Big Mac 50th Anniversary Celebration — kinda

I am a sucker for Pop Culture kitsch.  So, today McDonald’s kicked off the 50th Anniversary Celebration for the Big Mac by giving out commemorative coins when you order a Big Mac (while supplies last, of course). Being the Pop Culture lover that I am, we went for it.

I remember well when the Big Mac was introduced with the catchy song that said “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.”  I can still rattle that off after 50 years!

Well, I learned from the web announcements that only 6.9 million coins were to be given out in over 14,000 locations. The coins can be collected or, alternatively, can be used one time between now and the end of the year to get a free big Mac.

Coin Commemorating the First Ten years (1968-1978)

Coin Commemorating the LAST TEN years (2008-2018)

Showing off our coins from McDonald’s — all three were the same coin

There are five coins representing each decade from 1968 to 2018 and the idea is to collect all five coins. It was supposed to be such that when you go to McDonald’s and order a Big Mac that you get a free coin. I went with Autumn first thing this morning (after 10:30 when lunch starts) and ordered two big Macs and they told me only one coin per order. (The ads specifically said “Buy a Big Mac, get a Free Coin.”) We later went to another McDonald’s and they told me they’re given out for EACH Big Mac and they gave a coin for each one ordered, even if they had to make separate orders at the time.

Coins at McDonald’s

Turns out that each restaurant gets a box of coins that are all the same so you have to go to multiple restaurants to get all five coins which means you have to go to multiple restaurants and buy multiple Big Macs as you cannot buy three Big Macs at one restaurant to get three different coins.  Hassleiferous!!

The McDonald’s Restaurant design near the Galleria in Dallas up until December 2017.

Another view of the former design

To further tell the story, I had done some research and discovered that one of the most unique McDonald’s restaurants in the world was actually in Dallas and so we took the nearly 40 minute drive down there to go see this McDonald’s that looks like a giant happy meal with a giant Big Mac. I thought it would be a perfect backdrop for showing off our new Big Mac Coins on the Big Mac 50th birthday! Much to our surprise, that particular restaurant design was no longer there and when we went in to ask about it, we were told that the store had been remodeled in December 2017. Sadly, the eight or nine different websites that had pictures and told about the unique design of the former restaurant were not apprised of the changes and had not done any follow up to verify. We drove 40 miles from Fort Worth to go there. Sadly JSP Management (the Franchisee for the DFW area) never bothered to share the information….. A wasted drive of 80 miles…..  Interestingly, the manager there told me they get a few people everyday that come in and ask what happened.  SAD.

The remodeled design as of January 2018

You can see above what the original looked like and what it looks like today. I guess that McDonald’s would rather generesize their stores so, like their basically non-descript generic burgers, their stores to are all non-descript. That too is sad.

All said, I do have two different coins and I am happy about that. And that’s all I’m going to get it because I am not going for any more Big Macs today!  Chances are they will all be gone over the next day or two.

A Look Back at 2017

Been a year worth many Smiles! Smile Gas in Madison Heights, VA

I have to admit that my life is rich and joyful. This past year has been one very interesting and challenging year. There have been more ups and downs then a roller coaster ride in Kings Island.  But I made it through the year with a smile on my face!!

The year started off on a high note as we were in Maryland finishing up a Christmas vacation and I saw a beautiful sunrise. We had some nice travel and then I started a new contract job for PrecisionHawk, a company that manufactures drone software. I was very excited, though it was a contractor position, I was able to work from home which made it very nice. My contract was supposed to be for one year but later on in the year the company transitioned management and many decisions were made, including one to eliminate all positions outside of North Carolina, which included me. That was totally unexpected, but, those kinds of things happen in this economy nowadays so one has to just roll with the punches.

Sunrise as seen from Ocean City, MD on New Year’s Day 2017…that’s the Atlantic Ocean.

Visiting PrecisionHawk HQ in NC in early January 2017

In February my daughter Marissa and I made a trip to Houston to drop off a trailer to my son Seth and his wife Holly.  We took Missy’s kids and had some fun stops along the way there (in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana) and back (in Texas, Arkansas and Missouri).  Road trips are always a blast, but are even more fun with Grandikidz!

Visiting Alabama with Landen, Lyla and Joselyn

The giant Saturn Rocket on display at the Welcome Center near Huntsville, AL

Lunch at Mammy’s Cupboard in Natchez, MS (see Roadside America Post abt Mammy’s Cupboard)

Stopover in Louisiana

Holding a baby gator at the Gator Chateau in Jennings, LA

They do get much bigger!!

Being Chunky in Chunky, MS

Having Fun with the Grandkidz at the Magnolia Market Silos in Waco, TX

Time in Houston was fun as well.  Found a great quirky burger joint that we all went to.  Pretty unique…

The Shack Burger Resort in Cypress, TX – a load of fun!!

After visiting the family we returned home, first with a stopover in Uncertain, Texas to see the swamps.  Though uncertain about things, we met Aaron Applebaum (Mystique Tours) who took us on a boat tour through the swamp.  Didn’t see gators, but this February morning was a nice ride.  The kids even go to drive the boats.

Uncertain, Texas

Joselyn and Grampz on the boat somewhere in the swamp of Caddo Lake, near Uncertain

Aaron Applebaum let’s Landen drive the boat in the swamp

from the swamps of Texas/Louisiana, we headed north through central Arkansas and Missouri — a route that brought both planned and unplanned adventures.  In the middle of Arkansas, we came across a massive flock of migrating Snow Geese as we crested a hill.  What an amazing sight!!  We went through Missouri and then had a super time in Metropolis, IL.

Thousands of snow geese take to flight in central Arkansas

Hitting Missouri with the grandkidz

Having a super time with Superman in Metropolis

Later in the month my wife and daughter had a trip to Indianapolis to attend Time Out For Women. Wanting a road trip, I went along for the weekend ride.  We went out of our way to visit Story, IN and the Story Inn for lunch.  While they were at their conference, I visited some places in Indy.  Always seeking adventure!

Story, Indiana

The Historic Story Inn offered some amazing food!

Nashville, Indiana

Welcome to Indianapolis!

Hanging with Anthony Snape after his fabulous show at the Lexington Opera House.

We didn’t travel in March at all, but I was thrilled to attend an amazing concert in Lexington, where I got to meet up with my old Australian musician pal Anthony Snape, who performed with the amazing Tommy Emmanuel.  I took Marissa and she had a blast!

Later in the year I also got to attend a couple of other concerts, which I’ll note below.

 

Visiting Shenandoah National Park on Easter 2017

Julianne’s sister had a time share reservation in Virginia and so they set up a three night stay over Easter Weekend. As always, I wanted to drive.  I would take Julianne up there and then drive back on Easter morning.  I had a spectacular Easter morning visiting Shenandoah National Park and celebrating my own Easter Sunrise Service.  Had a spectacular moon (and even got a photo of Venus!!!) and took a really nice shot of a deer.

Easter Moon (taken with a Nikon D5200 and Tamron 200mm-600mm lens)

Caught this deer at sunrise off the side of the road. It stayed long enough for a quick shot.

