4 reasons to celebrate Drive the Great River Road Month

Friday, August 31, 2018

September is Drive the Great River Road Month, a celebration of America’s greatest drive. The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles from the northwoods of Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

There are many reasons to explore one of the country’s longest and oldest National Scenic Byways, and September is a great time to do so. Here are just a few reasons you should travel the Great River Road this month.

  1. Beautiful scenery. September is the start of fall color season. Drivers on the northern portion of the Great River Road will marvel at the eye-popping views they’ll encounter along the route. Click here to find scenic stops along the Great River Road.
  2. Fall festivals, farmers markets and more. Fall is harvest season, and there’s no shortage of events and attractions highlighting local produce along the route. Click here to find agritourism attractions along the Great River Road.
  3. Museums and historical sites. The story of the Mississippi River is a fascinating one. Learn about the region’s history and culture at more than 70 Interpretive Centers. See descriptions of the Interpretive Centers here
  4. It’s our birthday! The Great River Road is celebrating its 80th year in 2018, and there’s no better time to take a trip to help us celebrate.

(Photo credit: Visit Natchez)

Enjoy the flavors of the Great River Road

Thursday, August 23, 2018

All summer long, we’ve been talking about the Flavors of the Great River Road, from farm-to-table restaurants and wineries with scenic views to classic recipes and can’t-miss dishes.

We’ve given you travelers’ recommendations for the best places to visit when you’re traveling along the Mississippi River. (Be sure to share your own here.)

And we’ve broken down the best flavors of the Great River Road state-by-state. Here’s a look at the top flavors from each state along America’s greatest drive.

Planning a foodie getaway along the Mississippi River? Order your free 10-state Great River Road map or download our Drive the Great River Road app.

Flavors of the Great River Road: Louisiana

Monday, August 13, 2018

It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting or ending your Great River Road trip in Louisiana—the Bayou State will provide you with some of the best food you’ll find along the entire Mississippi River. From shrimp and crawfish to pralines and beignets, there’s enough deliciousness here to make any food fan happy. Here’s a look at just a few of Louisiana’s famous dishes (and some of the best spots to find them):

  • Seafood, Baton Rouge. Louisiana’s capital is a great place to find some classic seafood fresh from the bayou and the Gulf of Mexico, including oysters, crawfish, and shrimp. Popular dining spots include Parrain’s Seafood Restaurant, Acme Oyster House (which has restaurants throughout Louisiana and the Gulf Coast), Roux 61 and Hot Tails (a short drive from Baton Rouge, but it’s operated by the Food Network’s “Cajun Aces” stars Cody & Samantha Carroll). Side trip: Head to Louisiana State University’s Rural Life Museum & Windrush Gardens.jambalaya new orleans
  • Southern fare, St. Francisville. Francisville sits just north of Baton Rouge at a bend in the Mississippi River, and this small town oozes Southern charm. You’ll find great food here, too—stop by The Francis Southern Table & Bar for oysters, gumbo, crawfish etouffee, jambalya and other Louisiana classics. Or, take in the down-home vibe (and enjoy some live music) at the Magnolia Café. Side trip: Pay a visit to the Myrtles Plantation, one of America’s most haunted homes.
  • Cocktails, New Orleans. New Orleans claims it invented the cocktail, and with options this delicious, it’s hard to argue. Time-honored drinks like the Sazerac, brandy milk punch, the Ramos Gin Fizz and the Hurricane were all conceived in the Crescent City, and you’ll find plenty of places that are happy to serve them up. If you’re looking for an iconic New Orleans bar, don’t miss the (revolving!) Carousel Bar & Lounge at the Hotel Monteleone or Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, a James Beard award-winning classic. Side trip: Want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bourbon Street? Head next door to Frenchman Street, which houses a collection of energetic live music venues, quirky shops and (of course) delicious dining.
  • Dessert, New Orleans. New Orleans gets all the fun accolades when it comes to eating and drinking—it’s the home of the cocktail, as well as home to some of the best desserts you’ve ever had. Be sure to sample some beignets and café au lait at Café du Monde. Touristy? Sure—but there’s a reason there’s always a line for these delicious, doughy, sugar-topped pastries. Then, head down to the French Market to pick up some Aunt Sally’s Pralines. Side trip: Travel west out of the Crescent City to discover the marvelous antebellum homes of New Orleans Plantation Country.

