And the Winners Are…

Two things become crucial when driving cross-country: rest areas and food.
In the rest areas department, some states deserve grateful and appreciative applause, while some should check their neighbors out to improve their status.
Starting from worse to best, I’m sorry to say that the west, which I love, sucks. California, I love you the most, but excuse my French if I say that you are in the toilets when it comes to public restrooms. Mr. Brown, I voted for you, but you should travel more often and see the sorry state of California’s rest areas along our bumpy and potholed highways.
Nevada isn’t better, but they have an excuse. Do they pay taxes?
Arizona has simply closed the rest areas even in the most touristic places, so the police, I suppose, have more funding to take care of the undocumented immigrants.
Oklahoma and Virginia are tied, with a slight advantage for Virginia, only because the rest areas are closer to each other. But I must say that one specific rest area before Oklahoma City was offering coffee. Yes, California, coffee!
Virginia’s rest areas from the Tennessee border to Charlottesville are the Ritz in the category. And for the cherry on top, they have shady grassy areas with tables and benches, pet runs, and spacious and pristine bathrooms.
Massachusetts and Maine, you are doing a great job. Your rest areas are plentiful, well paced, and your restrooms are spotless.
No question about it, the eastern part of the country is a winner for cross- country travelers when nature calls for a stop.
In the food department, I ate sandwiches and salads from gas stations’ deli markets or from Starbucks. No winner in this category.
But dinner is a reward after a long day. Three restaurants made my night.
The Mesquite Chops on Union Street in Memphis is worth the detour. The food is a great mix of traditional dishes with a twist. For example the blueberry crème brulee, which wasn’t overly sweet like some tend to be and also perfectly sized. The duck and the steak were so perfectly cooked that I wondered why they gave us sharp knives. The waitress was friendly yet professional. The entire staff actually acknowledged the customers with a nod. It’s a great downtown location when in Memphis. 
The Ivy Inn in Charlottesville, tucked only a couple of miles away from the University of Virginia, and yet secluded enough for a romantic dinner is a gem.
A brick paved path leads to the front door of the small restaurant, which is actually a former house. From the appetizer to the dessert, this place is a real feast for the senses. No specials since the menu changes everyday. The chef uses seasonal and organic product as much as possible. Local definitely. The snap peas were the best I had since a long time. The crab cake, the trout and pork chops we ordered were perfectly presented and cooked. The profiteroles with a cappuccino filling made me forget the French profiteroles.  Service was more professional than friendly, but the décor and food are hard to beat.

Alta on Church Street in Lenox is ranked as the best restaurant in town. Tanglewood festival hadn’t yet started; the small town was sleepy, but the porch and inside rooms were bursting with action.
This place has a plus. One of the owners is French. It’s always a pleasure to speak my native language with someone who has also left France for the American adventure.
Alta and the Ivy Inn share a common point. Both serve foie gras, which will be soon banned from California. No offense to the geese and the protectors of the geese, but a sliver of foie gras is hard to top. Unlike the Ivy Inn, Alta serves foie gras from the Périgord where most foie gras is made in France. “It’s shipped overnight,” said the French owner. 
I had the special, the cod fillet. The seasonal vegetables couldn’t compete with the Virginia’s snap peas.
The Grand Marnier flavored crème brulee was a good shot, but the blueberry from the Mesquite definitely better.
Our waitress was ebullient and efficient. It was a warm day for Lenox and I admire people who work in long sleeve and pants when it’s still in the eighties at 9:00 p.m.
Tonight I will be reaching my Maine cottage where I’ll prepare food again. After a week on the road, home food holds the promise of simplicity, and I’m looking forward to a break.
For a night, at least. 
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