Round America Trip – Day 1

Day 1 — April 1 — Tuesday

Lost in Atlanta

The time: 9:15 am. The date: April 1. The place: Atlanta, Georgia. Our trip Round America begins.

After years of thinking about this trip and several months of intense planning and research, we charged out of our home at 9:15 am filled with excitement and anticipation. 28,036 on the odometer – will be over 56,000 after we visit all 50 states. “Baby You Can Drive My Car” by The Beatles was cued up on the CD player and provided great dancin’ music as we hit the road. We were pumped!

We ran right straight into Atlanta’s biggest de-ttraction: nasty bumper-to-bumper traffic. Thirty minutes later, we managed to escape, top off the gas tank, grab a couple of Cokes, and put the car in high gear headed east to Athens, Georgia. Enthusiasm filled the air.

I almost immediately learned the hard way that our 29-cent clip-in-the-window-sill cup holders should not be asked to hold nearly full open cans of Coca-Cola. Our second stop was in a church parking lot a few blocks from our home to clean up all the Coke. But nothing could dampen our enthusiasm, so we cranked her into high gear once again, and we were off – vowing that we would let nothing bring us down – this was to be a happy, fun, experience-of-a-lifetime!

We then became hopelessly lost trying to find the little two-lane road I had chosen off a map. An hour into the trip, we came upon the golden dome of the Georgia State Capitol Building. It glistened beautifully in the late morning sun. One problem: the Georgia State Capitol Building is in downtown Atlanta – due south from our home and NOWHERE near Athens, Georgia. All we could do was laugh! A fitting start to the trip. I could have probably driven straight to the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas (where I’d not yet been), but I couldn’t even find my way out of the town we live in! Sometimes we can’t see the trees for the forest. I had the big picture, but I couldn’t put together one of the most important little pieces. With the help of a cell phone and our daughter, Brittany, we managed to get headed in the right direction, and we ultimately made it to Athens – just two hours later than planned.

Behind schedule, we didn’t stop to see any sights in Athens. Not the way we had planned to begin the trip.

From Athens, we took the Antebellum Trail – a highway that goes through an area of Georgia with beautiful antebellum homes. We fell in love with Madison, Georgia. Madison is described as the “#1 Small Town in America.” Gorgeous streets with stately homes, a wonderful town square, great shops, nice people, and just a warm feeling.

We took a lot of photos, and we had an excellent lunch at The Madison Gift Mart & Cafe. Our waitress, Ginger, was delightful, and we thoroughly enjoyed hearing about life in her very small town. Ginger reported in her DEEP southern accent that everyone in Madison was really excited about the new skating rink (roller, no doubt). Unfortunately, the place will only hold 250 people, and it’s almost impossible to get in because the young kids have made it their hangout. She bemoaned the fact that Wal-Mart is about the only place in town to shop. But she loves living in Madison and commented about how special it is that since the town has only one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school, her children will attend all 12 years of school with the same friends. (That’s an interesting concept for someone like me who had lived in 15 cities and 31 homes in 54 years). Clearly Ginger and the folks in Madison do have a kinder and gentler life than we know in the big cities where we have lived.

We also met Savannah and April at the cafe, and we took their photo. The Blackberry Cobbler was recommended by the nice lady at the Madison Chamber of Commerce, and it was excellent – just like Grandma used to make! Even better was the Gentleman Jim’s Tea – 1/2 sweet tea and 1/2 lemonade. Try it; it’s really good. We planned to eat in Juliette at the Fried Green Tomatoes Cafe, but it was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so we will visit it at another time.

We managed to get lost two additional times today. It appears that one of the great challenges of driving around the country on two-lane roads will be FINDING the darned roads. Highway 8 to Dacula (that’s Dracula without the R) just isn’t marked clearly. We may need that GPS system that Uncle Ward told us to take.

We took a number of photos along the way. We saw some expressions of patriotism, but nowhere near what we all saw after 9/11. Dacula and Madison showed the greatest patriotism.

We had a nice dinner at The Shrimp Factory (recommended by Karen, our dental hygienist in Atlanta). Our waiter, Michael, took great care of us and even showed us how to get to Forrest Gump’s bus bench tomorrow. We topped off dinner with the pie recommended by Amanda from the hotel — White Chocolate Coconut Cream Pie. Barbara said it was the best pie she had ever eaten in her life! It was tasty.

We took a stroll down the lovely waterfront area before calling it a night. Savannah is truly a uniquely beautiful American city, and we look forward to tomorrow.

The biggest lesson we learned today, or most important observation, is that there is a kinder and gentler life in the smaller towns in America. Small towns seem somewhat insulated from the negative aspects of life in big cities.

The Daily Journal of Round America:

Each day, we collect our thoughts on a web page just like this. We drop in some of the photos from the day. Our goal with the Daily Journal is to write about the towns we visit, the sights we see, the people we meet, and the pie we eat. We write about where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going, but we also make observations about what we’ve seen and done as well as about life in general.

You can follow our travels from the Daily Journal section of this website. Other pages of interest include the running report of “vital statistics” on the Trip Scorecard, our nominations for the Best & Worst of the trip, as well as a rating of the pie we eat. If you’d like to see information for a specific state or town, click here, and then click on the state of interest and the full itinerary is shown.

Random Comments:

Some folks think we are nuts to take off driving around the country for several months. In honor of those people, we chose April Fool’s Day to begin our adventure. Maybe we are crazy, but we are very excited to see so many wonderful sights in this great country that most of us never see. There aren’t a lot of people who could or would take off and drive around the country for four months, so we’ve created and will build this website to provide a virtual tour for those of you who wish you could do something like this…or those of you who are just curious.

