Friday, August 21, 2009

Roadside Stand, I Love You

I love roadside stands. They are such an authentic part of our culture, and I try to support them as much as possible. When traveling they are a great way to try local treats and seasonal foods. There is nothing like picking up a bag of fresh fruit to munch on as you make your way down a back road.

Growing up in Florida I would drive up and down US 301 to visit with my dad, who lived about 400 miles North of my mom. 301 winds through the center of the state, through the forsaken farm lands of Florida. Over the years I have seen fast food restaurants pop up, which is sad because for decades the only places to stop for snacks along the way, aside from gas stations, were fruit and vegetable stands, or the occasional boiled peanut peddler.

For many years I have wanted to do a short documentary on what should be considered the original fast food joints. I imagine many of the old timers that still sit rocking away behind their wooden tables laden with fresh food have seen many a strange traveler down this stretch of US highway. Stories of mobsters cruising to Miami in the 1950's and hobos fresh off trains during the Depression...many of the family farms that own these stands are well over 100 years old.

Here on Amelia Island we have two roadside fruit and vegetable stands, each with a strong following of local customers. There is one on 14th Street that has been thriving for over 15 years now, and another, the one pictured above, nestled in a gas station parking lot, located just a stones throw away from a mega grocery store. Even though it faces tough competition, every time I frequent this stand there is always at least one other person shopping for food. We even have a man that sells local fresh seafood out of a little shed that once housed a hot dog/snow cone vendor. I have yet to muster the courage to buy seafood roadside, but people do.

Roadside stands are usually a cash only affair. Most are family run operations, and you know your money is going directly back into the local economy by supporting them. They are little monuments to the real food of our grandparents and the generations before them...altars of American authenticity.

Good Life Quest # 8/ Roadside Shopping
Find a roadside stand in your area. If there are none, next time you are on a road trip slip off the highway and take a state road. You can usually find roadside stands there. Stop and pick up something unique, or just something delicious. Take note of the people there, their accents and way of being. Salt of the earth.


Anonymous said...

The roadside stands are what make a trip from Asheville to ATL tolerable...peaches really are better in SC & GA. Another great post, Nanita! Miss you, Claire

Bob Sam said...

If you know your vendor, roadside seafood can be vastly superior to grocery store seafood. The key is how far from the sea the stand is located. Iced shrimp from a reputable vendor is usually as fresh as the time it took to ice it at the dock and drive it to the stand.

In Houston, the guys on the roadside were only 45 minutes from the dock and, if they bought the morning catch and set up that afternoon, which was the usual routine for most, then even with their profit and transportation costs figured in, it was always a pretty good aren't very far from the sea there on Amelia for sure! And quite often the roadside operation is a family connection to the boat...uncle, brother-in-law, etc.

Another thing I always took into account was long has that vendor been in business? Guys selling bad seafood usually aren't around very long.

Anonymous said...

Nan, a few years ago Alton Brown did a little mini-series on roadside dinners and stands. I can't remember what it was called (I'll try to remember), but he rode around the country on a motercycle and stopped at a bunch of place.... It was cool.