on the “Mother Road.” That would be Route 66.
The famed Dixie in McLean, IL, was a stop on our Route 66 memory tour. “In 1928, J.P. Walters and John Geske rented a quarter of a mechanic's garage on Route 66 to sell sandwiches to the passing truckers and travelers. They had 6 stools in their fledging restaurant. By the mid-1930's the establishment had evolved into a full-fledged restaurant and they had added cabins in back along with cattle pens so that transported cattle could be exercised. The Dixie burned in 1965 but that did not stop John, he pulled one of his cabins up and operated from it, with only a few hours of interrupted service. The Dixie was operated by John's daughter and son-in-law after he had retired however John still came by to check on things even when he was in his late 90's” (Waymarking.com).
Today, the truck stop is under new ownership and the exterior and interior have been renovated, although a small Route 66 museum still occupies one corridor. And, of course, that mainstay of interstate America, Stuckey’s, has a sales presence.
The restaurant, where we stopped for lunch, goes under the name of Woody’s and was virtually empty when we arrived at about 3:00 p.m. Granted, the weather that day was dreadful which may have kept many travelers off the road. (Yes, we do seem to be spending a lot of time out in the wind and rain.)
As would be expected at a truck stop, the menu is both long and varied with a large selection of American roadside comfort foods. I was hungry for a burger, so I ordered a mushroom Swiss which came with a cup of soup—either chicken dumpling or vegetable beef. It would be the chicken soup, which was full of celery, carrots, chicken, noodles, and dumpling in a rich chicken broth. I have never seen a soup contain both dumplings and noodles so it goes without saying that this was a stick to your ribs (or in my case hips) soup.
The burger came on a toasted roll and there was a large portion of mushrooms under the layer of cheese. While this won’t make the “best of” list, it was still quite satisfying.
Chuck chose the ultimate in comfort food—meatloaf and mashed potatoes---which came with a trip to the salad bar. Please note the mound of potato salad on the plate. And yes, he is having mashed potatoes later. I was especially interested in the cold pea and ham salad, which is a staple at Midwest salad bars, covered dish church suppers, and funeral lunches for as long as I can remember. Sometimes elbow macs are added to make the dish stretch further. But I hadn’t seen this since we left Iowa eons ago. I took a taste and it was really quite good even if reminiscent of an earlier age.
The meatloaf--three thin slices—was average at best and gave the Hub City Diner’s (Lafayette, LA) absolutely no competition.
Dora opted for the buffet which included the soup and salad bar. I don’t remember all of her choices other than the ribs and pea and ham salad. But I can tell you that the ribs warranted a second trip to said salad bar.
The next day found us out in the rain again. This time for Chinese food at Tai Pan in Springfield.
Dora had never eaten there, but this is a favorite of one of her friends. Sebastian G on yelp.com writes: “This restaurant is a little hidden Asian gem in Springfield.... I have to say that I love Asian food..., (and) this love for Asian food only got more empowered after a visit to this place.... Dishes showcase Mandarin, Szechwan, Hunan, and Cantonese culinary styles equally well, and seafood and beef dishes are favorites.”
I led us to a booth in a far corner of the dining room. (Later you’ll know why this is important.)
The standard menu is long with twelve seafood, ten poultry, seven beef, five pork, and twelve vegetable selections plus an additional seventeen “chef’s specials.” And, this being Sunday, there was also a small buffet.
All three of us started with cups—make that large cups—of the hot and sour soup that contained egg threads, tofu, pork shreds, and mushrooms. Lots of mushrooms. And neither Chuck nor Dora eat mushrooms. Guess who was the lucky person who got all of their mushrooms. The soup was steaming and had a strong peppery heat. I would have liked more sour, but I am not sure that Chuck agrees.
Chuck’s entrée choice was the Hunan Triple Sizzling which was a large platter of food that contained snow peas, water chestnuts, beef, shrimp, and scallops in a mild soy-based sauce. Oh. His dish also contained lots of mushrooms. Mine. All mine.
He also included an order of dry sautéed string beans in a soy and garlic sauce. We asked that some chili paste or other spicy seasoning be added, but the addition was so subtle as to be non-existent. I did find a few chili flakes on the bottom of the plate but had I not seen these I wouldn’t have known they were present. Still, the beans were nicely cooked and neither of us has been near a green vegetable for a while.
From the day’s specials board, I ordered the Hunan Fish, which contained broccoli, carrots, green peppers and multiple flakey and sweet filets of flounder in a somewhat spicy black bean sauce. I would have liked more spice, but the dish was still extremely tasty.
Dora chose the buffet and here is where my unfortunate choice of seating comes into play. Was there a reason that everyone else was sitting in close proximity to the buffet. Yes. The buffet wasn’t large but did have a decent selection of appetizer items and traditional Chinese dished like sesame chicken and lo mein. But the kitchen did a less than stellar job of keeping the buffet filled and as soon as a new tray of food appeared from the kitchen those sitting closest arose like a swarm of locusts and descended on the food. Note to Dora. Next time make sure to sit closer.
Neither of these two meals “knocked our socks off,” but still earn a 3.5 Addie rating.