Easter sunrise from atop the Shenandoah Mountains

By July I was out of “full time“ work and was striving to make it on the two or three small contracts that I had for a number of years with Vype magazine. That made things very difficult.

A composite of me with all of my grandchildren in 2012 and then again, same pose in 2017 (minus the youngest)

Hanging with the Grandkidz at the Wigwam Village in Cave City, KY. Yes, we stayed there!

That said, it was probably fortuitous that my position was eliminated because in July one of the highlights of the year came along and that was being able to be with my entire family for the first time in five years. All of my children and all my grandchildren were gathered together here in Kentucky and we had in some cases up to two weeks of reunion with family members.

With the family reunion came some additional fun as we traveled with parts of the family to a number of diverse areas including Mammoth Cave National Park, New York to see the Hill Cumorah Pageant and along the way a couple of beautiful state parks with amazing waterfalls, then on to Cleveland where we had another huge family gathering with my Laurienzo family and most of my family that was with us on the trip.

With Grandkidz at Mammoth Cave NP

Mammoth Cave

At the amazing waterfall in Letchworth State Park in New York

One of dozens of waterfalls in the gorge at Watkins Glen State Park in New York

With my wife’s sister Laura and her husband Richard in the depths of the gorge at Watkin’s Glen

Got to see my good friend Corey White, who was performing in the Hill Cumorah Pageant.

Visiting King’s Island as a family – what fun!

Making a splash with my granddaughter Autumn

All of us enjoyed the view from atop Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh, PA

Cleveland!

With my sisters Nicole and Tina and brother Joe in Cleveland

My sister Sherry came up from Texas with her husband Brian and daughter Savannah to join us for a couple of days.  Had a thrill going with them to see the band Chicago perform in Cincinnati.  I hadn’t seen them since 1975!!

Traveling to Cincinnati with Sherry and Brian to go see Chicago

Chicago Live in 2017!

One of the many roller coasters at King’s Island

The two weeks in July was an amazing time and one which most of us will not forget too soon.  We even got some family pics, including this goofy one at Waveland State Historic Park near Lexington.  I was contracted by the park to do their official photography for websites and other materials.  It has been fun to do this throughout the year.

The whole family in prime form – July 2017!

The year also brought sadness for me as one of my very good friends, Joseph Higginbotham, got ill and eventually passed away. Joseph was a good man and he had no family, very few friends and really nobody there for him, so I made numerous trips to West Virginia while he was in intensive care, a nursing home and ultimately in hospice. I was with Joseph at his bedside when he passed away.

Remembering my good friend Joseph Higginbotham, who passed away in June 2017

I also had a dear sweet cousin pass away. Donna Shoemaker, a cousin of mine through my Laurienzo family, passed away this year. She was one of the sweetest and kindest souls I’d ever met. Knowing her added luster to my life!

With my cousin Donna in 2016.

Visiting with Charles Snow

During 2017 I was also able to visit in North Carolina with one of my very close friends from college days who had also worked with me at Nava-Hopi Tours in Flagstaff, AZ. Charles Snow has been a friend of mine for well over 36 years, and I was thrilled to visit with him in North Carolina. He too has had some major illnesses and it breaks my heart. My thoughts and prayers go out for him daily as he suffers and struggles from a rare disease and from congestive heart failure. This kind of thing brings sadness to my heart. Besides him, I have a few other friends who are struggling.

Happy Happy Happy

But, where there are downs, there are also upsides. And the year brought many wonderful and exciting things for me, some of which were lifetime thrills!

When you speak of the highlights of your life, it often centers around children being born, getting married or some big events like that. I have had many of those in my life, but this year I had three big “Once in a lifetime” type of rare events happen.

The first of these occurred in January when I had heard about the possibility of seeing the migration of sandhill cranes as they come through Kentucky. In mid-January ventured south to Barren River Lake to check it out during their sandhill crane event. I was excited as I saw 200 or 300 Sandhill Cranes far out in a field. I couldn’t ever get very close.

Got to be amazed by Sandhill Cranes in January…1000s of them.

But, I had also heard that there might be some near Cecilia, Kentucky, which is near Elizabethtown. So that morning I drove up I-65 to Cecilia and drove around a little bit. Soon I came across a flock of these tall, beautiful sandhill cranes. To my astonishment, I soon saw that there were thousands of them! They surrounded me in every direction. The eerie sound they make echoed in my ears while I saw the beautiful grace of these birds taking off and landing in massive numbers while many others stayed on the ground feeding on the leftover corn in the farmland that they were in.

Love the Sandhill Cranes!

I hung around for nearly 5 hours watching this beautiful event, all the way until sunset. It will always remain a highlight of my life, though I plan to visit and revisit again in future years, including this upcoming January (2018).  Ironically, in December of this year we went to Barren River Lake State Resort Park and stayed three nights.  I once again saw hundreds of this birds!

Sandhill Cranes in December 2017 near Barren River Lake State Resort Park

Viewing the Solar Eclipse near Hopkinsville, KY

Another event happened, also in Kentucky. The middle of the year there was the famed great solar eclipse of 2017. It was a full eclipse which is very rare. In my 61 years of life, I had never seen one. So I took the day off and I booked it down to Hopkinsville, Kentucky where it was supposedly the epicenter and perhaps the best place in the world for viewing the eclipse. Thousands and thousands of people gathered from all around the world to witness this natural event. I was one of them.

Many cars had things on them like this one to go see the Total Eclipse

Thousands were in chairs to see the eclipse

This kid was focused!

For a couple of hours I drove around witnessing the “circus“ atmosphere in Hopkinsville. People were dressed in eclipse T-shirts and many had their Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon“ T-shirts on. Of course, everyone had their solar sunglasses!

As the event got near, I sought to find a place away from many people. I eventually found a small church that had parking for $10 and I paid them and I went and parked and sat and watched the event with amazement. I tried desperately to find a good filter for my camera in the previous weeks, but was not able to, so I had to wait until the actual event occurred to get some photos, which are shown below. Talk about a wonderful highlight!

Total Eclipse as seen through my Nikon

I got the Diamond!!

The last shot with my camera before the sun came out. Didn’t have a filter.

The third big exciting event of my life happened just a few weeks ago as I published my first book. I plan on publishing another 11 in the series, but my first book, titled “Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names,” is a book that took thousands of miles of travel and a lot of visits to out of the way places. I had written many blog posts and taken hundreds of photographs to finally create enough content for this book and those that will follow.

Published my First Book in December. Available on Amazon…sold over 100 copies and over 150 Kindle downloads in first month

Another highlight and good note for me for the year was being hired as a full-time employee by the website ComicBook.com in October. This was my first hired position in over five years and I have to say that I was filled with joy and gratitude for the opportunity. I am currently managing their database, which is massive and includes movies, television shows, anime and many other things. It’s a great opportunity for me and it’s a blast to work with superheroes all day!

My Happy Place

My Happy Place

This year I spent many hours visiting the nearby Jacobson Lake in Lexington, taking photographs of sunrises, sunsets, nature scenes and lots of birds. It has become my “happy place” where I can seek solace and enjoy the wonderful variety of God’s creations.

I got my first good photographs of eagles in 2017. There are two bald eagles that are hanging around the lake and I was able to photograph them and experience that wonder.

