Ideas on what constitutes the ideal road trip are as varied as the people that embark on these adventures. However, most everyone will agree that two components needed to to ensure a memorable odyssey are unique restaurants that offer good food as well as regional specialties and good friends to share the meals. Food on the road, or more specifically a few of my favorite places for food while on the road, is the subject of the latest episode of 5 Minutes with Jim, our weekly audio podcast.
So, on this weeks blog post I wanted to expand on that theme. With that said here are a few of my favorite places for a snack, a breakfast, lunch or dinner while on the road. Not all of them are found on Route 66. After all, this is Jim Hinckley’s America. And as our slogan says, telling people where to go is our specialty. We test the pillows and taste the enchiladas so you can be assured of an honest review and recommendation.
Let’s kick this off with two recommendations from my adopted hometown of Kingman, Arizona. In our free weekly newsletter you have most likely seen advertisement for Calico’s restaurant. Located on Beale Street (U.S. 93) just to the west of the Mohave Museum of History & Arts, this family owned restaurant offers an array of traditional American offerings as well as a few specialties such as the coyote BLT, a twist on an old favorite with the addition of alfalfa sprouts and avocado on a nine grain bread. They also have two meeting rooms for groups, one with a private bar.
Enchilada New Mexico at Oysters in Kingman, Arizona
Oysters in Kingman is one of those hole in the wall places that is easily overlooked or seldom given a second look, let alone a look to see what is behind the non descriptor interior. Located on East Andy Devine Avenue (Route 66) near the Kings Inn Best Western, this is a true treasure. Authentic Mexican dishes, not the stuff that is hidden by over spiced rice and beans, and surprisingly delicious and diverse sea food offerings are their specialty. For quite some time this has been our go to place for the Sunday family dinner. With the exception of the occasional return to an old favorite, I have been working my way through the menu and have yet to have a bad meal.
There are a couple of places I can recommend in Needles, California. One is the Wagon Wheel restaurant, a Route 66 classic. As with Oysters, I have yet to have a bad meal at this venerable old restaurant. As a bonus the prices fall are budget to mid range. My second choice is Valenzuela’s, a one family owned little restaurant that opened in 1952. If I had one complaint with this little time capsule it would be that the hours of operation are somewhat sporadic, and they are closed most of the summer.
I first discovered Bella Notte in Jackson, Michigan while in town for a speaking engagement in the fall of 2018. This past October there was an opportunity to share this delightful restaurant with my dearest friend as it was across the street from JTV where I was scheduled to give an interview. My recommendation, the fresh Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna in a Béchamel Sauce.
As we receive numerous requests for restaurant tips, reviews and suggestions, a regular series of podcasts and blog posts will be added to the schedule. And as we are gearing up for more road trip adventures, our list of favorite places for roadside dining will be growing. So, stay tuned.
In my attempt to avoid toll roads and yet make time, I made some interesting discoveries on the back roads.
Two weeks and four days. One minor blizzard. Torrential rain. Fascinating people. New discoveries. Just a hair over 5,000 miles driven. Endless road construction. Excellent pie (and huevos rancheros, tacos, stew, omelettes, Greek food, hamburgers, Polish food, beer …) and some very poor food. Book signings. A couple of conferences. Countless meetings. A boondoggle presentation. Old friends. New friends. And lots of time for thinking about the future of Jim Hinckley’s America in 2020.
The fall tour was quite the odyssey and I have a lot to share over the course of the next few weeks. Let’s kick it off by sharing my top pick for eating healthy and keeping to a budget. The Rock at 203 W. North Street in Normal, Illinois. The gyros were superb but during the Miles of Possibility Conference my dearest friend and I ate at this restaurant several times since it was less than a block from the Hyatt, host hotel for the event. We tried a variety of items on the menu, never had a bad meal, and never spent more than $23 for the two of us. Now that is a bargain in any book.
From its recently restored neon signage to meticulous maintenance the pride of ownership is manifest at every turn.