More Information on the Sights Visited Today:

Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta — Apalachee School House — Madison, Georgia

Round America Trip – Bibliography

The trip ‘Round America covered 50 states and over 2,500 towns.

Bill Windsor is writing a book about the experience, and these books have been sources for the trip and book:

American Bizarro

American Pie

Blue Highways (we may read it someday)

Blue Plate Specials & Blue Ribbon Chefs

Charles Kuralt’s America

Eat Your Way Across the U.S.A.

Eccentric America

Fun Along the Road

Let’s Go USA

The New Roadside America

On the Back Roads

Road Trip USA

Roadfood

Rock ‘N’ Roll Road Trip

Travels with Charley

Round America – The Beads

How I Got My Beads

I was just doing my thing at 11:45 am on April 18 in the extremely remote area between Del Rio and Big Bend, Texas.  In this area, I’d go for long stretches without even seeing another car.  “My thing” consists of driving as my eyes scan 180-degrees ahead enjoying the view and looking for anything that my mind considers especially interesting at that point.

I came across a car that was moving slowly on the two-lane road, so I spent pass #8 to get around them.  As I drove by, I saw a long web address painted on the side of the car.  I thought to myself that this was very interesting to see on a passenger car, and I wanted to know what it said.  So, I pulled off the road to take a photo just so I could read the web address when they passed me.

They passed, but there was no web address.  Uh oh, 18 days on the road and I’m beginning to hallucinate.  I knew I saw a web address, so I spent pass #9 to go around them again.  It said “floatingneutrinos.com,” and there was some other writing on the car that I couldn’t make out.  Floating Neutrinos???  I wonder what in the world a Floating Neutrino is!  I was anxious to get to a hotel so I could check out the website

I motored on, and it was several miles before I saw something that I wanted to photograph.  So, off the side of the road I went, and out of the car with the camera.  A few minutes later, I saw the Floating Neutrinos car approach and pass.  As the car drove by, I was able to see an Ernest Hemingway-looking driver, with a woman riding shotgun, and a dog in the back seat.  They drove slowly past, and the woman’s arm was sticking out of the passenger side window gently waving Mardi Gras beads.

They stopped 50 feet ahead of me, and I walked up to the car and met Papa and Aurelia and Buckaroo the dog.  They gave me the beads as a gift.  How special was this.  I knew from looking into their eyes that this was going to be interesting.  I can’t remember everything that was discussed as I kind of felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.  Buckaroo kept barking, and Aurelia told me to avoid eye contact, as he would not bite me unless I looked him in the eyes. 

I donned my new beads, and we began to talk as I tried to remember to avoid making eye contact with Buckaroo.  As I recall, they were especially enthusiastic about my odyssey, but we very quickly began talking about them.  I learned, among other things, that Papa Neutrino and Aurelia (aka Captain Betsy) took a trip from New York City across the Atlantic Ocean to Ireland and then down to Spain.  Many people have taken a trip across the Atlantic Ocean, but Papa and Aurelia did it floating on a RAFT!

Papa opened the trunk of his car, and he pulled out a yellowed laminated newspaper story from the New York Times with their picture and a picture of the raft (that looked like something out of a Steven Spielberg movie).  What an amazing adventure, and what stories they have to tell.  I tried to remain focused, but I just kept thinking how incredible to be on my unique journey by land …to bump into on the highway literally in the middle of nowhere…two incredibly interesting people who risked their lives while making an incredible journey by sea.  Going to the river with Fast Freddy paled in comparison.

Papa said he wanted to give me a song he had written.  I noticed a guitar case in the trunk.  (And after Fast Freddy and the giant hedge trimmers, I’m sorry to say that the thought of there being a machine gun inside rather than a guitar did skate through my mind.)  Papa gave me a photocopy of the words and music to “Thanks to the Yanks of the USA.”  He asked if I would like to hear him sing it, and I said absolutely!

Papa played the guitar and sang; Aurelia smiled; Buckaroo barked; and I thought how sweet and what a truly unique experience…and scrambled to get a photo of this as no one would ever believe it. 

When the serenade ended, I had to ask Papa his views of the Iraqi War.  I anticipated that Papa and Aurelia would be anti-war.  His response was fascinating.  Papa and Aurelia are not “meat eaters” and would not even kill a mosquito…and though President Bush “is a hunter” and eats meat and hunts and kills, they both support the President, voted for him, and believe his actions will dramatically change the world for the better.  I didn’t expect to hear that.

Papa talked about a lot of things that I didn’t fully comprehend there on the side of the road, but I am anxious to explore the website.  The back of their car has this painted on it: “Let those who know tell those who don’t know.”  The front of the car has a symbol about the “seven levels” that I believe conveys their philosophy of life. 

Before we parted, Papa and Captain Betsy gave me a videotape of their raft trip across the ocean and a CD of great jazz music by their children, the Flying Neutrinos!  The CD is excellent; I’ve played it several times since, and we will continue to enjoy it.  Boz and I watched the video, and it is better than many of the movies we have seen.

I could have stood there for hours, but I had a long way to go and no hotel reservation, so I said goodbye.  I just kept thinking about what an amazing encounter this had been.  To see and learn more about Papa, Captain Betsy, and Buckaroo, see www.floatingneutrinos.com.

The Impact of The Beads

I’ve worn my green, purple, and white beads ever since I met the Floating Neutrinos.  The Floating Neutrinos have to be really lucky to have survived their float across the ocean on a raft, so I consider the beads to be a good luck charm. 

