Hot Grub Time Machine
A Burger Conquest food adventure in Connecticut, 147 years in the past.
I love my friends. I especially love my friend Leo. Leo is always down for a food oriented road trip. The last food road tip my wife and I took with Leo was a fantastic adventure to eat at Jim’s Steaks and PYT in Philadelphia. The day before Labor Day weekend began I received this in an email from Leo:
“What if we did something like a Louis’ Lunch burger as a snack…then hit this place for a New England style brick oven pie… see how it stacks up against NYC? I’ll cover gas and tolls door-to-door, if you grab the burger and pie. Thoughts?”
I was so damn excited about the idea but had to break the unfortunate news, Louis Lunch was going to be closed. I’ve certainly talked the place up enough and turned into a destination of lore and food fantasy. Alternate plans with comparable destinations were made and soon enough it was time to hit the road.
10 AM Saturday morning came quick and while Cara and I stood on our street corner, we got a call from Leo’s girlfriend Kelly. She informed us that Leo’s car had broken down and he was waiting for a tow truck. By the time we got the car towed, walked to the Port Authority and took a bus to their house, several hours had gone by. Hunger was setting in and we were going to need to eat sooner than our first destination.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
54 Route 17 North
East Rutherford, NJ 07073
Once we finally got to Leo and Kelly’s car, hunger had set in. By this point in the day we would have been to or just about our first food destination. With the set backs, we were running several hours behind schedule. My Road-Dad instincts were blaring at full tilt. Leo suggested we get something to eat before starting off on our adventure and said he knew just the place. A few minutes later we were pulling up to the parking lot of a Five Guys Burgers and Fries…A burger appetizer of a burger, I love it!
As this wasn’t my first trip to Five Guys or even my 2nd, I thought if I was going to write up another review I should make this visit a special one. After a quick perusal of the menu, I devised a plan; I would create my own signature Five Guys burger. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Five Guys “Firecracker.” It’s a little cheeseburger (single patty) with lettuce, grilled onions, jalapenos, hot sauce and Cajun fries.
To be completely honest, the Cajun fries were an after thought but a fantastic one. The burger was a little hotter than I imagined but still really good and fresh. (nod to Burger Maker for the fresh and delicious beef.) The burger overall had a nice sting to it with a cooling melty cheese topped piece of fresh ground beef. After a couple of bites and I decided to take it up a notch by adding the layer of Cajun fries…and thus was born the “Firecracker.” It was a damn good call because the potatoes counteracted the heat from the peppers and hot sauce, rounding out the taste sensation of the burger.
Grumbling bellies quieted, we hopped into the car and headed North East into Connecticut. A few hours later, we arrived at our first destination and with
just enough space in our stomachs to tackle the intended eats.
Shady Glen Dairy Stores
840 East Middle Turnpike
Manchester CT 06040
Shady Glen is an old-fashioned dairy store / soda shop. It’s the kind of place your grandparents have eaten at for decades and decades and by the look of our fellow patrons, there were a lot of grandparents doing just that! Other than children with their parents, we were the youngest people in Shady Glen. Its a perfect lesson in respecting your elders. The first thing you’ll see is the massive cooler filled with with cartons and cartons of their homemade ice cream. Find your way to any open table in the house and have a seat. All the menus are on the walls and if you can’t decide on what to eat in 2 minutes or less, you may need to see your doctor to be put on meds. There’s a reason why the first menu item is “Cheeseburger – A Bernice Original*,” you need look no further.
All sandwiches come with a side of fries which come up right away. They are hot, crispy, golden and delicious crinkle-cut style fries. Shortly there after the wait person returns to the table with your Bernice Originals. Old school luncheonette burger with a crazy cheese wing-span that is created by laying 4 slices of cheese on the burger and letting the edges of it cook down on the grill. The result is a cheese with 2 textures; melty and crispy. The Bernice Original is unmistakable and one could easily point it out from a million miles away. The cheese type is a long running mystery. Based on the texture, taste and degree of oiliness, we have deduced it to be thinly sliced cheddar. The crunchy side tastes a little bit like a Cheez-It cracker. The freshly ground patty is made from high quality ground beef and is only 4 ounces. The cheese wings act like a food bumper that keeps you from sucking it down in 2 bites. It’s well worth the the 125 mile drive to try a 62 year old tradition.
As Leo and I were openly discussing the fullness of our bellies Kelly introduced us to the concept of “the Ice cream pocket.” Its a space in your stomach that no matter how much food you eat, is always open for ice cream consumption. A post I had read on Roadfood.com had 8 suggestions on what to order at Shady Glen, 7 of which were ice cream dishes. The Roadfood.com team knows what’s up so we took their advice. As soon as the sundaes arrived at our table Leo went in for the cherry and was scolded for improperly attempting to eat it. Cara and Kelly then explained that you have to eat the cherry last so it gets all covered in the melted ice cream. Cara and I split the tantalizing Hot Blueberry Sundae with raspberry ice cream. This special treat is tangy, sweet and chewy all at once. The blueberries are without a doubt the star of the dessert show. Leo and Kelly’s Hot Fudge Sundae was covered in rich chocolaty syrup over really think and dense ice cream. It definitely brought about a discussion on how we might be able to take some ice cream back home. We ate the 2 sundaes with repeated outbursts of “wow” between spoonfuls of ice cream.