Don’t forget to share your favorite flavors of the Great River Road with us. Also, you can enter for a chance to win $500 to spend on a Great River Road food trip!

Flavors of the Great River Road: Illinois

Monday, August 06, 2018

With the longest section of the Great River Road, Illinois offers something for every traveler, whether you’re interested in exploring historical sites or discovering charming small towns along the Mississippi River.

Got an appetite? Illinois’ section of the Great River Road has plenty to fill your menu. Just take a look.

Breakfast

Start your day off right as you travel through Illinois’ Great Rivers Country with breakfast and a cup of coffee at Otto’s Place in Galena. Or, get your caffeine fix at Milltown Coffee in Moline.

Lunch

Grab a meal with a great view of the Mississippi River at The Loading Dock in Grafton. (Fun photo op side trip: Visit Collinsville—just east of St. Louis—to snap a pic of the world’s largest catsup bottle.)

Dinner

You’re in the Midwest, so why not partake in some farm-to-table deliciousness? In Galena, head to One Eleven Main for delectable dishes filled with local flavor. When you’re in Quincy, don’t miss the unique local plates at Thyme Square.

Drinks

You’ll find wineries aplenty along the Great River Road in Illinois. Illinois’ Great Rivers Country offers a great look at the dozens of wineries you can visit between Galena and Cairo. Interested in distilled spirits? Visit Stumpy’s Spirits Distillery in Columbia or Blaum Bros Distilling Co. in Galena.

Dessert

Discover delicious desserts and a true slice of Americana at Lagomarcino’s in Moline, where four generations of the Lagomarcino family have been serving up chocolates, candy and homemade ice cream. Are baked treats more your thing? Visit Kruta Bakery in Collinsville or Nauvoo Mill & Bakery.

(Photos courtesy of the Illinois Office of Tourism)

Flavors the Great River Road: Mississippi

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Mississippi offers something for every traveler. From its music scene to its rich history, its Delta culture to its beautiful magnolias, the state doesn’t disappoint. And when it comes to food? Boy, does Mississippi deliver.

Here are a few spots to explore when you’re traveling along the Great River Road in Mississippi.

Clarksdale: A blues lover’s mecca, Clarksdale is the site of much of the iconic music that came out of the Delta—you’ll find attractions like the Crossroads (the intersection of Highways 49 and 61, where bluesman Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his musical talent) and the Delta Blues Museum. Explore the downtown to discover more unique shops and music venues, including the Bluesberry Café, where you can get a side of live blues with your breakfast, or the famous Ground Zero Blues Club, where you can find great music and another Mississippi delicacy: fried green tomatoes.

Cleveland: Another great stop for music lovers, Cleveland is home to the only other GRAMMY Museum outside of Los Angeles. But if you’re looking for some Southern comfort food, don’t miss Airport Grocery, which serves up generous helpings of tamales, crawfish, BBQ and more in a restaurant adorned with classic signage and curios.

Vicksburg: In Mississippi, fried is always better. This rule goes for just about anything including pickles, okra, and seafood. One of Mississippi’s unique contributions to the culinary world is its twist on the po’ boy sandwich. Originating from Louisiana, the po’ boy usually comes stuffed with roast beef. But in Mississippi, it’s decked with fried shrimp, crawfish, crab and other Gulf specialties. Try it at Rusty’s Riverfront Grill in Vicksburg.

Natchez: Get a scenic view of the Mississippi River or enjoy a dinner on the site of beautiful antebellum homes in the historic city of Natchez, which was founded more than 300 years ago. Historic properties like Dunleith and Stanton Hall have restaurants on site, and you can discover scenic dining at The Pilot House or 10 South Rooftop Bar & Grill.

Southern cooking is famous for a reason. Visit Mississippi, and you’ll find out why.