The beads have added a whole new dimension to the trip.  Women smile and many men look at me with a “can you believe that ‘weirdo’ look.”  Kids stare.  I’m meeting far more people with the beads.  Those of you who know me know how conservative I am, so the beads are a walk on the wild side. 

I felt that I needed a gift for people I meet, though I will say that most of the people I have met seem surprisingly excited about having their name in the book.  While the business card and a little fame may be gift enough, I ordered a case of beads.

The first case of beads was gone in no time, so we ordered three more cases.  It’s nice to be able to share a little good luck as we travel.

Round America – The Impact of a 55 Chevy Police Car

The idea for our trip Round America was encouraged in part by a trip from Dallas to Orlando in December 2001.

The following article was written for the HOTTIES web site:

Dallas to Orlando in a 1955 Chevrolet Police Car

by William M. Windsor, Founder of the HOTTIES Donut, Coffee, and Dessert Restaurants

December 7, 2001….

I have just completed one of life’s great experiences!  HOTTIES bought the newest addition to the HOTTIES’ fleet of police cars on December 4, 2001 on the Internet auction site, eBay.  The seller was Steve Jobe of Southlake, Texas.  Steve told me that I would be missing out if I had an auto transporter ship the 1955 Chevrolet Bel-Air Police Car from Dallas to Orlando.  He convinced me to drive the car, and I did.

I flew from Atlanta to Dallas on December 7 on a one-way ticket; Steve picked me up at the airport in the car (lights flashing at the American terminal), and we went to his beautiful home in Southlake where I inspected the car and closed the transaction.  I really liked Steve, and the police car is in spectacular condition.  It purrs; the exterior is in fantastic shape, and the interior is even nicer.  Barbara Gray Windsor faxed the semi-final version of the Altamonte Springs Florida store lease for HOTTIES to me there at Steve’s home, and I was off.

The odyssey begins….

We passed the Grapevine Krispy Kreme on the way to Steve’s house, so it took me just a few minutes to get back there.  Click here to see how inconspicuous I was at the Krispy Kreme —

Bill Windsor, on a secret spy trip to Krispy Kreme in Grapevine, Texas as he started the trip from Dallas to Orlando.

The Krispy Kreme folks got a big kick out of the police car…little did they know that the founder of their big competitor, HOTTIES, was hiding behind the badge on a spy mission.  (Then again, maybe they haven’t even heard of HOTTIES yet, but they will soon!)  I was forced to buy a few donuts for tasting purposes.  I also did my normal reconnaissance work, pacing off the measurements, writing down prices, etc.  I then sat down in Krispy Kreme’s table and chair area with a grande Pepsi and called the landlord in Orlando to finalize the last two issues on the lease for our HOTTIES store there.  I think it adds a lot to this deal to have done that important piece of business right there in KrispyKremeLand.

Every customer who walked in Krispy Kreme had a big smile on his or her face from seeing the police car out front, and they all wanted to talk about it and ask questions.  It is AMAZING the effect antique police cars have on people!

I then drove to North Dallas to see my mother and father-in-law, Hayward and Janet Gray.

Hayward and Janet Gray with the car in front of their Dallas home.

Mimi (Janet) seemed embarrassed when I had the flashing lights on with the siren blaring as Papa (Hayward) and I took a spin around the block.  The car is fully restored; even the cigarette lighter works.  It has a working siren, working bubble gum machine flashing lights, working spotlight, and working police radio.  This baby has been juiced up, though, with a 350 cubic inch engine with 425 horsepower and a Hurst four-speed shifter on the floor.

Jackie Moravcik, a fraternity brother and our real estate Dude, called when I first arrived in Dallas, and he told me that five of the Black-Eyed Pea restaurants in Dallas were closing.  Mimi, Papa, and I discussed where the best locations were, and I decided to drive by all of them as I spent a few hours touring the areas that I feel would be the best location for HOTTIES in North Dallas.

As I drove up Preston Road, people smiled, pointed, waved, etc.  I went to the closest Black-Eyed Pea at Preston and Park, where I was literally mobbed with people.  One lady stopped with the back half of her Suburban sticking out into Preston Road to gawk and talk and ask questions.  The employees at Black-Eyed Pea were equally animated!  I explained that I was in the donut business (always gets big laughs), that we are looking for a great location in Dallas, and that we heard some of the Black-Eyed Peas were closing.  One of the folks there was obviously in management, and she gave me the complete scoop.  She suggested that I drive straight to Belt Line, as she felt the best Pea for our purposes was there, and it had already closed.

When I finally managed to get away after the Black-Eyed Pea-ers took a pile of Polaroid snapshots of various employees with the car, I raced over to Belt Line.  There was a Black-Eyed Pea all closed up — fantastic location.

I saw a street person begging at the corner of Midway and 635.  I gave him $5.00.  He wanted to know if I was the sheriff.  I just smiled.

After doing a little more location scouting in Dallas, I hit the road.  1,000 miles, 50 gallons of gas, and 16 hours and 50 minutes of travel time later, I made it home to Atlanta.  The car ran like a top!  I always drew a crowd at every gas station and fast food stop; several people took pictures.  One lady even took a picture at 60 miles-an-hour as we drove side-by-side down the Interstate in Louisiana.  I got a kick out of a few (very few) people who were afraid to pass me or threw on their brakes when they saw it was a police car.  Most people either realized it was really old or didn’t feel they were driving fast enough to be worried.  Several people kind of swerved off the road from looking.

I drew a big crowd when I stopped at the donut shop that prompted us to start HOTTIES!  A man named Lanny talked my ear off about the various old cars he had owned or still owned.  One nice gentleman came over from a block away as he saw the car and owns a 1955 Chevrolet, too, though not a police car.

