By JAY REED
It is a mixed blessing to travel alone. I do get to choose what I want to eat — that I like. (To be fair, however, I get to choose more than my fair share when not alone. Sometimes I’m democratic, sometimes I’m a dictator. But it’s for their own good.) But eating by myself? I like that less.
I was driving (and singing, maybe, a little) solo on the way to Gainesville, but there were plenty of people to eat with once I got there. At the first breakfast, as we were getting signed in, I ran into a couple of Fine Fellows From Florence, Ala. I could tell from the moment they said hello that they were my kind of people. When I found out they lived not far across the Mississippi-Alabama line from a passel of my kinfolk, I knew why. We ended up being in the same work-group for the educational part of the weekend, and also shared a few meals along the way. Breakfast bonus.
Each morning before the meeting began, I went across the street from my hotel to the host hotel for breakfast. No, I wasn’t hotel-hopping, blending in with the crowd, and secretly searching for the best free spread. It was a part of the meeting. Really. Regardless, it was still a better breakfast than my hotel — they had eggs of various sorts, potatoes, pork products that didn’t have to be unwrapped and microwaved, and even a ham and egg breakfast burrito one day. My hotel was only serving coffee. I’m sure it was very good coffee, but I prefer a more solid breakfast. Plus every day I got five minutes of exercise crossing the street. That’s fifteen minutes of exercise for the whole weekend, if you’re keeping up. Pretty good deal.
For dinner each night we were essentially on our own, but on the second evening the meeting sponsor organized a night out at Bonefish Grill. I was up for that because I’d never eaten there before, but at the last minute we found out Bonefish was booked solid and we were going to Outback instead. As chains go, I enjoy Outback. (I would find it even more interesting if kangaroo was on their specials board every now and then, but I don’t think that’s likely). But I’ve been on that walkabout many times and I was in Gainesville — far, far from home, thus close to local restaurants I wouldn’t see again for a long time. I wanted to eat somewhere different. Thankfully, Both Fine Fellows From Florence (the BFFFF’s) had a similar idea, so I hopped in their truck and we went exploring.
Our first thought was to see if Bonefish could take three, even if they couldn’t take twenty. A tour bus was parked outside — the kind of bus with tinted windows that country music stars take on tour, not the kind that drops off three dozen tourists in Hawaiian shirts. We’re not sure which star was inside, but we had already had a long day and weren’t willing to wait the 75 minutes to get a peek. Back in the truck we went, and I set the GPS toward a place my Gainesville buddy had told me about, and began back seat navigating. We hadn’t gone too far when we saw a Cody’s Original Roadhouse. There were enough cars in front to let us know that locals liked it, but not so many deluxe tour buses. We took that as a good sign, and we were hungry, so we turned in.
Cody’s is also a small chain based completely in Florida, similar in menu to other places with “Roadhouse” in the name (i.e., carnivore-centric). Having accomplished two days of the eat-sit-eat-sit cycle of a typical meeting, I chose something a bit simpler than what I might have otherwise wanted, should I have run a 5K race that day instead. The menu said the chopped steak was actually pieces of genuine steak that the meat-cutter had cut too small, which they ground up and made into chopped steak. I chose to believe that, and got a sweet potato on the side. The BFFFF’s got real steaks that the meat-cutter had left at normal dimensions. Before the steaks-of-various-sizes arrived, we got a nice salad, tossed in a communal bowl with Cody’s garlic ranch dressing and dished out at the table by our very friendly server. Between the salad and steaks she brought some fried pickle slices. I’m a big fan of fried pickles anytime, and these were especially good and different because they were a little thicker cut than usual. We also got a pile of tortilla chips with queso and house-made salsa (another favorite). You can imagine how hungry I wasn’t when the steaks were set before us.
My lack of hunger didn’t keep me from giving the chopped steak a fair shot, though. I don’t eat them a lot — I tend to go for a steak that has not been chopped when given my druthers. But every now and then I can’t resist, especially when covered in sautéed onions. It was a good choice for that night, and I still managed to bring half of it and the potato home to the hotel.
On my last night in the swamp it was all about leftovers. Half a chopped steak and half a sweet potato for dinner. Remnants of Pielab pie and Sweet P’s Cow Pattie for dessert. Coffee after the meal was at Starbucks, catching up with my best bud from sixth grade at Armstrong Middle School (the year the doors opened). Another long day in Gainesville — time to pack for home.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .