Saturday, August 7, 2010

Traveling: Fancy hotels? Eh, but yes, I'm a food snob

When I travel, for adventure, business, or just to get out of town for the weekend, I'm not particular about the sleeping accommodations. I don't spend a great deal of time in my room, so what do I care how pretty the room is, or who designed the lobby? I'm just going to go to sleep, take a shower, and leave the next day. If there is a TV I might watch the news or some drama. Wifi is a bonus, so I can check email and get info for the trip the next day, but not really necessary. Other than that, I just don't care.

I'm much pickier about my food and beverages, however.

For a place to sleep, camping is always an option, but sometimes I just don't feel like setting up the tent, cooking or driving into town to eat, dealing with a less-than ideal sleeping option, or some combination of bugs, weather, or location. If my aim is to be outside, camping works, but if I'm just looking for a place to spend the night, I'm more likely to find a cheap mom-and-pop motel. Bed, shower, shelter from the weather. Good enough for me.

If I can find one, I will stay in a hostel. For those who haven't looked for cheap accommodations since they were college students, hostels are no longer just for backpacking 20-somethings. Most now have private rooms, and the group rooms are more likely to have 4 people than 20. I'm just looking for a place to sleep and take a shower, and hostels fill this role very nicely. In addition, hostels often have local information, a common room where you can chat with people - especially nice if you are traveling alone - and are usually in convenient locations.

On the other hand, when it comes to food and beverages, I'm a bit of a snob. Madison life has spoiled me rotten when it comes to food, beer, and coffee. Although I'm not vegetarian, I tend to eat small portions of meat, want a good serving of veggies, and food with some creativity, thought and flavor. Sadly, the menu is often limited to steak, hamburgers, chicken, and seafood. (Seafood in a small town in Wisconsin is something to be avoided. Friday fish fries are one thing. Shrimp or clams are another.) "Pasta" usually means canned tomato sauce and overcooked strands of spaghetti. "Salad" is iceberg lettuce and pale tomatoes, even in the height of summer.

Last October in northern Wisconsin, I went to a restaurant that literally had no vegetables, other than potatoes, on the entire menu. Not even in the soup. They didn't even offer side salads. And I was at that particular place because it was described as the best place in town. It was also the only place in town, besides fast food places, that offered a no-smoking section. Thank goodness that barrier is gone.

Beer and coffee are a bit easier to overcome, at least if I have a car. I generally carry a cooler with some beer from home, so I have a choice at the end of the evening beyond Miller Lite, Leinies, and Spotted Cow. (I think Spotted Cow is an abomination - a micro brew for people that don't really like beer, but like the idea of drinking micro brews. Besides, I've never really been a fan of wheat beer, and Spotted Cow is not even a decent wheat beer.)

For coffee, I carry a small cone filter and some fresh ground coffee. Milk rides with the beer in the cooler, and I can normally score hot water somewhere. I'd rather sit in a coffee house, but at least I get my java fix.

Last night, in Chilton, WI - east side of Lake Winnebago - I managed to find some decent pasta in the "family dining" restaurant across the street from my mom-and-pop motel. I'm pretty sure the owners actually make the sauce themselves, and despite the decor being more Denny's than Lombardino's, the main dish was not bad for the price. But the side salad.... This is August in Wisconsin. Chilton is surrounded by farms, and there are signs for farmer stands and markets all around. But the salad featured the same pale iceberg lettuce, flavorless cukes, and pink, hard tomato slices that you would expect to find in midwinter. And the dressing came in a plastic pack that I had to tear open. [sigh]

If I was a farmer in the area, I'd be offended. How can you even call that a tomato?

So yes, I'm a food snob. I don't expect, or even want, a fancy meal at the end of the day. But can we get some real veggies when they are growing less than 5 miles away? How about adding some herbs and spices to the food?

Give me a roadside motel for the night, but give me real food before I sleep.