Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Defending the Sacred Honor of The South






Crystal Grill
423 Carrollton Ave.
Greenwood, MS






“The Mississippi Delta is the most Southern place on earth.”
-- James C. Cobb


I have lots of reasons I love the South.

Warm weather. NASCAR. College football. Great music. Ole Miss sorority girls.

But as great as all those things are, it’s Southern cooking that gets me most excited.

The Crystal Grill here in Greenwood on the outskirts of that “most Southern place on earth”, is one of the best places to discover the delicacies of the old Confederacy such as catfish, tamales, turnip greens, gumbo and -- most important of all -- pie.

Southerners have been coming to the corner of Lamar St. and Carrollton Ave. to eat for nearly a century.

At one point during the heyday of the locomotive, railroad workers and tourists alike would come over to the Crystal Grill from Greenwood’s railroad depot across the street at all hours of the night.

“Never sleep.” That was the mantra of the old Crystal Grill when it stayed open until 4am.

Here in the 21st Century, Amtrak’s “City of New Orleans” (immortalized by Steve Goodman, Arlo Guthrie, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash) only makes one stop per day, so the hours at Crystal Grill have reverted to conform to the more normal schedule of Southern diners.

While the hours may have shrunk over the years, the restaurant has expanded, taking up a whole city block of connected rooms filled with locals chatting about Greenwood gossip.

As an out-of-towner, you get the feeling that every last resident of this city knows the Crystal Grill is a world class dining destination -- and they all take full advantage of their good fortune.

The food options here are vast and a bit overwhelming.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the beer selection.

Coors Light. Bud Light. Miller Lite.

Yuck.

I opted for the Coors version of watered-down, tasteless, mass produced yellow fizz.

Unfortunately for me, Mississippi is one of the last holdouts in the craft beer revolution.

But nobody comes to the Crystal Grill to drink beer. Folks come here to eat!

I began my feeding frenzy with that quintessential Delta snack, the hot tamale.

Nobody knows exactly how a Mexican food originated as a staple here in the Delta. Most folks here are black or white.

Mexican? Not so much.

But it is safe to assume that some Mexican migrants may have found their way into the Delta to help with the cotton crop over a century ago -- and brought a recipe along that black and white Southerners have perfected into their very own Southern specialty.

You’ll find little roadside shacks selling tamales all over the Delta.

But the tamales here at the Crystal Grill are the best I’ve ever tried.

Wrapped snuggly in their corn husks, unrolling a steaming tamale is more exciting than Christmas morning.

Soft sweet corn meal gives way to a piping hot center of tender shredded beef. The entire concoction is marinated in a peppery broth, lending these tamales a subtle spicy bite that made my Coors Light taste better than it deserved.

Next came a cup of gumbo loaded with shrimp, crab meat and even a few Mississippi Gulf Coast oysters. Chock full of okra, spice and goodness, this is one of the best cups of gumbo I’ve tried in the Magnolia State.

Of course you can’t have gumbo without bread. The Crystal Grill brings out two varieties -- both equally fresh and warm from the oven -- and addictive.

The soft yeast rolls come from a decades old Greenwood recipe.

The firm but sweet corn muffins melted my pat of butter on contact.

By this point, my hunger was long gone. But my Chrystal Grill lunch was just getting started.

Classic Southern lunchroom style, the menu lets you choose a meat and two vegetables.

I opted for fried catfish, crisp and seasoned to perfection.

My dining companion scored some of the best fried chicken either of us had ever tried.

But the vegetables were the stars of the show.

Turnip greens, earthy and bitter yet sweetened with Southern love and pig fat.

Southerners love to cook their vegetables in pork fat or deep fry them, under the theory that there is only one way to make healthy food taste good -- make it less healthy.

As a devout follower of that school of vegetable thought, I had to try something called “fried broccoli”.

Even world renowned broccoli frowner President George H. W. Bush could eat this stuff.

It turns out that fried broccoli doesn’t involve much broccoli after all. More like a breaded and fried cheese stick with a few bits of green vegetable matter stuffed inside.

In other words, fried broccoli is delicious!

Under any other circumstance, after consuming this much food, I’d ask for the check and be on my way.

