Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bad postcard of the week: Mysteries of The Beef Room and the original KFC

The Susie-Q was in Royal Oak, just outside Detroit.
What, exactly, do you think happens in the “Beef Room?”

The epic Waffle House run wasn’t our only culinary adventure on our road trip to Florida.

But first, let’s get to this week’s bad postcard. Certainly Susie-Q Restaurant, right here in Michigan’s Royal Oak, is intriguing.  The back tells us Susie-Q is “A truly good place to eat.”

It also doesn’t appear to be crowded. There is plenty of aqua vinyl waiting there for weary travelers. Plenty of good parking spots out front, too.

But here’s where things get confusing.

The lollypop sign out front boasts of “Chick’n Chips by Susie-Q.” But the sign on the outside wall entices us with a “Beef Room.”

We don’t know much about the Beef Room.

Is that where they store the beef? 

Can you only get hamburgers in the Beef Room? 

What if some members of your party want to order the beef and some want the chick’n chips?

How is the Beef Room decorated? 

Well, we know there are vinyl aqua seats.
Where is the salad bar?

That’s just too much mystery for travelers. And that’s too many choices. At least those Waffle House guys knew how to specialize.

We were getting a little hungry as we rolled through the hills of southern Kentucky, and didn’t want to get into the whole chick’n v. beef debate. We took a vote -- two votes for chicken and one for waffles. I lost.

Luckily, we were able to use our meal stop to soak up some Kentucky culture and history.

Corbin is the home of the very first KFC. Col. Harlan Sanders started selling chicken at his gas station in 1934, expanded to a café across the street.

The kitchen where Col. Sanders made lots of chicken.
All was good – finger-licking good, as one might say – until plans called for the new I-75 to bypass Corbin. Sanders started marketing his chicken to restaurant owners across the country, then teamed up with some guys who knew about franchises, including the guy who founded all the Wendy’s chains.

The original café in Corbin – which is really just a couple miles off the interstate – is now part-modern KFC and part-museum. There are displays with some KFC memorabilia, some recreations of Sanders Café rooms and the kitchen where the colonel whipped up that original recipe using 11 herbs and spices.

Naturally, the Gnome of Victory and Celebration came along for some photos. This did not go over well with some of the Corbin natives.

The cashier looked at me rather strangely, as if no one else had ever ordered a meal with a glued-together gnome tucked under his arm.

Later, a slender, older man with a long, gray beard and trucker cap stood staring from several feet from our table. 

I don’t know if he was working up the courage to ask a question.

I don’t know if he was silently comparing beards and caps with the gnome. They might be long-lost cousins, but I didn't see any team insignia on the guy.

I do know that was my signal that we really needed to get back on the road. We didn’t want any trouble. We quickly finished our chicken nuggets and biscuits and got back on I-75 heading toward Tennessee.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bad postcard of the week: Waffle House highlights road trip culinary adventures

I would have chosen the Waffle House over the Hansa House.
There was no vomit on the floor. Yes, I checked. 

Road trips provide opportunities for culinary adventures.

You should always look for different and exciting and new places to dine when you are traveling and can’t find a Panera Bread.

Our drive to Florida provided such adventures. Caroline and I set out our non-Michigan dining goals. She wanted a Jack in the Box taco, I wanted a Stuckey’s pecan roll and we both wanted to explore a Waffle House. My wife wanted no part of any of these things.

I get the feeling that the Hansa House, the subject of this week’s bad postcard, is the kind of place you visit while on the road and are hungry enough that you don’t care anymore. The back read tells us that the restaurant features a smorgasbord, can seat 350 people and is a block south of Disneyland.

The front photo reveals that there are plenty of seats available!

I’m sure it’s nice, but Caroline and I had our hearts set on Waffle House. There are none in Michigan, but we were in intrigued after hearing Jim Gaffigan’s routine.

Gaffigan is famous his stand-up routine's assault on Hot Pockets, but has since moved on to poking fun at Waffle Houses.

Bits include:

“Now, if you’ve never been to a Waffle House, just imagine a gas station bathroom that sells waffles. You’ve been to a Waffle House.

“Eh, that’s where I want to go at 2 a.m.. That’s where everyone goes. Their slogan should be: ‘It’s 2 a.m., still time to make one more bad decision.’”

“You ever go into a Waffle House during the day? That’s weird. ‘This place looks familiar; I think I threw up in here. Oh, there it is!’”

We are not deterred that easily.

I think we started spotting Waffle Houses at the first exit in Ohio. And then we saw another at the next exit, and the one after that and the one after that. In fact, I think we can honestly claim there was a Waffle House at every exit along I-75 in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

They can’t be bad, I argued, if there are so many of them. 

We finally stopped for the night outside Chattanooga, and, of course, there was a Waffle House. This was our chance! Caroline and I were allowed to walk over for a snack. This one was technically a “Waffle Ouse” since the familiar yellow sign was missing a letter. It was about 10:30 p.m.

We surveyed the surroundings. There were about four booths in front by the windows, then about six stools at the counter, and several more booths along the open food prep area that included a two-tier bank of waffle makers.
The two-tiered bank of waffle makers, complete with oozing batter.
Caroline, the Gnome of Victory of Celebration and I slid into a booth with a good view of the waffle makers. There were groups of high school kids or college kids in the booths near the front.

Our cheerful waitress approached from the other side of the counter. She didn't seem confused by the sight of a gnome on our table. She’s seen worse, probably that evening.