Next, my top lodging option discovered on this trip. The Sunset Motelin Moriarty, New Mexico is a true gem. Deborah Pogue and her husband Mike are more than mere proprietors, they are stewards of a true treasure and their pride as well as enthusiasm is evident. This is, perhaps, the oldest single family owned motel on Route 66. Mike helped his father build the complex in 1959. It has been meticulously maintained and is an excellent place to rest the weary head as well as discover the very essence of the Route 66 experience. Eating in Moriarty is another matter. I will need to do a bit more research but can unequivocally say that Nachos is not a place that can be recommended. The service was poor, the food not quite even average.
When it comes to fascinating discoveries, I don’t know what goes at the top of the list. The near ghost town of Chetopa, Kansas was quite fascinating. I was also amazed by the Ye Ole Carriage Shop, a private museum in Spring Arbor, Michigan, and its proprietor. Still, it was an opportunity to visit with Ken Soderbeck at his shop on Circus Farm near Grass Lake, Michigan that really stands out as an experience that is almost impossible to describe with mere words.
Ken Soderbeck’s shop near Grass Lake, Michigan is nothing short of astounding.
Soderbeck is a true craftsman with a passion for vintage fire equipment and his expertise in the restoration of fire trucks as well as horse drawn apparatus is recognized internationally. But his expertise does not end there. He has restored the only existent 4×4 truck manufactured by Jackson Automobile Company, is in the process of renovating a 19th century trolley car, and in his spare time, is transforming the former elephant barn for the Lewis Brothers Circus into a home.
Stay tuned. I will be writing more about Soderbeck as well as other discoveries made on the recent tour. And of course I will also be sharing information from the Miles of Possibility Conference, meetings with tourism directors and community organizers, discussions pertaining to the Route 66 centennial, and on community development opportunities.
The one eyed Briscoe that was manufactured in Jackson, Michigan is but one of the rare gems on display at Ye Ole Carriage Shop.
To wrap this up today, let me share this photo from the Ye Ole Carriage Shop. You can bet the bottom dollar I will be writing about this place and its owner soon. You can also safely assume that I will return for a longer visit, and perhaps, a one of a kind Adventurers Club program.
Just one block off Route 66 is this charming little gem filled with an array of delicious, and occasionally healthy goodies.
For those willing to simply see where the road leads, and an ability to develop flexible plans, life can be a grand adventure full of surprises. The fall tour has been just such an adventure, endless opportunity for surprises. It has been maddening, fun, interesting, sad and tragic, educational, almost profitable, informative, enjoyable and a bit of a gastronomical odyssey.
As an example consider yesterday. It started simply enough with a breakfast shared with old friends from Iowa at the Huddle House, a presentation on economic development and tourism for the City of Cuba, and then a drive to Steelville for a late lunch shared with my dearest friend. Now I am sitting in the historic Wagon Wheel Motel, after a wonderful breakfast courtesy the Cuba Bakery & Deli contemplating the possibilities. Over the years I have wore a number of hats but never once has thought been given to serving as an official tourism director.
The gift shop at the Wagon Wheel Motel will be stocked with signed copies of my books, unless they sell out tonight. Already two copies have been sold and the festivities have yet to begin.
The apparent popularity of the new book, Murder and Mayhem on the Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66, has been a pleasant surprise. I have almost sold all of the copies brought with me on the fall tour, as well as the Jim Hinckley’s America pins, and this evenings 10th anniversary celebration of Connie Echols stewardship of the iconic Wagon Wheel Motelwhere I will be signing books is shaping up to be quite the event. I have just learned that Marian Pavel, developer of the Route 66 Navigationapp will be in attendance, and Connie has stocked the gift shop so I have lots of books to sign.
When the trip kicked off there had been some very promising discussions about a project of particular interest in Jackson, Michigan. That too was quite a surprise as it turned out to be more smoke and mirrors than substance. As it turned out it was also a valuable lesson, one of the most embarrassing performances to date resultant of venue, and the portal to some incredible opportunities for what may manifest as the 20th book. I also met some very interesting and inspirational people, and bid adios to my pa for the last time. So, the visit to Jackson was one of those bittersweet detours in life.
