Summertime, as all the foodie publications remind us, is the season of fresh produce from the farmer's market, of beers in the hot sun at the ballpark on a rare day off, of chilled pasta salads, of uncomplicated wines served alongside grilled meats. A great time to be hungry and thirsty, especially if you subscribe to the mantra that the best food is often prepared simply, with the freshest ingredients.
But summer is also the season of road trips, which bring to mind another kind of food entirely. Growing up in Wisconsin, once in a while a long drive might be punctuated by the discovery of some idiosyncratic local gem while passing through AnyTown USA, or we might find ourselves on a side road and stop at a farm stand. But more often we stayed on the Interstate, where the bologna sandwich at the wayside was far more likely.
On a good day we'd stop for dessert at Howard Johnson's. In more recent years it could be Country Kitchen, Applebee's, Cracker Barrel, Pizza Hut, or just about any other diner or franchise concept with a laminated menu. And now that there's a 1-year old asleep in the back seat, the drive-through under the golden arches is hard to pass up. Burgers, McNuggets, BLT's, or a breakfast skillet at midnight. It's all par for the course when you're on the road.
While not exactly oozing in culinary merit, local flavor, or much of anything else worth bragging about, this style of road food, despite the foodie revival of the last few decades, is still largely the food of Americana. And while nowadays I only eat it on road trips, I still like it. With nothing but highway for hours ahead, any distraction is hard to resist, so I pile on the french fries, chips, and pork rinds. If I can buy it at a truck stop, I'll eat it. There's something about grease that begets more grease; I keep eating knowing how nasty I'll feel, and cut the inevitable drowsiness with yet more coffee. This binge is part of the appeal; even writing about it now brings on bizarre cravings.
And then there's coffee and doughnuts. I'm not talking latté or mocha, I'm not even talking Krispy Kreme; I'm talking the classic buttermilk from Dunkin Donuts, with a big cup of American-style drip coffee on the side. The original breakfast of champions, the combination that made this country into the over-zealous band of workaholics we are. Not a beverage to linger over, American-style road coffee is meant to be glugged down like gasoline. When paired with a wad of sweet, ultra-rich, deep-fried dough, there is nothing finer. Technically the buttermilk barely even qualifies as a doughnut; without hole, hollow center, or much in the way of leavening, it has all the elegance as a fallen soufflé. It is one of my favorite foods.
My wife doesn't understand my love for the buttermilk doughnut, maybe because she prefers tea over coffee. The foodie in me would argue the coffee is crucial, since it cuts through the sweetness, cleanses the palette for the next bite, and gives a nice caffiene buzz at the same time. But the truth is I'd eat the buttermilk even if I didn't have coffee. Milk is an adequate substitute. Tea and doughnuts? Forget it.