It’s been almost a year since I was last in America and in all fairness, I am sure most of it has been winter. I can’t remember a longer one, or a colder one for that matter. It’s May now and only a few weeks before I am back in the great U.S. of A. With an acute stubbornness the snow and ice has finally melted away and today is probably the first day I can really feel spring about me. I love it.
I often think about America when I am sitting here in the evenings after a hard day at work, the friendly people who invited me into their lives, the great journeys Rosie and I took when travelling to and from events and book signings, freeways stretching on seemingly forever towards sun-touched horizons, through mile after mile of pristine nature. I truly am a lucky man.
I guess one of the most important things to do on any visit is to taste the bountiful, cultural offerings of each State, not just to see it and feel it but to taste it, to be a part of it, to get out there and to try the local dishes and specialties, to visit the local eateries. I love food, always have done and will go out of my way to find the perfect café, restaurant or bar.
I wrote here a while back about my search for the perfect café and on my travels, I have found many wonderful, little cafés, some hidden away like dark, little secrets on the back street of a town or city and others in full view with neon lights and ‘welcome signs’. I also wrote about my experiences at The Great Blue Heron, in Cold Springs Minnesota, the fantastic food I ate there and the beer… you have to taste it to believe it. I have dreams about their beer and will be sure to get back for a pint as soon as I can!
Last year, once the work was done, we decided to take a trip down to Kentucky. Remembering the car journey from Litchfield, Minnesota to Rapid City, South Dakota back in 2011 and then comparing distances on the map, I knew I was in for a long journey. We have a good friend down in Benton, Kentucky though who had ordered some of my books and I wanted personally to hand them over to her. Besides, I had heard all about the good old southern hospitality and I just had to discover it for myself. Let me tell you, it really does exist.
We set off though Minnesota and down into Iowa and finally, we cut across into Illinois. What a journey, let me tell you. Of course, we couldn’t travel all that distance in one swoop, even though we took turns in driving. I am not sure where we ended up the first night, but I remember the sleeping arrangements really well. We arrived real late in some town in Iowa and unfortunately, every hotel was fully-booked. That night was spent sleeping in the car.
The second night however, was spent in Marion, Illinois. We booked into a hotel and then decided to go find a nice place to eat.
We didn’t have far to walk and the weather was truly glorious, the clouds tinged blood red and insects sounded all around. Within no more than fifteen minutes we found ourselves seated at a large, oaken table, country music softly playing in the background. I wasn’t really sure what to eat and Rosie wasn’t quite sure either. But as they say, ‘when in Rome’ or in my case, ‘when down south’, I figured I would just ask the waitress what she thought I should try.
She suggested okra and I suggested she tell me what okra was. Anyway, she asked me what I would like to drink and then left. If I thought she had a funny accent, I bet she was thinking the same thing about my British one too. It wasn’t long until she was back with several small containers of various okra and sweet potato dishes. I love sweet potato, always have done. Okra on the other hand, I think it’s an acquired taste really. I don’t think it actually tasted of anything on its own and it was kind of slimy.
Anyway, the KB Bar B Que in down town Marion, Illinois was my first step into the world of southern foods. The beer was good there too, but nothing like at The Great Blue Heron, in Cold Springs, Minnesota. If you do nothing else, you have to go there. The food and the beer in that place, takes a lot of beating.
Until part 2 …
Gavin … author web site