The frustrating year that has been “2020” has relegated most of my fixed-line fishing to local waters. While I enjoy messing around in Northeast Florida’s ponds (and sometimes somewhat saltier bodies) with my tenkara rods, in order to get a needed coldwater fix I head to the mountains. Which in the past has meant extended travel by car or plane, if not monthly, pretty darn close to it.
But the activity of fishing is not the “tenkara flavor” the title of this article refers to.
Staying at home has not only had a negative impact on my tenkara, but it’s also curtailed the annual pilgrimages to the eateries in my fishing destinations. The kind of places you stop at to grab a quick bite after re-fueling off the interstate… or perhaps friendly places you’ve “found” over the years at your destination locales known for good food and cold beverages. Camp food can be great after a long, hard day of fishing, but sometimes nothing beats the comfort of a nice greasy spoon.
While I’m hoping 2021 opens up a bit more fishing travel opportunity, until then, here is a buffet of some of the tastiest places in which I’ve traveled to fish tenkara… Now these favorites of mine might not all be highly rated by critics, and a few are certainly tourist traps, I can’t wait to get back to each and every one soon.
Tenkara flavor, boy how I miss it.
The Driftless Area, Wisconsin
Every year at the Midwest Tenkara Fest, there was a little “night before” get together at Legacy Grill & Pub in Coon Valley. While Coon Valley’s main street doesn’t have a ton of dining options, Legacy Grill certainly holds it’s own against any small town eatery. The Bleu Cheese burger comes highly recommended from this guy (make sure to ask them to add bacon). Plus, every meal tastes better with a cold Spotted Cow.
Two honorable mentions: Borgen’s Cafe (Westby) – outstanding homestyle breakfast/lunch joint with amazing desserts … or if you need to go the “chain” route, you gotta go to Culver’s (multiple locations).
I-75 North (En Route to North Georgia)
It’s a long haul from Florida to the North Georgia mountains. If I leave my house with a full tank of gas, undoubtedly the gas light always comes on once I hit Perry, Georgia. While there’s a Waffle House and other more recognizable chains immediately off the exit, I regularly drive past the first few intersections and hit up Georgia Bob’s BBQ. I think it’s a local chain, but it’s clearly operated like a family business. No frills, super friendly, counter service kinda place where all the food comes out quick and on Styrofoam plates and cups. For a tasty, no-frills bite, I’ll take Georgia Bob’s over Burger King, Captain D’s, or even the Shane’s Rib Shack across the street any day of the week!
Dahlonega is a what you’d call a “cute” little town. It’s actually quite touristy. I’ve been known to stay there (or nearby Dawsonville) as sort of a “base camp” when fishing in the mountains. Shenanigan’s Irish Pub is one of the main restaurants in the historic downtown, and is always packed with people creating a lively atmosphere. Rolling solo most of the time, I just belly up to the bar and start a tab. It’s scarily easy to kill 3 or so hours at that bar tossing back cold pints. The food seems pretty good too, although admittedly, I’ve never gotten anything more substantial than apps or fish & chips.
Western North Carolina
Whenever you type “BBQ near me” into Google when you’re in North Carolina, it’s hard to go wrong. A few years ago I grabbed a room at an Econolodge type of place off the interstate on a spur of the moment trip to the Smokies and there really weren’t many eating options in the town I was in that interested me.
One Google search and highway exit away, I found myself at Haywood Smokehouse in Waynesville and I might argue it’s some of the best food I’ve ever had. Sure, it’s more of a sit down type of place than fast food, but it’s far from pretentious. The ribs were great and the sides even better. And when in North Carolina, the sweet tea is a no brainer to wash it all down. Not gonna lie, I’ve been thinking about that tasty plate of food ever since it was that good…
I-95 South (Heading back to Florida)
Why go to McDonald’s when you can go to Skynyrd’s?!? For real, I stop there on the way home from fishing trips, just because it is what it is. Drawn in like a trout to caddis by an over the top highway billboard ad, it’s basically a somewhat family-friendly, over-sized biker bar right off one of the exits in South Carolina. Now I’m not a biker, but they do have a lot of TVs, beer specials, and bar food. I think it’s one of those places you can still smoke and eat at. If it’s not, it certainly gives off that vibe. It’s dimly lit, the clientele is on the older side, and it’s awesome. I usually get some sort of burger and onion rings and just people watch. Bonus, if you do happen to go, try to go on a day when there’s NASCAR or football games going on.
A few years back I went cross-country to the Tenkara Bug Out up in Oregon. I stayed at this rad (and somewhat shady) wolf-themed motel and the Stewart’s 58 Drive-In was right across the street. Let’s not kid ourselves, Stewart’s is a bit of a tourist trap. Seems as if any outdoorsy person that travels through Oakridge stops there, usually after a long day of mountain biking, trail running, or in my case, fishing. In addition to food, it’s also a hybrid ice cream and coffee stop, so there are always crowds.
Don’t get me wrong, the food is excellent, I’d definitely go there again… heck, I want to go there again, just know that if you go when it’s busy, it might take a while to get that burger, fries, and shake. Like easily 45 minutes long. That said, it’s definitely worth it and a HUGE step above the Dairy Queen down the street.
Salt Lake City, Utah
I didn’t really seek out any interesting places the last time I was in Salt Lake City (which was unbelievably like 8 years ago at the 2012 Tenkara Summit). Somebody told me there was this place called Crown Burgers which was known for its burgers with pastrami on them, so I had to give it a try. The Crown Burgers location I went in looked like something from the 1970s (I can’t even describe the decor, or menu for that matter – like half burgers, half Greek food), but the pastrami and Thousand Island dressing topped burger was really quite excellent.
Was it the best burger I’ve ever had? Probably not. But it definitely unique enough to really enjoy and want to try again the next time I pass through. (That is if I’m not enjoying a BLT at Angie’s in Logan, Utah… but that wasn’t on a fishing trip, so that doesn’t count for this article’s purposes).
People probably think I go to the Tenkara USA Summits in Colorado to see old friends, meet new ones, learn something from the featured speakers, or fish in some of the most tenkara-perfect waters in the country. Those people would be wrong. The dirty secret is that I go for the food.
Okay, while that was a bit of a joke, it doesn’t discount the fact that my favorite (and surprisingly causal) eatery possibly anywhere is Rincon Argentino in Boulder. Definitely saved the best for last here, because when I’m in town, I eat there every single day. Often for dinner, sometimes lunch too if I’m not out fishing. The à la carte empanadas are simply amazing. They’re cooked in a wood(?) fire oven (not deep fried) and are small enough to mix and match 2 or 3 of them for a nice meal.
I always get the #12 Patagonia (which is a garlic/cherry tomato/Parmesan cheese) empanada, and then surround it with whatever else I’m in the mood for, be it chicken, beef, pork, or other combinations. It really doesn’t matter, you can’t go wrong. Plus, if you’re more of a sandwich person, the selection of sandwiches is equally incredible (and tasty). My only reservation is that I’ve never been there when Argentina’s national soccer team was playing. With all of the soccer decor on the walls, I bet this place is nuts in World Cup years.
Fun fact, Rincon Argentino is right around the corner from McGuckin Hardware, so after you’re done eating you’ve gotta check that place out. As it’s a bit more than your normal hardware store. (Plus, they sell fishing licenses – I always pick mine up there).
I know you have your own favorite “tenkara flavors” where you fish, so don’t hesitate to give them a “shout out” in the comments, I’d love a few new spots to add to my rotation.
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