(Originally published in Minnesota Monthly Magazine.) by Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Taking a trip by car doesn't mean you have to rely on fast-food drive-throughs for your meals. Here are some rules I follow to eat well on the open road.
- Relax the plans. Leave room for serendipity. It's a vacation, not a marathon.
- Get off the interstate and out of chain restaurants.
- When it comes to eateries, check for key words. Places with words in their names like "kitchen," "cozy," "diner," "stand," "cafe," "parlor," "supper club," "BBQ," "box," "hut," "drive-in," "lunch," "pig," "tea room," "meat market," "coffee cup" or "cafeteria" are usually worth at least one try. If the parking lot is jammed with locals (check license plates), it's a good bet.
- Picnic. It's the best way I know to pause and really take in where you are. Think deli sandwiches under a roadside tree, or lakeside breakfast in the Rockies complete with eggs scrambled over an open fire, campfire coffee and wild berries.
- Stock the car with a blanket to spread on the ground and pillows to sprawl on.
- Pack one basket with everything you need for eating (including wet wipes), another with tools. Have a plastic cutting board, knives and a few plastic bowls. For ambitious cooks include BBQ tongs, pancake turner, towels, oven mitts, a skillet, and a coffee pot. A big cooler is essential. Pack it with bags of ice each morning so it's ready for the day's finds.
- Shop local: farmers markets, bakeries, butcher shops and groceries.
- Talk to people. That's how to discover the sheep dog trials at a nearby farm, or the baked bean supper this weekend.
- The one essential guidebook: Jane and Michael Stern's newly updated classic, Road Food. These regular contributors to The Splendid Table know this beat better than anyone.