(Fried catfish photo courtesy of Visit Mississippi)

Flavors of the Great River Road: Missouri

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

mark twain brewery hannibal missouriExploring the Great River Road in Missouri will take you alongside scenic bluffs, through historic towns and into the bustling metropolis of St. Louis. It’s enough to make anyone hungry—here are some places to find some uniquely Missouri food in the Gateway City and beyond.

Hot Salami Sandwich

During the 20th century, St. Louis’s Italian neighborhood, The Hill, was a go-to for anyone looking for authentic cuisine d’Italia. Gioia’s Deli, one of the few remaining odes to The Hill’s glory days, opened its doors in 1918 and became famous for the hot salami sandwich. It’s no wonder this tried-and-true favorite has been named best sandwich in the city for years, as it’s served on a delicious garlic cheese bread and finished off with a spicy giardiniera. Get a taste of St. Louis’ cultural history and the famous hot salami sandwich during your visit and you’ll be a Gioia’s fan for life.

Gooey Butter Cake

It’s safe to say gooey butter cake is one of history’s tastiest mistakes. In the 1930s, a new employee at a St. Louis bakery accidentally swapped proportions of flour and butter in a cake recipe, and gooey butter cake was the result. Surprisingly, the dessert became a local favorite and bakeries around the city began mimicking the recipe. Try it at Park Avenue Coffee, a local chain that offers over 70 flavors of gooey butter cake.

St. Louis-style pizzast louis style pizza

A trip to St. Louis requires trying the city’s rendition of pizza. St. Louis-style pizza is in a league of its own with a dense, cracker-like crust and a sweet sauce inspired by the area’s Sicilian immigrants. What really makes it unique is Provel cheese, a trademark combination of provolone, Swiss and white cheddar that is difficult to find anywhere outside St. Louis. Head to Imo’s for one of the best renditions of this quirky twist on a universally loved dish.

Other destinations

If you’re headed south on Missouri’s Great River Road, don’t miss the dining options in the charming towns of Ste. Genevieve (which also has several wineries nearby) and Cape Girardeau. Headed north, you can find tasty restaurants, breweries and more in Hannibal, the boyhood home of Mark Twain.

Whether St. Louis is the only destination on your itinerary, or you’re passing through on a trek down the Mississippi, the city is home to culinary quirks and combinations of culture that are worth making a stop.

 

 

 

 

 

Flavors of the Great River Road: Arkansas

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Arkansas’ Delta Byways region is home to outstanding Southern flavors, from catfish to tamales to award-winning barbecue. Plus, the state’s fertile farmlands are home to soybeans, rice and more. Here’s a quick look at some of the best tastes to seek out in your trip through the Natural State.

Barbecue. You might not expect to find a James Beard award-winning restaurant in the Arkansas Delta, but a visit to Jones’ Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna will show you what the fuss is all about. The Jones family has been serving locals—and since their Beard Award win, people from all over the world—for more than 100 years. Stop by this nondescript diner for some great food and a true taste of the South.

Tamales. Like its neighbor Mississippi to the east, Arkansas celebrates the mixing of many cultures in its cuisine. Take the tamale, which can be found at restaurants big and small throughout the Delta. A blink-and-you’ll-miss it spot to check out in Lake Village is Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales, which is famous for its coffee can-packed tamales (a dozen in each that you can take home).

Delta Cultural Center. Learn about the history and heritage of the Arkansas Delta at this unique museum in Helena. Explore exhibits that examine the history of the area, starting with early settlements on rich croplands. Speaking of food, the Delta Cultural Center has been the home of the King Biscuit Radio Show—the longest-running daily blues radio show in the United States—since 1990. Stop by from 12:15 to 12:45pm Monday through Friday to listen to “Sunshine” Sonny Payne broadcast live.

Lake Chicot State Park. Want to catch your own meal? Lake Chicot is an angling haven, whether you’re going after catfish or crappie and bass.

(Photos courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism)

Flavors of the Great River Road: Kentucky

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Kentucky and its neighboring Southern states often get lumped together in the food category. Southern cuisine, however, is a blanket term that covers a diversely wide range of dishes that are nuanced in flavor, preparation and history. The Kentucky food scene is proof that Southern cooking is not only delicious, but downright unexpected, with something new around every corner. Here’s a look at some of the culinary specialties you can find along the Kentucky Great River Road.

