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Midpoint and an Oasis

This Wednesday’s great road-trip food comes from Adrian, Texas (pop. 120)

One lonely tumbleweed bounced across my path as I squinted into the distance. That was the only motion of any kind I saw for the first 10 miles driving east out of San Jon, New Mexico on the road shown in the picture below.

A few miles later, a large black SUV suddenly emerged out of a cloud of dust on the horizon, heading toward me at an uncomfortably steady pace. In hindsight I’m fortunate that I had not seen any Breaking Bad episodes at that time, because it would have conjured up images of … well, let’s not go there.

The oncoming vehicle slowed to a halt near mine. I pulled up alongside, and a gentleman with a friendly smile motioned for me to roll down my window.

“Good morning!” he shouted.

“Good morning!” echoed the lady sitting next to him, before I could offer a greeting of my own.

“Beautiful day,” the gentleman added, revealing a distinct British accent. “We’re driving the whole of Route 66 for our 25th wedding anniversary. That’s our present to ourselves.”

I congratulated them, and we briefly discussed what each of us had seen so far that morning. Then they resumed their journey toward Los Angeles, and I continued eastward along that desolate section of dirt road that ends in the border ghost town of Glenrio, a place that now counts far more rattlesnakes in town than residents.

Glenrio was a vibrant stop along Route 66 before Interstate 40 bypassed it and ultimately left the town abandoned. If you are hungry for a chance to take pictures and to imagine why towns like Glenrio once mattered, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to stop there. The picture below is one of many I took that day.

But if you are hungry for food, your best bet is to drive about 25 miles further east into Texas. That’s where I pulled up to a café and parked in the midst of several cars and motorcycles. When I walked inside, the din sounded more like a lounge at a small European airport than a café in the sun-soaked Texas Panhandle. A group of three leather-clad men at one table were speaking a melodic European language that turned out to be Danish. At another table sat a small group of young people speaking over each other in French, while a more reserved group of Czechs dined at a third table.

That’s a typical day to the Midpoint Café in the tiny town of Adrian, Texas.

This oasis welcomes Route 66 explorers and Interstate 40 truckers and travelers with heaping portions of atmosphere, history, and great diner food in a small setting that recalls the pre-Interstate days of the 1950’s. Every year it draws visitors from over 80 countries.

The name derives from the café’s location. It lies 1,139 miles from Los Angeles and 1,139 miles from Chicago, measured in old Route 66 miles and not contemporary Interstate highway miles. But its namesake location is by far not the only appeal. The original restaurant opened in 1928, making it one of the oldest continuously operating dining spots on all of Route 66. The café enjoys a reputation for its burgers, but on this day I opted for a grilled ham-and-cheese perfectly prepared with a crispy outside and juicy melt-in-your-mouth inside. If personal health and weight weren’t a consideration, I could have eaten a gallon of their potato salad, but settled for the small portion in the basket.

What I love about places like the Midpoint Café is that it is impossible to soak in everything in one visit. That puts it in the “must-stop-at-least-twice” category. The café also has a reputation for exceptionally good homemade pies, which I intend to try the next time through. Another attraction is the vintage jukebox that I would have sampled if the café had had fewer guests that day.

In 2006 the Midpoint Café earned a place in Hollywood history. A few years earlier, a team of location scouts from Pixar parked in that same parking lot and fell in love with the location and especially with its hospitality and service. You might wonder why Pixar needs location scouts when it makes animated films. The movie “Cars” answered that question. The Midpoint Café served as the inspiration for Flo's V8 Cafe in the movie’s tiny, bypassed Route 66 town of Radiator Springs.

The Café has changed ownership a couple of times since the release of the “Cars” movie, but the traditions carry on. I can’t wait to stop there again.

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.

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