Pop’s, Rocks and Corn Dogs on Route 66

There is a certain beauty to retracing your roots, which is exactly what I did this past week, with a ride down part of the Main Street of America, Route 66. In preparation for our journey along the old highway next October, staffer Ryan Quinn and I flew to Oklahoma City to backtrack to Chicago. It’s my 13th journey down the old highway so it feels like going home. This is particularly interesting section of the old highway, with plenty of characters and attractions to visit en route.

First stop out of Oklahoma City is Pops. Open for two years now, it’s quickly become a modern icon of the highway. Like the name says, it’s a place to buy pop. Soda pop that is. Soft drinks in modern lingo I guess. At Pops, you’ll find every different kind of soda you can possibly imagine. Ryan and I each filled a customized six pack with goodies. Flavors like Marion Berry, Black Cherry Crème and Watermelon made my list, while Ryan, a connoisseur of Root Beer, found several different brands to sample. While Pops also serves burgers and sandwiches, I can’t imagine why you’d actually go there to eat. The food might be delicious, but the selection of “sody pop” (as grandma used to call it) just can’t be beat.

About 30 minutes down the road, past the Round Barn on the old highway, you’ll enter Stroud. This small hamlet is the home of The Rock Café. It’s been a favorite of mine since our first scouting trip back in 1995. But it’s a new day at “the rock.” You see, about a year-and-a-half ago, the restaurant burned to the ground, except for the rock facade that is. In a bit of good fortune, the burning building collapsed on top of (thereby saving) the old grill, which had been adding a special flavor to burgers for decades. But proprietor Dawn Welch refused to let The Rock go away. She has rebuilt a new restaurant, incorporating the curios of Route 66 with the best of modern day conveniences. The Rock has a new look, with about 20 more seats, but still lots of history lining its walls.

I might add that the pulled pork and brisket sandwiches were superb. It was nice to spend a little time catching up with an old friend on the highway, and hearing from Dawn the story of the fire and the decision to rebuild a landmark.

On through Oklahoma we traveled. The new Hard Rock Hotel in Catoosa (near Tulsa) served as our home for a night. Our travelers will stay there two nights on our trip next October. What a beautiful hotel, with several wonderful restaurants, a tasty buffet and of curse, the chance to tempt lady luck. Because dice and wheel games are against the laws of the state, the hotel’s owner have created a unique way to play craps and roulette using a unique deck of cards.

We checked in with Scott Nelson at the historic Eisler Brothers store in Riverton, saw the Rainbow Bridge in Baxter Springs, both in the tiny strip of the old highway that nips the corner of Kansas. Time was our enemy as we raced across Missouri, stopping only to sample the heavenly concoction called frozen custard at Ted Drewes in St. Louis. Forget ice cream, because there is nothing on earth like Ted Drewes custard. I recommend blueberries mixed in…How can anything taste that good?

Finally, on the third afternoon of our journey, we stopped in Springfield, Illinois, the Land of Lincoln. But old Abe’s landmarks were not our purpose on this day. You see, Ryan loves corn dogs and it just so happens that the place where the corn dog was invented…yep, right there in Springfield at the Cozy Dog Café. After a Corn Dog fill up (the fries are the best at the Cozy Dog, REAL potatoes), we were happily on our way to Chicago stomachs and arteries full of dogs and fries.

There’s nothing like a trip on The Mother Road to rekindle your traveling spirit. It’s the original off-the-beaten-track destination. And it still brings a smile to by face, stopping off to see old friends like Dawn at The Rock Café, Sue at The Cozy Dog and Jeffrey at the Hard Rock. Because there’s nothing quite like the spirit of the old road. It’s alive and well, you just have to get out and see it. We’ll travel Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica (or Oklahoma City, your choice) next October. There isn’t a finer adventure to be found anywhere. And so it goes…

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