Not at the Crystal Grill. Because when you dine here, you get pie.

It’s compulsory.

I’m not saying they’ll lock you up in the Leflore County Jail if you refuse to indulge, but it is included in the price of your meal.

And it indeed would be a crime against man and nature to skip out on dessert at the Crystal Grill. This place has earned a well-deserved decade’s old reputation for the best pie in the great state of Mississippi.

You get three choices: chocolate meringue, coconut meringue or lemon ice box.

You really can’t go wrong.

The lemon ice box pie was cool, sweet and tart with a refreshing lemon zest.

The chocolate meringue was a mile high tower of goodness. The meringue was delicate and sweet and elegantly yielded to my folk as it slid down toward the cool chocolate below.

If you are a chocoholic like me, you will not be disappointed. Trust me.

If ever there were a dining destination that needed to be immortalized in my vast t-shirt collection, the Crystal Grill was it.

This place represents everything I love about the South. Great food. Downhome charm. Friendly hospitality. And a patient deliberateness to appreciate the finest life has to offer.

I couldn’t help but notice the irony that as I was appreciating all that is wonderful about the old Confederacy in the form of a single meal, a controversy was raging on the news about that ultimate symbol of the South, the Confederate Flag.

Southerners everywhere are being forced by a mob of Leftists and uppity Yankees to make a choice -- abandon the symbol that has represented their homeland in some sort of futile peace offering -- or stand to defend its honor in the face of unprecedented hatred and bullying.

While it seems like most of the politicians across the South have chosen to reenact the surrender at Appomattox, it is left to the silent majority of Southerners to articulate the value of their heritage.

For many Southerners, the flag is simply an iconic symbol of home -- and everything it stands for. From sweet tea to SEC tailgate parties.

For others, there is a deeper meaning.

The flag represents resistance to an overbearing federal government that now injects itself into every nook and cranny of our lives.

Am I the only one who noticed the irony that during this same week five unelected, unaccountable robed jackasses in Washington DC just changed the 10,000 year old definition of marriage by federal fiat?

If Sherman and Grant could see what the Federal Government they fought for has become, I’d like to imagine they’d be so ashamed they’d strip off their blue uniforms on the spot and joint the “Lost Cause”.

But why is the burden of proof on Southerners to defend their flag?

Shouldn’t the debate be centered on why Leftists and uppity Yankees hate the South -- and want to stamp out everything it stands for?

To them it represents a reprehensible ideology and way of life -- one where folks get along with each other just fine over a plate of tamales and fried chicken.

Where people don’t see the need to depend upon the kindness of politicians.

Independence. Traditional values. Faith. Confident appreciation of what works.

Defiance.

That’s what they hate.

They hate that the South is superior to the North in every way that matters. From politics to economics to weather to football to fried chicken.

They are envious of a people that can get along fine without them.

And if you think throwing the Confederate flag into a modern day auto-da-fé in a sacrificial offering will appease them, you are wrong.

Dead wrong.

This is just the warning shot on a second Yankee invasion.

The Leftists and uppity Yankees won’t stop until everyone lives and thinks like they do.

Give up the guns and religion you cling to. Your future is food stamps, Obamacare, gay weddings and Dunkin Donuts.

That’s why places like the Crystal Grill are an endangered yet cherished reminder of what makes the South great.

And that’s why my flag is still hanging. And why I bought the shirt.

Rating: Bought the Shirt!


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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Downtown BBQ Makes the Grade in KC






Winslow’s BBQ
20 E. 5th St.
Kansas City, MO





Sometimes I feel like a Kansas City barbeque failure.

I pride myself on my barbeque tasting expertise. You name the smoke shack or pig joint and chances are I’ve been there, tasted the ‘que, lived to tell you all about it and bought the shirt (or cleaned my grill with it).

I feel like I have a good handle on a wide cross section of the meat served in all the barbeque Meccas like Memphis, Columbia, Lexington and Lockhart.

But I’ve never really eaten my way through Kansas City, one of America’s great ‘que towns.

Oh sure, I’ve done the obligatory stops at Gates and Arthur Bryant’s.

Who hasn’t?

