Best Food and Lodging – USA Trip 2013

Read our best accommodation during our recent music pilgrimage

A recent five-week music trip to the USA with friends has concluded, attending the Americana Music Conference and Awards, the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.  I visited the States of Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas and California and there were many food and lodging stories.

Here I recount some of the best (and a few of the worst) accommodation and culinary experiences…

Best Lodgings

5. Holiday Inn – Terrell Texas

This is simple – the end of a very long day.  A fifteen hour flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles, a two-hour stopover at LAX, a three-hour plus flight to Dallas Fort Worth, picking up a hire car, finding a T-Mobile shop (trying to get a local phone and plan) and driving through Dallas at peak hour.  We drove until Terrell TX and there was a comfortable Holiday Inn, next to a restaurant (see below) and a Tanger shopping outlet.  We were spent and the rooms weren’t expensive but quiet and of good size and the free breakfast was about the best we had on the whole journey.

4. Best Western Downtown – Nashville

A little tired but great location.  Over the road from the Sheraton where the Americana Conference sessions were held (and as a result where the shuttle bus stopped on its way to the many Americana venues).  So it was very easy to come and go.  The breakfasts were adequate, free tea and coffee in the lobby, a small store attached and Andrew the valet was very helpful for local music options.  Some live music in the lobby was a nice attempt.  A nice home for eight days.

3. Waller St Apartment – Lower Haight San Francisco

Towards the end of the a long trip, it was nice to get a house, with a kitchen, backyard and living areas.  A much appreciated change after four weeks of hotel rooms.  Good proximity to Haight St and the bus to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and various downtown gigs.

2. Shack Up Inn – Clarksdale Mississippi

My third visit there. On an old cotton plantation – rustic (very), funky, a haven for musicians, fascinating landscape and monuments, verandahs for evening conversations and live concerts in the barn.  Unique and unforgettable.

1. Austin Motel – Austin Texas

Funky as well, and an Austin institution.  This time we upgraded to the poolside rooms  – larger with a little outdoor area.  Location hard to fault – Joe’s coffee next door, the Continental Club over the road, Guero’s and the Magnolia Cafe (see below) just a walk up the road.  Walk to downtown Austin or catch the bus.  Simply the best.


Worst Lodgings

Vista Inn – Memphis Tennessee

OK, it was cheap and we didn’t really expect a view.  True, the location was good.  But the free breakfast was well below par – assuming that two people weren’t already using all the stools in the small reception area.  Our small room was under a stairwell and had no blinds on the window – the two choices on offer were fish bowl or coal mine.  But the biggest sin of all was the WiFi – it was free but very temperamental and I would’ve rather not have to sit on the stairwell to use it (when it happened to be working).

Best Eats

8. Carmona’s Tex-Mex and Cantina – Terrell Texas

See above entry for Terrell’s Holiday Inn.  We were very tired.  For the first time in twenty four hours, we weren’t in an aircraft, airport or car.  The staff at Carmona’s were all smiles, the place was bustling.  The food was great and plentiful and the margaritas were very well received.

7. Guero’s Taco Bar – Austin Texas

A staple of our trips to Austin.  Good food, not expensive and plenty of it – tacos a speciality.  Close to the Austin Motel and the Continental Club.  Ideal for a quick bite between gigs.

6. Eli’s Table – Charleston South Carolina

We were hungry and happened upon this by luck.  A balmy evening in Charleston and we had a ripper spot outside. The service was excellent as was the wine selection – we took our time on this one and savoured the evening.  A local white fish seared atop a black eye pea and tomato ragout, Geechie mill grits and sauce vierge.

5. Royal Blue Grocery – Austin Texas

On South Congress – it’s small but full of great food, with much of it wholesome and healthy.  We had lunch there one day.  The locals like it obviously as well.  Possible the best fajita I have ever had.

4. Foreign Cinema – San Francisco

Thanks to the ebullient cab driver that took us to the Make Out Room for Chuck Prophet – it was his suggestion.  A little uninspiring entrance but this former cinema site was perfect after a big day at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.  Large spaces without the noise and full of light and atmosphere.  Nice wine selection, good (and quick) service and delicious meals served to the acclaim of the whole group.

3. Magnolia Cafe – Austin Texas

This is here purely because of its slogan – “Sorry We’re Open”.  No seriously, a frequent stop on this and other visits.  Enjoy the decor.  Count the number of different shirts worn by staff.  Good for breakfast and dinner.  Simple but good variety.  Also handy for a bite between gigs at the Continental Club.

2. Demos’ – Nashville Tennessee

Been here many times – twice this trip.  Always busy – sometimes you might need to line up.  Close to Broadway which is a huge plus.  Good food with plenty of choice not that expensive.  Ideal for a bite before enjoying Broadway or a show at the Ryman Auditorium

1. Cha Cha Cha – Haight St San Francisco

Two visits to this establishment in four days.  Cuban food par excellence.  Smallish eating area with a side bar where you can wait for a table in comfort.  If it’s really hot, you might like to sip its sangria specialty.  Paella and Tapas options a-plenty.  This place does not disappoint.  There’s another place on Mission St as well.


Worst Eats

Rock Bottom – Nashville Tennessee

What’s in a name?  The music – you could not hear it, just feel the bass booms.  Copious TV sets another distraction.  Dark and noisy.  Service wanting and the food very ordinary.

A Denny’s restaurant near Dallas/Fort Worth Airport (better not be too specific)

The set up was not good.  We were stranded in Dallas/Fort Worth while our luggage was having great fun in Austin.  The airline put us up in nearby accommodation that was pretty good and gave us a $12 voucher each (!) for a meal at Denny’s two doors down.  We were not in a position to go anywhere else as we had no wheels.

I thought fish and chips would be the safest.  Until I received my cold and soggy chips.  A replacement set was brought round – these weren’t much better and the spongy, moist and cold focacia didn’t help.  Luckily there were supplies at the gas station next door.


Read our best accommodation during our recent music pilgrimage

Read our best accommodation during our recent music pilgrimage

Read our best accommodation during our recent music pilgrimage

Read our best accommodation during our recent music pilgrimage



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Author: Rob Dickens

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