We started the trip on Tuesday, August 27, around 11:30 a.m. We had planned to start it Monday (and before Monday, Sunday and Saturday and the week before…but never mind), but decided for a variety of reasons that we should hit the road on Tuesday. But not before I mowed, edged, trimmed, put out some garden soil, and gave the tomato plants just a bit more water in preparation for their week-plus period of neglect in high temperatures. So, after a shower, throwing some clothes and such into a suitcase, and turning up the thermostat to save electricity, we hit the road.
We got as far as Sulphur Springs before stopping for lunch at the San Remo Restaurant, an Italian spot in a town I would have thought unlikely to house an Italian restaurant. It wasn’t bad at all. But we weren’t there to judge, just to stoke ourselves for the trip, so after an order of eggplant parmesiana (my wife) and an order of spaghetti with Italian sausage (me), we hit the road.
There was talk along the way of driving all the way to Memphis the first night, but I didn’t sleep much the night before and, as previously mentioned, worked myself hard that morning, so that talk tailed off into where to stop in Little Rock.
We got to Little Rock just after 6:00 p.m. I had wanted to stop at the Flying Saucer to log a beer or two, but after finding that it was in the heart of downtown and having no success at finding a room at downtown hotels (all booked), I begrudgingly decided to forego the stop. Instead, we opted to cross over into North Little Rock, where we reasoned we could find cheaper and more readily available lodging. We had pulled into a rest area not far west of Little Rock and checked online for prices and availability and ended up going for a Best Western, which I was able to get free by trading in 16,000 frequent-stayer points, leaving me a balance of only 5,000 points, which will be useless unless I add to them by staying at Best Western. We shall see.
Anyway, we got settled in the Best Western, the address for which was not North Little Rock, but Sherwood, AR. Then, we went in search for food, selecting a nearby Mexican restaurant called Casa Mexicana. What was I thinking?! The margarita I ordered was made from a bad, and probably very old, mix. Though it cost only $3.50, I couldn’t help but think the place could have charged twice and much, and gotten it, if they simply used lime juice, tequila, and triple sec. The food was edible; I assume it was the Arkansas version of bad Tex-Mex…tolerable, but only barely.
The next morning, we partook of the Best Western’s “hot breakfast,” which consisted of a sausage biscuit and available gravy, the latter of which we opted to leave in the bowl. There were other options, including a few crumbs of scrambled eggs, make your own waffles (no, thanks), and some yoghurt and bananas and apples. We opted for the biscuit and some yoghurt; I snagged a banana and, for the road, an apple. Then, off to Memphis.
We got to Memphis relatively early, maybe 10:00 a.m., and drove directly to the visitors center downtown, on the riverfront. The most notable thing, upon entering the visitor center, were the two large statues: B.B. King and Elvis Presley. Impressive, they were.
After picking up brochures about things to see and do, we walked a few blocks and paid to ride to the monorail to the Mud Island River Park, where we visited the museum (my wife was impressed…me, not so much). There were a few interesting aspects to the museum, including a larger-than-life figure of Mark Twain, someone who has always impressed me…so I took his picture. We walked the museum, then walked the riverfront park a ways (which includes an impressive concrete re-creation of the entire Mississippi River, a part of which is shown in the photo), we walked back across the street and train tracks to catch a trolley to the part of downtown Memphis where we could find a restaurant I’d been advised to visit, Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous Restaurant. It’s an old, established Memphis institution, venerated as home to a tradition of dry-rubbed ribs cooked over direct heat, not smoked. When I asked the hostess (who we learned later is an owner) for seats for two for lunch, she said “We aren’t open for lunch, but if you want some ribs and beans and slaw, we’re here making them anyway so you’re welcome to come in if that would be OK…and if this is your first visit, then that’s what you want, anyway.” We thought this was an odd way to great customers, but agreed. It turns out this is all they serve midday on weekdays. I was perfectly happy with my half order of ribs, though I prefer smoked ribs. My wife found them acceptable, but not noteworthy. While there, though, I had a beer I’d never had before, a Ghost River Golden Ale, which was a nice, light beer suitable for hot weather and barbeque.
