From Alaska to Nebraska, we hunters love our mom-and-pops!
By Tim H. Martin
Every outdoorsman has a favorite little joint they love to stop in for a hot meal between adventures. Usually, it's a quaint little mom and pop type place you can walk in wearing camo or smelling like fish and nobody raises an eyebrow.
I've come across several great little places like this during my hunting and fishing travels. Here are a couple that come to mind, including my local fave.
Gwin's Lodge - Cooper Landing, Alaska
Gwin's Roadhouse is a cozy log cabin sitting on the side of the Sterling Highway, directly across from the Kenai River in southern Alaska. I first came across it in 2004 while on a fishing trip with my youngest brother, Darryl.
The first morning, we dropped in for breakfast before we started fishing. When I saw the Christmas lights, the rough-hewn walls and smelled beer-battered halibut in the fryer, I said, Mama, I'm home.
And for the next five days, it practically was home. Darryl and I ate at Gwin's again that night, and for breakfast the next day, and several more times that week.
But that first morning, my brother recommended a huge breakfast since we'd be hiking for miles and fighting sockeye and silver salmon on the Russian River all day. No arguments here. I tore into a plate of Gwin's reindeer sausage, Applewood bacon and stack of sourdough pancakes like Tyson into Holyfield's ear.
Gwin's is a home away from home for other fishermen, guides, pilots and moose and bear hunters. I enjoyed meeting people from all over the country while feasting on smoked salmon chowder, steaks, Sockeye Red Ale and slices of carrot cake the size of Mount McKinley. I bought several pieces of cake, froze them and brought them back to Alabama with me.
It gives me the warm fuzzies just thinking about that little place. I can almost close my eyes and smell the essence of wood smoke, the magical kitchen and just a hint of sockeye slime - everything an outdoorsman's food haven should be.
Filley Tavern - Filley, Nebraska
Another favorite dive is The Filley Tavern, in southeastern Nebraska. After a frigid, dark to dark day in the treestand, I remember thawing out to the smell of meat in the fryer and listening to the locals speak of Husker football by the light of a red-glowing neon N.
I will forever remember it as the place I first tried beef tenders. If you don't know what they are, you're not alone. Let's just say the bull calves that contributed to your beef tender basket are mooing an octave or two higher these days.
Rack Magazine editor Mike Handley had never tried fried mountain oysters either, and he bet me a cold beer I wouldn't try one.
I've never been a big beer drinker, but no one should eat his first testicle completely sober. I agreed to buy us a round if he'd spring for the Filley Tavern Beef Tender Basket.
Maybe it was because I was starving, or perhaps because beef tenders are actually quite delicious, but we took a couple of experimental nibbles, washed them down quickly, then wholeheartedly polished off the rest and ordered a second basket.
The Pump House, Notasulga, Alabama
The Pump House is only 10 miles from my home in Auburn, Alabama. It's my favorite local mom and pop joint and the place my friends, family and I drop in for a bite on hunting and fishing trips.
The place is literally a gas station converted into a restaurant. There's an old timey water pump outside, the kind with the hand-pump handle, hence, the name of the restaurant.
They still serve hand-patted double cheeseburgers and hamburger steaks that you just can't find in chain restaurants, and their catfish plate will keep a fellow warm in the treestand for several hours.
I've been taking my son there since he was old enough to carry a fishing pole and hold a BB gun. His eyes always twinkle when the waitress delivers a burger the size of a Frisbee.
One of the regulars is former Auburn head football coach Pat Dye. I usually see him relaxing over a plate of hot fish, quietly talking with friends about bird dogs, fishing and football. Everyone in the community knows him and won't hound him for autographs.
Coach obviously appreciates the small, close atmosphere of The Pump House, as well as a good plate of country cooking. But what's not to love about a dive where a little cow plop on the boots is welcome and the waitress calls you Sugar and Darlin'?
Nothing against Red Lobster or Outback, but give me a family-owned, greasy spoon restaurant any day.
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