But to really get a sense of the barbeque culture of a city, you have to do more than just check off the list of places that make regular appearances on cable TV.

And that’s where I feel like I can improve my performance in Kansas City.

I need to hit up L.C.’s, Rosedale and Danny Edwards -- the lesser known pit houses where the locals go to get real KC ‘que.

Unfortunately, all those venerable authentic smoke shacks tend to congregate on the south side of Kansas City -- a place where Suit757 rarely travels.

In general, local dive barbeque shacks tend to be in the parts of town Suit757 doesn’t have much business. (I’ll let you speculate about why that might be.)

Of course geographic inconvenience has never stopped me before. But with a tight schedule, I knew venturing out to wilds of South KC wasn’t going to be in the cards on this trip either.

There’s got to be some place in this barbeque crazed city to get some ribs and burnt ends near downtown.

Sure enough, I found Winslow’s BBQ.

It’s been around for over four decades. That’s a good sign.

Won lots of awards. Another good sign.

But when I walked up to Winslow’s I quickly realized that it is located in one of those fake touristy taxpayer subsidized “festival marketplaces” downtown along with stores selling souvenir KCMO coffee cups and key chains -- and t-shirts that read “Who farted?”

Not a good sign.

And during prime dinner hour I was the only customer in the place.

Definitely NOT a good sign.

There’s no way I’m going to get any sense of authentic KC barbeque at this joint.

But you know what?

The smoked meat served at Winslow’s was downright exquisite.

Too bad I was the only one in Kanas City getting to experience it.

Fortunately, the one lady who did double duty as the lone waitress and bar tender had the TV turned to the MLB Network with the sound turned up loud.

I happily sat there alone positioned directly in front of the TV drinking a big Boulevard Pale Ale out of a plastic cup watching baseball -- just like at the bar in my home.

Only I haven’t figured out how to make barbeque this good at home.

I ordered the three meat platter for $15. It was enough food to feed a family of four.

Five big meaty ribs with pork soft and tender like butter.

The pulled pork was soft and smoky like the best you’d find in North Carolina or Tennessee.

The brisket was best of all.

Usually when you order brisket, you can choose between sliced or chopped. This was like both in one.

The beef was sliced, but it was so tender it fell apart into delicious morsels of chopped brisket with the slightest touch of my fork.

All three meats were smoked to perfection, with telltale red smoke rings.

Most extraordinary was how tender and moist all three meats were.

Dave Winslow, the original founder, hired an engineer to invent a steam pit that evaporates 50 gallons of water per day.

At Winslow’s, the meat isn’t just smoked. It’s enveloped in steam for hours, yielding fall apart moist barbeque that needs no sauce.

Of course being Suit757, I had to try it anyway.

East Coast barbeque purists love to disparage Kansas City style barbeque for the thick glops of ketchupy sauce Midwesterners supposedly like to slather onto their meat.

Here at Winslow’s, that sauce discretion is left to the barbeque eater.

Winslow’s sauce was not as thick or sweet as some Kansas City sauces.

The sauce was good -- but unnecessary.

Some purists would claim it would be a crime to cover up such perfect barbeque with sauce.

For me, the real crime was that I was the only customer in the place.

Where the heck is everybody? There should be a line out the door for barbeque this good.

I think it is the location.

Nobody goes downtown anymore.

This has been a known phenomenon in virtually every American city since the advent of the shopping mall forty years ago.

This is the type of problem politicians like to solve with our tax money.

Of course they don’t bother to consider the REASON nobody goes downtown any more.

Business owners don’t open businesses downtown because…

…wait for it…

…nobody goes downtown any more.

So here’s the solution: pay business owners to locate downtown with taxpayer financed “festival marketplaces” like KC’s River Market.

But no matter how many tax subsidized businesses locate downtown, the politicians can’t create customers out of thin air.

Because nobody goes downtown any more.

No matter how good the barbeque happens to be.

And that’s too bad.

Winslow’s deserves a wider audience than just from suits who don’t have time to venture to the south side of town.

Rating: Bought the Shirt!



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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Montana—Peaks, Prairies . . . Bourbon?