After lunch, we ambled over to the Memphis Flying Saucer so I could see how it compares to the two outlets I’ve been to in the Dallas area; it compared favorably. I drank a Green Flash Brewing Company Saison Diego, a very nice saison.
From there, we walked to the Civil Rights Museum, which was in the midst of a great deal of renovation (the Lorraine Motel display, across the street, is being remodeled to offer a better experience, they say) and in the midst of festivities to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963. The museum was excellent! I was impressed with the way the history and all the questions surrounding Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement were handled. It was among the best museum exhibits I’ve seen in a long time.
After visiting the museum, we got back on a trolley to go to our car, which we’d left parked in the visitor center lot (at their suggestion). I got my iPad, went into the visitor center again, and we searched for places to stay. We ended up finding a place in East Memphis, using Hotwire, that was a very good value…$74 including tax…and a particularly nice room. A huge desk stretched across one wall, with ample knee space over the entire wall, two lamps, lots of electric outlets (but they didn’t all work), very large flat-screen television, king bed, fridge, microwave, very nice bathroom…a deal!
All the moving and unpacking got us feeling hungry, so my wife did some research and found Buckley’s Fine Filet Grill, which also is said to be a Memphis institution, a big favorite with locals. My wife ordered the Bourbon Street Chicken, which was identified as one of the “100 things to eat in Memphis before you die” by the Commercial Appeal. I tasted it. The Commercial Appeal made the right call on this one; it was incredibly good! I had something called Kickin Shrimp Pasta, which was good but not NEARLY as good as the Bourbon Street Chicken. That dish is served with Cajun jambalaya and smothered with Creole crawfish sauce. It’s worth a trip to Memphis. Oh, I ordered a dry gin martini; it came, with three large olives, to lure me into happiness. That’s where I stayed all evening.
Next day, we left about 10 a.m. for Elizabethtown, KY. We stopped for lunch in Jackson, Tennessee, first attempting to join the crowd at Casey Jones, a deep geezerville version of Cracker Barrell. The ineffective crowd control of geezers gone wild caused us to try, instead, another unappealing place, O’Charley’s. I ordered a burger, which they delivered without lettuce, tomatoes, or anything else normally associated with a burger, but they brought them after I asked about the dry, ugly, and lonely slab of meat the waitress had delivered to the table. My wife ordered a fish sandwich with sweet potato fries, accompanied by something their too-slick menu ballyhooed as exceptional: frozen strawberry lemonade. A waitress (not the one serving us) near us showed visible signs of deep frustration when a foursome spilled a glass of tea and asked for napkins to clean it up. Her eye-rolling and clenched jaw set me off a bit; I said to her, loudly enough so she and anyone else nearby could hear, “It’s your job; get over it!” She studiously avoided eye contact with me for the remainder of the meal. I know; I should chill…but her attitude suggested she should be fired and then fried.
We stayed at the Best Western Atrium Gardens in Elizabethtown, KY. The room had a huge whirlpool tub, which we took full advantage of; we both jumped in and enjoyed it, as we sat facing one another in the vast pulsating pool that night. But before soaking in the tub, we had dinner at Namaste, an Indian restaurant very close by. Both of us were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food. I had goat vindaloo and my wife had lamb patia, both of which were excellent. Then, the next morning (Friday) we headed out, bound for Louisville and Kettering.
When we arrived in Louisville, we parked in the “museum row” parking, then ambled down Main, taking in things like a giant Louisville Slugger bat that’s several stories tall. We were impressed with the many pieces of public art along Main, on display among a number of architecturally interesting old buildings and some newer ones like the Muhammed Ali center. We walked to Fourth Street, part of which is enclosed (see photo), wandered down to view the “hot spots” on Fourth, went into the Galt House Hotel, wandered through Worldfest on the Belvedere, then drove to Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen Deli, where we had lunch, followed by some mocha chip ice cream and a piece of cherry pie.
After the nice respite in Louisville, we drove toward Kettering. Before we reached our destination, though, we experienced the horrors of pre-Labor Day Friday afternoon rush hour traffic as we drove through Cincinnati. We got to our destination in Kettering (the home of my nephew and niece) about 5:15 p.m. We sat and talked for quite some time, then went off to dinner at Siam Pad Thai, one of their favorite restaurants. We had a wonderful meal and great conversation; it was a marvelously relaxing way to end a long, but enjoyable, drive from Texas to Ohio.