In Ruston, Louisiana, two police officers pulled me over.  I knew I wasn’t speeding.  They offered to trade cars.  They were really nice.  I asked them if the siren on all police cars was a switch on the floor like the dimmer switch for the headlights, and they said that was standard.  I gave them a little demo.  They chuckled as I peeled out to get back on the highway.

I spent the night in Monroe, Louisiana.  I couldn’t resist pulling into the registration area of the Marriott Courtyard with the lights flashing and a little shot of siren.  The two desk clerks told me that Shipley’s Donuts are really good there.

I left bright and early Saturday morning, December 8.  I almost immediately had a long caravan of fans of the “Rebels” football team who were going to the state football tournament.  There must have been a hundred cars, and every one of them honked, waved, and laughed.

I saw a hippy-looking hitchhiker in Mississippi.  He pulled his sign down when he saw me coming by.  I guess he didn’t want to take any chances.

Down the road, two good old boys from Alabama, Billy and Glenn, were especially talkative when I gassed up in Heflin, Alabama, so I took their picture with the car.

A lot of truckers came over to talk at gas stations.  One looked under the hood and was surprised to see that big 350 cubic inch, 425 horsepower engine.  He asked me how many rpm the car was running at when I was going as fast as I could go, and he said he bet the car will go 100 or faster if we change out the rear end.  I don’t know that we need our police car to do any faster than the 65 or so I was driving, but all feedback and conversation was appreciated.  No one ever talks to me when I am driving our Jeep; it’s interesting that a little thing like an unusual car will get people to open up and warm up when they would never talk to a plain old stranger.

I got literally hundreds upon hundreds of thumbs up, honks, and waves as I drove down the highway.  And best of all, I saw THOUSANDS of smiles from people passing by.

There aren’t enough smiles in the world, and very few of us walk around or drive around smiling.  And there has been far less to smile about during the last few troubled months.  That made it especially gratifying to see so many people who had their day brightened by an old car with an even older driver.

Joe repaired the brake lights for the last leg of the trip.

Three young painters took a lot of pictures with the car.

That’s me (Bill Windsor) waving as I depart our driveway in Atlanta — headed for Orlando.

Sheriff in Georgia laughing with a man at a gas station — both LOVED the police car!

Lisa, who recently moved back to Altamonte Springs from Saudia Arabia, had her picture taken with the car.

Pizza Hut employee poses with the police car.

The 1955 Chevrolet police car arrives at its new home in Altamonte Springs, Florida.

Marty Windsor and Carolyn Bazzo in the police car.

1955 Chevy — Left Front  |  1955 Chevy — Front  |  1955 Chevy — Right Front  |
1955 Chevy — Rear  |  1955 Chevy — Left Rear  |  1955 Chevy — Right Rear  |
1955 Chevy — Interior Front  |  1955 Chevy — Interior Back  |  1955 Chevy Engine

Round America Trip – Pie Methodology

The trip ‘Round America covered 50 states and over 2,500 towns.

Bill Windsor is writing a book about the experience, and these are the pies (and other desserts) they’ve eaten.

The Best Pie in America  |  Special Pie Places  |  The Great Pie Adventure  |  Unusual Pies  |

The Worst Pie in America  |  Methodology  |  Complete List of Pies and Rankings

We did use a system in rating the best and worst pies.   Each pie was given a numerical rating between 1 and 100.  We discussed each pie after eating.  Then each night, we gave each pie a numerical rating by looking at previous ratings for the same type of pie as well as at the ratings for other pies that we felt the pie was comparable to in terms of overall “goodness.”  We then assigned a numerical rating based upon how we felt the pie compared to others.  We left space in the early rankings so we had plenty of room for great new pies to be ranked above the first pies we ate.  Interestingly, the spread between the #1 pie and the #2 pie was just one point, but 95 days apart.

Rating food of any type is very subjective.  All of our tastebuds and likes and dislikes are different.  For example, I don’t like strawberries, so you won’t find any Strawberry Pie in our rankings, and we know there are some spectacular Strawberry Pies out there.  To compensate for our prejudices, we tried many, many pies that we would not normally choose.  We feel the system was good, though we would love to be able to taste the Top 12 side-by-side.

We recognize that we missed some great pie places and some great pies.  That’s inevitable.  We did ask many places what THEY felt was their best pie, and we usually tried that one.

We will do this again.  We’ll use the same system.  We will be awarding plaques and issuing news releases nationally as well as in the towns where we ate pie.  We hope the publicity from this initial Best Pie in America effort will cause many folks to email us to tell us great places and great pies that should be included next time.

The Best Pie in America  |  Special Pie Places  |  The Great Pie Adventure  |  Unusual Pies  |  The Worst Pie in America  |  Methodology  |  Complete List of Pies and Rankings

Round America Trip – Best Pie

The trip ‘Round America covered 50 states and over 2,500 towns.

Bill Windsor is writing a book about the experience, and these are the pies (and other desserts) they’ve eaten.

The Best Pie in America  |  Special Pie Places  |  The Great Pie Adventure  |  Unusual Pies  |  The Worst Pie in America  |  Methodology  |  Complete List of Pies and Rankings

Fourteen places had pie that we considered excellent.  Nine of the 14 had been recommended to us, while five pie places were simply cafes, a restaurant, a diner, and a quick lube shop that just happened to catch our eye.  These pies are truly exceptional.  We know; we tasted 181 pies in five months.

