Clanton’s Cafe, Vinita, OK

Clanton’s cafe on Route 66 in Vinita was one of the places I had marked as MUST try their foods… and I even planned my day to arrive there around dinner time… only to find it was closed!

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Clanton’s was one of the restaurants along the trek I was really looking forward to trying. This place has no shortage of accolades from TV and magazines, not to mention getting almost 5 stars on TripAdvisor and 4 on yelp. AND they’re supposed to have the best Chicken Fried Steak on Route 66, which is one of my favorite dishes

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But MY good luck, between me planning my trip and arriving there, they’d posted NEW hours which include being closed on Sundays. So

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Grand Canyon, South Rim, Arizona

It’s the Grand Canyon, South Rim… it’s a classic! Rather than drive here, however, I took the train ride from Williams, AZ (on Route 66) where I was spending the night.

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To be honest, the three hours the Train service allowed me was ENOUGH, in large part because my pinky toe on my right foot was seriously unhappy with me (I had sprained it and rather than let it rest and keeping it elevated, I had been driving cross-country and doing a load of walking.) As such, rather than walk I first took the shuttle bus for invalids (organized by the train company) from the train to

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I LOVE the fact that an old-fashioned station wagon drove up just then, haven’t seen one of those since the 1970’s

El Tovar.. in order to get some lunch, and to see it because … HARVEY HOUSE!!!

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On the train I had asked the girl to suggest which of the restaurants had the best food, and she said the main restaurant at the El Tovar for sure… but I had done so much snacking on the way over that, while looking over their lunch menu, I found I wasn’t actually all that hungry, so I opted for the Onion Soup

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It was VERY good (definitely a cut above the average), and every person I spoke to at the surrounding tables was also extremely happy with their food. Let’s face it, you don’t expect food at restaurants like this actually be good, especially when the food prices are relatively reasonable. (You’re paying for the location, ambiance and view).IMG_0588

That said, the room is also quite spectacular…. both its interior and decorations,

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And of course if you’re very lucky (I wasn’t) you’ll be placed next to a widow with an amazing view.

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The bottom right image was from my table… I was WAY in the back but that said, ….Heh, my table was RIGHT next to the electric plug and my iPhone’s battery was down to 20% after the train ride.

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A bar, that also has a wonderful view

I wandered around the building a bit afterwards, cause it was gorgeous (and a Hardy House that had been kept authentic over time)… ‘

IMG_0597Directly adjacent to the El Tovar is Hopi House, which is also a historic landmark, that is used as store for mostly high-end Native American goods. It was designed by Mary Colter, the same woman who designed almost all of the Harvey Houses. IMG_0598IMG_8096IMG_0601After checking it out, I went to look at the rim…. pictures don’t do it justice, there’s something unreal about it.IMG_8107.jpgThat said, I was in AWE of how clear the view was. I kept saying to people, “do you realize that a few years ago you wouldn’t have seen this? That there was a horrible haze mucking it up? That its only because of the Clean air act, and the recent closing of some near by coal-burning power stations that you can see this so clearly” Apparently nobody did… Not only that but some Trump supporters actually started yelling at me (I’m shitting you not.)IMG_0602IMG_8114.jpg

IMG_8119.jpgMy weather karma is continuing— like I said it was supposed to be raining today…

IMG_8129IMG_0606IMG_0605IMG_8216At the other end of the part of the southern rim that I had walked along, is the Bright Angel Lodge which was also designed by Mary Colter, and this one has a very famous fireplace (that the one behind me in the images below)…. which again has amazing views at its restaurant… only the girl on the train told me the food isn’t quite as good.

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Adjacent to it is an ice-cream place that also serves sandwiches, and pretzels and snacks (all the food you’d eat while standing outside)… although while I was there mostly all people were buying was the ice cream.

IMG_0604 As they warned us on the train, there’s a HUGE fine, like $500 if they catch you feeding a squirrel… and that they will try to steal your food if you don’t watch out… what they neglected to mention is the little buggers bite, and will infect you with the plague!!!!

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After this I took an un-scenic shortcut back to the train station, because it was about time to go back to Williams, and if you miss the train you’re kind of screwed.

