Food is an important part of any trip. While I was traveling Europe I took the cheap route of buying bread, cheese and other small items at mini-marts and rarely eating at actual restaurants in order to save money. Trekking cross country was a little different because Molly and I didn't want to live off of picnic food everyday, and certain items we'd need to keep cold would cost us money from purchasing ice at least once a day. Camping was a little different and we bought specific dry meals or something like hot dogs that would keep fairly well and were also easy to make. We tried Mac&Cheese but with no milk or butter, it was pretty terrible. Therefore, the majority of the time we were eating at one of two places: a local cuisine restaurant/cafe, or a fast food joint.
Besides fast food, which I will talk about below because we ate a wide variety of it, Molly and I did our best to eat the local cuisine of whichever place we were traveling through or visiting. We ate fried green tomatoes and fried catfish (Yum!) at a great restaurant in Mississippi. I had fried oysters (Blech!) as part of a a seafood platter in New Orleans. And our most memorable of experiences was the cafe we had lunch in as we traversed across Nebraska. Driving from Omaha, NE to the Badlands National Park, the interstate heads north along the borders of Iowa and Nebraska before heading West on I-90 across South Dakota. Interstates are constantly high speed limits however you don't see much of the places your driving through and there are sooooooooo many trucks. After taking state highways through Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska during our super long "Little House on the Prairie Day" we decided to take them as much as possible in the future. Though slower at points when you drive through towns, the speed limits are that of the interstates for much of the time. It was a great decision and we really got to see much more of the Midwest than if we'd chosen the Interstate.
The little towns you pass through along State Highway 275 are really really little. Some have only 3-5 streets off the main road and not every place has a gas station. In one of these teeny little towns we found a teeny cafe. We walk in and every single person in the restaurant turns and stares at us. We quietly mumble "2..." and the owner/sole waitress lets us know we can sit anywhere. Its carpeted and the tables are all different sizes; they look like ones set up for bingo night at a community center. It was a surreal experience. All the patrons knew each other and were wondering where other regulars were. It was so crazy. The perk of small places, especially in lower income areas, is that everything is really cheap but still really good. And it was. Although we we went to a few other smaller restaurants/cafes in other states, nothing was as teeny and crazy as that cafe in Nebraska.
Fast Food Heaven
Here in Massachusetts we have fast food joints but they're all the standard ones: McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Taco Bell and Wendy's. We don't have Arby's, Popeyes, Braums, Sonic etc...so as we headed west, and explored so many new places, we explored all these new options for food. Sonic was the top choice with its wider menu range including mozzarella sticks and slushies and you don't have to get out of the car. Although we were already living in the car quite a bit, getting out for take-out fast food wasn't worth it. We ended up at Sonic whenever we could and some locations were in the middle of nowhere. Molly had Popeyes at one stop which was new to her and she enjoyed it. And after constantly protesting Arby's because, according to Molly, they "took over Dunkin Donuts" we ate their chicken and curly fries. Molly quickly regretted not going there sooner.
Sonic may have been a favorite of mine, but Braum's was the most spectacular of places. A small chain only located in the states of Missouri, Kansas Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, it's technically an "ice cream and dairy store" but really it is a whole lot more. The stores are the same size of a standard McDonalds or Burger King but instead of just the food counter and seats, there's a huge ice cream freezer and a corner of the store is a mini-grocery store. Not a mini-mart but a mini-grocery store, with produce and everything. A small selection of items of course, but pretty cool nonetheless. I got chicken fingers, fries and a good size ice cream for $4...that's just amazing. And it was really good. I kinda wish we'd stopped here earlier in the trip when we passed signs in Missouri and Kansas but the logo is an ice cream cone so I didn't know it had real food. We eventually ended up at one in Oklahoma.
What was nice about the fast food was that it was a) fast, and we weren't delayed terribly because of meals and b) cheap, which was always important on a budget. Yes it's not the healthiest food in the world but we were exercising quite a bit in the National Parks so I think it balanced out. We were also never eating large quantities of said meals. I actually ended up losing a little weight over the course of the 5 weeks and jokingly thanked the "eat fast food and sit in a car for 8 hours" diet when we returned home.