The Good, The Bad, And the Awful

29 August 2007
So we left the Chicago Four Seasons on Monday, headed for Limerock Raceway in Connecticut. Last time I saw Limerock I was about fifteen and it was a dust bowl as I recall. Pretty spiffy looking now. The roads leading south out of Chicago are not exactly scenic, we drove to Indiana to pick up Nero and Peyote, then headed for Connecticut. I wasn’t particularly sleepy or hungry so we pressed on, finally stopping in the outskirts of Toledo, Ohio for dinner at a Lebanese place. It wasn’t bad, but I ate a little too much. So once we hit the road I started getting the nods. We were on a toll road, so there wasn’t much to choose from for places to stay. We finally wound up stopping at a travel plaza and just crashing in Nero. Sometime in the night the parking lot filled with big diesel, including one that parked about ten inches from Nero, idling it’s engine all night.

You don’t want to crash out in these places. The combination of diesel fumes and noise woke me about 4:00 AM. I wiggled out the door–there was literally no space to open the door and get out of the trailer. I pulled out then shoveled Diane and Sam into the back of the truck. I briefly thought of “tagging” the truckers window–something terse like “asshole” spelled backward. Then hit the highway. This all felt like deja vu all over again (yeah, I know it’s redundant, it’s a joke). Nero’s first trip to Sears Point started the same way.

I resolved not to get the same lousy uninspired chain restaurant breakfast. So about 7:00 AM I started looking for restaurants and finally found a likely looking place called something like “Mama Jeans Home Cooking”. It looked right. The room had a robust looking group of farmers having breakfast. The placemats advertised two separate county fairs. I sensed a good breakfast. Then the food came.

I haven’t seen such an uninspired mess since Mackinac Island. Instant Oatmeal. Biscuits from Costco or someplace like that. Overcooked eggs. Corned Beef hash straight from the can, and not a good can. Frozen “homefries” warmed in cheap cooking oil.

Mama Jean needs her butt kicked–she’s too lazy to cook water. Diane was going to ask for peanut butter for her English muffin, but in the dirty restroom a plunger was shoved into a big plastic tub that previously held “Economy Peanut Butter”. Yum.

How did it happen that people came to accept warming prefab crap as suitable restaurant fare–anywhere. How much effort does it make to make a great breakfast? Why would anyone go to all the work of running a restaurant and not do it well?

We left the food mostly untouched and headed down the road grumbling. We talked about ways to improve the simple food scene in America. Maybe a rating system that helps good places thrive and bad places die. Diane suggested a name for the effort: Simple Quality. I like it. I’m starting to plan to build a website to enable that–probably something wiki-like that lets people praise the good and condemn the bad. I don’t like to just bitch about something and not try to fix it. I don’t care about chains or fast food–they can’t improve beyond the mediocrity embedded in the three-ring binders that run the places. I’m talking about places run by people who might have something to contribute to better experiences.

Like the HUGE surprise that lunch was. We were hungry of course, so when we saw a sign for a historic district in the town of Milford, PA (which is very close to Middle of Nowhere, PA.) our interest was cautiously piqued (Gatlinburg is too recent a memory for it to be other than cautious). One establishment that was tastefully advertised was a historic Inn/Restaurant called Hotel Fauchere. We drove through the town, noted several interesting-looking restaurants, and parked Nero on a shady street with beautiful houses and a stately city hall. Everything looked carefully cared for except one very interesting-looking structure that stood boarded up and condemned.

Hotel Fauchere proved to be an elegant-looking Italianate building. I thought it looked stuffy and dreaded over-sauced pseudo-french cooking. The entry of the hotel and all we could see of the formal main dining room reinforced my impression. Diane was more optimistic, so we entered and took the elevator down to Bar Louis, expecting heavy faux antiques and a hamburger menu. To my astonishment the restaurant had a light contemporary feel, engaging artwork on the beautifully paneled walls and pleasant, comfortable furnishings. The feel was integrated, detailed, clean and pleasant.

The menu was straightforward but promised good ingredients. Locally smoked ham, artisan breads, french fries with truffle oil. I had a Croque Monsieur which is nothing more than grilled cheese and ham–but what a sandwich. Wonderful brioche bread, the ham was as good as the menu promised, cooked perfectly so the outside of the bread crunched and the inside melted into the cheese. The truffle fries were crisp and delicious. Diane had mussels and handmade potato chips that were amazing.

A simple meal, cooked extremely well. A little good wine, some great coffee, and we were off again, marveling at the difference between lunch and dinner. Truth is, you could do that anywhere. The only difference is the effort. If you’re ever within fifty miles of Milford, PA it would be worth the trip: . From what I can see on the website, the main dining room looks pretty spectacular too, and the rooms appear comfy. If they’ve put the same effort into the rest of the hotel that they put into the small dining area (and why wouldn’t they) then it should all be great.

We continued on towards Limerock, enjoying an increasingly scenic ride. The area around Limerock is really pretty. We found some farmers markets on the way in that we’ll be hitting before the weekend. Beautiful big tomatoes, squash, string beans, fruit, nice looking sweet corn. I’m going to try to get some very fresh corn though, it starts changing as soon as it’s picked.

The track looks beautiful, but the layout is really simple. I’ve heard people say Limerock is challenging. Doesn’t look that way to me, but we’ll see. We got a good paddock space. We’re camping in Nero, enjoying this cozy and simple space. What a great trailer.

Good night.

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