Now we turn our attentions toward the homeward trip, and perhaps, the dawn of a new era. Meanwhile, development of Jim Hinckley’s America as a multifaceted travel network continues. The weekly audio podcast Ten Minutes With will resume at the end of the month. Likewise the weekly Adventurers Club live programs. And, of course there will lots of website updates as well as blog posts about the fascinating new restaurants discovered on our journey.
The use of spices and salt are what separates the cook from the chef. Likewise, finding joy in the surprise discoveries are what separates the traveler from the adventurer. About ten days ago, before most of a week was spent without internet service, I noted the discovery of Valenzuela’s, a charming little restaurant in Needles, California. So, let’s start with a review of this delightful little restaurant before sharing other discoveries made recently.
In most any town the old cafe would appear to be a faded relic, a weathered old place that was a tangible link to better times. Needles is a town that is dominated by faded and weathered relics but something about this little cafe seemed quite charming and inviting. I wasn’t disappointed.
It opened in 1952 as a small neighborhood store and cafe in a town that was prosperous and busy. Route 66 was just a couple of blocks away and the flashing bulb arrow sign served as a beacon for travelers. So business was brisk. Times change. By 1980 the cafe and Needles were on hard times. Route 66 was on the cusp of becoming an historic footnote, the railroad was in the midst of restructuring, another blow for Needles, and in 1978 a bridge connecting Mohave Valley, Arizona and Needles opened at the site of the ferry that had once carried National Old Trails Road Traffic.
For just a bit the cafe closed. But it was a family tradition. Jerry Limon, the current manager, had begun working in the cafe as a child. His mother, the daughter of the founder, had worked at the restaurant most of her life. So, together they decided to forego the store and just open an expanded version of the old cafe, and I am so glad they did. What a rarity!
The food was excellent and reasonably priced. Jerry waited tables, and mother cooked on a stove that was purchased in 1952. The old place was faded and a bit worn at the heel, but I will be returning. This is a true gem, a real mom and pop business from a time when Studebaker cars still rolled from the factory in South Bend that has survived into the modern era.
The heat in Needles is extreme, even for a desert rat like me. In the summer temperatures often soar past 120 degrees Fahrenheit. As the old restaurant lacks air conditioning, and as the owners/employees are not exactly spring chickens, it is closed from mid June until mid September.
Needles is filled with surprises, and little treasures, such as Fender’s River Resort, the only motel that is located on Route 66 and the banks of the Colorado River. The motel and RV park is surprisingly popular and I attribute to the ever smiling Rosie Ramos, the proprietor. Over the course of the past few years she has renovated the motel, improved the grounds, and is now having the neon signage restored at Legacy Signs in Kingman. The relighting of the historic sign is scheduled tentatively for the 8th or 9th of June. I will keep you posted and there are plans for an Adventurers Club program during the ceremony.
One of the more intriguing places in Needles is Mystic Maze Honey. It is simply a vintage 1950’s travel trailer along the road with an ample display of local honey in various sized jars inside on neat shelves. The oddity is this, there is no one there. It is run on the honor system! Simply put the money in one of the envelopes that is provided and drop it in the slot. How refreshing to see such trust.
I have a few more discoveries to share but those will be the subject of another post.
The October adventure officially came to an end last Saturday
Sunrise in Shamrock, Texas sets the mood for a great day on the road.
afternoon with the return of the rental car. It was, to say the very least, an amazing odyssey filled with good food, good friends, new discoveries, and endless road construction that nudged the frustration level into the anger zone. With few exceptions the weather was perfect, which again confirms my belief that mid to late October is the ideal time for a Route 66 adventure.
Officially it was a business trip. Still, I can think of few things more enjoyable than doing business on Route 66 and the back roads of America. To borrow from an old adage, the worst day on a road trip is better than the best day most anywhere else.
The primary destination was the Route 66 Miles of Possibilities Conference in Joliet, Illinois where I was scheduled to make a presentation on Kingman tourism 1900 – 2020. However, this was not just a Route 66 adventure as plans called for a slight detour to Jackson, Michigan where we would pay my pop a visit (he will be ninety in January) and to meet with Ted O’Dell who has a vision of using the long empty 1910 Hackett automobile factory as the cornerstone for a museum that chronicles the rich manufacturing history of the community.
