A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about lodging

On American Food and Self Guided Tours

Emma Jean's in Victorville and Exploring the Mission Inn

sunny 103 °F

The question I am asked the most by those visiting the United States for the first time is, “What is the best example of American food?” This is a very tough question to answer. All Americans, even Native Americans (who immigrated long before anyone else) are immigrants from another country. When people came over to settle, they brought recipes and cooking styles from the old country. In every state, there are ethnic pockets from one country or another, the descendants of the original immigrants. In these areas, you’ll find ethnic dishes as the signature food, and often they are the best choice for authentic food. However, is that American food? It is, in the fact that America is a medley of tastes and people. That to sample dishes from here or there is like eating a piece of American pie. Thing of it is, every piece of that pie will have a different taste, flavor, ingredient and cooking style that went into making it.

Another way to look answer the question is that American food is what Native American’s ate, and continue to eat. After all, they were here first. Where they live in the country, decided what food staples they ate. On the plains, they ate buffalo, and used every part of the animal for food, clothing, tools, and shelter. In the Pacific Northwest, they ate salmon. In the north woods of the upper Midwest, they ate deer, trout, and gathered seasonal berries. An interesting culinary vacation could focus strictly on traditional Native American foods.

I know when I’m eating at an all-American restaurant. It has a certain feel to it; often it serves simple foods, but well prepared, and offers that extra bit of love that makes good food great. Ambiance, décor, a good staff, and regulars (diners who show up everyday) are all important as well. If you can find this rare combination of good food, and good ambiance, you will probably consider the restaurant one of the better places you’ve eaten. The Otis Café has it (Otis, Oregon). The Trail Center Lodge has it (Gunflint Trail, MN). Emma Jean’s in Victorville, California definitely has it.

I want to describe the best (and possibly last) example of a classic American greasy spoon that I have ever had the pleasure of dining. They don’t make restaurants like this anymore, and visitors to Southern California would do well to dine at this timeless diner.
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Emma Jean’s is located on historic Route 66, that quintessential American road that “winds from Chicago to L.A.” Route 66 brings with it visions of a simpler time with classic cars, family vacations, drive-ins, quaint motor lodges, and the feeling that the ’America’ dream has been achieved. This roadside diner looks like it came from another era. The dining area is roughly thirty feet, by thirty feet holding four tables, and a long “L” shaped counter with room for about 20 people max. The wall and ceiling are painted white, and lit by long fluorescent tubes. The counter was made of Formica, and worn away in grayish circles from a lifetime of plates sliding on its surface. A clock hung on the wall with the numbers set opposite of normal, and indeed, the hands of it also rotated counterclockwise. It hung next to a large CASH ONLY! Sign. There were some original posters still hanging on the wall where they have been hanging for decades. The place was charming.

Two server’s ran the place, one friendly (it was her first day), and one was the boss, carrying a good-natured no nonsense demeanor, demanding “Whatcha want?” as she took your order. If you go, let her know it’s your first time eating there, and she’ll give you a smile.

We watched the short order cook ply his craft, and he was good. He grabbed orders, and then efficiently slapped down the hash on the hot metal griddle that has decades of flavor soaked into its surface. He split eggs, flipped the bacon, grilled onions, and dropped perfect circles of pancakes, set the toast going, while the order cooked. Then he plated, quickly scraped the griddle and ready again for the next order. He was a whirlwind of activity, and he was amazing to watch. He was surly looking, portly, and did his best to look annoyed, but I caught him smirking several times, as regulars would give him a hard time about him being “slow.” His name was Brian, and he made the famous house burger known appropriately as the “Brian Burger.” He told us, “If you can think it up, I’ll make it.” and the burgers he was making people for breakfast, looked damn good to me, and I’m a burger connoisseur. The next time I go, I’m getting a burger.

