Friday, August 20, 2010

The Reality of the American Foodscape

Sunday, August 8th

Oh, the Sabbath. Typically a day of rest and relaxation. Not for us. Not this day. With 11 plus hours of driving ahead of us we dragged our sore bodies out of the our tent early or at least before 8am. We quickly packed up the car, changed, brushed our teeth and said goodbye to Jacob and his dad, Glen. I asked the kind, Santa Claus-esque man at the KOA office where we might find a good place for a caffeine fix and perhaps breakfast. His recommendation was not what we had in mind so we filled up the gas tank and chose to stop further down the road. Further down the road turned out to be the sleepy town of Glendive, MT. The whole town was at church and those that weren’t joined us at the only open eatery available, a gourmet sandwich place known as Subway. Luckily for us, Subway now serves breakfast or at least some facsimile thereof. We did our best to put our skepticism aside and make do with what we had. At the end of the sandwich line we were handed 2 6” omelet subs with spinach, peppers, onions, avocado, banana peppers, cucumbers, and olives on toasted wheat bread. For the low low price of $2.49 each. Not too shabby and they didn’t taste all that bad either though we weren’t exactly left satisfied.

To be honest, we were grumpy. With a less than stellar night’s sleep and a less than stellar morning breakfast and not nearly enough caffeine the day’s prospects looked bleak. To make matters worse we crossed into Central Time Zone thus loosing an hour of precious time en route to St. Paul, MN. Along with a new time zone we also entered into a new state, North Dakota. North Dakota is characterized by vast swathes of nothing. Hay bales, grazing cows, a few trees dot the landscape but there is a distinct paucity of places to dine. For this reason we stopped for a rather early lunch in Bismarck, which is, for those of you who were sleeping during 4th grade social studies, the capital of ND.

Right off the interstate we couldn’t believe our fortune. Without much effort at all we found a coffee shop with WiFi. This shop had an infinite amount of flavored coffee drinks any you could imagine and some that you probably shouldn’t. Michelle ordered her standard soy latte and I my usual chai. We sat down and began an internet search for our next meal. A search for vegetarian eateries yielded zilch as did a few other attempts to filter our results. We finally narrowed it down to a place called the Wood House which according to Yelp! reviewers has the best burger in ND and according to the sign on the restaurant itself the best in all the world. We were not convinced of that fact but with open minds drove into its parking lot. Our flow was halted abruptly when we realized that this place was equipped with a drive-thru window. This sent us scurrying around the city center for the next 30 minutes trying desperately to find something, anything that didn’t resemble fast food. Our second try, Minerva’s was unexpectedly closed until 4pm. Our third attempt, Kroll’s Diner was too close a cousin to Denny’s with food that looked just a little too shiny. Undeterred we hurried over to Schlotsky’s Deli in hopes of an authentic deli sandwich. “This will be the day of the sandwich” Michelle said gleefully. But this was not to be. Schlotsky’s was even scarier than Kroll’s with food with even a glossier sheen and too much fat-free this or that on the menu for our liking. About to give up, we saw the two most magical words, a simple phrase that we hold close to our hearts. Farmers’ Market and it was today! It was now! We ran over to the solitary tent and found Duke the farmer proudly selling his wares. The peppers looked so good we nearly cried. These are the best I grow, said Duke, beaming. We gathered up a cluster of red, yellow, and green gems and walked back toward the car. Not the best peppers we’ve ever tasted but we were thankful nonetheless.

We still needed food. With the stark landscape of ND ahead of us. If we didn’t eat now, then when? With reluctance we drove back to the Wood House and sidled into a booth.

Our eyes scanned the usual suspects found on booths like this across the nation: napkin holder, salt and pepper shakers, ketchup and mustard bottles, telephone receiver. If one of these seems out of place to you, you’re not alone. You see, at the Wood House patrons call-in their order from their seat. This would be an experience like no other. But we almost didn’t get to experience it at all. Looking at the menu we became more and more concerned for our well-being. I could feel my stomach turning at the thought of eating 98% of the menu items and I could see Michelle felt the same way. But time was ticking away and we had exhausted every other option save Subway and we weren’t about to go there for a second time in one day. So we did it. We sucked it up and I picked up the phone.

Greeted by a scratchy voice that asked for my order I forced out the words: I’d like (that was a stretch) a buffalo burger, 1/2 an egg salad sandwich on “dark” bread with a cup of navy bean soup and a side of potato salad. The potato salad sparked our interest because it was a “seasonal” offering which held the slim chance that the ingredients might be local. I put down the receiver and we waited for our food to arrive. I’m not going to sugar coat this portion. To be blunt, it was bad. Really, really bad. The “local” potatoes were covered in Miracle Whip with a dash of paprika. The best thing on the plate was the garnish. My egg salad wasn’t awful as long as I picked it off the “dark” bread which was some version of white masquerading as whole wheat. The navy bean soup was ripe with particles of ham. I realize I should have known this but I’m going to blame the distraction of the novel phone call ordering method. The best thing on the table was the buffalo burger. Tender, flavorful, not too gamey, but not as fresh as one would have hoped. The Wood House would be better off if it served wood.

It was a shotgun lunch. 18 minutes from the time of ordering to the time of exit. We were very happy to see the bag of olive tortilla chips awaiting us in the car. Food Should Taste Good the brand name on the bag proclaimed and we agree.

I want to say that the evening ended with a meal that made up for all of the faults of the previous two but this is not what happened. We were eating dried apricots, more mixed nuts and Raw Revolution bars and pretty much anything else in the car that was edible. We got off at St. Cloud in an effort to find a warm meal and maybe some vegetables but all we found were big buildings none of which contained food. Michelle was whimpering about wanting nothing but a fresh, fruit smoothie but neither one of us even thought to stop at one of the 100s of McDonald’s that now advertise just such an item on their corn-infested menus. The only bright spot to this little diversion off the beaten path was the sighting of one of the largest most spectacular intact arc rainbow ever witnessed. And of course, at the end of our road was the smiling face of my friend, Annah who had for us in the kitchen of her apartment a luscious bowl of fresh fruit.

Grateful for fruit in all colors of the rainbow,

Jenna and Michelle

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