One of the things that we have come to really enjoy about both multi-day road trips as well as simple day trips or overnight getaways is the opportunity to try some road food and/or local specialty cuisines. Our sources for finding places to eat include various search engines, the Food Network’s show Drive-Ins, Diners and Dives, some guidebooks, the website Urban Spoon, and the website Roadfood.com.(Also, for me personally, I am inspired by the  TV programs of Anthony Bourdain and the Village Voice food columns by musician-turned-food critic Robert Sietsema.) Along with the website Roadside America, the Road Food website truly inspires the desire to get on the road, particularly on an empty stomach. I had not known about these websites, but Jolie found them for us and has been using them whenever we set out for some fun travel. So, here, working more or less backward, is some commentary on a few select recent road food adventures, starting with this past weekend and represented via me with my Dottie’s Diner coffee container.

following the return from Dottie's Diner

Dottie’s Diner – in Woodbury, Connecticut. We were there this past weekend after visiting with my sister and her family, who live there in the state. Nice visit. On the way home, we originally planned on a return to Pizzeria Lauretano in nearby Bethel, CT and place we had eaten in and enjoyed once before, but they wound up being closed. Luckily, the backup plan which Jolie suggested turned out to be terrific.

I didn’t have my camera, so I don’t have photos. But, the place looked fairly nondescript from the outside, and on the inside, it was a smallish dining room with  about a half-dozen booths, a few small tables and a number of counter seats. We opted for the counter, so that we could sit and order quickly. The room looked fairly retro, and had a light blue color scheme. The waitstaff all seemed like college kids, and were friendly and efficient. I enjoyed a lunch of a really tasty grilled chicken pesto sandwich with a side of very crispy fries; Jolie had the grilled cheese and a side of fries. We both enjoyed every bite. Thankfully, when we were done, we had just enough room for dessert. Knowing  Dottie’s reputation for donuts, we got two to go (and I also got my to-go coffee). We enjoyed a pair of truly delicious donuts – one chocolate dipped and the other cinnamon.

Jolie and I both agree on this; donuts are often delicious, but not the healthiest thing in the world to eat. We both value having good health. But, when the occasional urge for a tasty donut occurs, one should seek out a good quality donut. Dottie’s definitely delivers big time! We were also toying, while making our dessert choices, with checking out the bread pudding, but they were all out.

Next up – a roadside hot dog mecca.

Earlier on this still young year – JK’s (Original Texas Hot Weiners)in Danbury, CT

We’d been here a few times before, and each time, it has been a feast. For me, the idea of a Texas hot weiner is very evocative, as we had them in my NJ neighborhood growing up and I always loved them. Through a bit of sleuthing, we found this place, and it being not that far from our house, we decided to give it a try. It turned out that we liked it a lot.

As Roadfood says,

JK’s Texas hot wieners are plump little sausages, split lengthwise and cooked until slightly crusty on the surface, loaded into a big spongy roll, then topped with mustard, onions, and hot sauce with a chili-pepper kick. Some connoisseurs order them with cheese, chili, and/or bacon in addition to the usual condiments; it’s also possible to get a heap of excellent house-made slaw on top or to get the bun toasted.

That is a very accurate description.  And as far as the atmosphere, JK’s has a pure authenticity about it. There is nothing pretentious about a place that looks like this.

or this

And while there are other items on the menu here, I could not imagine ordering anything other than a hot dog (or two) and a side of fries. 🙂 This is our table when the food arrived. I should add that we also ordered a side of gravy with which to dip the fries, but it arrived a short while later.

A chili dog at JK’s – with a very generous hand in ladling on the chili

Do we look excited/content as we wait for our food to arrive?

A word of advice for those who might go here; if ordering two hot dogs, go light on the second. Two dogs with heavy toppings is literally a lot to digest.

Next up, it’s back to late 2011, and a visit to Pennsylvania, featuring a burger meal at Gino’s Burgers and Chicken

We happened to be in Pennsylvania in early December to check out the Christmas displays at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA and afterward, grabbed a late night meal at Gino’s,  a re-established local institution from the 1960s, now attempting a comeback. The place essentially had the look of a fast food place, but the quality was significantly better. As with places like In and Out Burger, Five Guys, Red Robin, Bobby’s Burger Palace, Lucky’s Famous Burgers, New York Burger Company, and Culvers, I cannot find fault with a burger chain when they dedicate themselves to quality; Gino’s belongs on such a list. While cooking a good quality hamburger or cheeseburger is not necessarily the hardest thing in the world to do, making a mediocre product, particularly when you are producing relatively cheap mass burgers is probably all too easy t0 do.

Here, then are some images from Gino’s

Good slogan - It's all about the people and the food

Next, Chinatown in Philadelphia, PA and a visit to Joy Tsin Lau restaurant

Tom in front of Joy Tsin Lau

We were in Philadelphia in late October of last year for a conference that I was attending. On our first day there, before the conference occurred, we spent the day walking around and sight seeing.  As night fell, and hunger started to kick in, we decided to heard toward Chinatown. Philadelphia’s Chinatown is fairly small, but it is known for having lots of great restaurants (and I’ve eaten in the Chinatowns in Boston, NYC and San Francisco and love them all). We didn’t have a specific place in mind so we figured that we would simply go and see what we might find. I am truly enamored of all forms of Asian cuisine, so I was very excited. 🙂

We came upon an intersection (Race and 11th) that seemed promising and basically thought that we would take our chances with Joy Tsin Lau, which seemed to be pretty busy inside, making it seem like a safe choice.

Here we are, eagerly awaiting our food; notice the fish tanks and step ladder to the right of me in the photo?

and with the exception of a table near us, most of the other diners appeared to be Asian; I’m always happy to be amongst the people of the particular ethnicity (or a comparable ethnicity) at an ethnic restaurant – an experience we used to have on a regular basis at Dosa Hut  in the Little India section of Jersey City, where we used to live. I think that such food-ethnicity matchings indicate a promise that the food will be authentic and of good quality.

Anyway, back to the fish tanks. Turns out, they were filled with various forms of seafood, and at several points during our meal, some of the wait staff came over to scoop the sea life out of a particular tank and to deliver it to the kitchen’s cooks. Here is one shot of what appears to be some carp in one tank.

While we were waiting for our food to arrive, I also took note of the TV which was playing, at a low volume thankfully, some sort of Asian variety show, complete with boy bands. No one seemed to be paying too much attention to this.

some optional entertainment at Joy Tsin Lau

Finally, our meals arrived. Mine – a pan fried noodle with mixed seafood: hearty amounts of shrimp, scallop, squid and fish. It was excellent.

Eating with chopsticks – fun!

Jolie meanwhile was enjoying some nicely seasoned chicken fried rice. As you can see, hers was a big plate of food, so we wound up taking some of it back to the hotel with us. I tasted a bit of this, and enjoyed the taste.

We also split a plate of spring rolls before our meal.

Here’s a review of this place from one diner posting to Yelp.

I’ve been coming to Joy Tsin Lau since I was a small child. Coming from a Vietnamese family, we frequent Chinatown often for groceries and food we can’t find in our regular, small-town supermarkets. Celebrating every milestone event (or just because), our family would congregate here on Sundays for some quality dim sum. Twenty something years later, I find myself continuing to congregate at Joy Tsin Lau for their amazing dim sum. However, instead of meeting up with just family, I also meet up with friends to introduce them to this wonderful treat.

The staff at JTL are very friendly and will work to satisfy your needs. The ladies pushing the dim sum carts will always stop at your table, usually multiple times, to see if you’d like anything from their selection. They speak English well enough to explain to you what each dish is in case you inquire. What’s great, too, is that even with only two people, the prices are still affordable. I was just there on Tuesday with one other friend and with all of the dishes we ordered (about nine), our total was less than $30–that’s close to $15 for each of us and we both were really full. We also were able to bring some home in take-out containers.

I’m wanting to return here, specifically for the dim sum, which I love. I can imagine how good it is at this particular place.

Now, to New Jersey and to the Frosted Mug

following the near miss of Hurricane Irene on Long Beach Island

This past summer, just after the massive Hurricane Irene made its way up the East Coast and near Long Beach Island, which was spared (though still evacuated as a precaution), labor Day weekend was truly glorious; sunny and in the upper 70s/low 80s, it made for a very nice way to close out the summer. Arriving in Beach Haven, on the island for the weekend, we had been out on a late Saturday morning for a walk, and decided to go to the Frosted Mug. As with Jersey City’s Texas Hot Weiners, the Frosted Mug is also a place that has a lot of resonance for me. As kids, we used to ride our bicycles there and have a cold soda in, you guessed it, a frosted mug. The food, as I recall, was so-so, but the place just had a sort of ambiance.

The look of this place hasn't changed much over the past few decades.

Our lunches? Jolie ordered the grilled cheese and it seemed to be nicely made.

I had the fried clam sandwich. It was okay, but loaded with cheese, which is not something I either was expecting or necessarily liked.

Essentially, though, this was the very essence of boardwalk food – hearty, sort of greasy, functional and filling. Perhaps an appropriate meal for a summer Saturday at the Jersey shore.

And here, of course, are a pair of actual frosted mugs, filled with our beverages.

Still as refreshing as they were when I was eleven or twelve.

Finally, we treated ourselves to some ice cream which they served there. The ice cream was, as I long remembered it, excellent. We thus left happy!

Then, after a short visit to a retro arcade and a game of  air hockey (USA vs. Canada), we were ready to head to the beach.

What a beautiful weekend to be at the beach!

A few weeks after these photos were taken, we returned to Beach Haven, where it was still summer like and warm

. The last place I will mention is a place in Bay Village, which contains various gift shops and attractions in the heart of Beach Haven.

Walking around, we decided to pop in at the Crust and Crumb Bakery and to split an order of their most famous menu item – the Elephant Ear. These are large, flat, crisp and cinnamony pastries and are also sometimes called “Palmiers.” But I’ve always only known them as Elephant Ears. As with shore taffy, fudge, hoagies, and cheese steak sandwiches, they are a shore staple on LBI that should be sampled at least once every few years. It had been a while, so we simply could not resist the sweet, sticky goodness of this taste treat. Crust and Crumb elephant ears are large, but also fairly flat, so their technique for making them is somewhat unique. And they have been making them in the same consistent way since I was a kid and perhaps even before then. Who knows? I do know, however, they they are fantastic.

Here is what their version of an elephant ear looks like.

an iconic Elephant Ear from the Crust and Crumb

When we were done, there literally were just some crumbs left on our paper bag

After enjoying her share of the elephant ear,

Jolie asked me what I thought of it; my reply

Two thumbs up to the Elephant Ear

This was also a weekend in which Jolie and I found a bunch of bits of sea glass; she”s now wanting to find a lot more of this. But that is probably for another entry at some other time.

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