Road Meats and Gas Station Coffees

Food and beverages on any road trip are important. They’re essential and even critical, not just because of nutrition but they can make or break an adventure. Aside from Quest bars and trail mix, my brother-in-law and I had our fair share of meals, snacks, and beverages to hold us over. We have to thank unofficial sponsors Starbucks (for nitro cold brews) and Vitamin Water (XXX was perfect for our PG-13 trek).

Road fuel also makes you do silly things.

Photo by I. Wilhelm

Here’s some of the food journey, eating a path across the northern United States.

Stone Arch’s Mushroom & Swiss Burger [Photo by C. Malone]

Stone Arch: MSP Airport, Minneapolis

For the short amount of time spent at Minneapolis’ airport, Stone Arch was a great stop to grab a bite before boarding the plane to Detroit. Last time I ate at in Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport it was at Chick-fil-A. After trying God’s house of chicken, I wasn’t impressed. My meal did come with a side of “God Bless,” but there aren’t enough prayers to convince me this fast food is worthy of repentance. The chain can say as many Hail Marys as it needs; I can only confess I’ll eat there if there’s nothing else available.

Stone Arch’s mushroom and Swiss burger caught my eye simply because of the immediate ingredients. It’s also topped with red wine-onion marmalade, horseradish mayo, and a crispy onion ring. The flavor was great and the horseradish mayo was definitely notable, especially since it wasn’t too overwhelming. The fries were very crispy and have my approval. Plus, the bun was toasted — that’s care right there.

I enjoyed a flight of IPAs, put together by my bartender. Yes, I trusted my server to pick out their favorites. All the beer on tap was Minnesota-brewed, and they were all new to me anyway. I can’t even remember which ones they were; however, they’re all delightful.

“B” is for Brisket at Smokin’ Mikes [Photo by C. Malone]

Smokin’ Mikes: Post Falls, Idaho

For the first lunch, we headed to the Liberty Stop-N-Go convenience stop as soon as we crossed into Idaho. This was the stop before the first tire on the trailer peeled apart. Brisket sandwich at Smokin’ Mike’s was so friggin’ delicious. The meat was so flavorful and tender — it was smoked to be eaten and enjoyed. The fries were also very good as well. It also came in a toasted roll. For $13, which may seem steep for the quantity, the food was quality and a basis for comparison the rest of the trip.

Somewhere in Montana: Big Sky Sandwich [Photo by C. Malone]

Lakeside, MT

I cannot remember the name of this restaurant for the life of me. Or the place. The photo was tagged with a location of Lakeside, MT. However, the restaurants did’t look correct. There are so many Google searches a person can do before repetition yields obsessiveness. I finally decided to add aquarium in the search, and this rest stop in St. Regis appeared — and it looked familiar.

Regardless of where this place was, this sandwich was called The Big Sky. If I’m not going to get a T-shirt that says Montana, I may as well eat something with its nickname. It was a good pulled pork sandwich, complete with coleslaw and cheddar. It couldn’t compare to Smokin’ Mike’s brisket sandwich; however, it was good in its own right.

Mark this Cuban for a win [Photo by C. Malone]

Mama Blanca’s: Whitefish, MT

After a day trip hiking up to the Glacier National Park’s Sperry Chalet, which is tied for the fifth “strenuous” hike in the national park with a 12.3-mile trip and 3,360 elevation gain, and realizing that I was (and probably still am due to this COVID stuff) more out of shape than admitted, Isaac and I hit up Mama Blanca’s Mexican restaurant near the hotel we stayed at.

Similar to current New York state guidelines, we were able to take a table and eat without the stress of having to wear a mask. Who can actually eat with a mask anyway? They’re not food permeable. The restaurant was out of fries — seriously, how do you run out of fries — so I was able to enjoy some lightly fried plantains. Spoiler: It was a definite upgrade.

The plantains were incredibly delicious, and the semi-spicy sauce that came with the four plantain slices was super flavorful. Had I known this was an option, I would have substituted the banana cousin for the taters.

The Cubano was a win as well. The flaky bread. The pork and ham. The Swiss and mustard. Those pickles hiding out in that flavor forest. It was heavenly and one of the best Cubanos I’ve enjoyed. Especially after such a hike — it was even more delicious.

Buffalo Valley Cafe: Moran, WY

The day after Isaac’s hike in the Tetons and my adventure through Yellowstone National Park, we hit up a random eatery — Buffalo Valley Inn and Cafe. It’s one part functioning dude ranch called the Heart Six Ranch, one part motel with covered wagon overnight stays, and a cafe.

It was interesting, pet friendly, people were friendly, and the food was good. The service was a tad bit slow but not as slow as the service for our tire blowouts.

The chicken sandwich was pretty basic with cheese and a side of guacamole. The sweet potato fries were nice and thick but definitely not fresh cut fries. Still, for a quick meal on the ride to Thermopolis, it hit the spot.