 

 

 

 

Random lake

Side of some road

Thompson Falls, MT




As far as I’m concerned, these United States have adopted many a middle child. And by that I mean our miserable Union includes a whole variety of states I don’t ever care to think about. Montana just so happens to be one of those neglected, “middle child” states.

It’s true, I was born and raised in paradise. 

Back there I drank booze because booze is good; never to cope with a frigid winter. College football was king, scantily dressed women abound all year round, and reeling in a red fish—accompanied by nothing but a half empty flask of gin—was always only an hour away.

There’s a reason why so many people move to my home state just to die . . . because it’s the shit. And because it’s as close as you can get to that healthful shore for which I’m bound without crossing over for good. Which is why, for most of my life, I would have classified most states as middle child states. 

I can only think of one reason why you’d want to move to Montana to die: to be forgotten . . . along with the rest of this middle child state. 

Ipso Facto, if you’re an elderly defector to Montana, you’re likely either a convict; a no good, long haired, dirty, deserting hippie; a Ron Paul supporting, doomsday saying, tax ditching libertarian; or a combination of all three.  Most likely the latter. But to be honest that kind of makes this middle child state the slightest bit cool. 

Montana doesn’t ever bitch about being forgotten. 

In fact, more often than not they’re bitching about all us pesky tourists, or all those bourgeois, metropolitan trendies residing in Montana’s universally reviled Boze Angeles—a hostile nickname for Bozeman, which I picked up from a cute little number who was, of course, a defector from New York.

And that figures. 

Florida’s greatest flaws are its intolerable heat and its lack of diverse scenery. Fortunately, while the better sex devise of ways to deal with high temperatures above 95, they unknowingly—or knowingly—distract us men from the heat while also suppressing our desire for any other kind of scenery they aren’t already providing. 

Whoever described Florida as flat, hot, and dumb was only two thirds down the path to the actual truth. After all, the mountains of Montana are all well and good, but Florida’s mountains march in multiples of two and are attached to women who are, more often than not, beautiful (or, yes, hot and dumb—if you insist). 

Montana soaks up its peaks and prairies, chokes down its bison, and neglects to shave. But as far as I could tell they’ve yet to give birth to an attractive woman. And therein lies Montana’s greatest flaw. 

That or its lack of memorable cuisine. Trust me, I looked hard for a bison steak, but it turns out most of Montana’s restaurants don’t consider it a requirement.

I was disgusted more than once by what the dive bars had to offer. Most notably while in Victor at the end of a town strip begging for a western style shoot-out. 

The Flying Pig Bar and Grill should be avoided at all costs, and honestly so should Victor.

As I watched the bartender throw a frozen beef patty on the grill I had to resist the urge to ask: “Am I dining in a bar? Or at the concession stand of a high school football game?” 

I’d have liked to say: “I see cattle everywhere! Why are you serving me beef shipped up from China or wherever the hell?” 

Unfortunately, my mother raised me better. In any case, my mother would agree that the practice of slapping a frozen patty on the grill is deviant and unseemly at the very least; downright savage if we're being especially forthright. 

Alas, I left Montana without a single tip on where to find good eats. At least a single tip I couldn’t find on Google. 

Still, two restaurants are of note—mostly because they’re each a safe choice, and also because I had to write about something.

Überbrew in downtown Billings is no rare find. After all they’re located downtown.

In any case, Überbrew does make the hell out of their Überstition Sausage Dog. Pair it with their Cheddar Ale Soup and their Stand Down Brown Ale for a decent meal. 

Be sure to forgo their Irish Dry Stout, which tastes more like an attempt at dark beer by Anheuser-Busch. Seriously—don’t go near it.

Rating: I was about to buy the shirt until a hipster stopped by and told me the shirts were pretty cool when he bought one, but now everyone’s buying them.

Finally—The Copper Whiskey Bar & Grill of downtown Bozeman, or Boze Angeles as I later found out. 

For the most part, you’re being safe if you visit the most expensive restaurant on the block. That is, if you’re willing to dish out the cash. 

Fortunately, these days nearly every expensive restaurant offers an affordable burger to make sure us traveling suits on per diem will still swing by to make the restaurant look classier than it actually is.