More regulars showed up and each greeted the staff with a nod to Brian, and a “good morning” to the servers. They didn’t need menus, and the waitress didn’t even ask what they wanted, a good sign a regular has entered the building. The clientele of Emma Jeans were all overweight. This was another good sign that this was a good place to eat. I was the skinniest person there, but if I lived in the area, I might just put on a few pounds of classic American fat. I had a delicious bacon and egg sandwich with fresh squeezed orange juice. I was stuffed. I asked my friend Mike how his chicken fried steak was, he had a glazed look on his face, and his mumbled response was, “It wounded me.” If he died from his food, I believe Mike would’ve died happy. We drove the hour back to Mike’s house, and both of us settled in for a long nap. This was another good sign that the food was good.

Emma Jean’s is an American Icon.
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Mike took me on another one of his unofficial tours, this time of the Mission Inn located in downtown Riverside, California. The Spanish Mission style hotel has been in business since 1876. The Mission Inn offers luxury lodging in a unique setting. As part of California’s state historical sites, it offers daily tours to tourists who want to explore this sprawling slice of opulent history. Not only does the Mission Inn cater to lodging, but it also can accommodate weddings, reunions, and other get together meetings in its many halls.
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Since we missed the daily tour, Mike and I went in, and went on a tour of our own. We gawked at all the amazing artwork, carvings, statues, paintings, architecture, stained glass windows, and fountains found throughout the grounds. We pretended that we were guests out to see the Mission Inn. I decided to put on an air of affluent, arrogant, boredom that I imagined the rich might wear when out in public in a classy place such as the Mission Inn. I know this is stereotyping rich people, and not fair at all. The truth is, all of the rich people I know are very down to earth, and approachable. I’m sure I wasn’t fooling anyone anyway, as I was wearing my stained Hanes white tee shirt, and taking pictures like my life depended on it. It was fun though, to pretend I was one of the Bostonian Cabots or Lowells, though I don’t think I acted the part very well.
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I really liked the center courtyard. Upon entering, a feeling of peace and serenity seemed to emanate from the courtyard bricks. The courtyard soothed guests like a cool oasis in the desert heat, accomplishing this with comfortable seating, a perfect choice of soft classical music played in surround sound, views of the upper levels swathed in flowers, statues, and interesting architecture. Birds seem to like this area as well, and songbirds would chime in from time to time from their perch in the trees. Tranquil comes to mind, a great place to lounge away the afternoon, forgetting that on the other side of the building was hot asphalt of traffic, deadlines, and hurry.
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Supposedly, there are catacombs that run underneath the mission. I’m fascinated by catacombs, even though I’ve never been in any before. We weren’t allowed to enter them however, as they were no longer open to the public. The Fire Marshall closed down that part of the tour, as they weren’t up to code. Bah! Mike told me a few stories about sneaking into them as a kid, which only fueled my curiosity, but it wasn’t to be.
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I enjoyed the “tour”, and someday if I find myself with actual currency to my name, I might just stay the night at the old Mission Inn.

Posted by Rhombus 09:39 Archived in USA Tagged art buildings photography lodging Comments (0)

Wardner Beginnings

From Missoula, MT to Wardner, ID. First Impressions of My Latest "Home"

36 °F

I got up early. The night before I had plans of leaving early to be on time for a full day of skiing at Silver Mountain in Kellogg, Idaho. Upon hearing my alarm, I immediately slammed it off, and resumed my slumber. So much for that. When I did wake up, I checked the forecast, and learned Lookout Pass would be snow covered and slippery. The pass marks the border of Montana and Idaho. I put my game face on, and loaded up with a double shot mocha and coffee cake for breakfast. I drove north by northwest towards the pass through snow and low lying mists.

The scenery from Missoula to Idaho is very pretty with the highway following and crossing the majestic Clark Fork River half a dozen times or so, I forgot to count. The trees were mostly pines and dusted with an inch of west snow causing the branches to bend under all the weight. It was very pretty in the fog. The damnable misery of freeways is you can’t stop where a decent photo happens. The best you can hope for is an ideally situated rest area. No such luck.

The last time I ventured up this pass, I was delayed for 6 hours by blocked up traffic. The snow had caused some semi’s to get stuck when trying to get up over the pass. Apparently they didn’t want to be troubled by putting on their chains. Fools. They closed down the freeway, stopping traffic for 6 miles. Authorities had to tow them up with big Ford Trucks. So that’s why I took this last leg of my journey a little more seriously, expecting the worst.