Heron with breakfast

One of my many bald eagle shots

Not only did I get to see eagles, some of them close up as the photo below shows, but I also was able to witness a massive flock of Snow Geese in Arkansas as I traveled with my grandchildren, I was able to watch Osprey dive in the water and grab fish, I watched with amazement as a Baltimore oriole wove its nest in a sycamore tree over a number of days. This year became my bird watching year and it was wonderful.

 

Took this Bald Eagle shot near Cave Run Lake

My happy duckling

I am amazed at nature and the variety that it offers. It’s been wondrous to watch cormorants swimming in groups in the lake as they “herd“ fish into a corner and then feed voraciously! It has been interesting to see the unusual and curious looking merganser ducks swim in flocks together. It is always peaceful to watch the graceful flight of a great blue heron or a great white egret. Both of which I’ve been able to experience this year. (I’ll be doing a subsequent post on my best bird shots of 2017 — so watch for it.)

A Red-winged blackbird

This goldfinch apparently had a bad day

Great White Egret in Flight

An amazing bird – the Osprey

Then there are others….

Flying squirrel

Blue Heron with Breakfast

Despite the negative political climate that has evolved in America, the terrible hurricanes and earthquakes and fires that are devastated much of America, I have been very blessed to be in a lovely place and not be directly impacted by any of these things. I have been able to enjoy life to its fullest this year. I’ve been able to see God’s creations. Through my photography I have made many new friends. I am fortunate to get to see many of them at the lake. I’ve been able to have joy with my 10 grandchildren, my five children and my lovely wife throughout the year.

Some of my photographer friends….thanks to them for making 2017 a good year

Hanging with Eddie Flinchum at the lake

Jerome Keeler

Charles Gough

Hallie Faurest

The gang at an eagle shoot meetup at Taylorsville Lake

Finally, we finished off the year on a high note.  Earlier in the year I had been contracted to do the photography for Waveland State Historic Park in Lexington. Through them we coordinated an agreement with the Barren River Lake State Resort Park. We spent three days in a unit down there (read Staycation) between Christmas and New Years.  Saw some splendid sunrises and sunsets and got to revisit the Sandhill Cranes. There were thousands of them all over the sky.

Winter evening sky at Barren River Lake

Sandhill Cranes fly across the sky

Daughter Chelsea takes after her Dad, catching the sunset

Found Paradise Point nearby — what a kick (there will be a separate blog post about this)

Brilliant Sky over Barren River Lake

When I look back on the year 2017, it will be with joy and happiness and many many many fond memories.

Choose Happy

So, as 2017 comes to an end, my heart is filled with gratitude and joy and I look forward to a splendid 2018!

End of 2017 — sunrise near Barren River Lake

Countdown 365: #312 – Thanksgiving Day

TDay14Thanksgiving Day is THE day for gratitude and thanks.  However, I have been “counting my blessings” daily and so I want to use Thanksgiving Day 2015 as a day of gratitude for THAT specific day as it turned out to be a wonderful day from stat to finish.

The day would prove to be a very busy one, but one filled with joy points, family gatherings, and lots of food and fun.

Early Morning full moon on Thanksgiving Morning

Early Morning full moon on Thanksgiving Morning

The full moon glowed opposite the sunrise

The full moon glowed opposite the sunrise

I actually started the day off early to make an early morning visit to my favorite sunrise viewing spot at Jacobson Lake, only a few miles from my house. The skies were partly cloudy and still dark as I made my way to the lake. The moon was bright and full.  The air was crisp at about 46 degrees, but it was beautiful.

Behind me the moon was full and still glowing at 7 AM.  In front of me the sky was filled with dozens of shades of pink and orange at dawn.  The sun still had to make its way up above the

A jet streaks across the sky before the sun made its way above the horizon

A jet streaks across the sky before the sun made its way above the horizon

horizon, but, was already lighting the sky.  A jet streaked across the sky with its contrails glowing orange.  Canadian geese welcomed the morning…some took flight, others took a morning swim in the cool waters of the lake.

For me, this was a glorious and magnificent way to start off my Thanksgiving Day.  I stood by the side of the lake with a heart filled with gratitude for the beauty of this earth and for the blessing of being able to experience it with all of my senses.  And photos honestly don’t do justice.  But, here are a few from this early morning experience.

A panorama shot of the lake and skies just before sunrise

A panorama shot of the lake and skies just before sunrise

Geese in flight overhead at dawn

Geese in flight overhead at dawn

Geese hit the water for an early morning swim. It is wonderful to see them glide into the lake in tandem

Geese hit the water for an early morning swim. It is wonderful to see them glide into the lake in tandem

The early morning sky was filled with color

The early morning sky was filled with color

Geese swim by as they await the grand entrance of the sun

Geese swim by as they await the grand entrance of the sun

The sun finally makes an appearance as it peeks through the clouds on the horizon

The sun finally makes an appearance as it peeks through the clouds and trees on the horizon

Here comes the sun (I can hear George Harrison's sweet voice)

Here comes the sun (I can hear George Harrison’s sweet voice)

Glorious Thanksgiving Sunrise

Glorious Thanksgiving Sunrise

I sat in awe, as I often do, watching the glorious sunrise, listening to the cackle of the geese, watching the blue herons snuggle with the bushes to stay warm in the early morning cool.

I was physically and emotionally revitalized and ready to pursue the exciting family events of the day.  This solitary time with camera, wildlife, clouds and sun is something I crave.  Yes, I love music in my ears and I work in front of a computer all day.  But THIS is escape for me.  I love the open roads for the same reason. The world is glorious and God’s creations are magnificent.  And, on Thanksgiving morning, it was almost like a private worship service for me.

Sunrise on Thanksgiving

Sunrise on Thanksgiving

Turkey in brine getting readied for the Big Green Egg experience

Turkey in brine getting readied for the Big Green Egg experience

I left with a full heart and headed back home.  I had already put wood chips out to soak in preparation for grilling and smoking a turkey on my Big Green Egg. Originally, Julianne and I had planned to just go to a catered buffet for Thanksgiving this year.  No fussing, no dirty dishes, etc.  Julianne’s cousin Tregoney Shepherd, who happened to be in Louisville as one of the performers in the traveling Broadway production of “Wicked,” would be joining us for this brunch.  But our daughter Chelsea made it known that she was having a big get together and wanted me to smoke a turkey on the BGE.  Soon, Julianne had volunteered to bring a “few” things as well. So much for the “non-cooking” day.

Got the Big Green Egg smoking

Got the Big Green Egg smoking

We prepped the turkey the night before by brining it with numerous herbs, etc.  This has traditionally been our way of doing a turkey for a few years.  When I got home I warmed up the BGE and got it smoking good.  I actually heated up the grill to about 700 degrees to clean off all of the stuff that had built up and then cooled it back down to about 250 as we prepped for the turkey.

These grills are fabulous because they have what they call the convEGGtor™  which provides for indirect Convection Cooking on the Big Green Egg.  These allow heat to efficiently radiate within the dome while preventing the flames and heat from over-cooking the food.  I put this in the grill and added the soaked Pecan wood chips and the grill was ready for the turkey!