The Copper Whiskey Bar & Grill sports a speakeasy theme, a ton of beer on tap, and an incredible whiskey menu—which I’ll admit I was far less enthusiastic about once I found double shots of their best whiskey just two bars down for half the price.

The Copper Burger had bacon ground in the beef (Victorthat's how civilized people treat their beef!), sharp white cheddar, and Dijon Mustard which was surprisingly not overbearing. 

Once again, a decent meal, but nothing groundbreaking. 

What was groundbreaking was Whistling Andy’s Montana Bourbon

I’ve never been a fan of what Kentucky has to offer. Call it un-American, but I’ve always preferred the Queen’s stamp to that of Colonel Sanders’.

However there was something about that Montana bourbon. Unfortunately I drank a little too much of it to remember what exactly that something was.

I can say for sure though that Whistling Andy is positively Christ-like. By that I mean the man has redeemed what was once in my view a wretched excuse for whiskey.

Yeah . . . that's right Kentucky. I'm saying Montana does it better!

Alcohol-induced amnesia took hold once again in the case of the Mountain Man by The Front Brewing Company. All I can tell you is that when I checked my Untappd App the next day, I saw that I gave it 4 ½ stars and a single note: “Buy this wherever it’s available!”

Rating: After four Mountain Man's and four Whistling Andy’s I can’t remember if I bought the shirt or not.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Glamour of Backseat Pizza





Vito and Nick’s
8433 S. Pulaski Rd.
Chicago, IL





I just want you to know something -- this gig isn’t as easy as it looks.

I know. You think it must be fun traveling the backroads of America discovering cool new places to eat, drink and have a good time.

Well it’s not all dollar beer nights and gourmet chili cheese dogs for Suit757.

It’s hard living out here on the road.

Do you think I bother to even break out the laptop to write about a sack full of McDonald’s Dollar Menu cheeseburgers when the Golden Arches are the only option open at 1am?

Or the microwaved burritos at the dive bar adjacent to my Best Western?

Or the hot dogs rotating unappetizingly on the little metal rollers behind the cash register at the airport smoking lounge?

Hell no. I only attempt to entertain you with my adventures…if they are at least somewhat entertaining.

Most of my days are spent racing across town in Pine-Sol scented rental cars, dashing through airports and having my genitals radiated by TSA bureaucrats.

Suit757’s life isn’t anywhere near as glamorous as I might lead you to believe.

Today was a perfect example.

I was in Chicago -- one of my favorite eating cities.

I was determined to squeeze a memorable dining experience into my itinerary already jam packed with four meetings spread across the Chicagoland Metro region.

I just happened to recently see an episode on the Food Network with that guy with the spiky hair featuring a popular and unique pizza joint that combines two of Chicago’s favorite delicacies: pizza and Italian beef.

Thanks to national chains like Uno’s, everyone knows about Chicago deep dish pizza, even though, not surprisingly, the real thing is much better than the stuff served at your local mall.

Italian beef is the lesser known Chicago specialty.

Chicago Italian beef is tender slowly marinated shreds of meat stuffed into a big sub roll.

If that’s all you get, it’s not bad, but a bit bland.

But “not bad” isn’t good enough for Suit757.

I always get the “combo” which adds a link of Italian sausage to the sandwich.

Oh, and you want to add another Chicago specialty, giardiniera.

Giardiniera -- or giardineer, as they spell it at Vito and Nick’s -- is mix of celery and diced peppers, either sweet or hot depending on your tolerance and/or preference.

The idea of adding the ingredients of a Chicago Italian beef sandwich to a pizza sounded like the best invention since 2am pizza delivery.

As luck would have it, Vito and Nick’s just happened to kinda sorta be on the way to one of my meetings in the southwest suburbs.

Vito and Nick’s is far enough out that you can’t really say it is in the city. But it isn’t far enough out to be in the suburbs. It’s located in that urban no man’s land where one way streets and tenements give way to medians and strip malls.

My first task was convincing my travel partner of the day to give the place a try.

This is not a problem I am used to.

We Suits usually travel alone.

If I want to risk my life and digestive track on some urban greasy spoon dive, I’m not risking anyone’s wellbeing but my own.