It is a shame that we can’t rate each of these pies as the Best Pie in America, because each was different.  In fact, we will be awarding plaques to each of these restaurants, and they will read “Best Butterscotch Pie in America,” etc.  When you find yourself in any of these towns, do yourself a favor, and make a point to go to these restaurants to eat pie.

  1. Raspberry Pie — Dutch Mother’s Restaurant — Lynden, Washington

This is the Best Pie in America!  Absolutely the very best we had.  Huge raspberries (the size of big strawberries) in a tasty slightly-congealed filling with a wonderful shortbread crust that was truly special.  It’s hard to describe as it was unlike anything else we’ve ever had.  Sweet and delicious.  We had four very good Raspberry Pies during the trip, but this pie was SO MUCH BETTER that it was clearly the Best Pie in America.  It’s the one pie that we’ve kept thinking we wished we had more to enjoy.  We enjoyed three slices of pie at Dutch Mother’s, and each was excellent.  The Bumbleberry Pie ranks 11th — making Dutch Mother’s the only restaurant to have two of the Best Pies in America.  Day 97.  Rating: 97.

  1. Key Lime Pie — Harry and the Natives — Hobe Sound, Florida

Wonderful Key Lime Pie — by far the best we’ve ever eaten!  It’s hard to distinguish one key lime pie from the next, but Harry and the Natives simply makes it better than everyone else.  The crust was especially good — a traditional pie crust rather than a graham cracker crust.  It had meringue rather than whipped cream, and the texture was fluffy rather than dense.  This pie held the #1 spot for 95 days until we reached Dutch Mother’s.  Harry and the Natives certainly wins the Best Place to Eat Pie award as it is a delightfully funny and entertaining place.  We enjoyed this pie with a Coke for breakfast on the fifth day of the trip Round America.  Day 5.  Rating: 96.

  1. Banana Heaven — Blue Heaven — Key West, Florida

This was not a pie; it was a dessert.  From what we could tell, the chef starts with bananas, butter, rum, and brown sugar, and the bananas are sautéed in that concoction.  The hot bananas and syrup mixture is then poured over a delicious banana bread, and if that isn’t enough, homemade vanilla ice cream is scooped onto the side.  The sticky, crunchy, hot sauce was incredible.  It was OUT of this world, and so rich that we barely made a dent in it.  Fabulous dessert!  Bozzie Jane says it is the best dessert she has ever eaten anywhere anytime.  She would have ranked it #1, but we didn’t since it wasn’t actually a pie.  Day 8.  Rating: 95.

  1. Caramel Apple Raisin Pie — Plaza Restaurant — Santa Fe, New Mexico

We saw two police cars in front of the Plaza Restaurant in Santa Fe, and the officers confirmed that it was an excellent place to eat.  It is always a good idea to eat where you see multiple police cars.  The Plaza Restaurant has been serving since 1918.  The pie was a delicious blend of fresh apples with cinnamon, caramel, and raisins in a great crust — served hot with homemade vanilla ice cream.  The combination was wonderful.  Quite a treat!  Day 35.  Rating: 94.

  1. Apple Dumpling — Blues City Cafe — Memphis, Tennessee

The Blues City Cafe is a cafe on Beale Street in Memphis.  I went in for dinner as I wanted to eat a Barbequed Bologna Sandwich.  The bologna was only offered for lunch, so I ordered the full slab of ribs that I saw most folks eating.  Chef Myron Johnson told me he had a killer dessert, so despite the huge order of ribs and fries, I had the Apple Dumpling Dessert.  It was tremendous.  Fresh apples cooked in a dumpling crust, smothered with a wonderful secret sauce.  Served hot in a skillet with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Day 43.  Rating: 93.

  1. Butterscotch Pie — Rogers Restaurant — Lexington, Kentucky

Rogers Restaurant was one of the many pie stops that we made because of a recommendation from the folks at our hotel.  Chuck Ellinger, owner of Rogers Restaurant, just smiled when I asked about their pie.  The restaurant was packed with locals, and those who overheard our conversation were singing the praises of the pie.  Margaret then brought me a big piece of Butterscotch Pie – hot…right out of the oven.  It was really, REALLY good.  The butterscotch filling had a consistency a little lighter than key lime pie, great crust, and wonderful meringue topping.  I’d never eaten Butterscotch Pie before, and now I will eat it every chance I get.  Day 59.  Rating: 92.

  1. Chocolate Haupia Pie – Ted’s Bakery – Sunset Beach, Hawaii

Ted’s Bakery in Sunset Beach on the North Shore of Oahu was the ONLY “best pie” place in Hawaii that showed up on the Internet research that we did. And Ted’s Bakery was recommended by EVERY person on Oahu who I asked about good pie. I drove to the North Shore and met Ted and Glenn Nakamura and took a tour. Ted’s Bakery is one of those great success stories. Ted’s Bakery has become a phenomenon. Half of their sales are the Chocolate Haupia Pie.  After speaking with Ted and Glenn, I bought a slice of Chocolate Haupia Pie, and I sat in the car in the parking lot and devoured it. I don’t like chocolate pies, but this one was different. The chocolate was more like a candy bar than it was like a chocolate pudding (as found in most chocolate pies). The chocolate was delicious, but the combination with the Haupia (coconut) was just incredible. Bozzie Jane, who loves chocolate and coconut cream, would have been in Pie Heaven.  Day 144.   Rating: 92.