The Big Texan Steak Ranch & Brewery; Amarillo Texas

Falling into my “big things” category, but not for the usual reasons…. This restaurant is sort of famous in the US (really, how many restaurants that aren’t major chains warrant a Wikipedia page?), not because the food is so amazing — it’s good, but I wasn’t deeply impressed (and even sent back the first dish)… but more for being an impressive tourist trap. In the vein of “everything is bigger in Texas” this place challenges the consumer to snarf down a HUGE 72 oz steak, a bread roll with butter, a side salad, and a fried shrimp appetizer in under an hour.

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IF the customer can, then the meal is free, if they can’t, it costs $72 (the other large steaks cost slightly over $1 an oz, so still a discount); and the challenge comes with a very specific set of rules.

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This is what a 72oz slab of steak looks like

As this was the question asked most by my Facebook friends…. According to the Wikipedia page: The challenge began in 1960 and “as of February 2018, over 9,500 people out of about 62,000 have accomplished this feat”… so in about 58 years, about 1,070 people try a year…

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That’s me, eating the steak

According to the manager I spoke with, HE said they average about 35 challenges a week — which sort of jives with my math (20 people a week) if you figure it took some time for the word to spread and with the number of people stepping forth to try it escalating over time.

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Note the date: this article is from 2007, so if true, 1,500 have done it in the last 10+ years

That said the restaurant has evolved over the years from just being a restaurant to being a “road side attraction”… aka tourist trap

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It property comes complete with its own Motel (and sufficient parking for Trucks and RV’s)IMG_0333

I arrived on a Saturday night and the poor girl who meets you at the front door essentially has the job of standing there and saying “It’ll be a 15 to 20 minute wait” while handing out buzzers… almost once every 30 seconds….

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for folks who show up single there’s a bar in the waiting area which gets very little traffic, where you can sit almost immediately (I didn’t take a picture of it, but it’s fairly long and there at least 10 spots held for solo eaters that I could have sat at, had I wanted to). This is because waiting sections of the place are HUGE and diverting. There’s a massive gift that is as big as if that were their sole business…. and stuffed to the brims

IMG_0336IMG_0337I was tempted by this … but where would I  put it? (This sign is particularly funny in Amarillo as they’ve NOT marked where 66 is… they sort of designated one area of town to 66 but it doesn’t seem to link to the rest of the road in any meaningful way, and almost feels arbitrary and resurrected for the tourists, unlike in say LA or Albuquerque, where the are actually roads that link to form a whole)

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AND there’s a gaming area with a shooting gallery for the kids/families AND gaming machines (see right side of image) for the adults

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Behind THAT there’s a section with tables for people who just want to sit with a drink and talk while waiting, but on a Saturday night it was pretty empty

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And behind that is the hallway to the bathrooms, which was lined with those moving pictures that change based on where you’re standing… all of which were historic portraits that changed into horrific images…. these sorts of things…. which kept me and a few other people entertained for a good 10 minutes as we decided which were the worst (and which could be purchased at the gift-shop). I.e., the “customer holding pen” is designed to separate you from your money, is almost as big as the eating room (which is two stories), and I’d bet is probably more profitable.

Only then do you enter the main eating area…

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Note the desert table at the bottom left

It is two stories high (happily I didn’t have to climb stairs), and is (I believe) set up so that anyone taking the challenge is sat in the central area and becomes part of the attraction; they are not only observable by most of the other customers.

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One of the things I noticed was how WHITE the room was…

But there’s a clock located below the massive cow-head, that can accommodate up to six competitors at once. But, no one was competing when I was there, which is why I think they have these guys walking around entertaining the guests (sort of a country western Tex/Mex nod to the Hispanic tradition)

 

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I arrived at the restaurant having not eaten all day… other than a cup of coffee. So I was pretty hungry. I consulted with the various guests around me, and one of them … who was eating Chicken fried steak convinced me to order that. It is very much NOT on my allowed diet (both steak and fried) but its one of my very favorite things. I ordered it with the vegetable soup and baked sweet potato (sweet potatoes are MUCH MUCH MUCH healthier than normal ones, and are even diabetic acceptable). I was also drawn to try the baby-back-ribs, which this place sells in a sampler menu of three as an appetizer.

