One of the more charming parts of William Least Heat Moon's chronicle of his meanderings across America, "Blue Highways" (named for the color of map lines signifying back roads), is the author's habit of rating cafes and restaurants by the number of calendars gracing the walls. The more calendars, the more down home the grub.
Fast food drivethroughs are seriously remiss in calendar decor, as are chain restaurants with faux down home trappings. You want to see the real core of the country you're traveling through? Eschew the chain on the interstate and hit Main Street for a cafe. It may take some time to locate the goods, but it's worth it to get a homemade chicken fried steak with cream gravy in West Texas or a handmade milkshake in a South Dakota drugstore.
Gustatory Road Read
To aid you in your calendar quest, sample foodies Michael and Jane Stern's old fashioned American eats bible: "Roadfood - the Coast-To-Coast Guide to 500 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster Shacks, Ice-Cream Parlors, Highway Diners, and Much, Much More" (compare prices below). Find pearls like Kennebunkport's Clam Shack; the roadside Maine walk-up earned a rave Stern review you can sink your teeth into: "...the lobster rolls we ate were the best. Truly, the best. None better. Number one. King of all Lobster Rolls!
Meat from an entire one-pound lobster is picked from the shell in immense pieces (no shreds here), loaded into a delicious locally baked roll, then drizzled with melted butter (or, if you wish, dolloped with mayonnaise)."
Take a bite out of this roadfood guide before you roll:
"Roadfood - the Coast-To-Coast Guide to 500 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster Shacks, Ice-Cream Parlors, Highway Diners, and Much, Much More" - Jane and Michael Stern
Whet Your Appetite Online
Search the Stern's Roadfood.com by state, city, food item, keyword or restaurant type (anything from fish camps to Pennsylvania Dutch cafes).
Other sites to salivate over:
Road Trip America - eateries by state from coast to coast.
Count the calendars, tuck in a paper napkin and tuck in.
"In the window I smelled the food of San Francisco. There were seafood places out there where the buns were hot and the baskets were good enough to eat too; where the menus themselves were soft with foody esculence as though dipped in hot broths and roasted dry and good enough to eat too...and oh, that pan-fried chow mein flavored air that blew into my room from Chinatown, vying with spaghetti sauces of North Beach, the soft-shell crab of Fisherman's Wharf - nay, the ribs of Fillmore turning on spits!
Throw in the Market Street chili beans, redhot, and french fried potatoes of the Embarcadero wino night, and steamed clams from Sausilito across the bay, and that's my ah - dream of San Francisco."