  1. Mango Snow Cone — Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand — Escobares, Texas

The story of Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand is one of my favorite stories from the entire trip.  I began seeing one snow cone stand after another in the small towns that I passed through in the south.  It seems that small towns often cannot support a DQ or a drive-in snack bar, so many of these little towns have snow cone stands.  I took photos of a few that I saw in the first two weeks of the trip.  On Day 16, I saw an especially colorful one with an American flag straw coming out of the top.  I pulled up to Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand in the little town of Escobares, Texas for a quick photo.  A man came running up to me wanting to know what I wanted.  I explained that I just wanted to take a photo of his stand.  He proudly announced that they had done all the work on it themselves.  He also showed me his very colorful and attractive umbrellas, and explained how they were made, but I couldn’t understand his heavy Spanish accent or the words he used.  At this point, we shook hands and exchanged names; he was Freddy Escobar of Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand.  Freddy asked if I wanted anything, and I said I’d love a Coke.  He replied: “Snow Cone?” And I said, “Sure, give me a snow cone!”  He asked: “Flavor?”  I replied: “Grape.”  He said “Mango!”  I said, “Sure, mango it is.”  Freddy had to explain my order in Spanish to the young girl in the dark recesses of the snow cone stand who didn’t speak a word of English, and she began preparing my drink.  Her power appeared to be provided by an extension cord running from the Fast Lube shop just behind.  I can’t recall having had a snow cone since I was a child.  It took quite a while.  The window finally slid open, and out came a big Styrofoam cup filled with a mango-colored mixture with a straw and a spoon.  When I tell you my “snow cone” was AMAZING, please accept that I’m not exaggerating.  It was 94-degrees and I was thirsty, but this stuff was special.  The flavor was wonderful, but the consistency was what I couldn’t believe.  It was much better than smoothies we get that tend to be glorified Slushees.  I don’t know what was hiding in that hut, but the end result was like an ice drink with the consistency of frozen yogurt.  I think Freddy should franchise; I can see Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stands all across the US.  Seriously, it was really, really good, and it never melted.  While my Mango Snow Cone is not a traditional pie, this “treat” was so special that I have to rank it as one of the best “pies” on the Round America trip.  Day 16.  Rating: 91.

  1. Rhubarb Pie — Dot’s Diner — Bisbee, Arizona

Dot’s Diner is part of the Shady Dell RV Park.  Shady Dell has rare antique travel trailers available for rent.  (See www.theshadydell.com.)  The fabulous fully-restored 1957 Dot’s Diner is there, and I had Rhubarb Pie.  Waitresses Mary and Kirsten recommended it.  I’d never had rhubarb, but I now know why my Dad loves it so much.  Big hunks of fresh rhubarb in a wonderful crust.  Served really hot.  Very tangy, and absolutely delicious.  Day 21.  Rating: 91.

  1. Olallieberry Pie — Linn’s Bakery & Eatery — San Luis Obispo, California

We had lunch and pie at Linn’s Bakery and Eatery.  We had a rare pie — Olallieberry Pie — a berry created from a cross between a certain type of raspberry and a blackberry.  We thoroughly enjoyed meeting Patty Carpenter and her husband, Bill, owners of Linn’s in San Luis Obispo.  For days, folks told us to go to Linn’s for pie.  It was everything we hoped for and more.  Day 74.  Rating: 91.

  1. Marionberry Pie — Otis Cafe — Otis, Oregon

The Otis Cafe is a tiny cafe in the even tinier town of Otis, Oregon — but the Otis Cafe has received national publicity as a great place to eat.  I had a wonderful breakfast there, followed by Marionberry Pie.  Marionberries are only grown in a limited area in Oregon, so I wanted to be sure and grab a slice of Marionberry Pie the first chance I got.  It was a delicious sweet berry pie.  Great crust.  Great pie.  Day 91.  Rating: 91.

  1. Bumbleberry Pie — Dutch Mother’s Restaurant — Lynden, Washington

Dutch Mother’s is the only restaurant to have two of the A-rated pies.  (See Pie #1 above — the Best Pie in America.)  The Bumbleberry Pie was a mixture of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries.  Delicious locally-grown fruit in a wonderful crust.  We couldn’t eat all of this pie at the restaurant, so I polished it off later that night, and it was even better when I wasn’t trying to compare it to the Raspberry Pie.  If we had eaten this pie at another time and in another place, I suspect we would have ranked it even higher.  Dutch Mother’s can just flat do pie!  Day 97.  Rating: 90.

  1. Hula Pie – Duke’s Canoe Club – Honolulu, Hawaii

Hula Pie was a must-have while in Waikiki. The Kimo’s Original Hula Pie was a first, and it was really good. It was developed at Kimo’s Restaurant on Maui, one of several restaurants owned by the folks who own Duke’s Canoe Club. The pie has a chocolate cookie crust topped with vanilla macadamia nut ice cream, chocolate fudge, whipped cream, and roasted macadamia nuts. Pools of hot fudge are poured on the side (so they don’t melt the ice cream prematurely). It was soooo good. I was amazed with how the ice cream remained frozen — served to me outside on the patio where the temperature was in the 80’s. The serving was huge — easily enough for several to enjoy.  Day 143.  Rating: 90.

  1. Banana Pie — Diamondhead Market & Grill — Waikiki, Hawaii

Betty Shimabukuro, the Food Editor for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin newspaper, and I became acquainted when I emailed the Star-Bulletin asking for recommendations on the best pie in Hawaii. During our breakfast pie meeting, Betty mentioned a local restaurateur who used to make a pie that she felt was really special. Then she picked up her cell phone and called Kelvin Ro. Kelvin has a new restaurant called the Diamond Head Market & Grill. He isn’t making the Banana Pie anymore, but Betty asked if he would make one just for me, and he did.  A traditional pie crust on the bottom and sides, topped with fresh bananas cooked in a secret sauce, and topped with an oatmeal crunch topping. I have eaten Banana Cream Pies on many occasions, but never a Banana Pie. It was heavenly. I wish I had asked Kelvin if I could buy the whole pie. Day 145.  Rating: 90.

