This Wednesday’s great road-trip food comes from Luther, Oklahoma (pop. 1,221)
The drive from the outskirts of Oklahoma City to Joplin, Missouri covers a stretch of around 200 miles. You can take the turnpikes and interstates and do that trip – legally, at least – in around three hours.
Under sunshine and blue skies on this day in May 2018, I decided to take 10 hours instead. That relaxed drive would leave me plenty of freedom to explore unmarked stretches of the old Route 66, revisit some familiar spots, and maybe find some surprises.
Oklahoma has some of my favorite stretches of old 66, such as the one shown above. Much of the early route comprised two narrow lanes paved with Portland cement. Drive long enough and you lose track not only of where you are, but when you are. Time doesn’t stop as much as it disappears entirely. I could have encountered a Tesla Model S or a Ford Model A coming from the other direction that day, and each would have seemed right at home.
The journey that day began with a stop at Pop's Soda Ranch in Arcadia to buy a couple six packs of cane-sugar soda in the flavors you normally can’t find at the local grocery store: lime, peach, dark cherry, and various exotic root beers. The next stop was the town of Luther, where I made a right turn to explore. A few minutes later, I learned that the “lose track not only of where you are, but whenyou are” maxim doesn’t just apply to the feeling when you are cruising the old Mother Road with the windows down, the playlist cranked up, and no one else in sight.
Sometimes, it applies to breakfast too.
When I spotted 116 Farmstead Market & Table, I did a double-take. At first, the restaurant seemed totally out of place amidst the other small store fronts on its Main Street block. Then the hypnotizing combination of the mural, the sandwich board, and the splashes of color from the flowers overwhelmed me.
“Come on in,” it lured, and I had no choice but to follow.
Welcome to the “Dawn Zone”
To paraphrase Doc Brown from the Back to the Future movies, 116 Farmstead lies at an unusual juncture along the space-time continuum. But there is no disorientation. The place makes sense effortlessly. Let’s call it the “Dawn Zone”, the flipside of “Twilight Zone”.
The atmosphere of the dining room epitomizes hand-made and handicraft to such an extent that their own website indirectly describes it as Luddite, such a rare use of the term so that it actually has a powerfully positive connotation in our smartphone-driven world. The atmosphere unplugs you.
The team at 116 Farmstead broadens the meaning of “eat local” because they source almost everything locally. The resulting menu eliminates the need to decide between healthy food and comfort food. You can get both in the same dish. I finally decided to order Smash Toast, which is crushed avocado with bacon crumbles on a slab of bread. It turned out to be one of my favorite "road trip" breakfasts in all of 2018.
To this day, that was the only time I have ever had avocado toast. The juxtaposition alone made it worth trying: a 21st century indulgence in a time capsule back to the early 20th century. If you had asked me two hours earlier what I would end up eating for breakfast that day, I seriously doubt the words “avocado toast” would have crossed my lips, even if prompted. But in this wonderfully unexpected treasure of a “gathering place” it made perfect sense to lose myself in this wonderfully unexpected delight. The portion size and the mix of flavors put Smash Toast in the category of comfort food, but it was also very refreshing and healthy, thus warding off the food coma that would have kept me in the restaurant all day. (Not that I would have complained!)
To prepare this story, I looked at 116 Farmstead’s current website. It made me wonder two things. First, when will scent and taste join touch, sight, and sound as senses we can enjoy online? Second, when will my wish for a secret superpower (it’s teleportation, by the way) be granted? If I could teleport safely, I think I’d eat at 116 Farmstead once a week. Maybe more.
Frank Luby has road-tripped for over 25,000 miles in the United States. He keeps going despite all those miles, because he knows he has still only scratched the surface of what this country has to offer.