Even though I can’t usually load up on fruits and vegetables, I like to visit farmers markets while traveling to experience the local flavor and check out the booths and creative vendor names.
On a recent Saturday, I went to the Phoenix Public Market on the edge of downtown Phoenix.
Local tomatoes, organic herbs and oranges (orange trees are on residential lawns everywhere in Phoenix) were abundant. However, the best thing I ate came from Jerusalem Bakery. I got two outstanding borekas, sesame seed-topped phyllo dough with different fillings inside. One borek a was stuffed with feta cheese and kalamata olives and other with mushrooms, cheese and onions.
Although not a food booth, my favorite name was a shaving kit booth run by an Army veteran: “Shaving Private Ryan.”
Tuesday was the only day of the week that I wasn’t in Phoenix during a recent trip so I just had to declare every day a taco day. This is what I had.
La SantisimaGourmet Taco Shop This was the only place that I researched ahead of time. The long line at counter and poster of Diners, Drive-ins & Dives Guy Fieri gave me some assurance that this was a good pick. I’d say it qualified as a dive, a tiny spot in a Latino neighborhood. I passed on the house specialty dogfish shark taco (not an appetizing name) and went for the shrimp and marinated Arrachera steak versions. But, La Santisima must be the place for these tacos. The restaurant comes up 2nd on a Google search for dogfish shark tacos, only behind a National Public Radio story on how Europeans, yet few Americans, are eating this plentiful seafood from the U.S. East Coast.
My tacos were good, not outstanding. A favorite part of the meal was the salsa bar with a dozen or so varieties freshly made every day.
Joyride Taco House. This was, hands down, my favorite restaurant experience of the trip and probably one of my Top 10 vacation meal experiences ever. Seasonally cooler temperatures (following two consecutive triple digit days) made dining on the patio pleasant. It’s a fun atmosphere with bright yellow industrial bistro chairs, white lights and a stone fireplace. Joyride is in the middle of a five-restaurant neighborhood, all owned by the same company, Upward Projects, which restores classic buildings into restaurants with lots of al fresco dining and trendy vibes. I should have saved room for the dessert – there was a line of 20 people or so waiting at Churn, the ice cream concept across the street.
Back to the food at Joyride. The tacos were great, especially the crispy fish one. Guacamole was good, and I especially liked that it was topped with roasted corn. Another favorite was a refreshing cucumber and orange salad.
Rubio’s. It helps with the budget to include a fast food chain every so often, and I look for something we don’t have at home. Rubio’s is a fast-casual Mexican chain with 200 locations (in the West and in Florida) specializing in coastal-inspired cuisine. The founder, Ralph Rubio, is often credited with popularizing fish tacos. He started in 1983 in San Diego with a crispy beer-battered and fried wild Alaskan pollock. That’s still on the menu today along with tilapia, salmon, mahi mahi, ono and various shrimp taco options—grilled, blackened or fried and served with tangy white sauce.
I would probably eat there often, alternating with Chipotle, which seem to be as plentiful as McDonald’s and Starbucks in Phoenix.
No dogfish shark tacos yet but maybe that’s the next item to be added.
In Bienville Parish, the individual parts are greater than the sum.
It’s one of the smallest of Louisiana’s 64 parishes in population. The largest town has under 3,000 people. There is no Wal-Mart in the parish. No Kroger. No movie theater. No skating rink.
Yet the individual towns and hamlets and the places in between are rich in history, geography and character. Gibsland claims to be the Daffodil Capital of Louisiana and will celebrate that this weekend. An Arcadia restaurant claims to be the Fried Pie Capital of the Ark-La-Tex. Bienville Parish has the highest point in Louisiana, Mt. Driskill. Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down in the parish nearly 83 years ago.
My husband grew up in Ringgold, and we’ve been driving around the parish a lot lately tending to business. Here are some of Bienville Parish’s interesting spots.
Arcadia Pit Stops
Arcadia, the parish seat, is the largest town. My favorite stops are just off I-20’s Exit #69.
