The good, the bad and the awful

So we left the Chicago Four Seasons on Monday, headed for Limerock Raceway in Connecticut. Last time I saw Limerock I was about fifteen and it was a dust bowl as I recall. Pretty spiffy looking now. The roads leading south out of Chicago are not exactly scenic, we drove to Indiana to pick up Nero, then headed for Connecticut. I wasn’t particularly sleepy or hungry so we pressed on, finally stopping in the outskirts of Toledo, Ohio for dinner at a Lebanese place. It wasn’t bad, but I ate a little too much. So once we hit the road I started getting the nods. We were on a toll road, so there wasn’t much to choose from for places to stay. We finally wound up stopping at a travel plaza and just crashing in Nero. Sometime in the night the parking lot filled with big diesels, including one that parked about ten inches from Nero, idling it’s engine all night.

You don’t want to crash out in these places. The combination of diesel fumes and noise woke me about 4:00 AM. I wiggled out the door–there was literally no space to open the door and get out of the trailer. I pulled out then shoveled Diane and Sam into the back of the truck. I briefly thought of “tagging” the truckers window–something terse like “asshole” spelled backwards. Then hit the highway. This all felt like deja vu all over again (yeah, I know it’s redundant, it’s a joke). Nero’s first trip to Sears Point started the same way.

I resolved not to get the same lousy uninspired chain restaurant breakfast. So about 7:00 AM I started looking for restaurants and finally found a likely looking place called something like “Mama Jeans Home Cooking”. It looked right. The room had a robust looking group of farmers having breakfast. The placemats advertised two separate county fairs. I sensed a good breakfast. Then the food came.

I haven’t seen such an unispired mess since Mackinac Island. Instant Oatmeal. Biscuits from Costco or someplace like that. Overcooked eggs. Corned Beef hash straight from the can, and not a good can. Frozen “homefries” warmed in cheap cooking oil.

Mama Jean needs her butt kicked–she’s too lazy to cook water. Diane was going to ask for peanut butter for her english muffin, but in the dirty rest room a plunger was shoved into a big plastic tub that previously held “Economy Peanut Butter”. Yum.

How did it happen that people came to accept warming prefab crap as suitable restaurant fare–anywhere. How much effort does it make to make a great breakfast. Why would anyone go to all the work of running a restaurant and not do it well?

We left the food mostly untouched and headed down the road grumbling. We talked about ways to improve the simple food scene in America. Maybe a rating system that helps good places thrive and bad places die. Diane suggested a name for the efort: Simple Quality. I like it. I’m starting to plan building a website to enable that–probably something wiki-like that lets people praise the good and condemn the bad. I don’t like to just bitch about something and not try to fix it. I don’t care about chains or fast food–they can’t improve beyond the mediocrity embedded in the thre-ring binders that run the places. I’m talking about places run by people who might have something to contribute to better experiences.

Like the HUGE surprise that lunch was. We were hungry of course, so when we saw a sign for a historic district in the town of Milford, PA (which is very close to Middle of Nowhere, PA.) our interest was cautiously piqued (Gatlinburg is too recent a memory for it to be other than cautious). One establishment that was tastefully advertised was a historic Inn/Restaurant called Hotel Fauchere. We drove through the town, noted several interesting-looking restaurants, and parked Nero on a shady street with beautiful houses and a stately city hall. Everything looked carefully cared for except one very interesting-looking structure that stood boarded up and condemned.

Hotel Fauchere proved to be an elegant-looking italianate building. I thought it looked stuffy and dreaded over-sauced pseudo-french cooking. The entry of the hotel and all we could see of the formal main dining room reinforced my impression. Diane was more optimistic, so we entered and took the elevator down to Bar Louis, expecting heavy faux antiques and a hamburger menu. To my astonishment the restaurant had a light contemporary feel, engaging artwork on the beautifully paneled walls and pleasant, comfortable furnishings. Clearly designed by a talented architect or designer, the feel was integrated, detailed, clean and pleasant.

The menu was straightforward but promised good ingredients. Locally smoked ham, artisan breads, french fries with truffle oil. I had a Croque Monsieur which is nothing more than grilled cheese and ham–but what a sandwich. Wonderful brioche bread, the ham was as good as the menu promised, cooked perfectly so the outside of the bread crunched and the inside melted into the cheese. The truffled fries were crisp and delicious. Diane had mussels and handmade potatoe chips that were amazing.

Simple meal, cooked extremely well. A little good wine, some great coffee, and we were off again, marveling at the difference between lunch and dinner. Truth is, you could do that anywhere. The only difference is effort. If you’re ever within fifty miles of Milford, PA it would be worth the trip: . From what I can see on the website, the main dining room looks pretty spectacular too, and the rooms appear comfy. If they’ve put the same effort into the rest of the hotel that they put into the small dining area (and why wouldn’t they) then it should all be great.