And if I trash the rental car? Well, that’s an Enterprise problem, not mine.

As it turned out, having a fellow Suit to chauffeur me around Chicago on this day was quite an advantage. This meal was not a one man job.

Coincidentally, my fellow Suit is a native Chicagoan.

But convincing him to try Italian beef on a pizza took a bit of Suit757 persuasion.

“I love Chicago pizza. And I love Italian beef. But I’m not sure I want them together,” he complained.

My response was, “Dude. It’s going to be awesome.

“We’re going.”

Ah, the subtle art of persuasion.

The fact that I was a mere passenger in his car did not deter me from setting the lunch itinerary.

I must admit I started to have second thoughts as soon as we walked in.

The TV show pictured a packed house with pizza guys tossing wooden pizza boards through the air frantically trying to keep up with the hordes of patrons lined up out the door.

Our experience was very different.

Only two other occupied tables in the entire restaurant. And this was the noon “lunch rush.”

“This might not be a good sign,” I mumbled to myself without letting my companion in on my self-doubt.

I mean, usually when these places make national TV it ruins it for the rest of us. You can’t even get near the place.

It didn’t take long to figure out why no one comes here for lunch.

We placed our order of Italian beef pizza with Italian sausage and “mild giardineer” at the stroke of high noon.

By 12:40 it was time to hit the road for our 1pm meeting out in the suburbs.

Just one minor problem.

We still didn’t have our pizza.

Holy crap. This is a working class neighborhood. Last time I checked, most people who work for a living don’t get more than an hour for lunch.

No wonder the place was empty. Maybe Vito and Nick’s should relocate to the Obama side of town where people don’t have jobs.

Or only open for dinner when people have time for a two hour meal.

I told the waitress we had to go. I guess we’ll eat it cold later this afternoon when all our meetings are over.

Our pizza was just coming out of the oven. The pizza man boxed it up, I threw the waitress a twenty and a ten (they don’t take credit cards) and we dashed out the door.

I tossed the pizza in the back seat of the car and I think I heard tires squealing as my fellow Suit swerved his car onto Pulaski Road heading southbound.

By the time we got to the first traffic light, my traveling companion looked at me. I looked at him. We both looked into the back seat where the most intoxicating aroma of our lives was emanating.

Stomach growing, I said, “I’m going in.”

“Hell yeah,” he said.

I unbuckled my seat belt and turned around in the passenger seat to get a better look and opened the box.

An absolute masterpiece.

Melted cheese, green giardineer, toasted sausage and beef, crust charred perfectly on the edges.

I picked up the first piece.

The traffic light turned green. My fellow Suit hit the accelerator.

I tumbled into the backseat spilling Italian beef and giardineer all over his floor boards -- and his suit coat hanging precariously just above the pizza box.

The sight, the smell and the taste of this masterful pie was too much to resist.

In our 15 minute commute through suburban Chicago, we were going to eat that pizza. To hell with the dry cleaning bills.

Eating scalding hot pizza while driving wasn’t the most difficult part (of course that’s easy for me to say since I wasn’t the one actually driving).

The difficult part was transferring steaming hot pieces of pizza intact from the back seat to the front seat of a moving vehicle swerving through an urban minefield of construction cones and red light cameras with no plates or utensils.

Fortunately, I remembered to grab a stack of napkins in our mad exit.

This was one of the most extraordinary pizzas of my life.

The crust was thin and crispy and held up well to the topping onslaught it was subjected to.

The Italian beef marinated in garlic, oregano and basil was delicious with a smoky char from the oven.

The spice from the Italian sausage married perfectly with the sweet diced giardineer peppers.

Negotiating Chicago traffic with his knees, my driver kept alternating bites with exclamations like, “This is unbelievable!”

“I never thought Italian beef on pizza could be this good!”

I was in total agreement -- if a bit nervous about the lack of available hands for turn signals and steering wheels.

We pulled up to our meeting -- alive and well -- at exactly 12:59.

We wiped ourselves down with more napkins, checked the rearview mirror for stray giardineer in our teeth and popped some breath mints.