On one side is Gap Farms Travel Center . It’s rural Louisiana’s scaled-down version of the massive Buc-ee’s truck stop chain in Texas. You’ll find North Louisiana-made fish fryers, rocking chairs, icebox pies, country signage, gifts. And food–breakfast, barbecue and Friday night’s Big Hoss Challenge–you finish the 78-ounce steak within an hour and it’s on the house. For lighter appetites, there’s a 24-hour Burger King.
South of I-20 is Country Cottage, which looks anything but with its location in a former bar. It’s sort of a rural Louisiana Cracker Barrel with better food. Their’s a retail section, including lots of country lace, hair bows and children’s toys. I found a few collectibles with a distinct Louisiana flair–Louisiana Tech yearbooks from the 1960s when it was known as Louisiana Polytechnic Institute and a paper fan advertising O’Jay’s Beauty Lotion, a Shreveport product. Never mind the early 1990s decor with touches of mauve, this place is perhaps the best eatery along I-20 in Louisiana.
Country Cottage makes a valid, yet undermarketed, claim to be the Fried Pie Capital of the Ark-La-Tex. These fried pies are more than wonderful, better than the more famous ones you find in Texas and Oklahoma. They were out of their sugar-free flavors (I tried) when I stopped and had a Snickers fried pie. A week later, I had the coconut one. They have all sorts of flavors, even the “0h-So-North-Louisiana” deer meat pie.
There’s more than pies–breakfast, a buffet, great country cooking, including the much-praised hot water cornbread.
Exit #69 is becoming a pit stop mecca. Recently, a new gas station/convenience store/ wine & liquor store called Super Save opened on the north side of the interstate. On the south side, there’s the new red Bonnie & Clyde Beer Barn complete with drive-thru daiquiris (It’s a Louisiana thing).
Bonnie & Clyde
Had the beer barn been around in May 1934, Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow may have driven their stolen Ford through for refreshments. Instead, they stopped for a sandwich at a cafe, eight miles away in Gibsland. Minutes later, they were ambushed on rural Highway 154 south of town.
That cafe is now the spot for the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum, which was until his recent death, directed by the son of Ted Hinton, one of the posse that gunned down the infamous pair. Admission is $7.
The museum has artifacts from that fateful day, a lot of newspaper clippings and a replica of the Ford used in the landmark Bonnie & Clyde movie with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The actual movie car is now in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The death car is now in a Nevada casino.
(There is another museum in town– the Authentic Museum of Bonnie & Clyde, which has been described as a “friendly rival.”).
The exact spot where Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down is on Highway 154 near the settlement of Sailes. Each year, on the weekend nearest the May 23 anniversary date, there’s a Bonnie & Clyde Festival complete with an ambush re-enactment and look alike contests.
Gibsland’s other claim to fame is Daffodil Capital of Louisiana, which is celebrated the first weekend in March with a Jonquil Jubilee. (The term “daffodil” refers to a broader group of flowers, but “jonquil” and “daffodil” are commonly used interchangeably). They’ll be lots of events around town this Saturday. Tickets are $10, which includes a driving map, entrance to some of the homes and exhibits along the route.
While in Gibsland, check out the Gibsland Grill, a popular lunch spot, and arts and crafts. A morning program by the Master Gardeners will feature garden talks and a daffodil show at Louisiana Tech, 30 minutes away. Other events include pancake breakfast, quilt show and tablescapes featuring daffodils.
While driving around, you may want to explore the tiny village of Mt. Lebanon, the oldest settlement in the parish and birthplace of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. One of the organizers was the great grandfather of President Lyndon B. Johnson, The Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, organized in 1837, is still in use. The sanctuary is separated down the middle–one side for men and the other for women. After the end of the Civil War, the former slaves formed their own new church, Springfield Baptist Church nearby.
You have to drive farther south to experience some of the real flavor of the parish. You don’t want to miss eating breakfast or perhaps a ribeye steak at Mom & Pop’s, a restaurant attached to the “Bryceland Mall,” a gas station and convenience store at the intersection of Highways 517 and 9.