As Manchester, CT was the furthest point in our quest, we turned the car back around and started heading back towards New York. A few short miles from Shady Glen we happened upon a car wash that looked like Pee-Wee Herman’s front yard in “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.”
Classic Auto Wash and Details Center
23 Shunpike Road
Cromwell, CT 06416
Welcome to the Classic Auto Wash and Details Center of Cromwell, CT. Some have called it a “Car Wash Theme Park” while others label it the “Nutty Car Wash.” Strewn about in the front yard, drive way and behind the washing bays are a plethora of odd statues and figurines. You’ll find the Blues Brothers, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, a sexy pirate, Santa Claus, an elf, dinosaurs and a collection of animals. There is even a Clark Kent in a phone booth and John Wayne riding his horse Duke. It’s a wild site to see and even though we were only there for about 15 minutes, I took a couple dozen photos…and no, we did not wash the car.
The next destination on our itinerary, thanks to RoadsideAmerica.com was a unique shopping experience in what could be described as a collection of pop memorabilia and artifacts rescued from various garage sales and marked up for your purchase. Part museum, part amusement park and part flea market, Wild Bill’s Nostalgia Center looks like it would make a great location to film a Rob Zombie flick.
Wild Bill’s Nostalgia Center
1003 Newfield Street
Middletown, CT 06457
If you’re like me you’ve definitely wondered where you could buy a myriad of bobbleheads, toys, Hawaiian shirts, million year old turtle shells, Atari Games, old records, pornos, iron-on patches, Grateful Dead wine, movie posters, Alf & Menudo trading cards, sports memorabilia, oddly colored sun glasses, tin lunch boxes, GI Joe toys or old beer cans all in the same store. Our prayers have been answered. Its the happy, fun, and yet still creepy setting known as Wild Bill’s.
Out in the yard, just to the back of the property you will find a run down amusement park Haunted Castle ride, 30 tractor trailers, something named “Jungle Jym” and also Wild Bill’s claim to fame. Using a barn silo, gears and a large 600 pound clown head , The World’s Largest Jack-In-The-Box. The clown is actually that of “Clarabell” from the “Howdy Doody” TV show made for Bob Keeshan, who is more commonly known as “Captain Kangaroo.”
As I was rummaging through several gigantic bins of iron-patches, Wild Bill announced the store would be closing and any purchases needed to be made. With about a dozen kick-ass patches, I made my way through the maze of a store up to the counter and paid the man for the goods. Before hopping in the car, I snapped off a few more photos of the pop-icon painted mural before the heebie-jeebies set in. Captain Spaulding would fit right in.
The sun was setting and we still had one more destination to hit before our trip e
nded. Leo had been watching “Pizza Paradise” on the Travel Channel and saw something that lit up his taste buds; an 85 year-old pizza.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana
157 Wooster Street
New Haven, CT 06511
With any number of Italian pizzeria, ristorantes, deli’ and bakeries, Wooster is the best smelling street in Connecticut. At it’s center you’ll find the original Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana originally founded in 1925. Right down the block you’ll also find Pepe’s biggest competitor, Sally’s Apizza. The two restaurants share an interesting history with a feud that goes back decades. You see, Sally’s was started by Sal Consiglio, nephew of Frank Pepe, from whom he learned all of his pizza making skills. In 1938, with a need for cash, Sal opened a pizza joint offering nearly the same pizza, 2 blocks up the street. Famous for their tomato pie, a pizza with very little cheese and topped with savory red sauce, Frank Pepe and Sally’s have made Wooster “pizza famous.” With a penchant to try the original, we queued up at Frank’s.
You will find a VERY long line outside of both restaurants. Fear not, due to the gigantic dining room and fast-paced pizza making, the line moves fast. But be ready with your order before you are seated as a courtesy to the customers behind you in line, chances are the diners before you did exactly that. Try an old school Genny Cream Ale or a locally made Foxon Park olde fashion soda to wash down your pizza.
Don’t believe the hype, no one is going to yell at you if you order mozzarella but you certainly don’t need it. The pizza comes to the table really hot so be careful as you risk burned digits and taste buds. The really tangy and fresh tasting sauce has a robust flavor of tomato, garlic and spices. It’s so good that you could practically eat with a spoon like soup. The thin crust is enough to keep the slice sturdy but thin enough to allow the sauce to dominate. It stays soft and almost doughy in the middle but remains crunchy on the outside. It allows you to taste the crust and the brick oven itself.
The pizza is REALLY good and I suggest 1 pie without mozz so you can really taste the delicious sauce. Get a 2nd one with mozzarella and pepperoni. They’re both as different as apples and oranges. Frank Pepe’s uses real Italian made pepperoni that’s a little spicy and a little savory, not all greasy and bland like you would get on a chain pie. The hot, thick mozzarella cakes on the top as if its a warm, protecting blanket for the slice. The cheese and meat have a ton of great taste and together they wrestle for the dominate flavor in the pizza. If there’s such thing as a pizza pocket, I over stuffed mine! You’re mouth will want more and more while your stomach is putting on the breaks. If you don’t leave in a food coma, you did it wrong! After all that, including drinks, the bill was only about $7 a person!
We didn’t finish the pies while in the restaurant and that is how I know, Frank Pepe’s holds up for cold next-morning pizza.
In the end we drove a well worth it, 260 miles to eat 147 years in the past and without the use of a Delorean! The journey had the 3 necessary elements of a fantastic road trip; Great times, great foods and great friends.