The next morning (Saturday), my niece made an excellent European breakfast of bread, sliced meat, tomatoes, cucumbers, and assorted other good stuff. Then, we headed to the Second Street Market in Dayton, where there were dozens and dozens of stalls of veggies, crafts, bread, spices, etc., etc. Not being “collectors” of stuff to look at, we instead bought something of practical value: low salt beef bouillion powder.
Next up, my niece took the wheel and drove to Yellow Springs, a truly interesting and quite funky town nearby. First off, we had lunch at Williams Eatery, an American and Peruvian restaurant. I had aji de pollo and my wife had a dish called pollada, which was a grilled chicken. My food had “eyes” and and made a face at me with hard boiled eggs and olives. My nephew and his lovely wife enjoyed their food, too; and they enjoyed one another’s company!
Then, we walked around around the village, stopped in at several shops, and enjoyed the atmosphere. There are lots of “hippie” shops with incense, mystical writings, and so forth, and some interesting public artwork, including a ceramic tiled bench, where my favorite wife posed for me. We had a couple of beers (including a Komodo Dragonfly) at Ye Old Trail Tavern, a place that was built in 1827…the oldest house in the village.
After our visit to Yellow Springs, we headed back to Dayton, where we spent time walking around the downtown residential section (the Oregon District). I was astounded to see a number of nice stone and brick single-family homes and duplexes (all right on the street, much like the old-town sections of Chicago) for sale at remarkably low prices (e.g., $189,000 for a 3-2 home with a pool(!) in the back). We need to know more!
Next, it was off for more ice cream, then to pick up a few items at the grocery store
Then, ice cream at a place whose name I forgot, then to grocery store for a few items including more beer. Back home, we had freshly made guacamole and sat and talked for hours. My nephew and I debated capitalism, religion, motives, politics, humanitarianism, humanity….the full range! Finally, the two of us joined our respective wives in bed at 1:30 in the morning.
I woke up on Sunday at just before 7. I took a shower, shaved, and got busy jotting notes about our experiences so far. When everyone was up, my nephew made us breakfast of migas, then we headed out to visit the arboretum, a beautiful, peaceful place with lots of trails and gorgeous scenery, including a tall viewing tower (here, I’m taking a photo of my wife from closer to the top of the tower…K&M are contemplating how to get the tree out of the ground and into the back of their car).
After the arboretum, we went shopping at Sam’s and then to a roadside fruit & veggie stand for goodies. The evening was spent at the home of my nephew’s mother (my brother’s ex-wife) and her husband for dinner. We talked about their amazingly noisy cat and how and where and when to retire. Back at K&M’s apartment, we discussed the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright before heading to bed at 11:30.
The evening before, my niece made an incredibly wonderful appetizer of a trout spread lathered on fresh bread. In the morning, we had the leftover trout spread (which I have decided may be one of my favorite foods), along with fresh pineapple, fresh raspberries, and expresso. It was heavenly!
Then, we took a long walk all around the neighborhood, looking longingly at houses for sale; from my perspective, the prices were incredibly low, with 3-1 houses going for $50K to $109K. Back home, we had a late lunch/snack of spinach pie and cucumber/tomato salsa. The spinach pie was something like magic wonderfulness…I’ve had something like it before, but never exactly like this and never nearly as good; I must make it myself one day, when I am energetic and hungry for something tasty and good for me…today, perhaps!
Then, more wandering…looking at houses from the outside, marveling at how green the area was and how lush it looked early in September. We stopped for coffee at Boston Stoker at Washington Square; the place is what Starbucks wanted to be…a serene, roomy, inviting, comfortable place that serves good, good coffee. I had a plain iced coffee (I had succeeded in going a month without coffee, so now it legitimate for me to have some) and we relaxed and talked and enjoyed the atmosphere.
After brief stop at Trade Joe’s, we went back home and had a dinner of Mayan Couscous; it was extraordinarily good and, I am sure, good for us! We relaxed and talked a bit more before going early to bed, as my nephew had to get to work early the next day and my wife and I had to hit the road.
