I just drove a rental truck across country on I-80 from Washington, DC to Berkeley, CA. Before the trip I researched Chowhound extensively to identify prime locations en route and, while I unfortunately missed trying out a couple, I'd like to confirm the worth of some spots I found recommended-- and report some new ones I discovered-- so anyone else doing a similar trip can check them out.
We travelled with a dog, so these spots are close to dog-friendly motels, too.
First night: Montpelier, OH, which during research appeared to be a complete wasteland. Was prepared for Mickey D's, but made the pleasant discovery that the in-motel restaurant at the Ramada Bryan-Montpelier had a decent menu including super pork chops-- thick and juicy, with excellent baked potatoes. I repeat: go here for the pork chops! (And the photos of astronauts... the son of the owner is/was a shuttle crewmember.)
Second night: Altoona, IA, just outside Des Moines. The Big Steer steakhouse came recommended and I confirm that it is a prime spot for fine steaks. (Don't get the Shiraz though, it's dire.) The place was absolutely hopping with locals.
Salads in these midwestern places seem to be dismal iceberg affairs, but what the hell, go with the meat if the meat is good.
Third night: Sidney, NE, where Wheatridge Steakhouse is part of the Holiday Inn. It was OK, another giant and juicy steak, but notable on the menu were the deep-fried prairie oysters, which I was too chicken to try by myself. My travelling companion demurred.
Fourth night: Park City, UT, where since there was an important hockey game to be watched (I'm Canadian), we just got takeout from Whole Foods, and attempted to replace previously missing vitamins with a massive salad. Pretty good pizza at that store actually.
On the fifth day we stopped in Battle Mountain, NV, mostly because I had read in the Washington Post that it was the absolute stinking worst town in the USA (voted the "Armpit of America")-- but my travelling companion had worked out of BM as a geologist and said that the town featured a good Mexican place, El Aguila Real. Indeed. It's a fine cantina and they do first-class burrito plates (we got carne asada and green chile pork). I wouldn't vouch for anything else though.
Fifth night was Reno where we patronized Louis' Basque Corner, where you are served family-style at long tables with plastic check tablecloths. The oxtail starter and Basque beans were superb, and there was good roast lamb to follow. The red wine, curiously, comes sweet and cold, and probably ain't too great warm, but helps the rest down. To aid digestion we got glasses of Picon, an astringent Basque liqueur with lemon peel. Not a bad way to end a dinner.
And then-- yes, Mickey D's for coffee on the last morning, and over the Sierras into CA.
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