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Spring Break. Time to gather the vacation duds. Time to pack up the family van. Time to eat. (You didnâ€™t see that coming?) But we were headed to Branson, Mo., known more for its entertainment venues than for its culinary gems. My usual sources for good local eats were less than encouraging. With that in mind, I made sure we started off with a sure thing on our way to Missouri.
We timed our departure to hit Memphis in time for lunch. I had eaten once in my college days at The Rendezvous, famous for its dry ribs. Since that signature meal it had become a milestone - all other ribs partaken since then were measured against that standard. I confess it is possible the legend of those ribs grew as the years went by â€“ perhaps they are not the be-all and end-all of porcine cuisine. But they remain a worthy standard, and we all crossed the Mississippi River full and happy.
Our first morning in Branson found us at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. By coincidence or act of God, we arrived just as the â€śHot Doughnuts Nowâ€ť sign was turned on. In a moment of temporary amnesia, I had forgotten that in any Krispy Kreme around the world, if you show up while that sign is glowing, it means a free glazed doughnut. I was quickly brought back to my senses with a hot, fresh ring of glory, taken right off the conveyor, moments after traveling under the waterfall of glaze. It truly melted in my mouth. I was speechless (if you donâ€™t count groans of happiness), and it wasnâ€™t just because I was taught not to talk with my mouth full. I was focused.
Late (by design) on our second morning, my daughter prepared a three course breakfast for the family, with minimal assistance from her sous chef, aka Daddy. The appetizer course was sourdough bread broiled with fromage americain. The main course was a perfectly plated cluster of slow-scrambled cackleberries with diced golden formaggio and cured pork belly. Dessert was a sampler platter of delicately fried pastry pillows, glazed just enough to make them both krispy and kremey. It was such an exquisite breakfast we let her do it again a few days later.
Not-so-oddly enough, the next memorable meal was yet another breakfast. A college buddy had told me about the kringles made by the Supreme Bakery in Springfield.
Truth be told, I didnâ€™t have the foggiest idea what awaited us on this road trip, but his family loved them so much they now have them drop-shipped for Christmas gifts. That testimonial and MapQuest were enough to get us there.
For others like me who may not have had the pleasure of a kringle, it is a round ring of flaky pastry about the diameter of a medium pizza, filled and glazed. We finally settled on the strawberry and cheese option, and declared it worth the trip.
Later the same day we made our way to Lambertâ€™s CafĂ©, the famous home of the â€śthrowed rollsâ€ť. Our home-style dinners were served in deep twelve-inch skillets, which came full and stayed full with the â€śpass-aroundsâ€ť the servers continually brought to the table. Hot rolls were regularly tossed around the room by the roll guy (clearly a minor league pitcher in his off-season); only one hit the floor at our table. We had so much food between us, we had leftovers twice.
Silver Dollar City turned out to be a variation on a theme. Cast iron skillets the size of a Volkswagen were piled with all sorts of meats and veggies that were sold by the bowlful. Aside from desserts of funnel cake and Dippinâ€™ Dots ice cream to anchor the day, we resisted the temptation of the other amusement park fare (hard to believe, I know) to save our appetite for Cantina Laredo that night. The Cantina served fresh guacamole, prepared fresh at the table by our waitress. The secret ingredient that seemed to edge this guac up the favorites list was ground white pepper. Go figure.
If you are wondering whether or not we did anything but eat on this trip, rest easy. We managed to ride go-carts, play mini-golf, have our picture made with the crew of Star Trek in wax, take the stage in a show, successfully navigate a mirror maze, stand in awe of the Christ of the Ozarks statue, survive the Powder Keg roller coaster, see a life-sized Precious Moment figure, and become master gift-shop vendees. All that will make a man hungry.