She handed us menus, as if we were ordering something other than waffles. It didn't occur to me that there were different kinds of waffles, including peanut butter! We are bold, but we weren't going to be crazy on the first trip. We ordered basic waffles.

We also learned that the cook called in sick, and the waitresses were preparing all the food. I was OK with that, since there’s probably no culinary arts degree necessary to pour waffle batter into to wall of waffle makers.

We watched the waitress spray the waffle maker with copious amounts of non-stick spray then pour waffle batter from a big, white plastic bucket into two of the five waffle makers.

Within seconds, warming waffle mix started overflowing from the sides. I noticed each of the five waffle makers had trays underneath to catch overflowing batter. 

Now, you’d think that people working at a place called Waffle House, and repeatedly carrying out the task of making waffles would give someone the knowledge of how much batter is required to fill the waffle maker.

Or, maybe watching batter bubbling out is part of the fun.

A few minutes and a couple beeps later, our yummy waffles made the short trip from maker to plate to table, and we happily dined, basking in the glory of our adventure.
The waffles were great, and we'll go back -- on our next road trip!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bad postcard of the week: The Hall of Presidents and the lesser attractions at Walt Disney World

This bad postcard doesn't present the Hall of Presidents in its proper majesty.

OK, a lot has happened since we went on sabbatical.

We went back to the U.P., walked across the Mackinac Bridge, chaperoned marching band trips – including an awesome second-place, statewide finish at Ford Field -- volunteered on a campaign, met Chris Christie, planned college visits, celebrated being victorious on Election Day, celebrated Christmas, and celebrated Inauguration Day. Oh, and Mike Piazza got hosed, again.

We were dealing with a lot of heavy stuff!

The Inauguration was a fantastic celebration. And what do people do when they celebrate big victories? They head to Disney World!

And the best part of Disney World? That would be The Hall of Presidents, of course.

This week’s bad postcard just doesn’t do the attraction justice. The photographer’s attempt to get every president in the frame means we get lots of dead space on the top and bottom, and still only half of Andrew Jackson.

And that’s a shame, because the Hall of Presidents has all the thrills of Space Mountain without the motion sickness.

For those who are unaware, The Hall of Presidents is an attraction in the Magic Kingdom that includes a lesson about American history. The curtain pulls away to reveal moving figures of all 43 presidents.

Yes, Barack Obama is the 44th president. Grover Cleveland, with his twice-counting, non-consecutive terms, only appears on stage once.

So I’ve been looking forward to this magnificent and educational display of patriotism since we started planning the trip.

Disney’s gone all high-tech, and you can download an ap that does all kinds of things, including telling us the wait time on rides in real-time. In the weeks leading up to the trip, Caroline and I would check the times people were standing in line to get on the Pirates of the Caribbean or Splash Mountain.
The Gnome of Victory and Celebration  came along.

I can’t explain this, but there was never a wait listed for the Hall of Presidents.

I assumed the ap was malfunctioning, because even It’s a Small World had wait times while people were apparently walking right in to the Hall of Presidents.

It the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day – the busiest week of the year at Disney – the ap listed three-hour waits for some rides. And yet, people were still just walking right in to the Hall of Presidents.

The big day finally arrived and Caroline was in charge of plotting our plan of attack on the Magic Kingdom.   We started with the Seven Drawfs Mine Ride, but it was shut down for technical issues.

So we hit The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Space Mountain – twice! – the Astro Orbiters, the Tomorrowland Transit and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin before heading through Cinderella’s Castle on our way to the Haunted Mansion.

And, as we walked through Liberty Square, there it was, shining like a beacon of goodness among the “Frozen” t-shirts -- The Hall of Presidents.

Once we enjoyed the frights, my wife said the magic words: “We might as well get it over with. At least it will be warm inside.”

For the unaware, the Hall of Presidents technically started, like Shea Stadium and so many other good things, at the New York World’s Fair in 1964-1965. It was just Abe Lincoln then.

The rest of the presidents came with opening of Walt Disney World, at least through Richard Nixon. The show expanded with the arrivals of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

Bill Clinton became the first sitting president to have a speaking role, a feature that has continued with George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
President Obama had a speaking role, Franklin Pierce said nothing.

The show was overhauled in 2008, closing on Oct. 31 and not reopening until July 1, 2009. Can you imagine eight months of people charging into the Magic Kingdom, stopping dead in their tracks to discover that the Hall of Presidents was closed? Did they get a refund? Were there signs on the way in alerting them that the magical experience wouldn’t be quite as magical that day?

Amazingly, the 700-seat theater was only about a third full when we entered, which allowed for a seat right in the middle.

The show is just as wonderful as when I last attended, with Morgan Freeman as a new narrator. After Lincoln spoke by himself, the curtains pulled back to reveal the rest of our heroes. They all moved – nodding, fidgeting, looking around, and making fun of William Henry Harrison – as they were introduced.

Some of the Audio-Animatronic figures look better than others. But they are good enough that I could probably name them without the introductions. George Washington spoke, as did Obama, without a TelePrompTer.

It was all pretty glorious and I’m sure I wasn’t the only who got a little weepy. (Then again, I was busted getting weepy when Elsa covered Cinderella's  Castle in ice later in the night. It was really cool.)

I suggested that we try to set the record for most consecutive viewings. My companions suggested that record would be set by remaining in the theater for a second viewing.

With that, we proceeded to ride the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. On the bright side, I got to meet Tigger and he was really nice.