The Best Pie in America  |  Special Pie Places  |  The Great Pie Adventure |  Unusual Pies  |  The Worst Pie in America  |  Methodology  |  Complete List of Pies and Rankings

Round America Trip – Pie Adventure

The trip ‘Round America covered 50 states and over 2,500 towns.

There are a number of interesting stories about our pie trip.  We call this one “The Great Pie Adventure.”

Day 20 was to be a big day.  I am detouring several hundred miles out of the original path for the trip in order to see one and only one thing: Pie Town, New Mexico.  The place got its name from a lady who baked pies for the ranchers in those parts.  It has grown over the years from one lady to where it now has a population of 60.  I learned of it several years ago when someone gave me an article about great pie, and the Pie-O-Neer Cafe in Pie Town, New Mexico was featured.

A “Pie Trip” could not possibly be valid without a visit to Pie Town, so I carefully charted the course.  It’s literally as remote a location as is Big Bend – nothing of any consequence for 100 miles or more.  So, another adventure begins as I rolled out of Roswell in anticipation of great pie – multiple pieces of delicious pie!

I saw some surprisingly interesting towns en route.  Lincoln, New Mexico is a neat little mountain town.  Lots of history.  Buildings are restored or are being restored.

Just after noon, I got my first glimpse of snowcapped El Capitan Mountain.  10 minutes later, I was in the cute little town of Capitan.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Capitan is the home of Smokey the Bear, and he is buried there.  I stopped at the Smokey the Bear Museum.

I also stopped at the Shell station to fill up and grab a Coke.  Corinna said “nice beads.”  As I’ve said, women smile and may comment.  But men tend to think I am a deviant of some type.

Since I left Del Rio way down in South Texas, I had essentially been without cell phone service.  New Mexico was no better, except in Roswell.

Most states had sent me a map, but New Mexico did not get one to me before I left, so the map I got from Cody and Erica was very much needed.  According to the map, I was to be passing near part of the White Sands Missile Range.  That’s neat.  So when the sign said it was just five miles off the highway, the little white car just headed there automatically.  I had to see it.

All of a sudden I realized where I was!  The Trinity Site – the site where the first Atomic Bomb was tested on July 16, 1945.  This was a serious deal.

I pulled up to the main gate where I was met by Gus, the security man.  His badge looked a lot more official than Dr. Doug Blackburn’s.  I asked if I could go in, and Gus said I’d have to come back in October.  I told him I was just passing through, writing a book, and on April 20, October just didn’t work well for me.  Gus didn’t think I was very funny.  He said: “October.”

I got the message, so I went to Plan B.  I asked if it was okay to take a few photos.  “No.”  I was wishing Rose was with me.  She knows how to get photos of forbidden stuff.  To Plan C, “Gus, may I take your picture?”  “No.”  Gus was a man of few words.  Perhaps I should always remove my Mardi Gras beads before approaching men with guns at military installations.

So, I hopped back in my car, hooked a U and went into Plan D.  I drove quickly away and snapped a few photos from a Distance while Gus went back to reading the Sunday paper.  Rose would be proud. 

On the road again, my next stop was Magdalena.  Never heard of it, but it is a nice little spot that is undoubtedly a small artist’s community.  Probably just a few hundred people there.

I met two nice boys, Daniel and Chris.  They were excited to have their photo taken, and then they got into the spirit of the trip and kept coming up with ideas of spots in Magdalena that I should photograph.  They followed me on bike.  I saw an Easter Egg Hunt in a park area with some great sculptures apparently done by a local artist.  I liked Magdalena.

I kept checking the map as Pie Town didn’t appear to be getting much closer.  I discovered there was a HUGE error on my Excel spreadsheet itinerary.  The number 100 was in the mileage column, but it was more like 300.  I decided I had to press on.  I just kept driving and driving and driving. 

Pretty scenery, but you know how it is when you are mentally programmed for one thing and your system gets thrown off.  The next thing on my handy Cody and Erica map was the “National Radio Astronomy Observatory.”  I stopped to take a quick photo from a distance.

As I looked back at it in the rearview mirror, I realized what I had just passed.  THAT was The Array!  The site of the Jodie Foster movie, “Contact.”  Excellent movie!  Had I realized and known they had a video presentation, I would have driven over.

UFO’s, White Sands, and The Array.  This is adventure at its best!

A few miles down the road, I realized I had been in a big adventure for some time.  I had been looking for gas, but the little towns either had no gas stations, or they were closed.  When I hit Datil, a town printed in slightly larger, bolder letters on the map, I began to panic when the only gas station there was closed.  The last open gas station I recalled seeing was the Shell I visited 172 miles back in Capitan.

I figured I was good for about 70 miles max.  I pulled out the Cody and Erica map again to see if there was any town that had larger, bolder type anywhere near Datil.  There were no options.  The best bet looked like it was in ARIZONA – a ways past Pie Town, New Mexico!  I knew I couldn’t make it that far.  I began to panic.  All I had wanted to do was eat some pie.

There were very few cars on the road.  No wonder.  There ain’t no gas.

I decided the only thing to do was keep going toward Pie Town.  I passed the Continental Divide the first time at 5:05 pm and pulled into Pie Town two minutes later.  That annoying “you are out of gas buddy” light was shining for the last I don’t know how many miles. 