Even farther south is the Castor General Store, also affectionately known as the “Castor Wal-Mart.” It does have numbered aisles and sells groceries, hardware supplies and other necessities. In the summertime, go a little farther east of Castor on Highway 4 and buy watermelons at Plunkett Farms.
I also hiked Mt. Driskill in Bienville Parish, the highest point in Louisiana, a few weeks ago. I’ll save that story for next week.
All I wanted for Valentine’s Day was a trip to Pawhuska, Oklahoma to visit The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile, a 107-year-old building that the Food Network star has handsomely restored into a restaurant, bakery, deli, retail shop and ranch office.
We made the six and a half hour trip from Shreveport last week. The drive’s not bad when places like Paris, Texas and Okmulgee, Oklahoma have Starbucks!
Hubby and his brother were good sports as my sister-in-law and I made our way around the store. We did come away with a few purchases, but my main goal was to look around, sample the food and hopefully run into Ree, aka Pioneer Woman, or one of the Drummond clan.
The shop was as beautiful as pictured on her the blog. There are some pricey items — a cast iron skillet in the shape of the United States for $125, metal butterflies sculpted into a horse for $250 but fun lower-end items such as $3 bacon lip balm, $6 finger puppets of historic and literary figures such as Benjamin Franklin and Sherlock Holmes. And lots of dinnerware in bright colors and florals.
Originally, I thought we’d eat a late breakfast/brunch there, shop, tour the town, drive out to the ranch and return for a late afternoon meal. But on further reflection, I felt one big PW meal was about all my diet could stand.
The menu isn’t extensive because I have a feeling Ree Drummond only wants to serve things that can scale perfectly to feed a large restaurant crowd. I did a rough count one day and figured I have made more than 60 of her recipes so I wanted to order some things I hadn’t tried.
Hubby got the Marlboro Man sandwich, strips of tenderized ribeye sauteed with onions and served on a soft hoagie bun with homemade potato chips. He shared some with me, so I got the salad with steak added. For an appetizer, we had creamy olive cheese bread. They were all what you would expect from Pioneer Woman–delicious!
I wanted to get prune cake just to see if it lived up to its menu billing– “Don’t get hung up on the name. This just might be the best thing you have ever eaten.” But I didn’t have room and will have to save it for another visit or make it myself. Did I mention we split a pecan sticky bun beforelunch?
I didn’t see any calorie counts or “on the lighter side” on the menu. Only those marked “bring a hearty appetite.”
We had to wait about 40 minutes for a lunch table — it will be longer on weekends and during holidays, shorter during breakfast. Todd, the youngest Drummond child, was bussing our table. Sister Paige, 17, was on duty as barista, and Ladd, Marlboro Man himself, was working the crowd.
I guess Ree was home blogging, making lasagna or gathering cattle.
We ended our time in Pawhuska by driving eight miles out on U.S. Highway 60 to the Drummond Ranch entrance sign and continuing on County Road 4461, a gravel road, until we could see her house in the distance. We wanted to see if she really does live “on a ranch in the middle of nowhere”
And the wind was sweeping down the plain that day.
A trip to Pawhuska would be a terrific paired with a trip to Tulsa (an hour away with beautiful Art Deco architecture) or Oklahoma City (two hours away with National Memorial commemorating 1995 bombing and National Cowboy Museum).
I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from blog writing recently. My older daughter Claire got engaged in October. It will be #kickstandsandweddingplans around our house during the next few months. Meantime, I’ll share a little bit about a recent trip to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest with my younger daughter Mary Grace.
During my first visit to Seattle’s Pike Place Market a few weeks ago, I spent most of my time checking out the produce vendors, especially looking for different varieties of Washington apples. Did you know that six out of every 10 apples consumed in the United States are grown in the state of Washington? I didn’t know it was that high, but check out this informative site.
So I packed my apple corer for the trip and picked up a few at the market. Can’t say they were much better than the Honeycrisps I’ve been getting at my local Kroger. They have been exceptionally good this fall, and they are grown in Washington. I can’t wait to try this salted caramel apple wheel recipe from Chelan Fresh.
I did make it to the famous Pike Place fishmonger booths and learned you could pack just about any seafood in a TSA-approved box, but I didn’t buy any.
