The whole point of a road trip, besides getting somewhere, is to experience the road. You can’t take a road trip on a major highway; you’ve gotta get on the lesser byways, the routes and throughways and bypasses. At the very least, you have to get off at an exit you’ve never taken and sample the regional fare.
But sometimes, you don’t have a lot of choices, especially right off of an exit or along a busy route, and the local restaurants tend to seem quite similar, with lots of Tony’s and Toni’s and Spitoni’s and Antony’s Pizzas that bespeak not regionalism but lack-of-originalityism. Perhaps there’s an authentic, regional specialty lurking in there somewhere, but at 55 MPH, it’s hard to tell. So what’s an intrepid road trip grazer to do? Regional fast food is where it’s at . . .
For the inaugural Road Bites review, I’m visiting a chain, Hardee’s, that was once a major player in the metro Washington, DC, area but now counts as a rare breed, at least within an hour of the Beltway. There’s certainly nothing particularly regional about their hamburgers, though they are well regarded for their fried chicken. But I’m not much of a fried chicken person, so, on the expert advice of my culinary companion, we stopped in at the Hardee’s on Route 29 in Charlottesville, Virginia, and picked up chili dogs, Jumbo Chili Dogs, to be precise.
Now this is quintessential road trip food. You just don’t find hot dogs on fast food menus these days, and these were grilled. Grilling should be the only legal way to cook hot dogs. The quality of the dog was sufficient—I’m not expecting locally sourced organic Angus beef here—and it fit just so in the toasted bun.
Likewise, the chili sauce (it would be a stretch to call it chili) matched my expectations for a fast food chili dog. The meat was finely ground, moderately spiced, and modestly portioned; the sauce itself was loose but not watery. It stuck to the dog and the bun, and whatever spilled out could be easily scooped up with the serviceable french fries. Topped off with very finely diced onions, the Jumbo Chili Dog hit the spot. Lucky I got two of them.
I’m not thinking that the Michelin inspectors need to stop by, and I wouldn’t necessarily even recommend that a hungry traveller make a detour, but for a bite on the road that takes one back a few decades, it works.