FireintheHoleThese get nice and hot and provide a great balanced method of cooking almost anything.  We have cooked pizzas, veggies, pork loins, steaks, Portabello mushrooms and even cantaloupe on them.

You can see by the photo on the left that they are flaming and warm.

It was ready for the turkey!!

 

 

Turkey on the BGE

Turkey on the BGE

I opened the grill for a great shot of the BGE doing its job smoking.

I opened the grill for a great shot of the BGE doing its job smoking.

At Copper Roux with Tregoney

At Copper Roux with Tregoney

Once we had the grill going, it was time to get ready to head out with Tregoney for the Thanksgiving brunch.  We made arrangements with Bayou Bluegrass Catering, which offered a Thanksgiving Buffet that started at 11 AM at their Copper Roux facility. It was a nice experience and NO DISHES AND CLEANUP!

The Thanksgiving Buffet had many traditional offerings, but there were also some southern accented dishes such as their green beans with bacon, collard greens, Cajun spiced turkey and gravy, corn pudding and shrimp with grits. There were also many amazing desserts.

Salads aplenty at Copper Roux buffet

Salads aplenty at Copper Roux buffet

Enjoying buffet at Copper Roux

Enjoying buffet at Copper Roux

Some of the amazing desserts at the Copper Roux buffet

Some of the amazing desserts at the Copper Roux buffet

We left the Copper Roux fairly full.  I tried not to overdo it and I avoided the things I knew I would get at Chelsea’s later in the day.  We hurried home where I checked on the turkey, which was basically done.  Julianne prepped a couple more things for Chelsea’s shindig and then we all took some brief naps before heading to Chelsea’s at 5 PM for their festive Thanksgiving affair.

Ugh...an undesired Thanksgiving tradition continues with a trip to Kroger

Ugh…an undesired Thanksgiving tradition continues with a trip to Kroger

Over the past three to four years it has become an unfortunate Thanksgiving tradition that I end up making two to three trips to Kroger for forgotten or needed items.  Due to our advanced preparations and our going to the buffet, I figured for sure that I would not have to make a trip.  But alas, I ended up keeping this unwanted tradition….

Seems like there is always something that gets forgotten or is needed at the last minute.  This time it was creamed corn, pumpkin pie spice and aluminum foil.  Thank goodness it was a nice day!!

Joined my granddaughter Autumn in the tradition of a Thanksgiving "Turkey Hat"

Joined my granddaughter Autumn in the tradition of a Thanksgiving “Turkey Hat”

After the naps we were off to Chelsea’s.  Ultimately, there were going to be 30-40 people show up for this one.  Her husband Jorge and his brother Luis have an extended group of Mexican friends that are almost like family.  We have gotten to know many of them.  This was a mixture of American tradition with Mexican flair.  We brought our smoked turkey and there was a Mexican spiced turkey there as well.  Along with the pumpkin, pecan and apple pies, there was also a tres leches cake.  Chelsea also made this tasty warm fruity Mexican punch called “ponche” which was wonderful.

Mexican Ponche was delightful.

Mexican Ponche was delightful.

Our smoked turkey from the Big Green Egg

Our smoked turkey from the Big Green Egg

Mexican spiced turkey

Mexican spiced turkey

Some of the spread, including spicy deviled eggs with jalapenos

Some of the spread, including spicy deviled eggs with jalapenos

Chelsea's famed Googleberry Pie (actually using an old family recipe from my wife's family)

Chelsea’s famed Googleberry Pie (actually using an old family recipe from my wife’s family)

Thanksgiving Hat Fun with Tregoney, me, Julianne and Chelsea

Thanksgiving Hat Fun with Tregoney, me, Julianne and Chelsea

Pot of Ponche with pineapple, apples, raw sugar cane, and more.

Pot of Ponche with pineapple, apples, raw sugar cane, and more.

There was fun and music (Jorge set up his DJ equipment and we listened to Christmas music on the back deck drinking the ponche and enjoying the festivities in English and Spanish).

It is always fun to join Chelsea and her family friends.  Though there is a great deal of Spanish being spoken, we are still able to communicate.  We have been to so many of these that many of the friends are almost like family, giving us hugs when they visit.

Julianne and I typically leave before the REAL fun begins. Many of them have a few beers or some wine and the dance music begins.  They party and dance late into the night with traditional Bachata dancing and perhaps some other kinds.  They all know how to party hearty and it is all in good fun.

As for Julianne and I, we returned home, put the food away and crashed.  It was a long, yet wonderful Thanksgiving day.  Friday would bring family to the house for more family feasting and fun as our three children and their kids would spend the afternoon with us.

Truly grateful for Thanksgiving and the opportunity to celebrate with family and friends.

 

 

Countdown 365: #354 – A Free Dinner at Chuy’s

(Editor’s Note: As I approach age 60, I am “Counting My Many Blessings” by doing a daily countdown from 365. These are in no particular order, but, as you will see in days following, there is a method to the madness.)

ChuysNachoTIt is not everyday that you can be “counting your blessings” and an unexpected one happens right before your eyes.  Tonight was one of those nights, so I am counting this one in as an unplanned blessing.

Julianne and I usually try to get a date night in once a week. Due to our schedules, it is usually going somewhere for dinner.  Since we are striving to eat whole foods, lots veggies and such, we always seek the places that serve vegetarian or even vegan choices.  Fortunately, Chuy’s in Lexington is very accommodating this way.

Hatch Green Salsa from Chuy's

Hatch Green Salsa from Chuy’s

I am a lover of Chuy’s because they have awesome Hatch Green Chile Salsa.  I can devour that stuff like candy…and I do.  Some of the waiters and waitresses know this and bring me out my 4-5 bowls of the stuff!  Honestly, I could eat with a spoon and skip the fattening chips! (And then there is the fresh guacamole…another treat)

We also like Chuy’s because we can order typical items and ask for no cheese or meat and additional veggies.  Tonight was one of those nights.  Thursday is “Big Daddy Enchilada” night, which is a chicken enchilada stuffed with mushrooms, spinach and cheese.  We just skip the chicken and cheese.  Kind of a special veggie enchilada, which they also serve.  Julianne and I both love them.

Chuy's Veggie Enchiladas

Chuy’s Veggie Enchiladas

Chuy's is Fun and Tasty

Chuy’s is Fun and Tasty

Well, tonight we ordered the “Meat/Cheese” free Big Daddy Enchiladas. The wait was a bit longer than normal, but Julianne and I were busy talking about the events of the day and things from work, etc.  Then, without notice, one of the managers came over and apologized profusely for our meal coming so slow. He wanted to verify our order and then went back to “get it right.”  Shortly thereafter we got our meal.  Allen, the Asst. Manager, apologized again and then said “tonight’s dinner is on me.”  We said that was not necessary, but he insisted. (Remember, we never once complained or even intimated any unhappiness).  The other Assistant Manager was over soon checking to make sure we were happy with the meal, noted that dinner was on the restaurant due to the inconvenience and then gave us a card for another meal on the next visit.  We were stunned!!