The ribs were tasty … although, as I explained to the people next to me when they asked, “I’m Jewish”… they went quite for a second and then broke into laughter… “so really, I think they’re tasty but in 50 odd years it’s only like my 3rd time eating them.” The guy next to me asked if the meat was falling off the bone, which it was… and was it tasty, which it was… so he declared that meant they were good.

The soup was a bit thin… it was watery sort of soup with mushrooms and potatoes and other veggies in it, with a little bit of a kick (spice). But it was good, and since it had been a cold rainy day and my nose was running a bit, it was satisfying.

Then the “star” of the meal, my Chicken fried steak with white sauce, which is how they do it in Texas. (It was very pretty, but I didn’t take a picture of it, sorry.) I had my first bite and…. BLECH!!!! Firstly, it was neither cubed steak nor an actual fillet (which is how I prefer it), it was hamburger … and FATTY hamburger at that… and pretty much ALL I could taste in my mouth was a mouthful of fat. BLECH! I pushed it to the side and continued to eat my soup, with an intention of then starting on my sweet potato.

After a while a waiter finally came by (wasn’t impressed with the wait staff’s attentiveness) with an obligatory “how’s everything” which wasn’t genuine and I could tell he assumed would be “ok” only to be shocked when I pointed to the now cold plate of chicken fried steak… that was pushed to the far side of the table… which he REALLY should have noticed if he were any good at his job… and said, “I don’t like that.”

He went, and got the manager, who asked why I hadn’t like it… so I described my diet and how Chicken fried Steak is really one of my favorite foods, but that this one wasn’t good enough to justify breaking the diet… so he then suggest I order the grilled Salmon instead, which I did. And, unlike the day before when I had ordered salmon and got served trout… today it was actually salmon, and a fairly large slab of it.

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It was well cooked (by US standards), but firm but not dry… and sort of heavily spiced with spices I’d normally reserve for steak. But, by the time it had arrived I’d had 3 ribs, a cup of soup, a piece of Texas toast and 3 bread rolls… so I ended up packing up it and the sweet potato to have for lunch the next day (I had booked in a rest day from my travels, which a forecast of really lousy weather ensured I’d take…)

That said…If you’re hungry but not THAT hungry, they also offer 12, 18, 24 and 36 oz steaks (see menu), which is what the owner originally was selling and referred to as his “Texas sized steaks”, before coming up with the challenge. Oh and if that weren’t enough…

Then, as you’re leaving you are forced to walk past this gauntlet, A a gelato, fresh fudge and pastries stand…

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….even though this is technically in the front area right by the entrance to the restaurant area, I noticed most people bought from it just as they were leaving the store… to take home for later (so that your full stomach shouldn’t be the master of your eyes… which is kind of brilliant if you think about it from a marketing perspective)

https://www.google.com/maps/place/The+Big+Texan+Steak+Ranch+%26+Brewery/@35.193658,-101.755103,15z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x47059aec958d9814!8m2!3d35.193658!4d-101.755103

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.

 

 

Getting your kicks on route 66, the greater LA area edition

I have begun my route 66 road trip!!! Only, I’m doing it backwards from California rather than starting in chicago like the song does.

Rather than beginning it on the Santa Monica Pier, which is where the powers that be want you to begin, I started my trek on the 2nd historic beginning of the route (the furthest end point). Namely, I started on the corner of Lincoln and Olympic Blvd — adjacent to the freeway, and a walking distance from the pier. That said, I could not find any markers there…. (I THINK there may be two Lincolns and Olympics, one on either side of the freeway, with Lincoln being one way on each side… the sign MAY have been on the other side.)

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That said, the ORIGINAL ending point didn’t make it past the corner of 7th and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. It only extended to Santa Monica as the greater LA area grew, with Santa Monica being a desirable location to live and downtown LA degenerating into a massive skid row (There are over 60,000 homeless living in LA county, and they’ve created a tent city in downtown LA takes over 50 square blocks, HUGE! With only nine toilets per 2,000 people…. If you’ve never seen it, I suggest watching this video)

This is clearly NOT what tourism officials want tourists focusing on… So Santa Monica is a MUCH nicer start….  I made my way to the Pier in order to get the “tourist” aspect

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This couple from Germany was just finishing up their Route 66 trip, and were strongly advising this book to me, which this shop called 66-To-Cali had for sale… I gave it a look. I think it’s more useful if you have TWO people and one person can follow the book giving directions to the driver. So, not so good for me. I HAD wanted to buy the California 66 end of the trail T-shirt but they run VERY SMALL and they didn’t have one my size.

