat), and homemade root beer which they still make.
Now that I’m not in the building anymore it was not very tasty. The root beer was VERY good, but the loose meat…. the primary flavor was salt with a second flavor underneath it that I could not quite identify… it was some sort of spice. The guy as a hint said the woman who invented it was originally from Hungary, and that no it was not paprika, but the taste was really familiar I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I timed it right because they were closing up just as I was getting ready to leave