Bagdad Cafe, Feb 2004. At the Daggett exit, the blue sign which displayed a knife, fork and plate, and another with a picture Bagdad Cafe, Newberry Springs, CA of a gas pump, were dead wrong. Daggett seemed to be closed, but it was nice to be free of traffic. So we continued east to Newberry Springs, where the side road took us to the Bagdad Cafe. This is not the local terrorist headquarters, but an Old-Route-66 establishment bearing the adjective World-Famous. Two ladies stood in front talking. One was waitress, cook, and cashier (and probably bus-girl and dishwasher too.) We were the only customers, although another couple came in later. We remarked on the map of France on the wall. "Oh, yeah," she said, "the French love to stop here." We can recommend most highly the chicken-fried steak and eggs with hash browns and rye toast. Being in the desert always meant being somewhat of a desert rat to us, and these back-road cafes have just the ambience we appreciate.Hickory Inn, Vega, NM
Hickory Inn, Aug 2003. We ate at The Hickory Inn Cafe in Vega, New Mexico, population 960. When we asked for Tabasco sause, the waitress trotted over with it, grinning: if we had been regulars, she would have just tossed it our way, but since we were strangers, she decided to be more polite.
Nellie's Cupboard, Aug 2001. Nellie’s Cupboard Home Cooking looks like a house, with a little vestibule in front of the front door where a farmer could knock off some dirt or snow before going in to eat. The tables are covered with aged oilcloth, and the waittress is firmly in charge.
“What’s the special?” she asks the regulars, and if they know it’s scalloped potatoes and ham, because it’s Monday, then they can order it. We thought we’d have soup and homemade pie. “We’ll talk about the pie later,” she informed us.
The big bowls of soup were accompanied by thick slices of warm home-baked vegetable bread smelling of herbs, so we settled down to eat and listen to the conversation around us. One smiling old farmer, probably past the age of active Sign for Nellie's cupboard work, had stopped to talk to two younger friends, who tried to entice him to come back after lunch and work with them inside their corn crib.
By then we had finished our soup, and the waitress cleared the table. She asked us if we still wanted pie, and as soon as we said yes, she ordered us to Wait. We would talk about what kind later. Later came after the waittress had seated one more table, collected some cash, and served two other tables their main dishes, talking constantly.
“Now," she said, "we have Coconut, Peanut Butter, Custard, Pumpkin, Rhubarb, Apple, Blueberry, Chocolate. And Blackberry, Peach, Caramel.” She scratched her head. “And Pecan.” There might have been more, but she was running out of steam, so we had one Rhubarb and one Blueberry. A la Mode.
Nellie’s is five miles East of Shullsburg and 2 miles South of Darlington, at the junction of Highways 23 and 11.
Jay's Cafeteria, Dec 2003. For better or worse, we've always been people who enjoy good food, and are willing to give just about any restaurant a try -- we note that food has often been a subject of our reports. Well, one of the staff at our hotel, who provides some of the breakfast and snacks, mentioned to us that she also works at Jay's Cafeteria. One afternoon the hotel had a special Christmas party for the guests, featuring her chicken mole enchiladas, which we found so delicious we decided to take a trip to Jay's. We drove south towards Lackland AFB to look for the place. We were distracted by clouds of black smoke coming from the base; we learned later they were burning some bad old Jay's Cafeteria, San Antonio, TX dynamite. Anyhow, we missed the turn and drove far down the frontage road of Highway 90 with no success. Returning to Lackland, we crossed over to the north side of the freeway and finally found Old Highway 90 angling off to the northeast. This was really, really old highway 90 as the motels appeared to date from the 30s and 40s. But finally we discovered a hole in the wall place called Jay's Cafeteria.
