Do you ever wander the backroads and old Main Streets of small towns, looking for that elusive gem that you can gush about on Trip Advisor? Somewhere out there… in a town you’ve never heard of.. Ma and Pa Kettle are cooking up something so amazing and unique that you can’t find it anywhere else on the planet. Someday you will find it, and when you do, you will tell all your friends about it in the style that you believe Hemingway used to speak of Spanish bars. In short, it will change your life, and you will be all the more debonair for knowing about it. Somewhere out there.. they are perfecting the recipe, waiting on you.
But.. I’m here to tell you that you probably won’t find it. You might, one of these days, but statistically speaking, it won’t be the next time you’re starving to death in a one-horse town. I do a fair amount of starving to death in small towns, and my research indicates that statistically, the local McDonald’s (or Dairy Queen, depending on what part of the world you’re in) is likely to have a better food enjoyment ratio than any local shop you walk into. I’d like to stress statistically because this statement is strictly about the numbers game. I’m not saying that you should go to McDonald’s. What you should do is keep gambling on one-off cafes with signs that say things like “Best Chinese Food in Town” with “and Mexican” spray-painted under it. You should keep looking for that El Dorado of hamburger stands or the coffee shop of the Second Coming of Christ. (If I had to guess, I’d say that the later is located in central Texas.) You should keep looking for this, because the payout is high. But be advised.. the odds are low.
I’m from a one stop light town myself (I remember when they changed it from a blinking red four-way to a real red-yellow-green traffic light…) and there is (was?) actually one thing to eat there that was worth driving to Dieterich for: the taco salad at the gas station. They made it one day a week- Doritos in the bottom of the bowl, lettuce, taco meat, fresh onions and tomatoes cheese and taco sauce.. I’ve since stolen the recipe and served it to various people who were very impressed at my ability to cook gas station food at home.
But statistically speaking, anytime you pick a random small town, then pick a random eating establishment, you are more likely to get a large portion of something that has at some point been frozen, which may or may not be fried, smothered in… something. The most likely smothering substance is cheese, but it could also be gravy or “special” sauce. But don’t be disheartened. There are exceptions out there. And when you do find yourself eating a bland burrito smothered in Viva Con Queso, just be glad you’re not starving to death in the Bible Belt, at 5pm on a Sunday (because if you were, nothing would be open).
I hate to end a blog on a depressing note, so I won’t. Remember when I said you should keep looking for hidden gems? Here are a few examples of what you might actually find:
– a photo op with a Cukoo bird in Miami, OK. (And pretty decent fried pickles.)
– Strawberries and chips and salsa on check-in at America’s Best Value Inn in Los Cruces, NM.
-$3 (or so) Jameson shots at the American Legion in Edgewood, IL.
– The elusive red burrito sauce (why don’t they have this in Texas?!) at any non-chain Mexican place in Illinois, Indiana, or Northern Missouri.
– Apricot milkshakes at Soda Jerk in Canton, TX.