Memorial Day kicks off at the end of this month—then the vacationing and road-tripping begins in earnest. As we all turn to memories of our favorite times on the road, we of course also recall some brief, fleeting food moments off exit ramps and turn-outs. It wasn’t a lobster roll in Montauk or barbecue in Kansas City, but something surprising and off the beaten path that we’ve never forgotten, and couldn’t get in our hometowns if we tried.
So in anticipation of these fun summer months, we ask our staff and you, our Takeout readers: What was your most memorable road-trip meal?
A piece of cherry pie on the Elroy-Sparta bike trail
There was a time when my vacationing primarily involved camping and biking. This was due to my boyfriend at the time, although as a bike commuter, I did a decent job of keeping up. After a few years, I put my foot down and demanded that our vacations involve somewhere with an actual roof. But for awhile, a summer trip for us would involve a trip up to the Train Tunnel trails in Wisconsin, a 33-mile trip from Elroy up to Sparta, punctuated by riding through these abandoned rain tunnels, which you were supposed to walk your bikes through. Nobody did.
A biker I was; a fitness maniac I was—and am—not. So on day three of our trip, I pleaded fatigue. I didn’t need to bike all the way up to the top of the state. Fortunately, at one of the town stops on the trail, there was a cafe, with checkered tablecloths, and baked goods, and vintage children’s books. And praise the lord, coffee. My boyfriend took off to fly around on the trails some more, and I curled up in a comfy chair with a slice of homemade cherry pie and my very first copy of a Betsy-Tacy book. I have scarcely ever been happier. The pie was perfect, with slightly sour cherries and a delicate crust, made even better by the fact that it wasn’t something I ate often. In that particular hangout, decorated exclusively in cheery gingham and vintage food brand signs, this cherry pie was the perfect thing to eat. It was flaky, and delicious, and I can remember it exactly.
It’s surprising to me how often I think of that random hour; I couldn’t even tell you the name of the town, or the cafe. But the chance to rest and cozy up off the trail, reading a charming story about a group of girls in the early 1900s and eating a treat I was soon to bike off, has stayed with me ever since. [Gwen Ihnat]
Seven years ago, my friend Lindsay and I met up in New Orleans to stay with friends of hers who were working for AmeriCorps post-Katrina. One afternoon, as Lindsay and I ate lunch at a sidewalk cafe, two men walked by our table. They were former college friends of mine; I had no idea one lived in New Orleans.
We hugged and laughed, struck at the universe’s coincidences. They told us they were heading to a friend’s backyard crawfish boil a couple hours’ drive outside New Orleans in Plaquemine, Louisiana, the next day. Did we want to join? Hell yes, we wanted to join, and we did. We watched as our hosts poured vats of crawfish into kiddie pools, then boiled them with corn and Old Bay, and spread them on newspaper-topped picnic tables. Glutted with shellfish and beer, we all napped atop an empty Little League field dugout. [Kate Bernot]
Cream of asparagus soup in Michigan
Like what Kate experienced, the most delicious road-trip foods are born from unexpected moments. They’re never planned; they happen because of spontaneous choice and aligned stars. I took a road trip with the woman who would become my wife four months into our dating. We decided on Leelanau County, a stunning area of wind-swept dunes and beaches in northwest Michigan. The area is known for two foods: cherries and asparagus, and it was here where I experienced one of the top three soups of my life.
We drove all over the peninsula with no itinerary, leaving it to the muses to tell us where to stop. One time, it told us to stop at Fischer’s Happy Hour Tavern. It was located in the proverbial middle of nowhere, in fact its address is “M-22 between the towns of Leland and Northport.”
No matter we had finished dinner; something told me I should get a bowl of cream of asparagus soup. Who gets that as an after-meal chaser? I did.
No other superlatives were necessary, other than this soup was so wondrous and brain chemistry-altering, that 24 hours later we found ourselves in the same restaurant with the same cream of asparagus soup before us.
I don’t know what convince us to stop that night. But the lesson was if some mysterious force compels you to pull over, complying usually yields favorable results. [Kevin Pang]
Hey Takeout commentariat: Tell us your favorite road-trip food memories, will ya?