Who knew that backseat pizza while negotiating the streets of Chicago could be one of life’s best meals?

This traveling life might not be glamorous, but it’s definitely not boring.

Rating: Would Have Bought the Shirt -- If We Had Time.



Vito & Nick's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Power of Advertising



Wall Drug
510 Main St.
Wall, SD



As a general rule, I try to avoid tourist traps.

But sometimes a tourist trap is so iconic it morphs into the obligatory.

Wall Drug is one of those places.

It also happened to be the only place in this town of 766 people to get breakfast that didn’t involve a fast-food drive-through window.

And I was hungry.

Like Kim Kardashian, Wall Drug is famous for being famous.

Unlike Kim Kardashian, Wall Drug has never leaked a sex tape onto the internet. As far as I know.

Wall Drug was founded by Dorothy and Ted Hulstead in 1931.

Their friends and family thought they were nuts to buy a drug store in a tiny town on the wind-swept Plaines of South Dakota.

Dorothy’s father said, “Wall is just about as Godforsaken as you can get.”

But the devoutly Catholic Hulsteads liked the local priest and friendly natives -- and were determined to make a living out here on the edge of the Badlands where cattle outnumber people by many multiples.

Dorothy and Ted quickly caught on to the power of advertising, placing billboards on the highway and offering “free ice water” -- a commodity that probably held more value to 1930s pre-air conditioned travelers than it does today.

The Hulsteads also gave traveling customers free Wall Drug signs and bumper stickers.

During World War II, GIs mailed back pictures of their Wall Drug signs and stickers from bases and battlefields around the world.

America was in on the joke.

To this day, you can find signs, stickers and even paid advertisements for this little drug store in rural South Dakota in the most obscure corners of Planet Earth.

From the London Underground to the Taj Mahal, don’t be surprised if you find billboards advertising that Wall Drug is “Only 10,728 Miles Away!!”

The tradition continues.

Wall Drug customers -- almost entirely tourists on their way to local attractions such as Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore -- still can get their “free ice water”, signs and bumper stickers. And coffee for a nickel.

Wall Drug isn’t so little anymore.

It literally takes up one half of downtown Wall -- a sprawling bazaar of Western knickknacks, tourist clutter, Indian artifacts and Wall Drug t-shirts and shot glasses.

Oh, yeah, you can still purchase a bottle of Bayer aspirin and Pepto-Bismol to cure what ails you from last night’s fun (not that there is any to be had in Wall).

Most interesting to me and my growling stomach was the café and donut factory tucked in the back.

In this part of the western Plains you can see for miles and miles across the grasslands dotted with cattle.

Starring from horizon to horizon at so much beef naturally made me hungry.

So I ordered the steak and eggs.

You know. When in Rome.

Or Wall.

The thin New York strip wouldn’t win any Grade A awards, but it was more than an adequate splurge for breakfast.

Charred just enough to be tasty, thin enough to be tender, Wall Drug’s steak and eggs more than satisfied the cravings that had welled up deep inside me after driving past so many cows in my travels through the grasslands of western South Dakota.

The eggs, toast and fried potatoes weren’t much more than an afterthought.

The bacon I tried on the breakfast sandwich, on the other hand, was top notch.

What certainly weren’t an afterthought were the tempting looking donuts piled up next to the take-out counter.

If Wall Drug is famous for anything other than their “free ice water”, then it’s got to be their donuts made right here in their “Donut Factory” in the back of the store.

You simply can’t come to Wall Drug without trying one -- or three.

These babies are fresh donut perfection.

A fried crunchy exterior gives way to a soft sweet cake inside that just melts in your mouth. Capped off with a generous yet not overwhelming dollop of chocolate frosting, I could eat these donuts all day.

In fact, of all the crap sold at Wall Drug from the useful to the useless, their fresh made donuts alone should spare this place from the label “tourist trap.”

By definition a tourist trap is a place travelers feel obligated to stop and spend their money -- but get little of value in return.

But Wall Drug’s donuts are worth a drive from anywhere -- even the Taj Mahal.

Rating: Bought an Obligatory “Wall Drug Gateway to the Badlands” Shirt.

Wall Drug Store Cafe on Urbanspoon