Book Reviews, Essays

Cookbook Review: Route 66 Cookbook – Comfort Food From the Mother Road

Route 66 Cookbook, Deluxe Edition: Comfort Food From the Mother Road
by Marian Clark
Copyright 2003 (Originally Published in 1995)
Council Oak Books
272 Pages
The paperback version appears to be out of print, but is available at used book stores and at Amazon. The hardcover version is currently in stock at Amazon.

Marian Clark travelled Route 66 many times to collect the recipes included in this cookbook and it shows, she knows her stuff.   There are several recipes from several restaurants from every state the highway travels through. This cookbook is an ambitious labor of love for the author and a lot of fun for the nostalgia-loving reader as well as the home cook. As Michael Wallis says in the introduction, “Eateries on 66 are as varied as their owners.” And that’s exactly what Marian Clark has curated with this collection.

We begin in Chicago and end in California, just like the highway itself. Recipes from Navy Pier in Chicago to the Santa Monica Pier in California are here. From ethnic foods like Mexican Squash to pure American diner staples like French toast and any one of a dozen or so burgers, they’re all here. And pie. There’s a lot of pie. 2400 miles of food divided by state. As an avid home cook and lover of food,  I can’t think of a better way to experience a place than it’s food and Marian Clark has given us quite a Route 66 experience. I’ve taken road trips on the Mother Road several times, but have not had the pleasure of eating in many of the places along it. I appreciate having these recipes! There are dozens of interesting mini-histories written about each restaurant and the towns they’re in that make this an adventure in food culture.  The restaurants  all have a description with them that includes its relationship to the highway too, like if it’s still there or how it came down if it’s not. Using old postcards to illustrate the book makes it all feel exactly right. Marian Clark is a terrific writer. You can tell she loves her subject and that makes all the difference.

Some recipes are restaurant-sized (i.e. huge) but all have been scaled down for home cooking. I found it interesting to see those big recipes though and how these cooks prepared their food for the mass of visitors every day. For instance, the first ingredient in the Palmer House Hilton French Quarter Seafood Gumbo? 2 quarts of oil.  No worries, a more manageable Gumbo recipe for us home cooks is right next to it but I love that these are included.

I feel right at home and comfortable with these recipes and have had a lot of fun cooking them. All the extra nostalgia and history makes me feel like I’m right there at the restaurant out there on the road. I’ve come across a handful of typos, but I haven’t found one in a recipe yet. In fact, the only negative I have for this book is that the index is horrible. Actually, there are two indexes, one by recipe and one by restaurant. One of the first things that caught my eye in the book was the Banana Cake from the U Drop Inn in Texas. I didn’t write down the page number when I saw it, thinking I’d be able to find it again in the index, and couldn’t remember what restaurant or state it was in. The index wasn’t helpful in finding it by simply looking up “Banana Cake.” (I never did find it in the index until I had the name of the restaurant) I had to go through each page (albeit gladly) to find it again. This time I marked all the recipes I wanted to try first. Problem solved.

Some of the recipes we’ve tried so far:

Black Bean Salad or Salsa

Bean Salad or Salsa, p. xx – from Molly’s Landing, Catossa, Oklahoma

It’s also good as a quesadilla filling, which has turned out to be our favorite way of eating it (with some Monterey Jack cheese). Many of the ingredients in this recipe came from canned vegetables, making it easy to mix together, but I can’t wait to try it with farmer’s market produce. It’s a pleasure to eat. It feels fresh, has a crunchy texture and made more than enough for other uses or leftovers.

U Drop Inn’s Banana Cake

Banana Cake, p. 110 – from the U Drop Inn, Shamrock, Texas

I’ve been eyeing this cake since I first saw this cookbook in our local library a year ago. It screams “traditional diner food”  to me. I finally got to try it last week and I’m happy as can be with it! I know this might sound funny but I love that it’s a sheet cake baked in a 9 x 13 cake pan. I can just see it sitting on my grandparents’ kitchen countertop, with that sliding metal lid on it, waiting for our arrival. Grandpa always had a cake in that thing and this cake lives up to that sweet memory. It’s funny how food can bring up memories you thought were long gone. Anyway, I will probably add another banana to this cake next time, but other than that it’s sheet cake paradise. I can remember hating not enjoying caramel frosting on anything back in the day, but I sure enjoyed this one. We’ll definitely make this cake again. And again. Delicious.

Potato Pancakes

Potato Pancakes, p. 2 – from Polka Sausage and Deli, Chicago

I put Hubby in charge of this one. After all, he is the potato master at our house, and he was up to giving these a go. We both thought they were good, but I have to be honest, I wanted them to be a little crispier. Hubby reminded me that they’re pancakes, and not hash browns, and I accepted that. Sort of. We served ours with apple sauce and homemade rhubarb ketchup (the only way to go for these, in my opinion). I’m sure Hubby will make these again, he really loves them.

Meiki’s Route 66 Fettuccini Alfredo

Fettuccini Alfredo, p. 97 – Meiki’s Route 66 Restaurant, Oklahoma City

We don’t eat much Fettuccini Alfredo around here, but I had to try this because pasta of any kind brings back good memories from road trips. I’m not sure why, but it does and this one lives up to those memories. Once again it was a good eat and so simple to make.

I am loving how the recipes in this book bring back such good memories of road trips we’ve taken, says a lot for them.

The La Fonda French Toast

French Toast, p. 140 – from LaFonda, Santa Fe, New Mexico

It has been years since I’ve had French toast anywhere. Not sure why, because it’s one of my all time favorite things. I had some leftover Apricot Fennel bread that was sort of a bust for other uses, but it was absolutely perfect for French toast. This took just a few minutes to make and it was amazing. Great texture, nice flavor and yeah, it reminded us of a diner breakfast out on the road.

It doesn’t get any better than this!
There are so many recipes left to try, we’ll be cooking from it for years to come. This cookbook is a treasure!