Chuy's Veggie Burrito slathered in Hatch Green Salsa - yes it is yummy

Chuy’s Veggie Burrito slathered in Hatch Green Salsa – yes it is yummy

chuys-neon-signEven after all of this, we were fine with paying for our meal, but they insisted.  THAT, my friends, is EXCELLENT and CARING customer service.  We are already good customers, frequent visitors and count this restaurant as one of our favorite dining establishments. This time they went far and beyond any expectation and it needs to be noted.

And I count it as a blessing out of nowhere. My wife leaves on a trip out of town for a week and so this was our last opportunity for a date night.  It was an excellent one!!

Jumping for Joy

Jumping for Joy after a good blessing

This place made us both smile tonight and count our blessings.  We left a tip and left with a smile.  Tomorrow, I am calling Chuy’s 800 Customer Service number to let them know how great the service is there.  (It was not the first time they have made sure we were happy, but this particular unilaterally initiated effort was a first for me at ANY dining establishment EVER!)

Count your blessings folks…you will be surprised!

Sumoflam Tackles “The World’s Hottest Burrito”

The BurHEATo™

The BurHEATo™

A couple of weeks ago, Julianne and I visited a new place called Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina that recently opened in Lexington.  Always on the lookout for something yummy, fresh and healthy (hopefully), we dropped in and had a good meal.

While there, I noticed the poster which I have added on the left.  At that time I decided I wanted to try their BurHEATo™, which they claim is the “World’s Hottest Burrito.”

This guy is made with  the Guinness World Record®’s Hottest Chile Pepper: Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper® in partnership with the PuckerButt Pepper Company from South Carolina. The Reaper Sauce is packed with the World’s Hottest Pepper, and just the right amount of all-natural spices.

Reaper Sauce

The Reaper Sauce made from Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper®

So, this evening we dropped by and I decided to try it out!  They have a deal, if you video yourself eating it, they will give you a t-shirt.  So, here is my video, in two parts…and there was no cheating.  I devoured it with happiness!!

Sumoflam explaining the BurHEATo before indulging

Sumoflam explaining the BurHEATo before indulging

The BurHEATo™ is made with grilled chicken, black beans, rice, pueblo corn salsa, tomatoes, cilantro, and only one tablespoon of Smokin Ed’s Carolina Reaper® pepper sauce. It was filling and satisfying…and really could have been hotter….

Part 1: The Beginning…Sumoflam vs. the BurHEATo™

Finishing off the BurHEATo

Finishing off the BurHEATo

And here is Part 2: Finishing it off without a tear!

This was definitely fun and tasty.  It may not be suitable for some palates, but for mine…YUMMIFEROUS!! (OK – I’ll confess here that it did cause my lips to tingle pretty good…but oh, the capsaicin rush!!)

Now get me that t-shirt!!

Three Days in Wisconsin – Day 2

Three Days in Wisconsin


(Finding Some Unusual
Things!!)

August 3-6, 2012


Day 2 – Jurustic Park, Chain Saw Totem
Forest, Hodag and a giant badger

by David “Sumoflam” Kravetz

 

Aug 5, 2012:
We were up bright and early in Wassau, WI, ready to pursue what promised to be
an exciting and fun day…but a really long one.  This day included my planned
highlight of the trip…a visit to the famed
Jurustic Park in Marshfield, WI. 
This place is a bit complicated to get to, but VERY well worth the drive. 
From Wassau, we headed west on State Highway 29, which we followed all the way
to State Highway 97 which we took all the way into Stratford. From there we went
west again on State Highway 153 until we got to County Rd E.  From there we
went South again.

 

Along the way, there is always plenty to
see…barns, farmland, strange places…here are a few of the scenes along the
way to Jurustic Park

 

An old bus in the trees, Killdeer Rd (must be some good roadkill!!),
a church steeple beyond the corn fields, and an old barn (I love old barns)

 


We continued south after crossing over County Rd C.  Soon
thereafter the road made a fairly sharp Left and then veered to the Right again. 
After crossing over a small river, we eventually came to Sugar Bush Lane on the
right.  This is a loop road, though we took the second entry to it. Either
one will get you there and you will definitely see the sculptures off to your
right.

 

Jurustic Park is the brainchild of former
attorney Clyde Wynia, who calls himself a paleontologist. In reality, he has
taken to doing metal work and welding of a hundreds of critters, which, he
claims (in his paleontologist hat), were many of the “extinct creatures that
inhabited the large McMillan Marsh near Marshfield during the Iron Age.” 
He claims to have discovered these creatures and has worked to get them back
together.  Wisconsin Public Television has a
wonderful
transcript
from an interview they did with him in April 2011…its a good
read.

 

 

Jurustic Park Welcome Sign…Sumoflam with “Paleontologist” Clyde
Wynia…learning about one of his many discoveries

 

Needless to say, I took well over 100
photos of the work there.  It was amazing…I will have a special edition
on my Less Beaten Paths
Blog
just about this place.  In the meantime, here are a few fun photos
of the place.

 

  

The Mailbox..you can’t miss it.  No smoking sign “The Butt
Stops Here”

 

L-R: An attorney, a Dragon and a Hobbit giving a thumbs up.

 

Two views of the centerpiece — a giant 18 foot tall dragon

“Designed as an Army Dragon, but now a Navel Dragon–see outie on
belly?”

 

“Down Payment on a Horse” and a befuddled frog

 

 

A guitar strumming frog and a “Petuna” Planter

 

  

Some toothy grins…

  

Attacking Fish

 

  

 

  

 

 

Tools of the trade

 

Clyde Wynia – Paleontologist founder of Jurustic Park



Jurustic Park, Marshfield, WI

While we were at Jurustic Park, there was a group of 50 somthings
that pulled up in their Corvettes, all parked in his very small parking lot. 
Was fun to see my classy car parked alongside all of the Vettes…

  

Mine is the car that is NOT a Corvette!!

After about an hour and half long visit being serenaded by Clyde
and his marvelous stories and antics, it was time to get back on the road again.
We again headed northwest towards Colby, WI.  Yes, THAT Colby, famous for
Colby cheddar.  We were all excited to get there and get some fresh cheese,
and hopefully, fresh squeaky cheese curds.  We did make it to Colby, but
alas, there are no longer any cheese factories there and you cannot get fresh
Colby cheddar in town (or so we were told….).  But the water tower makes
you think you’ll get some….

 

“Original” Home of Colby Cheese…none there any longer

 

After filling up with gas, we found some packaged cheese from a
factory 12 miles away.  That would have to do <sigh>.  We then
continued on our merry way north on State Highway 13 to our next unusual
destination near Medford, WI.  Once in Medford we had to get on Highway 64
and head west, which we took all the way to County High E.  From there we
made a right turn (North) and followed it all the way to County Highway M. 
We then made a left turn at County Highway M (West). 

 

I must note that along the way we saw some interesting things….

 

 
 


Fuzzy’s General Store and Bait Shop
, A
Bathtub road marker and an Amish Road Sign….

,

We continued past Mondeux Dr (on the left) and County E (on the right) and proceeded about another
mile.  The next sight was visible as could be on the left, just before
Forest Rd and the entrance to the Chequamegon National Forest.  So, what
were we looking for in this wooded area of Wisconsin?  Nothing other than
the forest of Chain Saw Totem Poles!!

