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Travel Alert: Off-Road Dining Trumps Highway Hellaciousness

By Anne Mitchell · September 1st, 2010 · The Dish
Stay off the highways! This isn’t an ARTIMIS warning. It’s a food alert, aimed at saving you from bad food and saving local eateries from extinction.

Last month, we were on I-75 headed on a long drive that would end after the “dinner hour” in our small town destination. Worried that we’d never find a place to eat when we arrived, we made a desperate stop at Steak ’n Shake. People, no matter how pretty the pictures of their food are on the menu, it’s a lie. Eat the menu. Plastic and all. You’d be better off.

So the next weekend, on the way to Lake Michigan, I skipped the interstate and added an hour or two to my trip. What was my reward? A crazy little wooden shack by the road in Kokomo, Ind., with a hand-written sign that said “PIE.” The blueberry pie I bought sat on the seat next to me for the rest of the trip, sparkly with sugar on top, still warm from the oven, smelling like an angel’s pillow on a blueberry bed in heaven.

Closer to home (finally) I was driving downtown via the back roads, hungry after a morning meeting where I passed on the goopy donuts. Passing through Wyoming, I caught Half Day Cafe (1 Wyoming Ave.; 513-831-2323) out of the corner of my eye, and circled the block for a parking spot.

I wound up with a fresh cup of coffee and a breakfast quesadilla filled with eggs, mushrooms, spinach and Monterey Jack. Ahhh. The guy at the table next to me had a plateful of pancakes — Mango Butter Rum Pancakes — that looked so good I almost asked him for a bite.

Happening upon a Mom and Pop, hot-griddle-and-homegrown-tomato restaurant is better than finding five bucks in the pocket of last year’s winter coat. And with the way restaurants have been hit by the recession, Mom and Pop need your business.

I had another Pie Epiphany recently at Jean Paul’s Paradiso (6732 Clough Pike; 513-231-2780), an Anderson-area eatery that conveniently brought their freaking amazing pie to Fountain Square on Tuesdays this summer. I resisted until I had no defenses left. Oh, their white peach, cherry and blueberry combo had the sweetest fruit and the most tender lattice crust I’ve ever tasted. Is “piegasm” a word? It is now. The next time I head east, this place will be worth a detour.

I remember sitting in a corporate meeting years ago where the CEO made a big deal about how great it is to know that wherever he is, in whatever country, in whatever corner of the globe, he can order a Big Mac and know exactly what he is going to get. It took every ounce of control I could muster not to stand up and yell, “You travel all over the world and you eat at McDonald’s? Idiot!”

Yeah, well, he’s a millionaire and I’m a peasant. But who had a piegasm? Not him, I’ll bet. So get off the highway and onto the pieway. Get a little lost. Find a treasure. Eat.

CONTACT ANNE MITCHELL: amitchell@citybeat.com



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