One Eyed Buffalo Brewing Company: Thermopolis, WY

Can we just pause for a moment and take in the name of this town — Thermopolis. It’s the “Gateway to Yellowstone National Park.” It claims to house the world’s largest mineral spring. It’s name belongs in The Flintstones‘ world.

It truly is a cool place. The One Eyed Buffalo isn’t too shabby either.

Isaac and I ended up meeting with a cousin of his, enjoying a soak in the mineral springs, and then dinner at the brewery, which was noted for its macaroni and cheese dishes aside from its beer. The crafts weren’t bad but the food was much better.

The spinach and artichoke macaroni and cheese was cheesy, creamy, and packed with flavor. It’s of those adult dishes your child would love; however, you wouldn’t want to share it.

When in Wyoming, eat bison. The bison burger, cooked to my liking (medium rare) was very delicious. Adding that Swiss cheese and those mushrooms — a different euphoria than basking in the hot springs but equally as satisfying. The tater tots were a better choice than the standard fries. Just by looking at the photo above (right), those tots scream crispiness.

Down and Dirty with Huckleberries [Photo by C. Malone]

Dirty Sally’s General Store: Ten Sleep, WY

In order to get down in the northwestern states, you have to become one with the huckleberry. The cousin of the blueberry is as populous as northeast Irish Catholics. It was something we had to try, according to Issac’s cousin and aunt, so we brought a huckleberry muffin mix we enjoyed the following morning. However, the milkshake version was no comparison to breakfast treats.

We stopped at Dirty Sally’s General Store, a notable establishment in Ten Sleep, WY — another unique name, especially for a population of around 250. The store is very cool truly lives up to its general store designation, plus offers those tourist-attractive items. I loved every second in that place.

Aside from milkshakes, we did get sandwiches for later in the day. The sandwiches were basic meat, veggie, and cheese grab-and-gos, but they were also very good. The milkshakes did live up to their expectations. I highly enjoyed the medium-thick shake filled with little huckleberries that had tendency to get stuck in the straw.

Deep Water, Heat Lamps [Photo by C. Malone]

Deep Water Grille & South Shore Brewery: Ashland, WI

Whitefish is a particularly popular fish in all of the Great Lakes. Since we were visiting Lake Superior, it was an easy sell to me. Deep Water Grille’s sandwich came with a generous portion of baked fish, onion, lettuce, and tomato. Crispy waffle fries joined in on the fun meal. Whitefish has a great, clean taste — clean as in “not fishy.” Opting for the less expensive sandwich option proved to be a great choice, considering this was filling.

Unfortunately, the restaurant didn’t allow great photographs. The red lighting felt like sitting under a heat lamp without the toastiness. The restaurant was actually very comfortable, too, for these pandemic days. In between the booths, plexiglass stood strong.

South Shore Brewery‘s beers were very good and better than One Eyed Buffalo’s offerings. The Honey Double Maibock (front and center in the photo) was one to take note of. It was crisp and refreshing to say the least.

TAP30: Petoskey, MI

Petoskey, MI, is a cool city. It was a relatively quick stop to step into more Great Lakes, eat some food, and witness a kid getting scolded by his mom, who was on her lunch break. She saw her child walking the neighborhood and got on his case about his wandering instead of taking care of childhood chores. The kid made a valiant attempt and conjured up some excuse that fell extremely flat.

Isaac and I hit up TAP30 for comfort food and brews. The BBQ brisket quesadilla caught my eyes. Yes, more brisket. The quesadilla was actually very delicious. The guac was fresh. The jalapeño aioli was flavorful and not intense. The tomato was also very fresh.

Unique and tasty brisket quesadilla in Petoskey [Photo by C. Malone]

Chili’s: Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Detroit, MI

After an unexpected stay at a dingy Howard Johnson and no cheap, hair strand-seasoned continental breakfast, I hoped to find something of sustenance to fill the void. The night before I ended up walking across the street to the Speedway gas station, also dingy, for Quest bars and a Miller Lite tall boy. I was living it up like royalty.

Despite the crummy Howard Johnson, the other people staying in the hotel were incredibly personable. These interactions were proof and reminders to not judge a personality by outward appearances. We’re all human, ergo, we should all treat each other as so.

After searching the airport for food, I came up with very limited options. Starbucks wasn’t even open. However, Chili’s was and they served brunch. I paid for a coffee, which wasn’t terrible, and an overpriced bullshit, err, breakfast sandwich. For $12.99, I got the below meal, which I like to call “Disaster in a Basket Combo Meal” — a sausage and cheese sandwich in between a cheap biscuit, plus hash browns. There was also a handful of ketchup packets — they must have got my memo.

The biscuit wasn’t bad. The meat was no bueno. The hash browns made me smile.

Disaster in a basket [Photo by C. Malone]

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