 

  

The unique chainsaw mailbox sits at the entrance to Gordy Lekies
Chainsaw Totem Pole Forest

 

A guy by the name of “Chainsaw Gordy” Lekies created this unusual
piece of artwork and chainsaw collection as early as 2007. Gordy is a timber
harvester by trade in the Medford area.  He has over 400 chainsaws
collected and they are all now on display in poles on his property next to
Highway M.

 

 
 
 

Over 20 telephone polls are now displaying hundreds of old
chainsaws

 

 
 

There is still a pile of them waiting for a telephone pole
home…the guy on the right is some of Gordy’s chain saw art

 

We next proceeded back east on County Highway M towards the “Cranberry
Trail
” in hopes of seeing a real Cranberry Bog and maybe getting some
Cranberry goodies (Cranberry Cheese???).  We continued along Highway M
until we hit Forks Rd., turned left and headed north, which eventually got us to
the Cranberry Trail.  My disappointment was that there were no promotional
signs or anything, so we just drove up and down the road until we found what we
were looking for.

 

  

We did find the Cranberry Trail, some of which turns into a dirt
road, as shown above.

 

Finally found the

Copper River Cranberry Company
facility, along with a non-descript bog
behind it. 

No Cranberries and Copper River was closed (it was a Sunday mind
you)

 

Though the Cranberry Trail was a disappointment, we still had
plenty to do.  We proceeded towards our next main stop,

Rhinelander, WI
. Along the way up US 51, we found more novelties and even
found a Tomahawk…that’s the name of a town.

 

 
 
 

The
Butt Hutt BBQ, a Giant Moose at Road Lake Pub and Grill (though not nearly as
the big Moose
in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
),

 Tomahawk
(famous for the
Tomahawk Fall Ride
) and

The Wilderness Pole
sculpture in downtown Tomahawk.


This wood carving, standing in the middle of a boulevard, depicts
a northwoodsy scene involving bears, fish, eagles and a loon.

 

We
continued North on US 51 until we hit US 8 and then headed east toward
Rhinelander, also known as the “Heart of Hodag Country.”  What, pray tell,
is a Hodag? There is a great unique writeup

HERE
. According to the Rhinelander website,


the Hodag is a mysterious woodland creature that makes its home
in the Rhinelander Area.


Why the Hodag is only found in the Rhinelander Area is not
certain. However, many people believe that it is the clean lakes, dense forests
and incredible natural beauty that ties the Hodag to the Rhinelander Area. 
The photos below are of the Hodag statue in front of the Chamber of Commerce:

 

  

The
famous Hodag of Rhinelander, WI

 

From
Rhinelander we continued on US 8 towards Monico.  Along the way we found
more fun stuff…totally by happenstance:

 

 
 

Lo
and behold…a Graffiti Trailer, a HUGE painted Rock and

George
Lake

 

In
Monico we visited the “Rhinelapus
statue, which appears to be an attempt to play on the fame of the Hodag. It was
all fenced in and difficult to get a photo.  It is like a huge three-clawed
tree monster. In any case, it was not nearly as impressive to me as the Hodag.

 

From
Monico we headed south on US 45 as we worked on winding up our long eventful
day.  Soon we came upon the small burg of Birnamwood, WI.  There
really is not much there, but we did come across what appears to be the world’s
largest Badger Statue, ironically greets you at the Northern Exposure Strip
Club.  Forget the club…but don’t forget the badger.  You can read
the whole story on Roadside America
HERE
We also saw Chet & Emil’s with a large Chicken in town.

 



Giant Badger of Birnamwood…Chet & Emil’s Broaster Chicken

 


Perhaps our biggest surprise came as we approached Wittenberg, WI…a huge
expansive field of sunflowers in full bloom.  These were absolutely amazing
and, as the sun was heading down, the shadows were awesome.  I took about
50 photos.  Here are a few:

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

To be
honest, it is the wonderful surprises like these that make back road traveling
so much fun.  This sunflower field reminded me of a time in Ontario when I
came across an expansive tulip field near Woodstock (see
the photos on this page
)

 

 


More barns on the road towards Seymour, WI

 

Our
final stop of the day before heading into Green Bay for the evening, was in
Seymour, purported
home of the hamburger.

 

 

 



Statue of
Charles Nagreen
(1870-1951), who put ground beef patties in a bun and began
calling them Hamburgers back in 1885. 


Notice the Hamburger Planters!!  Click on his name or photo to read the
entire story.

 

After
learning about the beefy hamburger, we had one last surprise waiting for us on
the road to Green Bay.  Not cheese, not Packers…but Buffalo…  We
saw these buffalo on State Highway 54 heading east out of Seymour. Apparently
owned by Maass Farms,
these buffalo (or bison) are destined for the food chain.  But, they still
looked majestic, even in their pens.

 

 


Maass Farms Bison near Seymour, WI

 

It
was a long day and we finally made it into the Quality Inn in Green Bay…tired
yet fulfilled from a fun day of back road adventures.

 


Wisconsin Road
Trip – Day 1:Beef, Cheese, Mustard and a
Grumpy Troll

Wisconsin Road Trip – Day 3: Green Bay, Lambeau Field and Door
County Peninsula

 

Some roadside guidance provided by……

 

 See more of
Sumoflam’s Trip Journals

Visit Sumoflam’s “Less
Beaten Paths
” blog for more interesting places

sumoflam@sumoflam.biz


All photos and commentary expressed are copyright of Sumoflam Productions and David Kravetz. All rights reserved.

Three Days in Wisconsin (Finding Some Unusual Things!!)

Three Days in Wisconsin


(Finding Some Unusual
Things!!)

August 3-6, 2012


Day 1 – Beef, Cheese, Mustard and a
Grumpy Troll

by David “Sumoflam” Kravetz

 

Aug 3, 2012:
It was a rare occasion, an
opportunity to take a vacation.  My daughter Chelsea wanted a road
trip…she wanted her daughter Autumn to experience a “Grampz Style” road trip. 
So, on this long weekend in August, the three of us hopped in the Town Car and
embarked on a trip to Wisconsin. The goal of the trip was to hit some of south
central Wisconsin, see some “roadside attractions” and then drive to Green Bay
and up the Door County Peninsula and then back to Lexington. We drove on Friday
evening to cut off some of the long drive to Wisconsin, with an overnight stay
in Avon, Indiana. Following is the map of our trip.  Following is a map of
our trip from Lexington to Wisconsin and back.

 


General map of our 4 day trip – Lexington;
Avon, IN; Covington, IN; Champaign, IL; Middleton, WI;

Marshfield, Medford, Tomahawk,
Rhinelander, Seymour, Green Bay, Egg Harbor, Gibraltor and then to Hebron, IN

 

Aug 4, 2012:
A quick night’s rest in Avon and then on the road to Wisconsin.  Along the
way we made a few stops.  For fun, I was wearing a “Wear’s the Beef?”
t-shirt that Chelsea had given me from Wendy’s.  I had planned to do this
for a stop later in the day, but it worked out really well for our first stop,
which we just so happened to see off of the freeway, near Covington, IN. 
There is a place called the
Beef House Restaurant,
which is apparently famous for its yeast rolls.  We were way too early to
eat there, but I could not resist getting a photo with the sign!!

