It is normal to select a vacation site based on popular attractions; be it an amusement venue like Disney World, or an outdoor wonder such as Old Faithful, or a pristine beach for frolicking in the sand and sea, or maybe a historic landmark. I have, however, decided to take you on a trip based on food first, then we site-see.
Instead of a road map or atlas, I am seeking out vacation sites based on the popular Food Network show “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives” . . . featuring its colorful host, Chef Guy Fieri. After all; I’ve heard that an Army travels on its stomach, so why not you and me?
We’re going to begin in Fairhope, Alabama, “a vibrant town on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, known for its lovely parks and sweeping panoramic view of Mobile Bay.” Civil War buffs will appreciate the significance of the 3,800 acre Historic Blakely State Park, site of the ‘last major battle of the Civil War’ or if you are a nature lover then check out the Fairhope French Quarter, home to the largest crepe myrtle in the South . . .an Alabama Champion Tree . . . and let’s not forget that ¼ mile pier jutting out in the gulf; surrounded by swimming and picnic areas, a landscaped rose garden, plenty of benches, marina, walking trails and a duck pond.
Here’s the skinny on the food angle: Panini Pete’s and the Gumbo Shack were both featured on Triple D, but after reading the menu ‘our pick’ is Panini Pete’s where the European Panini with house-roasted meats and homemade mozzarella is a favorite – located in Fairhope’s French Quarter – here’s a little trivia about how the Panini became a favorite sandwich for many . . . it can be found here: http://www.calphalon.com/Pages/Content/Articles/Panini-A-Culinary-History.aspx
We’ve visited the South; now how about a trip to the Northeast, where we discovered O’Rourke’s’ Diner, which opened its doors in 1941 in Middletown, Connecticut. A more appropriate name, however, could be the Phoenix, for it has risen from the ashes, after a fire that destroyed the original O’Rourkes back in 2006. You know it’s got to be good when the towns’ people chipped in and helped raise enough funds to have it rebuilt.
Just where is Middletown anyhow and how did O’Rourke’s become one of its main attractions? Before it became a settlement in 1650, the Wangunks, a distinct Native American Indian occupied Middletown (beginning around 1634). Because it was the halfway point between Windsor and Saybrook, the town was named Middletown in 1653. Many settlers selected Middletown due to economic opportunity and their descendants became merchants and shipmasters, and in time its port became the busiest in the colonies between Boston and New York. The “Triangle Trade” comprised sailing to the West Indies with a cargo of livestock, lumber, farm products and other raw materials, returning with rum, salt and sugar among other commodities; unfortunately in 1807, the passage of the Embargo Act, along with the war of 1812 brought an end to Middletown’s days as an important shipping port.The 19th Century saw the rise of manufacturing in Middletown, as well as the first wave of Irish immigrants, with perhaps Uncle John O’Rourke’s ancestors paving the way for O’Rourke’s Diner.
If you are travelling to Middletown be sure to visit Wesleyan University, founded in 1831, encompassing 316 acres overlooking the Connecticut River; and for those adventurous folks, why not take a stroll in the Connecticut aMAIZEing MAZE, with two miles of winding paths in a living, growing cornfield. A must do and see for those of you with one to eight year-olds and their ‘adult’ friends is the Kidcity Children’s Museum; with a space age road trip, a Clipper Ship and The Farm among other interactive activities. http://www.kidcitymuseum.com/
Downtown Middletown has been named “One of America’s Most Romantic Main Streets” and then there is Wild Bill’s Nostalgia Emporium. Check it out as well as many other Connecticut treasures at this website: http://www.ctmuseumquest.com/?page_id=5521, which by the way is a pretty thorough history of Connecticut along with a very creative blog.
Just thinking about toasty tasty Panini’s and some good ol’ Irish Stew not only makes me hungry, but I just might take a road trip to Fairhope, Alabama or Middletown, Connecticut!