A video I took while there

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Then I started the drive, stopping to take snaps of various “Historic 66” signs along the way…

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14th & Santa Monica Blvd, in Santa Monica
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S. Carmalina Ave & Santa Monica Blvd in LA
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Cafe 50’s on Santa Monica Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66 in LA

Then I hit, BEVERLY HILLS!!!!

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Santa Monica Blvd and Wilshire Blvd, in Beverly Hills
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Church of the Good Shepherd/W. Historic Rt 66, Beverly Hills
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“In Beverly Hills? Rodeo Drive BABY!” — Pretty Woman

Me in front of Beverly Hills Building & Safety/Police Building… and a picture of the nice Japanese couple who took the picture for me

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On W. Historic Rt 66, Beverly Hills

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Maple Drive & Santa Monica Blvd in Beverly Hills
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various locations on Santa Monica Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66, West Hollywood
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Santa Monica Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66, West Hollywood
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Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood (two ends of the same block)
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Alvarado & Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
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Sunset Blvd, crossing the bridge over Arroyo Seco Parkway, in Los Angeles (near Dodgers Stadium)

So far for the MOST part I managed to stay on the road with one hick-up when approaching Pasadena where I got off the Arroyo Seco Parkway (110/66) too early…. which is sad because it turns right into Route 66 at its end.

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I had used Google maps to chart out 66, then found landmark addresses (some of them just being local business of no import) and plugged them in … problem is I think I ultimately plugged it into my GPS system wrong because of two very similarly named roads (Blvd vs St. vs Rd type issues).

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U.S. Post office on E. Colorado Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66 in Pasadena
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Near the corner of E. Colorado Blvd and S. Lake Ave in ‎⁨Pasadena

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The view of the mountains north of Pasadena from E. Colorado Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66 near N. Hill Ave

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Saga Motor Hotel, E. Colorado Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66, Pasadena
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E. Colorado Blvd, just past Madre Street
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E Colorado Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66, Pasadena,

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This sign was on E. Colorado Blvd Arcadia, in front of Coco’s Bakery Restaurant (I used their rest room)

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Entrance to the Santa Anita Race Track on Colorado Pl/W. Historic Rt 66, Arcadia
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E. Huntington Drive and 1st Ave, Arcadia
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Huntington Drive and 2nd Ave in Arcadia, a Railroad bridge
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W. Huntington Ave & S. Mayflower Ave in Monrovia

There’s a Costco directly on route 66, 1220 W Foothill Blvd, Azusa, CA ….got a love it, of course I filled up on gas, used the bathroom, etc.

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890 E Alosta Ave, Azusa
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1832 E Rte 66, Glendora
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E Rte 66 & Amelia Ave, Glendora

At this point it was getting dark, and my stop for the night was at the historic Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino — see the blog post about that — which is family owned and if you don’t get there by 8pm you need to call and tell them or they’ll give away your room, and you’re expected to show up at a decent hour… so I stopped taking photos and just drove the next 40 minutes with no stops

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And then, after I checked in, I went to get my dinner in San Bernardino was a place that had the most reviews/highest— it was an all day breakfast with dinner till 10pm. Everything I had tasted homemade —Corky’s Open 24 Hrs Rialto, CA

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One warning… including stops it took 6.5 hours to drive from Santa Monica to San Bernardino … I was expecting it to be 4 hours, i.e., WAY longer than I thought it would, or google said it would take, to get from Santa Monica to San Bernardino

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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).

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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.

Wagon Wheel Restaurant and gift shop in Needles, CA

The food at the Wagon Wheel is ok, large varied menu … you might like it, you might not… but oh my LORD get the homemade Pies!!!!

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I arrived in Needles at around 8pm (sunset was 7). I ordered a cup of the Navy bean soup and it tasted odd/wrong so she took it away… the guy next to me had ordered the pot roast skillet, and had not only sent back his dinner but had warned me against ordering it (Truck driver) … but I was seriously hungry and too tired after a long day of driving to go looking for someplace else to eat (this place had by far the highest ratings in town)….  All the yelp reviews said “get the pie” so I did… SO GOOD!!! Very low sweet so you could really appreciate the baked fruits… flakey savory crust…. The first time I went I had the apple caramel … and it was SO amazing (and more about the fruit than about the sugar) that I followed it up with a slice of the blueberry which again was all about the fruit (arguably one of the best blueberry pies I’ve ever had).. she said there’s one woman who bakes their pies— this woman needs an award….

