Why this blog?
You’ve been driving for hours, and you’re famished. But all you’ve seen are the chain restaurants that sprout like weeds at every roadside approach to civilization. Sometimes, you’ll gamble on a freeway exit but are then forced to navigate a foreign world in hopes of miraculously striking gold.
You can ask the local gas station attendant or motel desk clerk what she or he recommends, with hit-or-miss results. You can try to decipher the rants and raves from online review sites. Or you can play it safe and go to one of the above-mentioned chains, where you know exactly what you’ll get in food and ambience, or lack thereof.
But isn’t the whole point of travel to expand your comfort zone, to experience different cuisines in different cultural settings? That, to my mind, means frequenting independent places, where the owner is often greeting you at the door or tending the grill.
Hence this blog, which is an attempt to steer you, on your road journeys, towards eateries that are tasty, affordable and, often, full of character, whether they’re in big cities or remote settings. What’s covered here are cafes, breakfast stops, lunch and dinner spots, delis, diners and pubs, plus some bakeries and ice cream and cheese shops. Because you might have been driving all day or just crawled out of a tent, these are casual places, where you don’t have to dress up, make reservations or (for the most part) pay or search for parking.
Obviously, I’ll be writing about places that I find worthy of trying (there will be some negative reviews, but the whole point is to recommend good to great spots). You may agree or disagree with me, but at least there should be some consistency in my tastes. To me, the great failing of online review sites is trying to come up with a rating based on a bunch of widely disparate views. They are great tools, for sure, but I’m often left wondering if the two “greats” offset the one “hate” for even the most promising-sounding places.
Another thing that’s different about this blog is I’ll briefly mention the cities and towns I’m passing through and the routes I’m following. Most online sites and food blogs review restaurants in complete isolation from their settings. But on a road trip, there has to be reason why you’re there in the first place or why you should take a detour off the major thoroughfares. To my mind, the journey and the food are inseparable.
Finally, this blog will primarily be about eateries in the west of the U.S. and Canada—specifically the area west of Texas and, in Canada, Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon. Why? Because that’s where I tend to make my road trips. I live in Calgary, Alberta, but over the past 25 years, I’ve made frequent driving trips to the U.S. southwest, especially in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. The Canadian and American west is a great part of the world, with a diversity of fabulous landscapes, many unpopulated roads and lots of fine places to stop for a meal, coffee or stiffer beverage.
Since I’m in search of affordable places, I’ve dispensed with the usual $-$$$$ price system. Pretty much all the places I cover are $ or $$, which means I tend to steer clear of places with big-name chefs and artistically arranged, small portions. As a rule, then, breakfasts are under $10, lunches a couple of bucks more and dinners well under $20, unless you tack on appetizers, desserts and booze; you’re on your own there. Let’s put it this way: On any given day on the road, I can have breakfast, two good coffees and maybe a baked good, lunch, dinner and a pint of beer for about $40.
Similarly, since I’m writing about, in my opinion, good to great places, I don’t bother with the star rating system. If you insist, most are four- to-five stars. If I’m really excited about the food, atmosphere/character and interactions with the staff or owner, I’ll award an *.