 

I think I found the beef!!

 


After the quick photo-op stop in Covington, we headed west towards the first
scheduled stop — to see the large Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Noodle statue in
Champaign, IL. Yes, this is a Wisconsin trip so we needed some cheesiness, and
we got it first in Illinois!!  Though a novelty roadside attraction for
someone like me, this is actually part of a
serious advertising
campaign
begun by Kraft Foods in 2010.  These 20 foot long, 9 foot tall
Noodle replicas have been placed in landmark areas such as

Fisherman’s Wharf
and

Wrigley Field
.  They also have one at their plant in Champaign, IL. 
Once we found the location, we noticed we could drive into the employee parking
lot  and walk right up to the noodle to get photos. Now that makes for a
Beefy Mac and Cheese (with my where’s the beef shirt!!). Here are a couple of
pix:

 

 

Kraft’s “You know you love it.” giant noodle statue. Map to this
location is below.



Kraft Factory in Champaign, IL


While in Champaign we decided to make a stop at the
Curtis Orchard. My
main reason was because of the huge Indian Statue (see below), but as we got
there, we found a number of other treasures.  The orchard has pretty much
turned the place into a Wizard of Oz themed attraction, including a Flying
Monkey Cafe!!  We stopped for photos, some apple cider and other goodies
and even followed the Yellow Brick Road!!

 

Chelsea and Autumn enjoy the Giant Rocking chair and find their way on the
Yellow Brick Road at Curtis Orchard in Champaign, IL

 

The Indian Archer, aka The Chief, was originally located in Danville, IL. 
The 17 foot tall copper statue was built

in 1949 for Herb Drew’s Plumbing and Heating.  When the business closed in
1994, the owner’s grandson

moved the Indian to the Curtis Orchard.  Apparently, the statue represents
Kesis, a famous Kickapoo Indian from Illinois.

The photo on the right is a large silo with a representation of the tin
man…appropriate.

 

  

This is painted on a barn door (notice the lock in the middle.  I am in the
picture to provide a size comparison.

 

Well, we have had the beef, the cheese and some fruit….time for some Mustard!! 
From Champaign, we headed north towards Wisconsin to get to the famous Mustard
Museum.  However, along the way, we ran into another unexpected
treat…another of the many Wind Farms that I have come across in my travels. 
This one is called the Twin
Groves Wind Farm
. The Wind Farm features over 240 turbines across 22,000
acres of land. It generates over 396 megawatts, enough to meet the energy needs
of about 120,000 homes. In my travels I have seen these in California, Kansas,
Ontario, Montana, Illinois, North Dakota and more.  They are always
fascinating.  I really love a couple of the shots I got of these because of
the mingling with the corn fields of Illinois.  Autumn and Chelsea were
stunned by the size of these towering wind turbines.

 

 
 

A few of the over 240 Turbines in the Twin Groves Wind Farm

 


Onward north up Interstate 39 out of Normal, IL towards Madison, WI, we made our
into Middleton, which is situated northwest of Madison on the Beltline. 
Originally built and housed in Mt. Horeb, WI (see
my original writeup on a visit there here
), the
National Mustard Museum
has moved to much bigger digs in Middleton.  There they now have a nice two
story facility with everything you ever wanted to learn about Mustard, but were
afraid to ask…or taste. According to the official Mustard Museum website,



t
he
National Mustard Museum began
 as
the “Mount Horeb Mustard Museum” when its founder & curator, Barry Levenson,
started collecting mustards on October 27, 1986. The story of the Mustard Museum
traces its roots to a late night visit to an all-night grocery when Barry heard
a deep, resonant voice as he passed the mustards:
 “If
you collect us, they will come.” 


Currently the National Mustard Museum houses over 5400 varieties of Mustard from
around the world as well as hundreds of pieces of Mustard Memorabilia. 
Also, the place offers degrees from Poupon U.  I now have three degrees
from there (snicker).  Ironically, we so happened to arrive on National
Mustard Day!!  What a kick!

 


National Mustard Museum — Founder Barry
Levenson on the left along with his fancy glitter headed employee.

 


 

Barry’s mustard inspired art work “The
First 27 Virtues of Mustard”.  Barry studied under Professor Elbert
Culpepper at the new

museum of Crappy Art in Flushinghard, VA.

 


 

Got Mustard?

 


  

A couple of the 1000s of varieties
available for sale.

 


 

I think this is the only Mustard Vending
Machine anywhere…and, if you like bacon, you can also get your fix a the NMM.

 


  

Mustard displays aplenty…the one on the
left is to show the variety of containers available.

On the right are varieties produced in
every state in the US.

 


  

Welcome to Poupon U…you can actually get
a diploma while there. The diploma above is the MBA degree.

 


  

There is an official “Poupon U
dumping station” — I made a donation!!

The restrooms feature “Plochman’s
Mustard Bottle” Soap Dispensers

 

After being mustarded away, we were back
on the road meandering our way towards
Mt. Horeb
Chelsea was excited about Mt. Horeb due to its famed troll statues. 
Indeed, the main attraction for the town are the trolls. The town has created a
Trollway
along Highway 151 with many large carved wooden trolls visible from the road.
Many of these were created by local artist
Michael Feeney. We
found a few on our visit…. 

Click here for a nice map
of the town, with all of the trolls and other
attractions.

 

 

Welcome sign.  This scrap metal dragon on the right was
created by Wally Keller, a nearby resident. 

I visited his menagerie a number of years ago near Vermont, WI. 
See my link at


http://www.sumoflam.biz/WashJournal.htm

 

  

Open House Imports is full of troll goodies…Moonhill Mercantile
has a cool looking sign

 

These three trolls reside at Open House Imports

 

Some of the trolls of Mt. Horeb – A small troll from the shop; a
new one in town; “Sweet Swill”; another nameless one

 



Two views of the “Peddler Troll”

 

We finished off our visit and pretty much our day by grabbing
some grub at the “Grumpy
Troll
“, a local pub, brewery and dining establishment.

 

‘Nuff said…and shown!!

 

Wisconsin Road Trip – Day 2: Jurustic Park, Chain Saw Totem
Forest, Hodag and a giant badger

Wisconsin Road Trip – Day 3: Green Bay, Lambeau Field and Door
County Peninsula

 

Some roadside guidance provided by……

 

 See more of
Sumoflam’s Trip Journals

Visit Sumoflam’s “Less
Beaten Paths
” blog for more interesting places

sumoflam@sumoflam.biz


All photos and commentary expressed are copyright of Sumoflam Productions and David Kravetz. All rights reserved.

10 Interesting Eateries on the Back Roads of North America

10 Interesting Eateries on the Back Roads of North America

Can you say “Yummiferous”?

As I have travelled across the wide expanses of Canada and the U.S., I have come across a few interesting places to eat.  Not all are the best establishments in terms of taste, but the atmosphere and unique nature of the places is the drawing card.  Following are a few of these places, and I have included photos where available. In my 1000s of photos, I have not been able to locate some of the older non-digital ones of some of the places.  I will also provide web-links when available.  Enjoy the ride and enjoy the food.  By the way, these are not numbered in any particular order.  They are in the order I got to them in this document.

