Road trips can be loads of fun, or can bore you slap to death.
Ultimately, road trips are what you make them. When I’m not in a big rush, I at least try to make my commutes interesting, and when I work out of town I like to get to know the area I’m visiting. One of my favorite ways to experience a place is simply to stop, visit, and eat. I’ve met some fine folks and discovered some great eats in my treks to and from Oxford and points in between. Last week we made it all the way to Walthall — let’s keep going.
Our next stop up Highway 9 is Calhoun City. If I want deep fried corn on the cob or a Cajun tender — and sometimes boudin balls — I visit my friend at the Chevron just on the edge of town. Moving on to the far side of the square, T &V Barbecue has taken yet another old service station and made it into a barbecue joint. Where cars once pulled in for the full treatment that service stations offered back in the day, there is a now a giant smoker that more often than not is smoking up a storm. Step out of the car or just roll down your window and join the locals taking a slow cruise around the square. All it takes is a few deep breaths and the smoke will pull you to the corner. Their menu offers some great-looking burgers, and they often have specials — even “chitlins” from time to time (which I have yet to try) — but so far I’ve been loyal to the barbecue. My favorite so far is the sliced pork sandwich, a great combination of tender meat, crispy edges, and (of course) great smoky flavor.
Just slightly farther north and around the corner is Buck’s One Stop. A year or so ago a co-worker asked if I had ever had a piece of cake from there. I had not, but that has changed — I have had much cake from there now. Buck’s father, Johnny Langford, is the cake baker. According to Mrs. Langford it’s the caramel cake that made them famous — it was my first piece, and a great way to start working my way down the list of three dozen different cakes and pies you can buy by the slice or order whole. And that doesn’t even include the fried pies. Each creation, no matter how ordinary it might look, has something of Mr. Langford’s homemade touch, be it in the icing, the cake, or in the name. One night he made a chocolate cake with an icing made from Cool Whip and chocolate and asked his wife what he should call it. She suggested he call it a Ding-Dong cake — after himself. (He must have taken it well. It’s on the list.)
When I stopped by on Mother’s Day weekend, there were probably a dozen different flavors available by the slice, and stacks of whole cakes on a shelf in the back, most of which already had been sold for the holiday. It is pretty hard to topple the caramel cake from my top spot, but the Mandarin Orange runs a tight second. Though I have stuck to sweets so far (the chocolate fried pie was a delicious deviation from the cake rack), they also have a breakfast buffet, blue plate lunch and special weekend fare. Try them all — just don’t forget dessert.
On to Bruce, a town I never expected to get to know as well as I have. For barbecue (weekends only), there is a black trailer with BBQ painted on the side and a smoker welded to the end that is usually parked under the awning of an abandoned service station at the traffic light. It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to eat there, but I definitely don’t remember any leftovers. For diner-style food and sandwiches, I found the Hometown Café, in what appears to be a remodeled superette just off the square. My first meat and veggies meal (of the service station kind) was at Joe’s Market, a Shell station on 32 East — another place where your claim must be staked pretty early in the lunch hour or you get the leftovers. When I originally asked co-workers in Bruce where I could get such a lunch, they kept telling me about the sporting goods store. I thought that was a bit odd (can you imagine going to Hibbett’s for lunch?), but I got directions one day and headed that way.
When I got there, I realized sporting goods were only segment of the inventory — it was also a gas station, and even better: a bait shop! (So many potential jokes could be derived from lunch at a bait shop; I don’t even know where to start. I will spare you, but please feel free to create your own. Anyway, I enjoyed my lunch.) A few months ago I saw a sign at Clint’s Pit Stop, on the right at the traffic light, advertising homemade soup. I thought that was an interesting diversion from the usual service station fare, so I stopped in a few weeks later only to find a dry Crockpot…soupless.
When I asked the nice lady about it, she said it was a winter thing, to which I responded that there hadn’t been much winter this year. She said, “Yeah, we only had it about two days.” Aspiring comedians abound in Bruce, as well.
If there is a moral to this story, it is this: we are too often in a hurry. Had I not taken the time to stop, visit, and eat, I would have missed the barbecuing judge, the Calhoun City cake man, or the funny lady at the Pit Stop. I’m not much for smelling roses, but here’s a suggestion for an alternative motto: take time to stop and eat the cake.