It was really much ado about nothing. Roads were slick, but I managed a healthy 45 miles and hour though the worst of it. Way up on the pass, the sleet turned to straight rain, and I drove the rest of the way to Kellogg at the legal limit.

I procured the keys to my new home, and drove off up through the rain and fog to Wardner. Wardner is an old mining village that adjoins Kellogg. My cabin is located on the side of the upper valley wall at the top of a gulch. I drove up the narrow single lane road wondering just what I had gotten myself into; the sides of the road dropped off steeply on one side of the road, and just as steep up the hill. Not a place to drive off the road. I pulled into the drive, and stepped out into the rain. The cabin was there, and I grabbed the keys and went in.
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I loved it immediately. Updated and clean, it still has rough hewn original timber through the rafters. It is comfortable, and has character. It has a woodstove which is important for the integrity and the athmosphere of a good cabin. There's something about about a cheery fire warming your cabin that I love. It doesn't have a TV or the internet either. I'll miss the internet, it's just too useful, but I don't miss TV at all. All I have is an old clock radio that I have tuned to the NPR station out of Spokane. It's great. The views are spectacular. As I said I’m the highest place around, looking down over the Silver valley. It’s a perfect location to make a comfortable base camp for the next 2 months.

I unpacked my stuff and got the cabin set up. I have a room with picture windows overlooking the valley. In it, is a day bed. A day bed is or less a bed, only not in a bedroom. It’s an ingenious invention as far as I’m concerned. I can lounge comfortably in good light reading my book, or staring vacantly at the distant mountains. Of course I have a blanket or two handy, in case my eyelids get too heavy, which they sometimes do after a morning of skiing.

I can’t make up my mind on what to call my cabin. “Wardner.” has a nice ring to it. I like to think of it as a similar set up to H.D. Thoreau’s “Walden”, but maybe I’m being a little too poetic for my own good. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” also came to mind, but I voted against that one until I build a cabin of my own. I’ll give it a little more time before I decide, it’s probably best not to rush into an important decision like this.

The next day, I purchased my ski pass and went the next day. With all the rain that was falling down in the valley, it was snowing just as heavily up on the mountain. Silver mountain boasts the world’s longest gondola, leaving from Kellogg and climbing it’s way up to the ski area. It was raining when I stepped aboard, and snowing when I stepped off. What a day! Seven inches of powder fell overnight, and I’m guessing four inches fell during the day. I spent the morning carving first runs on virgin powder. It’s one of life’s little pleasures. I love powder skiing; playfully carving squiggles down a steep snowy slope, dodging trees while going through the glades of pine trees. It was fantastic. It was like skiing in a cloud, there was hardly any visibility at all. The trees were covered in a heavy snow, causing there limbs to bow downward. I was skiing through a sculpture garden.
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I’ve been exploring my new town some. I’ve found a nice little coffee shop with good cinnamon rolls, fresh coffee, and free wifi. It’s my new home away from home. I found Jerry Cobb’s dirt pile. I can imagine old man Cobb sitting around on his front porch yelling in his gravelly, grouchy voice at those passing, “And don’t you forget it!!” I’ve figured out which grocery store is better (Yoke's Foods). I’ve found a thrift store that is intriguing, it won’t be long before I’ll have to go in and buy something random. I’ve also had to bring the van into the local GMC dealer for some repairs. I’d been hearing noises coming out of the front end all through the journey over here. I have very few brain cells committed to knowledge of automobile parts and how they work, so my best bet is too ignore noises until they get louder. That’s what happened in this case, and I had to bring it in. They had to order a part, and so I’m trying not to drive much for the next week. Walking is good for a guy.
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So I’m here in Idaho commencing my ski bumming career. We’ll see how it goes, I’ve never done this before. Usually this time of year, I’m nomadic. I like spending my time driving around the best of the west. Even today, I wanted to head out and drive to the west coast. I’m serious. It was such a beautifully sunny morning that I couldn’t help it. I have these urges to keep moving. Anyway, I talked myself out of that for now, and am digging my mountain views from my temporary home.

Posted by Rhombus 13:38 Archived in USA Tagged lodging Comments (2)

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