Pie Town is really tiny, so I had no trouble finding the Pie-O-Neer Cafe.  Despite the gas situation, I was so excited to see it.  I took a few photos.  Then I went up the steps, and I saw it.  “CLOSED.”  No way I have driven 300 miles or so to eat pie and have Pie Town’s pie cafe closed.  Devastated was not the right word.

I knocked on the door.  A nice lady came.  They had just closed at 5.  I told her I had driven 5,500 miles to eat pie there, and I gave her my card and pulled the photocopy of the article out of my notebook to show her I was telling the truth.  She let me in.  They had just a few pieces of pie left.  I had Apple Walnut Raisin and Peach.  Very good!

I met the owner, Kim Bruck.  She and three brothers moved there from Chicago, so Pie Town had grown to population 65.  She told me that Coconut Cream, Oatmeal Raisin, and Apple Crumb were her best sellers.  I told her if it were not for the fact that I was almost out of gas that I would be in pie heaven.  She gave me a free slice of pie and a little pie-shaped magnet as a gift for Bozzie.

I enjoyed talking with her, but they wanted to close up and go home, and I wanted to see if I could find a landline to call AAA to put their service to a real test – delivering gas a million miles from nowhere.  Kim and her brother told me there might be a gas station open 22 miles west – usually open until 6, but not sure about Easter Sunday.

It was 5:45, so I said a quick goodbye and I drove very fast to Quemado where I could have kissed Robert, the attendant at J&Y Auto Service, when he was still open.  If it hadn’t been for two ladies and a flat tire in a huge RV, he would have been long gone.

Life was good again.  It is a shame that gasoline detracted from the visit to Pie Town, but thank heaven the Pie-O-Neer was even open on Easter Sunday and J&Y Auto Service.  I never thought I would be happy paying $1.00 more per gallon than I had ever paid for gas before, but I was.  Best gas by far.  Ain’t supply and demand grand.

Back to Cody and Erica’s map, I now had to re-route myself to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.  I identified a new way to go without backtracking, and I saw some gorgeous scenery in the many mountains of New Mexico.  Because I was driving in the mountains, the sun was shielded, and it became dark much earlier than it does out in the desert where I’ve been for a few days. 

As it got darker, the mountain roads became less enjoyable.  I passed the Continental Divide again about 9:30.  226 miles from Quemado, I pulled into the Best Western in Truth or Consequences.  The last 40 miles was spent hugging the yellow line as I circled a mountain with the rocks of the mountain to the left and black space to the right and no guard rails.  It was the only time I was glad Bozzie Jane was not with me.

When I told Tyler at the Best Western the road I had come in on, he said: “You drove that AT NIGHT?!” Yep.  I didn’t tell him I had just been out for a piece of pie.  I’m glad I couldn’t see; it was too dark to see, and my left eye was hurting the whole day.  At least there were no other cars.

I’m sure most of you are thinking that no one in their right mind would drive that far for two pieces of pie.  You’re absolutely right.  But it will be a special memory and fun story to tell.

Round America Trip – Pie

The idea for our trip originated in 2000.  I proposed to Barbara that we go on “The Pie Trip” — just take off and travel the country and “eat pie.”  We would go on the backroads and eat in cafes and diners where the locals eat (where they always have pie) and just learn about the places we go and the people we meet.

We would write a book about the experience.  We became busy with business and a move to Atlanta, and the trip was postponed.  We were more than a little disappointed when we discovered a book titled American Pie published in 2002 that had a strikingly similar concept and a great name.

We modified our plans somewhat — choosing to make pie a part of the “Round America” trip but not the sole focus.  Rather than traveling randomly, we decided to visit every state, and we carefully researched the itinerary.  We remained committed to eating pie in as many places as possible, but we planned to do much more.  As we met with reporters and folks along the way who learned about the plans for our book (printed on the back of our business cards is “We’ll write about the places we go, the sights we see, the people we meet, and the pie we eat”), we began discussing pie more and more, and we became even more intent on finding the Best Pie in America.

We ate 181 pies in 148 days.  That’s a lot of pie.  I drove through Toledo as fast as possible and refused to step on a scale, but I am sure I gained at least 20 pounds on the trip.  I did, however, enjoy every minute of it.  I’ll try to remember just how much fun it was as I try to lose the weight.

We consumed 116 different types of pie.  We did our best to try new pies every chance we had, but that was the luck of the draw.  Bozzie Jane loves Coconut Cream Pie, and she wasn’t always as interested in trying new pies as she was enjoying her favorite dessert, so we downed 9 pieces of Coconut Cream Pie on the trip.  Only Apple Pie topped Coconut Cream in the totals — enjoyed 13 times.  7 Peach Pie and 4 Peach Cobbler; 6 Cherry Pie; 5 Key Lime; 4 Raspberry Pie; and 4 Banana Cream (my favorite type of pie).  We sampled pie in 37 states.  I’m not sure how we managed to miss 13, but it seems we have.  We’ll focus on getting pie in those states when we do the trip again.

Overall, we can report that American pie is very good.  Most of the pies we consumed were quite good.  There were only a couple of bad ones.  The Best Pie in America is the Raspberry Pie at Dutch Mother’s Restaurant in Lynden, Washington.  The Worst Pie in America is the Blueberry(less) Pie at the Northside Cafe in Winterset, Iowa.

Click here to read the key sections of our Pie Report:

The Best Pie in America

Special Pie Places

The Great Pie Adventure

Unusual Pies

The Worst Pie in America

Our Methodology

Complete List of Pies and Rankings

The Best Pie in America  |  Special Pie Places  |  The Great Pie Adventure

|  Unusual Pies  |  The Worst Pie in America  |  Methodology  |  Complete List of Pies and Rankings