Barbecue

You can’t go to the Bluegrass State without digging into some famous Kentucky barbecue. From beef brisket to dry-rubbed ribs to the more unique mutton barbecue you’ll find along the Ohio River in north-central Kentucky, there’s something for every barbecue-loving palate. When you’re traveling along the Kentucky Great River Road, don’t miss Kentucky Hillbilly BBQ in Wickliffe and Bardwell.

Burgoo

Burgoo is a Kentucky specialty. The dish is a hodgepodge of various meats, vegetables and spices, but it’s mostly a fun opportunity for ambitious chefs to put their skills to the test. Here’s a look at a few burgoo recipes you can try on your own.

Bourbon

A trip to Kentucky is incomplete without sampling some delicious bourbon. While most of the distilleries are concentrated in the center of the state, you can find products from Kentucky makers big and small (like those distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the Kentucky Craft Bourbon Trail) throughout the state, including along the Great River Road.

But Kentucky’s expertise in spirits extends beyond bourbon. To get a better taste, check out The Moonshine Company in Paducah, just a short drive off the Kentucky Great River Road. This distillery is operated by the descendants of Uncle Mosey, whose white whiskey moonshine recipe was one of Al Capone’s favorites during the Prohibition Era.

Hot brown

This famous sandwich, invented at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, is a classic Kentucky dish that can be found throughout the state. An open-faced sandwich that consists of turkey, bacon, tomatoes and a generous helping of cheese, the Hot Brown should be on your must-eat list in Kentucky. Read more about the origin of this sandwich and find a recipe from its namesake hotel here.

Sides

There’s no shortage of scrumptious sides to complete your plate in Kentucky. With recipes like Silver Queen sweet corn and Kentucky Wonder green beans, you’ll want a second helping of vegetables. Don’t forget to order a bowl of white beans and corn bread. If you want to try something truly unique to Kentucky, ask for beaten biscuits. Making these rolls requires antique cookware and tedious mixing methods, but the result is unforgettable.

Kentucky is home to culinary experimentation, practice and perfection. From its barbeque to its burgoo and, of course, its bourbon, the Bluegrass State has plenty to offer to the foodie in every traveler.

Flavors of the Great River Road: Iowa

Saturday, June 30, 2018

You might associate Iowa with corn fields and cows, and the state sure does have a lot of those. But there’s a lot more to Iowa, including countless local flavors that extend far beyond the realms of corn and dairy. We put together a list of stops along the Mississippi that show just how diverse and delicious the flavors of Iowa are.

North

Places to eat:

Schera’s (Elkader)

Schera’s offers an array of Mediterranean favorites and Iowan classics. The Mediterranean dishes pay homage to the town’s namesake, Algerian leader Emir Adb El Kader. At Schera’s you can get your falafel with a side of fried pickles. Now that’s the best of both worlds.

The Wild Carrot (Waverly)

The upbeat yet cozy atmosphere of The Wild Carrot makes it the perfect place to stop for breakfast or lunch. The menu features American favorites including burgers, cheesesteaks and the dish that made the restaurant famous, carrot cake.

Flatted Fifth Blues & BBQ (Bellevue)

Who says Iowans can’t do spicy? If you can’t wait to get down South, Flatted Fifth has you covered. This unique spot offers Southern-inspired dishes like jambalaya, pulled pork and gumbo to keep you on the edge of your seat while you tap your foot to live music.

Things to do:

Osborne Welcome Center (Elkader)

The Osborne Welcome Center is the perfect place to stretch your legs after a trip in the car. Peruse the Native Wildlife Exhibit and learn about Iowa’s many species of plants and animals. Then, take a walk down one of the scenic nature trails for a breath of fresh air before stopping in the gift shop for a souvenir to remember your adventure. Osborne Park is located 5 miles south of Elkader on Highway 13.

Froelich 1890s Village Museum (McGregor)

Step back in time with a tour through this historic gem. See turn-of-the-century inventions, a country store and an old schoolhouse as they were over a century ago. Tours available daily (except Tuesdays and Wednesdays). Find hours and ticket information here.

