Thursday was a road food day. We started with a late breakfast (lunch?) at Red House BBQ in Tehachapi, CA, about 100 miles from our stockup point in Bakersfield. While Ben took Gyp out for a quick walk, I scouted the menu and layout—Road Food Rule #1: If the menu’s written on a chalkboard,it’s gonna be good. When I walked in, just 15 minutes after opening time, a line of people snaked halfway around the restaurant from the front desk. “Place must be great,” I thought. The three old men in front of me told me, “You’re gonna wish you’d gotten here ahead of us.”
I thought they were joking that they’d eat everything, because it looked that good. No. This group of seniors, as they stood in line, gazed at the chalk-written menu board for minutes on end—one would assume with the idea that they’d be making a decision and be ready to order when they approached the counter. But, when each one got to the front (and each had to order separately), he came up short with a start and an “oh!,” like he had no idea what to do next. This went on for about 20 minutes, while the mere six people in line ahead of us worked their way through the menu, and asked all the same questions of the ever-patient woman at the register. When she totaled up the bill, the old guy would apparently suddenly remember that he’d actually have to pay for this, and only then proceed to dig around in his pocket to pull out a wallet, slowly open it, and deliberately count out each dollar. By the time we made it to the front, we were truly ravenous.
Ben had a plate of ribs, Cajun stuffing, and mac & cheese. The fall-off-the-bone ribs were drenched in a spicy barbecue sauce that had him reaching for his iced tea time and again. The Cajun stuffing was rich with andouille sausage, corn kernels, and who-knows-what, all of it tasty. Lastly, his mac & cheese was good without being great—though we also had a sample of the “spicy” mac & cheese, and that was divine. I had a plate of brisket, fork-tender and juicy, a side of beans that was generously laced with jalapeños, and freshly-made hush puppies to round it out. Oh, and a beer to cut the spice, of course.
Carrying our stomachs before us, we climbed back in the truck and drove through a light rain on to our overnight stop: Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner (or, as they punctuate it, “50’s”). We pulled into the huge parking lot about an hour before sunset. The original diner was built in 1954 (complete with “Diner-saur” park, soda fountain, and gift shop) and is the ultimate in road trip kitsch. It appears Peggy Sue and her husband had some experience in show biz (he at Knott’s Berry Farm, she in an unspecified movie job), so the diner is an opportunity to share their memorabilia and their love of travel kitsch. They generously allow anyone to park overnight in their huge paved lot for free, and we chose a place along the back fence, our little Airstream nestled snugly amid a row of semi trucks loaded with everything from Walmart groceries to propane to live cattle.
Ben and I were still so stuffed from the lunch we’d had seven hours earlier, we couldn’t bring ourselves to eat. But, we felt we had to see what Peggy Sue had to offer, so, after waiting as long as we could, wandered through the parking lot and Diner-saur park,
the pizza parlor and meeting room, and found a seat across from the original counter, in one of the three remaining original booths. We split the Buddy Holly Bacon Burger, curly fries, and Italian meatball soup. The chocolate shake called to me—this IS a diner, after all! The burger was delicious, tasting exactly like a diner burger should, with just the right mixture of lean and fat, and sesame seed bun. Curly fries were crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, again, just like diner fries should be. The Italian meatball soup was good, and hot, which was the main thing: it was a long, cold walk from the carpark. Near the end of the meal, Ben wandered off to the soda fountain and returned with a strawberry/pistachio sundae, topped with whipped cream and chopped nuts. The pie looked amazing, but I truly felt as if I would explode, so I had to pass on that. As we were so late, the gift shop was already closed, so we hope to see it in the morning, and perhaps have our fortunes told by The King himself.
Now a bit about this chef’s road food
Despite Ben’s clearly expressed predilection for 50s housewives in pearls and high heels heating up Swanson TV dinners (see his blog, “Meandering with the Muse of Music”), unlike many RVers we’ve met, we don’t do pre-prepared food on the road. Our teeny freezer is stocked with fresh-frozen meats and vegetables, and our 7-cubic-foot fridge with fresh vegetables, dairy, and assorted condiments like dijon, garlic, mayo, chili sauce, etc. Yes, my spice rack is more limited than at Olive Avenue, but it contains: salt, pepper, cajun seasoning, pasilla (chile) powder, oregano, ginger, cumin, parsley leaves, herbes de provence, and fresh bay leaves picked the morning we left Marin. The cabinet holds cans of tuna, dried barley, rice, dates, olive oil, vinegar, and assorted nuts. Oh, and popcorn for movie nights—the only time we use the microwave.
It isn’t much, but we can combine these ingredients to create quite a variety of tastes, from Creole to Mexican, from French to classic American. Last night, we pressure-cooked a pork loin Cajun style, simmered in chicken broth with onion, bell pepper, and garlic. The extra liquid made a tasty and spicy sauce for the steamed broccoli—and an extra breakfast treat for Gyp. We’ve prepared Steak Diane on our cast iron grill, Moroccan-style chicken tagine with pomegranate sauce, homemade barley and vegetable soup, Thai-style chicken and vegetable stir fry over lemon rice with a side of peanut noodles, turkey cheeseburgers with roast potatoes, oven barbecued chicken and cornbread, and we always use our leftover meat on the next day’s fresh salad or veggie-stuffed omelet. Iron Chef Airstream, indeed.
But enough about food. I’m off to take yet another walk with Gyp, to help work off all this delicious road food.