I've posted this to the Midwest and DC boards, but thought I ought to post it here, too.
Thank you to all who made recommendations before my trip. They were quite helpful.
The route we took was simple: Day One was Route 50 to I-97 to I-70 West to I-76 (The Pennsylvania Turnpike) to I-80 West across Ohio to Toledo.
On the recommendation of another Chowhounder, we stopped for lunch at Vincent's Pizza in Irwin, PA, part of a mini-chain of pizza places in and around Pittsburgh. His details can be found here:
"Just off the turnpike at the Irwin exit is Vincent's pizza. While it's not the original location, it's one of two or three others and is some of the best pizza in the 'burgh. They have a full menu as well (great sausage stuffed banana peppers) though you should at least get a mini pizza (4 cut I think), if you've never had this famous pie... It's about a half mile or so on 30 west, in front of the Giant Eagle parking lot next to Rt 30.
Nearby at Rt 30 and Barnes Lake Rd (1st light or so on the way back to the turnpike) is Kerber's Dairy for some really good ice cream."
We didn't stop for the ice cream, but tried both the pizza and the banana peppers, as well as a small house salad. The salad was pretty standard, and my wife ordered the pizza her way, with pineapple and ham. The ham was, as they had pointed out, shaved deli ham (no problems there) and the pineappe was canned (again, no problems).
The pizza was fine. We're big fans of New York style pizza, with a thinner crust (this crust was more doughy - not quite chicago, but thicker). It had a good chew, and for me was a good counterpoint to the banana peppers (more on that in a second). I'm sure if I lived in the Pittsburgh area, Vincent's would be someplace I'd order pizza from, if I couldn't find NY style pizza around.
But the banana peppers! Whoo boy! You'll note that the recommendation that I got didn't say that they'd be HOT banana peppers, as it did on the menu when I got there. I _am_ a fan of spicy foods, and decided to push ahead.
Wow! Quite a kick, especially when you consider that baking these peppers releases the volatile oils which make these peppers so hot. I definitely needed the pizza crust to quench the fires (thank goodness I'd reached the goals of my low-carb diet and could splurge!).
Very good though.
Vincent's wasn't fancy, but it did well in a pinch.
Sped up through PA into OH, and across the state. Made the "must-do" stop at Tony Packo's for dinner in Toledo.
Glad that we did, too. We ordered a small order of fried pickles to start. A little odd, not like the fried pickles I'd had in the south, which were breaded pickles spears (these were pickle slices). Found the interior of the breading a little gummy, which I suppose shouldn't be surprising, and the pickles tended to separate from the breading, too.
My daughter enjoyed them.
I ordered a combo plate which included a cup of chili, a chili dog, and a side. For that I chose the "dumplings paprikas" (I think that's what they were called).
The chili was really good - an even heat (not too spicy), ground beef in individual bits instead of random clumps (like I make it at home). I saved a little extra for my dog, which had Packo's special spicy sauce on it.
But the dumplings!!!! Man oh man! These were like german spaetzle - and boy was I glad that I'd taken a break from the low-carb diet. This, THIS was the perfect treat for someone coming off of atkins.
The spaetzle were perfectly cooked - a little chewy, but nice and soft. And that gravy! Little bits of chicken floating in it, with a bit of heat from black pepper and paprika. I'm still tasting it.
My wife had a hot dog, as well as some vegetarian chili, which she enjoyed thoroughly.
We did breakfast the next day at the hotel (got to listen to a raving lunatic at the table next to us). Incidentally, I recommend the Holiday Inn French Quarter in Perrysburg, especially if you have kids. Fun hotel.
We then drove down from Toledo on 24 to Huntington, Indiana (home of Dan Quayle). On the recommendation of Roadfood.com, we wanted to visit Nick's Lunch Kitchen, 506 N. Jefferson St.
Nick's is the supposed birthplace of the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, and the former VP had lauded it. It is a thing to behold - a basic hamburder bun, with this piece of what is essentially pork schnitzel protruding from all sides (or around the edges, as a circle has no sides). The tenderloin is pounded thin and flat, and Nick's breads their tenderloins in cracker meal, not bread crumbs. The result is a very light crust.
It is huge! I had mine with the works (no horseradish, though) - lettuce, tomato, mayo, and a few slices of onion. Really solid. My wife couldn't finish her's (she wanted to save room for the desserts).
They were out of apple dumplings, which was too bad. I've heard they are good. We got a slice of black raspberry pie, and it was excellent. Light, flaky crust, solid not-cloying filling.