The next day I was backtracking on 66 to see the road I had missed because it got too dark to drive it safely anymore, essentially discretion had forced me back onto the freeway till I got to my hotel for the night (The Ramada in Kingman, AZ) and stopped at the Wagon Wheel again… this time I didn’t bother with “food” I just got pie. I got the apple (again, for a late night snake… it keeps well unrefrigerated) and also got a slice of the homemade cheesecake and a slice of flan with a brownie crust (OH MY GOD that was AMAZING!!!)

I’m sorry I didn’t take photos of the pies, I just ate them. Plenty on Trip advisor

Harris Ranch; Coalinga, California

San Francisco really isn’t a steak town. Having grown up in Chicago, which IS, the whole time I was living in SF I kept wondering where a girl had to go to get a decent one (seriously in SF you pay a lot for very little when it comes to steak). That place as it turned out, was — according to all my friends — Harris Ranch, an actual cattle ranch (and the largest one on American’s west coast) about halfway between SF and LA off of California Route 5, that is also a store, a hotel, and a gas station.

IMG_5540.jpgThe thing that first strikes you any time you drive past Harris Ranch is that it’s something of an oasis in the desert. IMG_5542

The owners really have built something very grand out here in the middle of not very much, and I often wondered what the cost of it was in terms of their water bill.IMG_0444This is particularly true during the summers when California is traditionally completely dry (seriously, for those who don’t know, it is HIGHLY abnormal for California to get any rain during the summer months), and this is especially true these last few years which have been a growing drought; the greenness of the place really shocks your eyes.

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That said, all along the way I kept seeing signs alongside the road saying things like, “is water wasted when it’s used to grow food?” And “This dust bowl courtesy of the federal government.” There’s apparently a political war going on between the conservationists, the farmers with regards to the water issue… but I don’t have the time or energy to delve into it here. (It’s important to remember that while the cities of California vote mostly democratic, the rural farm areas, such as where Harris Ranch is located tend to vote Republican.

IMG_5539That said, Harris Ranch clearly understand who their customer base is…. namely the rich customers who commute between SF and LA, some of whom are willing to put their money where their mouths are in terms of their concern for the environment by buying insanely expensive electric cars.IMG_0436

That said, there’s something new at Harris which wasn’t there last time I visited… a BBQ option at cheaper prices being sold out of the gas station part of the place.

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Plus a selection of their steaks to go again, from the gas station’s mini-mart. IMG_0445If however you go to the main building (a really gorgeous hacienda type building), you’ll find not only a much bigger gift shop, but a butcher shop section in the gift store that’s about twice as big as what’s in the gas station — with more cut options, sausages, etc.

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In this building there are also three different restaurants. The first is a bar, which offers up alcohol and slightly cheaper cuts of meat.

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The 2nd is a family style restaurant, which is walk in, but again with the slightly cheaper cuts of meat, and a wider menu (to appeal to families) with kids, etc., where you can buy things ‘ala carte

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And then the third option is their high-end restaurant, which normally requires reservations, has only their best cuts of meat, and the main comes with a selection of sides, a soup, etc. (NOT ala carte).

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THIS is where I opted to eat, because in addition to better cuts of meat, which I wasn’t going to eat, it had a wider sea food selection. I got a bowl of gazpacho

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For my drink I had their watermelon iced tea, and then for my main I ordered their scallops dish, which is intended to go ON TOP of the steak… and their vegetable platter.

The Soup was very good… and then I waited 45 minutes for my mains to show up. Finally (when my iPhone’s battery was starting to fail) I called over a waiter and asked “how many hours am I going to have to wait for my main dish?” The waitress who had taken my order over heard, ran over, apologized and then told me it was all her fault, she’d forgotten to put the order in. Her manager then came over said they’d have my food out in a jiffy, and that my bill was on them…. SO they screwed up big time, but as the food was free, I can’t complain too much…

That said, I was pretty unimpressed with everything I ate… So Harris, is great for the steaks but seems to have to get its act together otherwise.