I enjoyed all of the colors and sampling a few different fruit and vegetable varieties at Pike Place. Here are a few photos.
Since living in Louisiana, a jaunt to Mitcham’s Peach Farm in Ruston is as sure a summer thing as white sandals, long days and 100 plus heat indexes.
I’ve been known to make three trips to Ruston in one week for peaches, and that was before the Mitchams added the ice cream and peach store several years ago.
With so many farmers markets to shop and my busy schedule, I now limit myself to one good trip to Mitcham’s a year. Since it’s only one time a year, I feel entitled to a big soft serve peach ice cream cone. When I was growing up my family had a small peach orchard, a side business to our dairy. Our dairy made ice cream when I was very little, but we never sold peach ice cream.
As far as peaches go. I’d recommend buying the biggest peaches they have, which are usually in those gift boxes and may cost more than $2 a peach. On the day I went earlier this month, they didn’t have those so I got a large bucket for $25 with about 25 peaches. They also sell overripes good for cooking.
You’ll also want to call to see if they have peaches available that day. I just checked their Facebook page today, and it said they won’t have any until later this week.
When I was at Mitcham’s earlier this month, I was more observant about other things for sale. In the peach shed, tomatoes, blueberries and shelled peas were available. There were also some lush ferns reasonably priced at $10 each.
In their farm store, which is open year round, there are many peach products — not only jams, jellies and salsas but bath products, peach cookware, gift baskets and other things. They have yummy salsa and pepper jelly from the Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home, peach tea and peach lemonade.
And, then I found a really unexpected item — ammunition. I haven’t fully investigated, but I doubt that many places outside North Louisiana sell fresh peaches and ammo.
Mitcham’s is about 70 miles east of Shreveport. On I-20, take the Grambling exit #81. Go north on Highway 149. Take a right on Garr Road and keep right on Highway 544. Shortly you’ll see a sign and Mitcham Orchard Road on the left. Follow that to the peach shed and store.
You can read about a previous trip I took to The Tomato Place here.
The best way to describe the atmosphere at The Tomato Place in Vicksburg is a cross between Caribbean smoothie bar and Mississippi produce stand.
If you can’t image what that is like, I understand. You are just going to have to go experience The Tomato Place yourself. Owner Luke Hughes was interviewed by some publication, and said it takes four visits to know what this place is about. I just got back from my fourth visit so I guess I know a thing or two.
It is a farm stand selling tomatoes and other produce. Plus, there’s lunch where BLTs are the best sellers. But there’s also such entrees as catfish platters and grilled salmon. And, then there are smoothies—that and the bright colors around the place are where the Caribbean comes in.
My first visit to The Tomato Place last October was a quick stop. I’m not a regular smoothie fan so I passed. Next time, I got a natural plum smoothie and have become hooked. I’ve also had the apple blackberry, and it was great too.
The lunches I had also were wonderful, although I’ll warn you that the service is leisurely. I had a BLT club and pound cake a week ago, and earlier I had chicken salad and the pork skins that are fried on site. They come to the table crackling hot with a cup of The Tomato Place’s signature product, Mississippi Fever, a liquidy pepper jelly.
Tomatoes and watermelons were from Smith County, Mississippi. Peaches from Chilton County, Alabama and Lake Providence, Louisiana. If you poke around the nooks and crannies, you will find an eclectic merchandise mix — grits and popcorn, local artwork, jazz CDs and fedoras.
I went outside and got Luke to pose for a picture and was struck by this purple petunia against the faded red painting on a shed. The Tomato Place is a cluster of sheds and shacks
Uncle Si and the folks at Duck Dynasty have been by for a show, and Mississippi Public Broadcasting did an interesting segment on The Tomato Place, which you can view here.
Tomatoes and BLTs are the best sellers, but the smoothies are what I will go back for. I don’t want to ever cross the Mississippi River into my home state without swinging down to The Tomato Place and getting one.
The Tomato Place is on U.S. Highway 61 South, about four miles south of Vicksburg. thetomatoplace.com
I’m usually a regular at the Shreveport Farmers Market, but sometimes you can’t beat driving to a produce stand in the country, where you can actually see the peach trees that bore the fruit you are buying.
