Friday, July 20, 2007

Adventures off the Beaten Food Path

Anyone who knows me knows I'm not a big risk taker. I like novelty and adventure, but only to a point. I'll never travel like Anthony Bourdain. I'll never jump out of a plane. I'm not likely to quit my job and open a bed and breakfast even though I'm often tempted to do so.

Even though I'm not likely to ever eat fresh monkey brains or fried larvae, I do tend to seek out novelty in foods. I don't like going to the same restaurants all of the time (although I like to go to some of them often enough to be recognized as a "regular"). I don't like chain restaurants because I know they will be the same no matter where I go. I love discovering new places, particularly those little out-of-the-way spots.

As I prepare to head for my annual pilgramage to Chincoteauge I find myself recalling one of my favorite memories of a roadside discovery. In the summer of 2003 I traveled to Chincoteague with just my mother. We were on our way, heading down Route 13 in Delaware when we realized we were hungry. We were in a fairly remote area. The road went through more marshes and farms than towns, but we eventually saw a sign that there would be food at the next exit. The sign advertised the Smyrna Diner and a Waffle House, and a pizza place.

It was our intention to aim for the Waffle House because it was the first place we saw when we turned off the exit. The problem was that it was set back from the main road and its entrance was not clearly marked. We could not find our way in. I saw a cluster of buildings, one of which might have been the diner, in the other direction, but we were already headed the other way. Our only hope for lunch was to find a way to turn ourselves around and either try to find the Waffle House entrace again, or head towards town and find another place to eat.

Once we passed the Waffle House we were headed down a country road with no outlets in site. We were back to endless stretches of marsh and farmland. Suddenly I spotted something. I told my mother, "I just saw where we're having lunch. Turn this car around as soon as you can."

We did find a road to turn around on and I guided my mother to the place I spotted and she had missed - Wally's BBQ Shack. Wally's was the kind of authentic barbecue joint that most of us northerners rarely have the pleasure of experiencing. It was an open-air building with a huge smoker out in the back. You could smell this place from a mile away. The menu was simple. You could have a chopped chicken sandwich, a chopped pork sandwich, barbecued chicken or ribs. The sides included the traditional accompaniments like cole slaw and baked beans. My mother and I opted for the chopped chicken and chopped pork sandwiches respectively with the provided sides. It was mighty tempting watching some of the diners at the other tables chow down on large, sloppy chicken quarters and slabs of ribs, but I knew I'd be having a big dinner that night and didn't want to be spending the day stuffing myself. Still my lunch was homemade and tasted great and was far better than anything I could have purchased from a rest stop chain.

I have always longed to go back there, but so far it has not been meant to be. The following year my husband and I headed to Chincoteague together and stopped at the same exit in Smyrna, DE for lunch. He was not feeling particularly patient, so searching for Wally's was not on the agenda. He managed to find the entrance to the Waffle House and that's where we had lunch. I can't complain too much. The Waffle House may be a chain, but at least the food is freshly cooked to order there. I did still find myself thinking about the lunch I wasn't having.

These days I know even know if Wally's still exists. Their website seems to be down. The URL is still active, but the site itself says "Out of Service". I can only hope that while the site is down Wallys still lives on.

It certainly lives on in my heart.

1 comment: said...

Re Wally's BBQ -- my husband and I discovered Wally's in much the same way you and your mother did. We've been back several times since, as we're addicted to his bottled BBQ sauce and the food is a treat. Wally (and family) has sold the place, but still keeps his hand in to make sure that the quality remains high. We visit every time we pass by -- which is once/year, at most. Nice people, good food.