I awoke early on Tuesday, September 3 as my nephew was getting ready to go to work. I stayed up, then my wife got up a bit later, then my niece. She made us breakfast of bread, cheese, pineapple, sliced ham, sliced tomatoes, and coffee. After breakfast, we packed and hit the road about 10:30 a.m.
We drove down 75 to 275 just outside Cincinnatti, then around 275 east to Jungle Jim’s, an amazing food and foodie store…it’s an incredible place. The photos don’t do the place justice…I’ve never seen anything like it!
Something I found and bought, but didn’t capture with a camera, is an item I’ve been after for months: blind robbins! Blind robbins are lightly smoked and highly salted herring that are used as bar snacks in some parts of the country. When I saw them, I instantly knew I had to buy them. I ate one when we got out to the car…it was salty in the extreme! But tasty. I wrapped the remainder in the cellophane wrap they came in and put them in a cooler in the trunk. Only 40 miles later, when I decided to see how they were doing and whether they were staying cool (these required refrigeration), I was overwhelmed by the odor…they hadn’t gone bad, but they would soon have rendered the car unusable and impossible to sell when the time comes, so I reluctantly got rid of them.
We stopped at Whisky’s in Lawrenceburg, Indiana for lunch, where I had a cod sandwich with chips and my wife had a meatloaf special, served with peanut cole slaw. None of the food was remarkable, but the peanut cole slaw was photo-worthy:
Back on the road, we continued down Highway 50 to North Vernon, then veered to the north toward Columbus, IN, where we stopped early for the night. It’s an architectural mecca. I’ll write an entire new post about Columbus, IN and the architecture and art that make it an amazingly sophisticated place, especially for a community of only 45,000 people.
We ate dinner that night at Papa’s Grill; a bison burger for me, lemon almond chicken salad for my wife. We went downtown to check out the old fashioned soda found; my wife had a Green River soda and I had butter pecan ice cream at the place, Zaharakos ice cream parlor and museum. We stayed overnight…and the next night…in the Courtyard by Marriott. The next morning, we had breakfast at the Lincoln Square Restaurant, then went off in search of intriguing architecture. First, though, we went to the Columbus CVB and watched two videos about architecture (one about Cummins, Inc., the manufacturer of diesel engines and one a more general piece), then drove around looking at schools, churches, and the like. We spend time at the Purdue/Univ. of IN local campus, where we saw unique architecture and sculpture, including a super ceiling composition by Chihuly.
We had lunch at 4th Street Bar; a burger for me and an ahi tuna taco for my wife. Then, more architecture; we walked all over and took lots of photos (see an upcoming post, soon). Then we made another stop at Zaharakos for ice cream and a root beer float, followed by a stop in a book store (View Point Books), then back to hotel.
For dinner that night, we ate dinner at Riviera Maya Mexican Restaurant.
The next day, September 6, we left Columbus around 8:30 a.m. We headed west and stopped in Mount Vernon, IL at 9th Street Grill for lunch (BLT and gazpacho for me; gazpacho and black bean salad for my wife). Next, my wife decided we should visit the local sculpture garden (CedarHurst Center for the Arts). I was not expecting much; I was stunned at the place…amazing for such a small town (14,000 people). I took photos of some of the sculptures.
From there, we drove through Illinois and into Missouri, stopping at Cape Girardeau to see “the” cape from a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. The bridge connecting East Cape Girardeau and Cape Girardeau is the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge.
We took US 67 to Poplar Bluff, MO, where we stayed the night at a Holiday Inn Express. Apparently, the hotels in the town have enormous business because of the distance to other towns with hotels, so they overcharge dramatically. The desk clerk admitted as much. Nice to know: the lodging industry bases its rates solely on demand, not on value to the traveler.
Dinner was at Carlton’s, a steakhouse with overtones of other family steakhouses. I had a NY strip and a potato; JKB had a sirloin and pork rib combo. Both were adequate; neither were grand.
The next day, we finished the trip by driving almost straight through from Poplar Bluff, Missouri to Dallas, with stops only for gas and to take on or discharge liquid. And then, we were home.
The tomato plants did not enjoy our absence; they protested by committing vegicide. The garage door did not enjoy our absence, either. It protested by deciding to bind upon opening and closing. Such is life. I will write more about Columbus, IN in the near future and will post photos. As I said before, it’s an impressive town.