1. Camp 31 BBQ – Paris, Ontario

Perhaps the best BBQ I have ever eaten, and in Canada eh?  Actually, Camp 31 got its start in Alabama.  In 1908 it was originally founded as a “Sawmill Store” in Brewton, Alabama. It hung around for quite a few years.  Then, in 1985, Larry Murphy opened it up as a BBQ establishment. Larry is considered Alabama’s finest ribman and he carried on this tradition by partnering with Bernie Gerl in Ontario to open the eatery in Paris.  Their BBQ is fantastic, but on Saturdays their smoked prime rib is Amazing. This is a must stop place if you visit Southern Ontario.

 

  

Camp 31 has a rustic feel and a savory taste

 

 

Larry Murphy and his award winning Camp 31

 

2.Stoneville Saloon – Alzada, Montana

 

 

First of all, you have to find Alzada, Montana. Use Google Maps…that is the best advice I can give you.  This is really as advertised “Located in the Middle of Nowhere.”  You must drive State Highway 212 to the southwestern corner of the state. It is sometimes known as a State Hysterical Landmark.  Known for its cheap drinks and lousy food, when we visited back in 2005 we found Alzada to be just a small town of a couple hundred people.  You blink and you miss it.  It is almost like a frontier town on the outskirts of the wilderness. The owners are typical bikers and this place is a draw for bikers every year who come to Sturgis, SD.  While here we had their killer chili and some burgers. The food was NOT as advertised…indeed, it was pretty good.

 

Stoneville Saloon is located on Highway US 212, 163 miles east of The Little Bighorn Battlefield. 40 Miles north of Devil’s Tower National Monument on the edge of the Northern Black Hills. 36 miles west of Belle Fourche, SD. The center of the nation. 80 miles south of Medicine Rocks Park.

 

3.Traveler’s Club International Restaurant and Tuba Museum – Okemos, MI

 

 

This is another unique place in a small town. Okemos is located 3 miles north of Interstate 96 at Exit 110 in Michigan. They have different international delight every day including Latin, Asian and Middle Eastern dishes.  They are famous for their home brewed beer (which I don’t drink) and their buffalo burgers, which I DO eat. But more unique is the collection of tubas and sousaphones that surround the place. They even have a working Sousaphountain in the garden to the side of the restaurant. So, if you are in Michigan, don’t blow it, stop by the Traveler’s Club.

 

Their famous homemade Buffalo burger was delectable.  Seating is plentiful and the place is fun

 

Best things are all the Tubas

 

The famous and unique “Sousaphountain”

 

4.Space Aliens Bar & Grill – Waite Park, Minnesota and Fargo, North Dakota

 

 

Indeed, the Space Aliens have taken over in the north country with great barbecue and an out of this world atmosphere.  On a trip to Montana in 2005 we came across the shop in Waite Park, just outside of St. Cloud, Minnesota.  We were lucky to get there near closing time on a Wednesday, which happened to be all you can eat night.  My two hefty sons were hungry and wiped the place out. The next day, as we drove through Fargo, North Dakota, we came across another one, but did not have time to stop…it was breakfast time anyway. Since our visit, they have opened more shops — there are seven of them throughout Minnesota and North Dakota.

 

Here I am in front of the Waite Park shop in 2005

 

These are shots of the Fargo, North Dakota shop

 

5.Ole’s Big Game Steak House – Paxton, Nebraska

 

 

If you don’t like big animals looking over your shoulder while you eat, than this is NOT the place for you. You walk in the door and are greeted by a life size real stuffed Polar Bear.  then, as you are taken to your seat you see lions and tigers and bears, oh my.  You also see a giraffe from the base of the neck up, a full elephant head with ears extended, moose, deer, elk, cougars, snakes and everything else.  The food is expensive, but well worth the effort.  Paxton, Nebraska is just a small town located off of Interstate 80 in Nebraska, at exit 145. Ole’s is in their small downtown area.

 

My son Solomon schmoozes with a polar bear while I snuggle with a moose

 

Yes, that is really a giraffe blocking the TV and an elephant staring at you

 

6.Ric’s Grill – Lethbridge, Alberta

 

 

Want a sky high experience? My son and I enjoyed one back in 2007 at Ric’s Grill in Lethbridge.  It is located 150 feet high in an old refurnished watertower. It was late so we didn’t get many good photos, but visit the website and learn more.  Expensive food, but very very well done.  It is well worth the visit.

 

Two shots of Ric’s from below.  Notice all of the windows in the water tower.

 

7.Lynn’s Paradise Cafe – Louisville, KY

 

 

Lynn’s is on of those really unique places to eat.  I have been there three times, but for the life of me cannot find my photos.  The above photo is borrowed from their website. From the giant coffee pot and cup in the front to the jungle-like interior, the place is lots of fun.  Their servings are humongous.  Nobody has the same kind of chairs, silverware or dishes.  My family all loves this place.

 

8.Lambert’s Cafe (The Home of Throwed Rolls) – Ozark, Missouri

 

 

Yes, they really do throw their rolls at Lamberts.  On a trip to Texas in 2007 we stopped at the Lambert’s in Ozark, Missouri (they have two other places, one more in Missouri and one in Alabama).  I really wanted to see if they “throwed” their rolls. The food was great.  Served family style, servers bring around big pots of black-eyed peas, fried okra, fried potatoes and macaroni with tomatoes…all you can eat.  And another server walks into the middle of the room and yells “who needs rolls?” People raise their hands and the server literally throws hot rolls across the room.  You have to catch them or eat dirty rolls…..  Lots of fun!!  So, if you are anywhere near Branson, you gotta visit this place.

 

They really do throw the rolls at Lamberts

 

And they also bring you plenty of other fixin’s

 

9.The Sparta House Tearoom – Sparta, Ontario

 

 

Located in the very small village of Sparta, just south of St. Thomas, Ontario, the Sparta House offers a unique opportunity to eat in a 300 year old building, enjoy old English country fare such as shepherd’s pie and other goodies. The owners, Ken & Norma Roberts, are from Liverpool, England.  Ken is an avid Beatles fan and has a room dedicated to them with many rare posters and books, some even autographed by John, Paul, George and Ringo.  Norma collects teapots and has hundreds on display. Great food, a comfortable atmosphere in a cozy little village.  Find your way to Sparta.  You’ll be glad you did.

 

Sparta House where Norma serves up old English country fare…yummiferous

 

10.Geno’s Cheese Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks – Philadephia, PA

 

 

 

Located across the street from each other, these are the two places that made Philly Cheesesteaks famous.  I visited both in one night with a friend of mine while in Philadelphia to see him play football in an Arena Football League game.  After the game, we made our way to Geno’s, where customers are not served unless they speak English.  You also had to know what you want or they give you a bad time. Pat’s was a bit more friendly. As for which was better, well…it was a tie and I would go back to either one…actually, both.

 

Geno’s was packed the night we went. I enjoyed mine with provolone and the works.

 

Pat’s was also packed and you can see the cook busily grilling away.

 

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