My parents love nothing more than a drive, hours of touring back roads, admiring houses and their landscaping and the little towns that connect them all. Whenever I visit I inevitably get roped into one of these joyrides, enjoying the vastness of the land here, the huge trees, corn crops, horses, and occasional llama. More often than not we end up at a nursery, walking up and down the aisles looking for some particular shrub or rose bush that my mother will painstakingly pick out and my father will then plant once we’re back home. They are eager to point out their favorite houses – some prized for their beauty, others their tack, and they’ll often remark about this restaurant or that little antique store, but we always speed right by.
On this trip I declared I thought it time we try some of the restaurants we’ve always wondered about, heard good things about, but have never tried. Now, often people assume that because I’m a trained chef I don’t like the kind of food served at your everyday, backroads restaurant – that somehow I’m eating fine food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. These are the same people who would never cook for me for fear I’d judge them. Let me tell you, nothing pleases me more than when others cook for me in their homes, and my first meal off the plane in New York City is a hot dog at Gray’s Papaya (72nd Street branch is preferable). Donuts and hotdogs and counter service or lobster and venison and service a la Russe – whatever the style of cooking, it should be done consistently and well. Both of the places we visited this week prove this dictum to be true.
Floyd’s Crossroads Pub in Dayton is essentially a crab shack. On a lovely evening we drove through the hills, dodging deer along the way, and grabbed a table. If you choose to do the all-you-can-eat crabs your table is immediately covered in brown paper and mallets and picks are distributed. After watching a man at the next table working to peel apart his crabs, clean out the gills and retrieve the meat all before dipping the little morsels in malt vinegar and Old Bay Seasoning (he was obviously a professional crab-eater), we decided it would take us all night to eat our money’s worth of little Maryland blue crabs. My dad and I both ordered crab cakes, my mom short ribs. The crab cakes were the crabbiest I’ve ever been served, full of hunks of meat with little breading or filler and subtle seasoning, allowing the crab to be the star it should be. I snagged a bite of my mom’s ribs and have decided that ribs and crab cakes should be offered together as a surf and turf combo. Delicious! The Crossroads has been serving fresh Maryland seafood for 16 years and judging from the crowds that are always there when we’ve driven by in the past, they’re definitely doing it right. I’m eager to try their fried oyster po-boy sandwich, maybe some fried pickles – but that will wait for next time, because we’ll definitely be coming back.
Yesterday we stopped for a walk at Rachel Carson Conservation Park, foraging for blackberries and coming across some colorful pokeberries. Appetites primed and the obligatory nursery visit ticked off our list, we stopped in at Sunshine General Store in Brookeville. There is nothing about this place that would entice you inside…and were you to make it across the threshold, even less that would lead you to the back of the store, past the live bait in coolers, canned soup, soda fridges, and all manner of snacks, to discover the Sunshine Burger, the best I’ve had in years. Five vinyl covered stools sit at the counter, behind which two women leisurely prep the food. You place your order with one lady, and while one of you should grab a seat at the nearby kitchen table (if you’re lucky), the others can rummage through the store looking for your drinks and sides (pork rinds with your burger, anyone?). The half pound of beef is put on the griddle when you order and they’re cooked slowly (which might be the secret to their deliciousness) to well-done, topped with American cheese and bacon, if you’d like. While breakfast is served all day, and there are also hot dogs, egg salad, and even a PB&J on the menu, I’d stick with the burger. It’s just about perfection. When you’re done, just gather your bottles and bags and take them to the cashier up front who tallies your bill, then it’s back out onto Route 97.
This is food that so makes me miss living on this side of the Atlantic. Floyd’s and Sunshine were both filled with colorful characters from the surrounding countryside, enjoying flavorful, local food, done right, and offered at reasonable prices. Their loyal followings endure and grow because these restaurants are friendly, comfortable, and reliable, the same qualities chefs and restauranteurs, regardless of Michelin status or number of Yelp reviews, the world-over should share.