South

Places to eat:

Atlas Steak & Smokehouse (Fort Madison)

Atlas Steak & Smokehouse wrote the book on farm-to-table dining. This steakhouse sources its beef from a farm just six miles from its front door. It doesn’t get fresher than that! Located across the street from Riverview Park and Old Fort Madison, Atlas is the perfect place to wine and dine before a sunset walk along the Mississippi. See the menu here.

Wide River Winery (Clinton)

Enjoy live music on the water’s edge. Take in the scenery as you experience wine made on the Mississippi. Check out their website to get info on events and offers. You won’t want to miss their seasonal specials. While you’re there, get a behind-the-scenes look at the facility and learn the art of wine-making.

Rastrelli’s Italian Restaurant (Clinton)

This Italian bistro is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. In fact, people love it so much that Rastrelli’s offers overnight delivery of its pizzas anywhere in the United States. That means you can relive your trip with a taste of one of Iowa’s best Italian restaurants long after your vacation ends. View menu options and learn more about Rastrelli’s on their website.

Things to do:

Blue Hyll Dairy (Clinton)

This dairy farm is home to 1,200 cows and goes through 75 tons of feed every day to keep the animals fed and happy. The family-owned facility has been providing dairy products to restaurants and grocers all over the area for over 50 years, and they are proud to welcome visitors. Check their Facebook page for hours and plan your visit to see the farm in action.

The Sawmill Museum (Clinton)

This one-of-a-kind interpretive center pays tribute to the United States’ lumber industry and emphasizes the pivotal role Clinton played in developing the Midwest. The museum features vintage sawmill equipment and, in July, will open a virtual reality lograft simulator for visitors to experience the Mississippi the way loggers did in the 1800s. Visit their website for hours and ticket information.

 

Flavors of the Great River Road: Tennessee

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Savor the flavors of the South when you explore the Great River Road through Tennessee. From barbecue to bananas—yes, bananas—and everything in between, there’s plenty to whet your appetite.

When it comes to cuisine along Tennessee’s Great River Road, the undisputed king has got to be Memphis. (All apologies to Memphis’ other king, Mr. Presley.) Memphis is a city that boasts history, culture and personality in a bundle that can’t be beat. It has everything to offer from stellar live music venues to can’t-miss historical spots. Among these one-of-a-kind traits are the flavors of Memphis—especially barbecue. Locals have been perfecting their craft for centuries here, making a science out of sweet-and-spicy combos that you can now find in a variety of Memphis-born dishes.

If you’re looking for a twist on some classic barbecue, head over to Central BBQ for their signature BBQ nachos. That’s right—these chips are loaded with your choice of chicken, beef or turkey and topped with barbecue sauce, assorted cheeses, jalapenos and a dusting of BBQ Shake. This favorite has been featured on several foodie blogs and has the local seal of approval.

A critic’s favorite is the dry-rub ribs at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, a diner located across the street from the famous Peabody Hotel. The cooks here have perfected the Memphis tradition of using dry rub instead of barbecue sauce for ribs you’ve only tasted in your dreams.

A food tour through Tennessee wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the sweeter side of the menu. You might be familiar with Elvis Presley’s favorite lunch, a peanut butter and banana sandwich. But did you know that Tennessee actually has a connection to the banana industry? The Kentucky-Tennessee border cities of Fulton and South Fulton were once home to the only facility for distributing bananas to the northern states, so it became known as “The Banana Capital of the World.” Locals are so proud of their role in bringing bananas to the United States that they still celebrate the Annual Banana Festival every September.

If you’re looking to catch a few flavors of your own, head westward from South Fulton to Reelfoot Lake. It’s home to Reelfoot Lake State Park, a nationally renowned fishing destination for anglers going after crappie and bluegill. Plus, Reelfoot Lake—the only natural lake in Tennessee—welcomes visitors at lodging properties like Blue Bank Resort, which offers delicious cuisine at its Fishhouse Restaurant.

Between barbeque and biscuits, sweet teas and sugary treats, Tennnessee is the perfect place for a food tour you won’t forget. Add these stops to your trip and your taste buds will thank you all the way home.

(Photos: Charles Vergos Rendezvous/Facebook)