Seven or eight years ago, as our nest became empty, my wife and I began taking short road trips to destinations as far as three hours from home.
These trips are opportunities to see the countryside, historic sites and recreation areas. Mostly, though, they are restaurant reconnaissance missions.
By the time our two oldest children were grown and gone to start their own families, our youngest was involved in summer camps or on mission trips. The house was quiet enough to get some rest, but rather than sleep in on Saturdays, we’d jump in my pickup and head out.
When we lived outside Fort Bragg, we drove southeast to Sneads Ferry, a fishing village much like Darien, where our mothers live and seafood is abundant. Sometimes, we drove west to Hickory, Boone or Charlotte. Seldom to Charlotte, though — too much traffic. Still, we found a great barbecue joint called Bob Gibson’s southeast of the Queen City and an excellent Italian restaurant called Buca di Beppo due south of Charlotte.
Sometimes, we’d head south and tour “Restaurant Row,” which runs from Little River through Myrtle Beach and beyond Pawleys Island, or go north and tour the endless sources of history and restaurants in Richmond or Williamsburg, Va.
When we moved to Georgia, we’d leave our home outside Fort Stewart and venture east, west, south and north, just as before — only we’re now sorta limited about going east. If we try to go three hours east, we’d be two hours offshore.
We’re content to make our usual stops at Harris Neck, Forts Morris, King George or Frederica, and then choose from a dozen seafood restaurants, Sal’s Neighborhood Pizzeria, Southern Soul BBQ or Blackwater Grill. We’ll head west as far as Albany but usual stop around Tifton or Cordele.
We found a small restaurant called Yoder’s in the middle of farming country near Cordele. Yoder’s is run by a Mennonite family. When you reach that point on your odometer, you are told to drive outside of Cordele on such-and-such road, you’ll see an Amish-style barn that serves as a restaurant and bakery. There’s also a gift shop next door. It is worth the drive.
Our road trips get shorter when gas prices rise. When our youngest went off to summer camp in 2007, our nest essentially was empty for two months and the price of gas was reasonable. A year later, gas prices temporarily skyrocketed to over $4 per gallon, so our road trips were shortened to destinations within an hour of Fayetteville, N.C. — like Goldsboro and Wilbur’s BBQ or Wilson and Bill’s BBQ (with buffet) or Lumberton and Fuller’s BBQ (with buffet).
By January 2009, gas prices were down and our youngest was about to graduate high school. By summer, we were driving somewhere every Saturday, usually leaving the house around 9 a.m. and returning around 11 p.m. We made repeated trips northwest to Georgia’s mountains, discovering the Smith House Restaurant in Dahlonega and the Bulloch House in Warm Springs. We went due west as far as we could go and still remain in the Peach State, finding several restaurants along the way that specialize in country cuisine. We went south deep into Florida, although we stuck close to the east coast of the Sunshine State where seafood is king.
Unfortunately, gas prices rose again. By the time they reached $3 per gallon, we were shortening our trips and settling for Fuzzy’s fish tacos in Statesboro, Hog-N-Bones in Waycross or B&D Burgers in Savannah.
Longer trips, like our quarterly trips to Coastal North Carolina to see our mothers, still offer restaurant opportunities. A recent trip led us to a great new barbecue restaurant in Wilmington, N.C., called Missions BBQ that honors veterans and first responders. They first opened for business Sept. 11, 2011. The brisket sandwiches there are better than any brisket I’ve had outside the Lone Star State!
Our road trips may be shorter and less frequent, but we continue to hit the road to see new sites, find and try new restaurants. Whenever we find a really good one, I’ll report it in my after-action report.
Email Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.