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Apparently they also breed horses

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Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse & Lounge: Paxton, Nebraska

Located just off of Interstate-80, Ole’s big Game Steakhouse and Lounge,  is a taxidermist’s heaven with over 200 big game trophies that has been Paxton, Nebraska institution since 1933, and one that almost gives Cabela’s a run for its money (in its attempt to be a monument to death).  It is the endeavor of a local guy, Rosser “Ole” Herstedt, and stands as both a restaurant and a showroom for 35 years worth of his hunting expeditions to every continent. Any spot on its walls not taken up by a dead animals is covered with photographs and mementos brought home from his world-wide safaris.  Ole is now retired, and the resturant is now under the ownership of some guy called Tim Holzfaster (according to their brochure); that said, the food is… meh.

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The moment you walk into the restaurant the first thing you see is the Polar bear, which is posed as though it just killed a seal pup. And every one of the pieces comes with a little plaque telling you where and when it was killed (and what it is).

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Along the right wall of the place (from where you enter) there’s a full bar, with a little gift shop selling branded itemsIMG_4045

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Note the Rocky Mountain Oysters: otherwise known as testicalsIMG_2412

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I ordered the chopped buffalo steak, a sweet potato and cowboy beans (which I was told are like baked beans but with barbecue sauce)….and a sarsaparilla

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Based on taste, chopped buffalo steak was mixed with beef, and had way more beef than bison…. and, on top of that it had the fat ground into it…  so it was really really fatty (under the steak was actually a POOL of the crap)… thus utterly defeating the health benefit let alone the flavor value of Buffalo, so I don’t suggest it.  The baked beans were tasty as was the roll… However, my server – who admittedly was towards the end of his first week of working there and as of yet hadn’t tasted most anything that was on the menu (which is kind of part of the job, but is on the heads of the ownership to make sure he was given the chance). When I tried to talk to them about that they clearly didn’t give a shit… so ‘customer service’ isn’t their priority.

All said and done, go for the circuses, but unless you’re getting food that really basic, and your expectations of that food aren’t very high… you might be disappointed if you eat there.

Fair Oaks Dairy: Fair Oaks Indiana

I’ve been to Fair Oaks Dairy restaurants twice now, but have yet to visit their theme park. Apparently, it the ONLY theme park devoted to dairy in the who country. The first time I was in 2015 when I was driving from Chicago to Florida, and spotted the road side advertising for the place (there’s a lot of them, and they are all way cool, MUCH nicer than the shoddy billboards you usually see — when researching this I learned the dairy had been bought out by Coca-cola in 2014), and they are one of the biggest and most high-tech dairies in the country.

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Last time I was here I was able to grab a meal at their cheaper food option, which is off on the other side of the parking lot from the restaurant and theme park (above)

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but that closes at 6pm (I didn’t show up there till about 6:30 today).

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which they call the Cowfé… it’s a no frills cafe that serves produce and food items fresh from their farms…

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cuban sandwich, $7.75 and an iced tea

and from what I could tell it’s SOME of the same foods as at their restaurant called ‘The Farmhouse,’ (the cafe has a MUCH smaller menu), for about half the price… I know this because I apparently ordered the same dish both times I’ve been there (hey, I like cuban sandwiches… )

IMG_2396.JPGbut without the table service, massive order of fries, and the all you can eat jalapeno cornbread… So the Cuban sandwich which was $7.75 at the cafe, is $14 at the restaurant. (I’m also willing to consider that the cafe sandwhich might be a bit smaller in size — I could only eat half of the restaurant’s sandwhich.) Looking at the foods offered, a lot of it is the same stuff you’d expect to find in Appalachia, which is not surprising as the culture extends about this far north.

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while walking back out to the parking lot I passed the table where some people who I had gotten friendly with when I entered were sitting, and they allowed me to photograph their food (I was amazed at how MASSIVE their portions were)…

IMG_2400.JPGand the woman gave me one her disturbingly large fried chicken wings (I was utterly underwhelmed by it, almost no flavor at all). On my way out of the parking lot I realized that the BP (British Petroleum) gas station adjacent to the Fair Oaks Dairy was actually sort of an extension of it (the gas station store ALSO sells their food).

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