The menu is hand painted on the outside wall and on the wall behind the steam table, where the lady who speaks very little English grins happily. We approached the counter to order and she immediately asked In or Out. In, we said. You sit, she ordered, and we each took a drink out of the cooler and found a table where a loud boombox vibrated Mexican music. We could have chosen a quieter table, but the music added to the ambience. After a while she brought out two Mexican plates consisting of that same enchilada in a red corn tortilla with mole sauce, the most wonderful crisp taco we've ever had, rice and beans. Hot sauce she brought in a chilled bottle with green sauce inside. The seasonings had melted into the food, and were just heavenly. A steady flow of customers, mostly workmen in dirty clothes, mostly takeout, kept her busy. This food was definitely not Doctor Atkins. Since we noticed we were the only customers who had their plates delivered, we handed her a tip and received that wonderful big grin in return.
The next time we go back to Jay's we'll try some of the more unusual dishes on the menu. We know we won't be disappointed.
Lulu's Cafe, Nov 2003. If there is one city in Texas which we think of as "home", it is San Antonio. Lulu's Bakery and Cafe, San Antonio, TX We began our post-retirement travels by staying a couple of months here, transforming ourselves into Texas residents (rather, transforming our truck into a Texas Truck, complete with license plates and inspection sticker). Whenever we return to San Antonio, we discover new restaurants.
One morning, after a visit to the library, we found ourselves on an unfamiliar street and turned in to Lulu's Bakery and Cafe,"NEVER TRUST A SKINNY COOK... voted Best Chicken Fried Steak in San Antonio." It probably is. The plates are large and filled with food, There are cinnamon rolls for sale, each one weighing a pound and a half. Lulu herself is very much in evidence, coordinating things, welcoming customers, generally making sure everything is moving along efficiently, and all the while smiling her friendly Texas smile. Probably the best part is the waitresses themselves, sturdy, rollicking women of all ages in bright red t-shirts and perky grins.
Tip Top Cafe, Nov 2003. We were directed to the Tip Top by a good-sized man, a car salesman. He had Tip Top Cafe, San Antonio, TX moved to San Antonio from San Angelo, because he said every spring San Angelo had softball-sized hail. It dented the tops of all the new cars, which is pretty depressing for a car salesman. Anyhow, he packed up kit and caboodle and moved his family to San Antonio, where he was very happy, he said.
Tip Top is out on Fredericksburg Road, which heads north-northwest out of downtown San Antonio (once you get past the snarl of freeways). The waittresses all seem to be about 90 years old, and most of them keep a pot of coffee in one hand.
There are two things you must not miss at Tip Top: chicken-fried steak (no, don't ask us if it's better than Lulu's) and onion rings. The trick is a combination of the batter and the temperature and quality of the oil. Deep-fried foods come out with a crust kind of like Japanese tempura -- light and fluffy. A safe bet at Tip Top is for one person to order the steak and another the onion rings and then split everything fifty-fifty.
Lupo's Char-Pit, May 2006. Neither of us had been in Binghamton in a long time. Like much of eastern upstate New York, it's a stressed area, with a discouraging number of boarded-up houses. Along with Johnson City and Endicott, Binghamton is part of the Tri-Cities area, which once consisted of prosperous mills and factories along the Susquehanna River. The river is still there, but the factories have downsized.
In the vicinity of our motel we saw signs for "Spiedies." After investigation Lupo's Char-Pit, Endicott, NY we learned that Spiedies are creations of Italian-American origin. Small cubes of lamb or veal were first marinated -- preferably for days -- in a mixture of vinegar and mint and olive oil, and then skewered and barbecued for a short time, so they would remain juicy. Originally the skewered meat was served with rolls toasted with garlic butter, but since most people removed the meat and made a sandwich (it stayed warmer that way), the modern Spiedie is served as a sandwich. To keep the cost down, pork or beef is used as the meat, except at the August Spiedie Fest and Cook-Off.
Lupo's Char-Pit was recommended to us as the place to go for good Spiedies. We found the pork juicier than the chicken, and the sauce flavorful. We sat outside on a picnic table, the first day this year it was warm enough for us to do so.