An amazing array of original components make the old factory a time capsule of early industrial production.
I am always inspired by projects such as Ted’s but this one has a personal connection. My grandfather was a prolific inventor who was deeply involved with the early auto industry in Michigan, specifically in Jackson. In 1900 he was a machinist for David Buick. For years a photo of my grandfather and Henry Ford adorned the mantle of the ancestral Hinckley house on Hinckley Boulevard in Vandercook Lake just to the south of Jackson.
The trip was also an opportunity to introduce a new aspect of the patrons program, the crowdfunding initiative launched to enable me to expand on the various community development and small business promotional projects under the Jim Hinckley’s America banner including the Facebook live programs. To lend your support as a patron simply click on the Patreon button on the top right side of the page.
Juvenile humor abounds at Uranus and now they are a distributor of Jim Hinckley’s America videos.
Louie Keen, the self proclaimed mayor of Uranus, Missouri was the first business owner to take advantage of the new program and lend support to Jim Hinckley’s America at this level. So, I wanted to meet with him in person, get our partnership off on a solid footing, set up the displays for the Jim Hinckley’s America: Trek Along Route 66videos and to pick up a few items for product placement as well for some forthcoming contests. This level of support for the program provides the business owner with “product placement, an occasional shout out during Facebook live programs and posts, and blog posts as well other promotional opportunities in exchange for your support are just a few of the perks that come with becoming a Jim Hinckley’s America promotional partner.”
Uranus is one of those places that has to be experienced. Rather than spoil the fun I will just say this, the fudge consistently receives rave reviews and the humor found at every turn is sure to unleash the inner child. How can you not smile when the clerk says, “Thank you for picking Uranus.”
Another aspect of the trip had to do with the quest to become a writer when I grow up. At Bookworks in Albuquerque, I made a presentation on a Route 66 bucket list, and signed copies of my latest book, 100 Things To Do On Route 66 Before You Die. I also signed copies of books at the National Route 66 Museum, the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, Ariston Cafe, Wagon Wheel Motel, and for fans along the road as well as at the conference in Joliet.
In St Louis we had a luncheon marketing meeting with the editor and publicist for Reedy Press, publisher of the book, and Jo Ann Faust Kargus, author of the fascinating and artful Route 66 Splendoradult coloring book. We also discussed the possibility of future projects as I am closing in on completion of a book for Rio Nuevo Publishing. The photos needed for this book was another reason for the trip.
Presentations and interviews framed the venture. Aside from presentation made in Albuquerque and Joliet, I also spoke on heritage tourism and economic development in the original Las Vegas, the one in New Mexico. With each and every visit to this charming little community thoughts of changing my address grow stronger. Even though it isn’t a Route 66 community, a 5.8 detour is well worth the trip but I highly recommend the drive from Tucucmari to Las Vegas on state highway 104. Then there was a visit with Pat Smith at the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, and an interview with Galen Culver of KFOR television in Oklahoma City, a CBS affiliate.
Of course, the highlight of any adventure is the people you meet along the way – friends, adventurers, inspirational travelers. On a Route 66 adventure this reward is magnified one hundred fold, as is the sorrow of people missed because of schedule induced restrictions or that have passed on.
My dearest friend and Efren Lopez at Swadley’s in El Reno, Oklahoma
On our October adventure we were privileged by an opportunity to enjoy a delightful dinner at Belmont Winery (a stop that should be included in any Route 66 travel plans) with Trish and Jeff Voss. There was also an interview with artist and creator of Red Oak II, Lowell Davis, a few meals and laughs shared with our Route 66 family in Joliet, a dinner and lively conversation in El Reno with Efren Lopez, some cake, coffee, a wonderful lunch and discussion with Peter at the Wild Hare Cafe, and conversation with Nick Adam at the Ariston Cafe as well as a pleasant reception hosted by Connie Echols at the Wagon Wheel Motel and dinner in Tucumcari with Amanda and David Brenner. We missed Croc Lile and Bob and Ramona but we did catch Michael Wallis and Rhys Martin in Tulsa, another great dinner.
As is often the case, we returned home road weary and exhausted but with big smiles, fond memories, and thoughts of the next adventure.