And then on to Logansport, Indiana. Contrary to popular belief, decent food can be had in this burg. We had dinner at the Fireside, a steak place. One of the fancier restaurants in town, but not fancy compared to a DC or New York steak house. The rib eye was good - cooked to order, juicy, and a decent amount of flavor.
But what really shone was the homemade potato chips. I can't recall what they called them there, something like American Hash Browns - freshly fried thin slices of potato with bits of browned onion here and there. A huge mound, really (and no, I didn't finish mine). If I were a Logansport resident, I'd probably be eating here often.
The next night dinner was at the Arbor Hill or Orchard Hill or Arbor Orchard... it all is blending together. A locally-owned place with TGIAppligans-type food, though a cut-above mega-chain standards.
The Sycamore was the star that night - an ice-cream stand off of Market with frozen custard. Order just about anything - we all enjoyed our treats.
B-K was our lunch stop on our last day. Not Burger King, but a local drive-in chain featuring hot dogs. It was alright, but I probably would have preferred the broasted chicken that was recommended to us to be picked up at Millers, the local mega-grocery store. They do it fresh there.
B-K makes its own root beer, and that was pretty darn good. I had a spanish dog, which had cheese and a spicy tomato sauce, and was OK. The italian beef, however, was better than expected. Really juicy with good gravy that soaked into the bun. The bun itself was a little larger than a hot dog bun, same kind of hot dog bun white bread.
We ate dinner that night at El Arriero. North Central Indiana has a burgeoning hispanic population (which I believe is true throughout the midwest). Thus, you can get decent Mexican cuisine if you look hard enough.
The standout at El Arriero was the guacamole. We've got a relatively new place in DC called Rosa Mexicana, which makes its own guacamole tableside in a mocajete, with the spiciness to order.
I like a guacamole with some heat, and El Arriero definitely provided, even if they didn't make the dip in front of me. It wasn't a tongue-burner, it just warmed us up enough to please. My 2-year-old, who is a guacamole fiend, loved it and wasn't put off by the heat at all.
My carne con queso was a miss, but the pork enchilada was good (I always try to order Mexican dishes when the cooks venture beyond the typical beef-chicken-salmon mainstays - like Lamb Fajitas at Cactus Cantina in DC, or the Pork fajitas I had in Houston once).
The next day we were back on the road, and we had a nice side trip to the Penzey's outlet in Columbus (after a stop for lunch at White Castle - I couldn't resist). Stocked up on some necessities (I'd been saving my catalogue order wish list for this trip), and moved I-70 to Zanesville.
Our plan was to take I-70 all the way back. Actually, we wound up going I-70 and then down to I-68 and then back to I-70. So you can follow along from here...
Anyway, before hitting Zanesville, I consulted Chowhound and came across a recommendation for "Mickey's". I consulted our hotel desk clerk, who stammered a bit and said that he thought that Mickey's had closed. Disappointed, we headed down Hwy 40 towards Zanesville (it parallels I-70) and had gone less than two miles from the Holiday Inn when we saw Mickey's on the right!!!!
It's tiny, and looks like a little hole-in-the wall roadside cafe. My primary concern was whether or not they took credit cards, and in going in to check (the answer was no, incidentally, so bring your cash), I was told to definitely come back by one of the customers, and to order the fried chicken.
He was absolutely right. We came back, I ordered the chicken, and while it was the smallest chicken I had ever seen (honestly, it looked a little larger than a fried quail), it was very good. It was clearly fresh from the pan, well-seasoned, with a good crisp breading that kept the chicken moist.
My final recommendation comes along I-68 in Grantsville, MD. We had lunch (on the recommendation of a clerk at the gas station right at the exit) at the Casselman Inn, right in Grantsville on Alt. Hwy 40.
I am not certain, but it appears to me that the Inn's restaurant is run by Mennonites. This means simple, well-cooked, traditional meals. It's a beautiful little inn, just up the road from the Casselman bridge, and the Inn's placemats tell the story.
I had the turkey dinner. While I normally go with the daily specials at a restaurant like this, I really wasn't up for experimenting with a ham loaf. It was OK, but what stood out here was the dressing served alongside. Aaaah, to be reminded of Thanksgiving in the middle of July. My wife had the BLT, and that was good, and my daughter enjoyed her PB&J.
We also picked up a blueberry pie for home, and some homemade cinnamon buns (half with cream cheese frosting, the other half with maple frosting). The entire restaurant is redolent with the smell of these buns.
That's it! Thought I'd leave you all with some recs if you're ever on I-70, I-80, the Penn. Pike, or I-68.
Contact me if you have any additional questions.
- Andrew Langer