By JoJo McGuire
When my wife and I went on our very first trip together, we knew it was truly love when we both stated that we never ate at restaurant chains or places we had tried before. Weird but true. We both like to support the “little man” and independent places. We have discovered some of the best food that way…
John Boy’s in Pigeon Forge is an awesome place with the best fried green tomatoes we have ever tried. The best bagels and lox, covered in tomatoes, onions and capers belongs to Skidders in Tampa, Florida. Even the Celestial Seasons Tea Company in Colorado had great stuffed tomatoes that we raved about and even took a picture of. These are places that we would gladly break our rules for to eat there again. (Truth be told, we did at both John Boy’s and Skidders.)
There are pitfalls as well. We should have learned early on that Chinese buffets and park lodges often do not lend themselves to great food. But no, it took two park lodges in Indiana and countless buffets through New York for us to discover that.
You would also think that on a drive of almost 600 miles, a straight shot down Interstate-75 to see our son, that there would be plenty of places that are new and interesting. There are. Does this make them good? Umm, let me think…
After five or six round trips from Cincinnati to Atlanta, I can safely say that on that stretch of highway, there are more places that should be avoided than visited.
Case in point. Do not ever stop at a place that claims it has “Best B-B-Q on the interstate.” Especially if those words are followed by 8-point font stating- clean showers, truckers welcome, open 24 hours. You cannot read it on the highway while going 70 miles an hour but you can tell it is there. Run and scream. You will sit down, order B-B-Q, not barbecue, and be served a scoop of canned meat on generic Wonder Bread. Later that night, you will also wonder where the rash on your back came from (the filthy booths) and why there is still a metallic taste in your mouth when you used plastic ware to eat.
Last year we were travelling down I-75 South and saw the Thacker Christmas Inn, the same inn that we see every time we hit Tennessee. We decided that this time we would eat there. We got excited and wondered about what we would experience. Would it be Christmas décor? Would we get to drink wassail? Would goose be on the menu even though it was the middle of July? We excitedly exited and turned towards the parking lot. Looking up, we saw open balconies and a seven foot gate surrounding the entire property. Looking into the rooms through the holes in the wall, you could see that there was not going to be any Wassail and goose today. How many times had we driven by and seen it? How long had it been closed?
Who cared? We were flipping starving and my mother- in- law (yes, she was with us and we enjoyed every second of it!!!) was about to see me on a food rant ready to break down and eat at a chain. There goes the “son-in-law of the year award.” (Unless I still get it for mentioning you here?)
So, there we were, starved and shaky. But wait, hadn’t we seen another sign at the exit? One for Scotty’s, Home of the Famous Scotty Burger. It looked independent and was definitely not a chain. Let’s try there.
We pulled into the rock-covered parking lot and immediately noticed the covered porch with a sign that read: Liar’s Corner. It looked bigger than the building we were about to enter. Pushing open the grease covered door, I looked down. Was that a spittoon? Who cared? I was starving.
We entered the one room building with ten vinyl covered seats at a counter, picked out the least cracked ones and placed our naked, sweaty legs on them. Looking at the menu, it was fairly easy to order: Scotty Burgers for my wife and I, nachos for the other two. The waitress (missing her front tooth like the Alan Jackson song) turned on the grill to heat it up. Looking at all of the grease she pushed to the back of the smoking grill made me scope out the emergency exits. (Just the greasy front door.)
I watched as she took a handful of nachos out of a bag and placed them on a plate, using an ice cream scoop to place the meat on top and then, holding the mound underneath the spigot, proceeded to push the lever down to dispense the cheese. (Think movie theater style). She quickly threw them somewhere to get hot. The microwave?
She got the drink orders for us: sweet tea, Dr. Pepper and water. My daughter immediately took a drink of her Dr. Pepper and exclaimed that it was watery. My mother-in-law busily poured sugar into her tea without looking. She took a drink and gagged; it was the Dr. Pepper. The two quickly switched and I thought about how glad I was that we would soon be done. The nachos were served, steaming hot and looking like a blob of school food that we would make the janitor clean from the walls. The Scotty Burgers served with fries; old school greasy sliders that could clog your arteries just looking at them.
We dug in too busy feeding our hunger to notice anything else. We did not even notice the fly, buzzing nervously inside the sugar dispenser, desperately trying to escape his prison by banging against the greasy glass walls that surrounded him. Nope, we did not notice him until we’d finished the food and Jo had poured more sugar into her tea.
We survived the Scotty’s debacle and still insist on stopping at independent restaurants on our many drives down I-75. We figured nothing could be as bad as Scotty’s – but that was before we stopped at Pizza Inn in Jellico, Tennessee and discovered that the “secret sauce” on our pizza was mustard.