The other day, I drove to Coushatta, about 45 miles south of Shreveport, where I couldn’t stop at one. I went to four farmstands. Well, they all weren’t actually in the town of Coushatta but in the nearby places of Armistead and Ajax.
It had been awhile since I had been to Ed Lester Farms, and I had forgotten how beautiful the setting is – on the west bank of the Red River, shaded by a 300-year-old oak tree flanked by lush caladiums. Classical music played on speakers as people of all types – driving everything from Ford Focuses to Range Rovers — bagged tomatoes and squash. Ed Lester Farms has been written up in Southern Living as one of the best produce stands in the South.
A sign on a trailer bed said “Very New Potatoes.” How new? We were there at 11 am, and much of the produce had been hauled in from the field at 8 am that day. (We didn’t do our part in cooking them that same night, but they still tasted fresh even a week later). You have to go when the produce is fresh as this market’s season only lasts from late May through July.
Ed Lester’s family has been working the rich soil since 1850. The produce stand has been around since 1960.
Anderson Farms is also a big operation and a pretty place as well. They also sell at the Shreveport Farmers Market. You can buy bedding plants and ferns there too. I loved watching young butterflies flutter around in the zinnia patch in front of Anderson’s.
En route between Ed Lester Farms and Andersons, we found M & R Produce at the crossroads of US Hwy 84, US Hwy 371 and Louisiana 1. And we checked it out too. We continued down some country roads (directions and map below) to Anderson’s. After stopping there, we kept going a little farther across I-49 and into Natchitoches Parish, where we discovered Mim’s Snack Shop and Produce.
Mim was out front and pointed to a plum tree a few yards to the west that produced some of the fruit he was selling. There were homegrown tomatoes and other things, even a bargain table. The watermelons were from Florida then, but it was early in the season, and he assured me they would be local in a few weeks. There’s a hot lunch six days a week and barbecue Wednesday-Saturday.
We really enjoyed spending the better part of the day in Coushatta, and I recommend it to you. If you are expecting quaint small town, you need to lower your expectations. Coushatta is like a Mississippi Delta town with poverty and empty storefronts downtown. Sunbeam used to have a plant there that made household irons, but that closed 20 years ago. Haynesville shale natural gas drilling has helped, but, that too, is currently in a slump.
But Coushatta still has agriculture, and It’s worth going there for the farmstands alone. But, there are a few more lures. Here are a couple:
Hamburgers. We stopped at Bailey’s Sandwich Shop downtown. (I guess they have other sandwiches. I did not look at the menu as I did not want to spend all of my Weight Watchers points.) My husband raved about the hamburger and wondered why he had waited 30 years to return there. Yes, it has been around at least that long. Bailey’s dining area is modest – one picnic table under the rusting roof and another one in the sun. We were lucky to secure the shady one as most patrons are locals who get theirs to go. There’s another place not far from Baileys called Shellie’s Sandwich Shop. I ate there a year ago when I wasn’t dieting, and the hamburger was great.
Nichols: Coushatta is one of five locations of Nichols Department Store, a family-owned retailer that has been operating since 1914 and, for that, I think they deserve a round of applause. The other places are in towns that few outside of Louisiana have heard of: Many (corporate headquarters), Leesville, DeQuincy, DeRidder and Winnfield. The merchandise mix is a lot of Bass Pro shop with a little of Hobby Lobby home décor, small town hardware store and a tad Five & Dime. Firearms and a bridal registry. Yeti coolers and off-brand lemon cookies. There is no Wal-Mart in Coushatta, so it is great to see such a well-stocked locally-owned store. My husband bought some ammunition, and I bought a Louisiana-shaped cutting board.
Driving around, there’s a few more stores that grabbed my attention – a locally-owned supermarket, another store called Maxway, and a place downtown called Jolie’s Vintage, which I really wanted to explore but they are not open on Mondays when we were there.
