I wrote my top 25 road food restaurants earlier last year. My dad used to say, “The only thing permanent is change.” The only thing that never changes is God, and He is way too busy to manage a road food restaurant and maintain its charm, or even keep it open. There’s always world hunger to worry about.
My number seven choice changed significantly, so I decided I had to take it off. I called and talked to my wife and asked her what was missing from my list. When she gave me her suggestion, I said “Of course,” but then found out it was gone altogether. So this post for number seven is about those old friends who have changed or are gone all together. Nothing ever stays totally the same, but part of the road food experience is the memories, and places that seem like they are somewhat living in the past in a very good way.
Number seven was going to be a restaurant in the Nashville area where we ate while on the road food tour with Jane and Michael Stern a few years ago. But, unfortunately, it has become a victim of its own success and has been “modernized” quite extensively. I’m sure the food is still fine, but it has lost the charm it had for me with its old school ways.
My replacement for number seven was going to be Yoken’s, a family restaurant in Portsmouth, NH. Yoken’s food was standard family restaurant fare, pretty good but not fantastic. The charm of Yoken’s was in the sign out front. It was a huge whale spouting out its blow hole with the phrase “Thar She Blows.” As one comment on Yelp says, “It’s gone, but the “Thar she blows” sign will never leave my memory.” One other fun thing about Yoken’s was the gift shop. I still have one of their plastic lobsters with the bobbing claws on my bookshelf at work. The gift shop also had a treasure chest, and you would get a key to try and open it to win a prize. My kids loved that, as did my wife and I. We never won, despite my having been there probably 15-20 times, and I sometimes wonder if a winner happened very often, but I still have one of the keys in my box on my dresser. Yoken’s was a place lost in the ’50s, and now, unfortunately, it is lost from Route One in Portsmouth, NH forever.
The Mansion House is another place lost to time. The Mansion House was, in fact, a house, converted to a restaurant. It had rather sporadic hours, but it was always open on Sundays. It was a destination for the various local members of the Douglass family for many years, a distant 20 mile drive at least for most of the family, but a great way to spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon after church with the relatives. Food was served family style, and just like Yoken’s, it had a gift shop, although a much smaller one. So here’s to Pa, Nana, Papa, and the rest of the family for some lovely times together. Last I knew, the Mansion House had become a group home, so some folks are still eating there, but it is not a restaurant anymore.
Zinn’s is another family favorite – a destination stop for us when traveling along the PA Turnpike. I probably ate at Zinn’s over 50 times when traveling for work or vacation. Zinn’s had the mother of all gift shops, eventually a number of shops, with a heavy Pennsylvania Dutch theme. The food was excellent. My personal favorite was the chicken croquettes, and of course, the Pennsylvania Dutch desserts like Shoofly pie. In the early days there were usually long waits for tables, sometimes two hours or more, but it was always worth the wait. When they completed their expansion, they had a beautiful softball complex out back. Several times when traveling for work I would get take-out for dinner, sit in the bleachers, and watch a game. As a long time softball player and coach, it was a work respite field of dreams for me. In later years, the next generation took over Zinn’s. For some reason, the crowds went away and Zinn’s closed, only to be replaced by a sports bar diner. There are a lot of those, but there was only one Zinn’s.
On the way to my aunt and uncle’s near Pottstown, PA, was a drive in called Speck’s. When we traveled to visit, my dad used Speck’s as an incentive for good behavior for my sister and I on the one hour drive from our home. They had the best milkshakes! During my first two years in college, I attended Ursinus College in Collegeville, PA, and continued to visit Speck’s for lunch, along with Collegeville Inn. In my sophomore year, there was a group of guys that would go the Collegeville Inn for the smorgasbord lunch once a month. They had a big buffet, and whoever ate the most plates got the other guys to pick up their tab. I don’t usually eat more than the average person, but I made an exception when a free lunch was on the line. I only won once, as the competition often included several big football players. Both places are now gone, but they live on in the hearts of Ursinus alumni. I hear that the Collegeville Inn has reopened, so I will have to check it out. Until then, fond memories of Phil, Joe, Denny, and my other sophomore year commuter pals.
Joe Donnelley’s Fortside Inn was a family favorite. Fortside was also on the way to my aunt and uncle’s, but much closer to our house. This was my dad’s favorite spot for a nice dinner out. Located in an old stone historic building, dad loved the roast beef, and my sister and I got Shirley Temples while my parents indulged in adult beverages. When I was a freshman in college, I decided to splurge and take a girl I liked, Nancy, there. That was a big expense for me at the time, over $50, and then we went to see MASH at the local movie theater. I started getting the flu during the movie and fell asleep. That dinner remains a long ago memory of a bad night. I never dated Nancy again. Despite that, I still have fond memories of good food and great times for another restaurant lost to time.
My last spot lost to time was Del’s, a small diner in Ambler, PA. My wife and I lived in Ambler after we first got married, in a small but very nice little apartment. We had no money, and Del’s was close by and cheap. The newlyweds ate there many times. They had great diner food, especially root beer floats, and a waitress that would have been wonderful in the TV show Alice. She called everyone ‘hon,’ had bright red dyed hair, was about 70 years old, and would say, “Y’all right” every time you placed your order. A couple of blocks away was the Christian Cinema, operated by Harry Bristow, a local Christian bookstore owner, TV show host, and evangelist. Harry showed Christian movies for free, funded by donations, so we attended on and off as that fit our non-existent budget at the time! I got kind of friendly with Harry, and he asked me to sing and play the guitar before the movie the night of our first wedding anniversary, in late December of 1977. The weather turned terrible with a blizzard, and my wife and I were the only people there. The power went out, and I sat on the stage with one of the staff holding a flashlight over me, singing love songs I had written for my wife. We had the best seat in the house for the movie. Harry was a great guy and entrepreneur, and a fine Christian man. He is gone now, but I think his son Gary still lives in the area and last I knew owned a baseball card store. God and baseball, no wonder I liked the Bristows!
Leave a comment with your favorite restaurant that isn’t there anymore, and stop by next week for number six as we continue to count down my Road Food Top Twenty Five!
The term “roadfood” is trademarked by Jane and Michael Stern of www.roadfood.com, and is used by permission. They are the founders of the roadfood movement. Check out their books on Amazon, and head out on one of their food tours!