We continued on towards Limerock, enjoying an increasingly scenic ride. The area around Limerock is really pretty. We found some farmers markets on the way in that we’ll be hitting before the weekend. Beautiful big tomatoes, squash, string beans, fruit, nice looking sweet corn. I’m going to try to get some very fresh corn though, it starts changing as soon as it’s picked.

The track looks beautiful, but the layout is really simple. I’ve heard people say Limerock is challenging. Doesn’t look that way to me, but we’ll see. We got a good paddock space. We’re camping in Nero, enjoying this cozy and simple space. What a great trailer.

Good night.

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5 thoughts on “The good, the bad and the awful”

  1. Bill,

    It was good to see you at Grattan and my Vee races went well after the motor change.

    You will find Lime Rock challenging. Just wait until you hit the big bump at the bottom of The Diving Turn.

    And don’t go out to the full left side of the track exiting The Uphill. Stay about 3 feet from the left side on exit. The left most 2 feet of the track surface is really off camber and tends to suck you into the guardrail if you are not careful.

  2. Gee…put the pressure on me will you….here I am reading about your latest dining disaster and success after just making some homemade Salsa for the weekend. Without bragging(too much), if the previous reviews of my Salsa is anything close to accurate, it won’t last through Friday night.
    Fresh tomatoes and peppers from my seaside garden, carefully minced garlic and strong onions, and fresh Cilantro with lime juice, with just enough smoky Ancho Chile pepper sauce to let you know it’s in there, without melting your tastebuds.
    Hmmm….gonna have to do a taste test to see if the Salsa is maturing well.
    See you tomorrow sometime……Brother

  3. I’ve read all your posts on the All-Aluminum tour, and have been living vicariously through your adventures all summer long.

    I have to tell you – I was getting tired of hearing about bad food and fat people, but then you went and said, “I donít like to just bitch about something and not try to fix it.” My sentiments exactly… You also said nice things about mid-western farmers – right on.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m in COMPLETE agreement with you. It’s just that I keep telling people the same thing about my travel experiences. I’ve been a “traveling salesman” for over 17 years now. $100 motel rooms that are dirty and have equipment that doesn’t work? $10 breakfasts that overfill you with grease and no real flavor? Strip mall after strip mall… Chain restaurant after chain restaurant. “Scenic Drives” that usher you past dilapidated farms with falling down barns and run down houses – and people still LIVING there? Decide to take a back road instead of a Super Slab highway and loose HOURS just to be beat to death by broken concrete and lumpy asphalt? Yeah, I know where you are coming from.

    I’ve started only telling people about the good experiences just because no one wants to hear about the other crap anymore. It’s so common that everyone already knows what you are going to say.

    For instance, I just took a rented Pontiac G6 down Highway 77 through Kansas toward Oklahoma City – instead of taking the interstate or the toll road. Great pavement, nice twists and turns (well marked so you could drive quickly without being surprised by something). The G6 actually surprised me – nice, solid little car with good power band and a decent seat to plant my ample backside in. I don’t know how it will hold up over several years and 100,000 miles. Probably not as good as my 216,000 mile Mazda Millenia S or the 185,000 mile Acura Vigor I used to drive, but it was a decent driver.

    The big surprise was little towns that were strikingly beautiful (for Kansas). Nice little shops in native limestone buildings and large planters filled with colorful blooms lining the streets. American Flags and yellow ribbons flying in the breeze – local National Guard warriors had just returned from a tour of duty. Maybe the towns cleaned themselves up for the homecoming, but it didn’t look like it was a temporary thing.

    It was so nice I took the same road on the way back home. I enjoyed the same drive in the same way. I stopped for the night in the town of Manhattan, KS – the “Little Apple”. Found a decent motel for under $70 that was clean and had a great bed. Walked up the street to find a bar that served food and had the NASCAR race from Bristol on. First place I walked into had a band. Two playing a great mix of 60’s though late 80’s stuff and a real “fun” vibe. I sat down and ordered a local beer – brewed right there in town. Decent beer. Ordered some food. It was “OK”, but just bar food. NASCAR was on several large and small screens spread throughout the bar. Patrons were having a good time and were friendly. Service was excellent. A couple hours and several beers later, the race is done, the band goes on break and I decide it’s time to leave. I pull out a couple of twenties to pay the bill, and it’s only $24.50. I left it all and told the waitress to buy the musicians a beer. It was just a damned bar in a college town, so I had no hope for something that ended so well. A great night.

    The next morning I crossed back into my home state of Nebraska, and the minute I hit the border I was brought back to reality. The road SUCKED. The farms were run down and the gas prices were 15 cents higher. The streets were lined with run down stores and the people were all fat and dressed like refugees. Our state motto? “Nebraska. The good life.” Yeah, right…

    C’est la vie…


  4. I forgot to mention that I was listening to several collections of Steely Dan on CD on that trip through Kansas. I forget who recommended “The Firefly” last spring when you were asking about Road Music. But I’m grateful for the suggestion. I used to listen to a lot of Steely Dan, and it’s nice to experience it again with more mature ears.


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