From Shreveport, take I-49. Exit 162 and head northeast toward Coushatta on Hwy 371. You’ll find (1) Ed Lester Farms on the right before reaching town. Turn left from Ed Lester parking lot and head west until you reach the crossroads of Hwy 371, Hwy 84 and LA 1. You’ll find (2) M&R Produce there. Head south on LA 1 for 4.6 miles, then turn right on Catfish Bend Road. Take that for 3.6 miles to Highway 174. Head west on 174 for about two miles and you’ll see (3) Anderson’s Produce on the right. Continue on Hwy 174 past I-49 and (4) Mim’s is on the right.
I’m slowly making my way around the barbecue shrines of the South.
Neely’s Interstate Bar-B-Que in Memphis. Check
Louie Muellers in Taylor, Texas. (and most of the other noted central Texas barbecue joints) Check.
Dreamland in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Check
McClard’s in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Check
Jack Stack Barbecue in Kansas City (is that considered the South?). Check.
And I had always heard of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama but had never eaten there until we stopped on the way back from Washington, DC earlier this month.
The real reputation stems from a tangy mayonnaise-based white barbecue sauce, definitely unique in barbecue circles. I had to show proof that they also served a traditional red sauce before my husband would agree to go.
You get the feeling this is the real deal when (a) the parking lot is packed and (b) inside walls are covered with framed articles from publications as diverse as the local daily Huntsville Times, trade publication National Barbecue News for the championship teams with the big rigs, and swanky Food & Wine and Bon Appetit. There are two locations in Decatur, and I can only assume both are packed with patrons and mementos.
The pork ribs and pulled pork were indeed tasty. Sorry, there are no photos because we devoured our food quickly after a tiring ride. The ribs were some of the best we have ever tasted.
Unlike many barbecue joints, Big Bob has an extensive menu including huge barbecue-loaded baked potatoes (described by one publication “as big as a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier”). There are also pies.
Oh, and we did try the white sauce. It wasn’t bad, but we’ll stick to the familiar.
With all its embassies and international influences, Washington, DC is a great place to try ethnic cuisines. Also, its location near the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay makes seafood readily available.
So on a trip to the area last week, we saved the All-American burgers and Carolina barbecue for later and enjoyed these:
Cafe Berlin, 322 Massachusetts Ave. N.E.: A short walk from the Capitol took us to this dining area on the ground floor of three joined townhouses. (Next door is the equally elegant Bistro Cacao French Cuisine). Although dieting, I had allowed myself an indulgent meal, and this was it. Others in our party ordered wursts and beer. I skipped that and chose pork tenderloin medallions (healthy) in mushroom sauce cream sauce topped with crispy onions (not so healthy) and kasespatzle, the German version of macaroni and cheese (definitely not healthy).
Sichuan Pavilion, 1814 K St., NW: We were the only ones dining without chopsticks if that gives you any idea of how authentic this place was. One of the appetizers was jelly fish in ginger scallion sauce (we skipped). Yes, it is authentic. I liked the orange beef that I ordered.
The Wharf: 119 King St., Alexandria, VA, this cozy wood paneled and brick restaurant has 1790s architecture and Chesapeake Bay seafood specialties, including the she-crab soup, rich with cream, sherry and crab.
DC Pollo Peruvian:. Last time I was in Washington the food truck craze had not arrived. I did some investigating beforehand and decided to look for this Peruvian food truck, parked this day near the Air & Space Museum. My rotisserie chicken was moist and flavorsome, and hubby aid his Truck Special (pork and sausages over egg fried rice) with a side of plantains was the best of many meals he enjoyed in DC.
Baked & Wired, 1052 Thomas Jefferson St., NW: I’d tried Georgetown Cupcakes — brought to fame by the Food Network — and read that Baked & Wired cupcakes were even better. So, I set out for Georgetown and returned with a trio of them–carrot cake, Texas sheetcake and strawberry. Baked & Wired cupcakes are taller than most cupcakes, which makes me think they are baked in popover pans. Unequivocally, I can say they were the best I have ever had. Oh, did I mention that I allowed myself an indulgent sweet treat too?
Bicycle Trips, Road Trips, Farmers Markets and Lagniappe Along the Way