There are so, so many franchise restaurants in this country of ours. Sometimes I think there are too many. I imagine that most people tend to patronize them because they know exactly what they’re going to get wherever they happen to be during their travels, and they don’t worry about unpleasant surprises.
But what about pleasant surprises? What about the thrill of discovery? We miss out on both if we overlook mom and pop restaurants and other little hole in the wall gems.
Take the mom and pop cafe that Macho Guy and I found on Mount Dessert Island when we visited Acadia National Park. This was a definite gem. We stopped in just for a little snack. MG had his taste buds set for a lobster roll, and that’s what he ordered. I was in the mood for blueberry pie. The wedge of pie served to me was huge, three inches high, and tightly packed full of blueberries with just enough blueberry juice for moistness. The crust was light and flaky. One bite and I was in Heaven. The cafe owners were retired military who met and married while in the Army. If that pie was an example of Army chow, I would have enlisted years ago.
A number of winters back, MG and I were snowmobiling in the Grayling, Michigan area with two other crazy couples. We started feeling both the call of nature and hunger pangs, and we made a rest stop in a small, off the beaten path, one-building town. That long rectangular building housed public restrooms, the general store, the drug store, the post office, and it even housed a tiny restaurant at the far end. The tantalizing aromas of comfort food cooking drew us to it. A trio of grandmothers ran the little restaurant, and they sure knew their way around a kitchen. We feasted on mouth-watering home cooked meals and apple pie for dessert that would have made Johnny Appleseed proud.
Most recently, down south in the Florida panhandle, MG and I went out with friends to a hole in the wall gem on Route 30A in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. This very unusual restaurant and bar is in a very unusual setting and has a very unusual name as well: Redd’s Fueling Station.
Redd’s is located in the back of a filling station that operates during the day. Redd’s takes over at night. The names of menu items follow a filling station theme. Redd’s has live music a few nights a week and an open mike night, but the main attraction is Redd, the Singing Bartender.
There is a booklet with an extensive list of song titles to choose from on each table. Redd has them all memorized. For a tip ranging from one dollar to five (depending on the artist associated with the song), Redd will sing your song of choice. She wears a portable microphone and walks around singing while waiting tables and while tending bar. She’s a great multitasker, and she has a powerful voice coupled with a winning personality. She sang a variety of numbers from country and rock classics to present day pop favorites. I requested Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “I Feel Lucky” and Redd rocked it. She broke everyone up with her take off on Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You, Babe.” She donned a black wig and sang both parts, pulling a lock of hair across her upper lip whenever she sang Sonny’s part. It was a hoot. That night at Redd’s was the most fun I’ve had in a long while.
If you’re ever in that neck of the woods, forget the chain restaurants and try a little hole in the wall place called Redd’s Fueling Station. You’ll be glad you did.