Friday, March 24, 2006

Andersen's Pea-ple Pleasin' Soup

It's usually the intrepid adventurer's wont to avoid the tourist traps, but in some cases, the tourist traps are a great reminiscence of childhood roadtrip wackiness. Remember those stops you made in the restaurants that had the big gift shop crammed full of cheap toys and novelties (which you begged for), figurines, peanut brittle, and the local "homeade" jam? And no, I don't mean the effin' Cracker Barrel, which is to these places as Wal-Mart is to the local specialty shop. I mean places that had been there since the golden age of the American Road Trip in the mid-fifties, luring weary drivers and their cranky kids in for eggs, bacon, and marble fudge. These places are a dying breed, losing their places to chain joints and Tiger Marts, or just rotting in the desert sun.

I, personally, love when I find one that's still going strong, and Andersen's is a cheesy roadside stop lover's dream. Not only do they have the requisite gift shop, but they have the kraziest specialty-of-the-house I've ever seen.
Homeade Pea Soup.

There's the all-you-can-eat Pea Soup, complete with toppings and cheese onion bread, or the Pea Soup and Sandwich, or the Pea Soup and Salad combo. I mean, they have all the other stuff, too, but c'mon, you know you want some.

Andersens mascots

Any tourist restaurant worth it's table salt simply must have its mascots. Andersen's spokes-peas are Hap-Pea and Pea-Wee, usually depicted laboring over the task of splitting the main ingredient. They're on the walls, in the gift shop as salt-and-pepper shakers (must...resist...) and, most alarmingly, awaiting your last spoon stroke on the bottom of your bowl.

As the waiter, a nice-looking young guy, set before me my platter of green goodness, I couldn't help but ask him: "Do you get sick of this color?" The look of relief that at last he was able to admit it was priceless. "Oh, God, yeah," he said. He never charged me for my extra plate of Pea Soup Toppin's...

I overheard two tables ask their servers what the other soup of the day was. WTF? Is it just that you've already had your life's portion of nummy pea-ple pleasin' soup, or what? You're one of those people who go to a Mexican restaurant and order off the 'Gringo' menu, aintcha?

The soup is pretty straightforward, and it tastes exactly like it looks. Perhaps a hint of smoky ham? Andersen's has been making this soup, most likely the same way, for over eighty years, so it's a comfort food. Once you dump all the toppin's in, it's pretty good eatin'.

Long live roadside cheese! My advice to those who, like me, really dig this kind of Americana: follow the elderly. Like moths to a flame, they'll take you to the hotspots.


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