A Summer Trip Down Food Memory Lane

Memorial Day weekend is but three weeks away, when summer seems to officially kick off. While some of us are dusting off the grills and bringing patio furniture out of storage, others are packing bags and hitting the road.

I remember piling into my mother's orange Pinto hatchback for our annual summer exodus to the Jersey shore, a 70-mile-trip that took about three hours because my mother hated driving on the highway. As a result, she'd drive through every little town in south Jersey instead, put-putting in that Pinto at 35 or 40 miles an hour. It was like driving to Egypt in this nine-year-old's mind.

Also along for the journey were my two kid brothers and our dog, Mumford, who inevitably would get car sick. We always knew we were almost there when the salty smell of the bay would replace that of canine car sickness, and our road-weary bodies would perk up, excited at the prospect of several weeks "down the shore." (That's how we say "at the beach" in Philly.)

It was there we'd ride bikes on the boardwalk and spend hours every day at the beach, eating sandwiches and plums dusted with sand. My mother would make a thermos of "ice tea" that we'd drink out of paper cups, also laced with sandy grit. I can still hear the ice cream man, called Paul, shouting "Get your fudgie wudgie" and we'd beg for change to buy a frozen treat on a stick.

After a day at the beach, we'd sit by the bay with our feet hanging over the dock's edge, wolfing down cheese steaks, and at home, we'd feast on local tomatoes and corn, bought on the side of the road on Blackhorse Pike.

Sometimes we'd play miniature golf, and once a week, we'd head for Ocean City, and stroll the boardwalk there and go on the rides (I loved the bumper cars). Occasionally, we'd succeed at persuading my parents in buying a box of fudge or salt-water taffy.

But it took no convincing my mother of a weekly visit to Betty's, the local ice cream joint, where we'd pile into a booth and eat hot fudge sundaes. She loved those sundaes, particularly when dusted with malted milk powder, a garnish that eventually I'd warm up to. We were a hot-fudge family all around, but I do remember my brother John occasionally ordering the banana split.

On special occasions, we'd clean up real good, dress up and go out to dinner for fried seafood at Capt'n Starns, a legendary restaurant in Atlantic City near Steel Pier that's come and gone. I can still hear the waitress asking me if I wanted applesauce, French fries or baked potato (wrapped in foil) to go with my flounder plate, and I always chose the applesauce.

I loved to crunch into those oyster cracker balls topped with a spoonful of horseradish, washed down with a Shirley Temple, my special outing drink of choice.

It was heaven, and when those three weeks came to an end, the ride home, squeezed back into the orange Pinto with a dog about to barf, never seemed long enough.

Share your favorite childhood road trips and the eats and drinks you still savor, if only in your memory.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 7, 2007; 8:01 AM ET Travel
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rainbow ice! sherbet in not-found-in-nature shades of green, orange and pinkish purple, served in papery cups you ended up drinking the melted liquid from if you didnt consume the melting scoops fast enough. Also the orange sherbet-vanilla ice cream. these are the tastes of summer!

Posted by: Jill A | May 7, 2007 10:13 AM

ah, to a fellow Philly girl, these are all familiar memories. What shore did you go to, Kim?? Mine was OC.

another summer memory, aside from down the shore trips, was water ice. Not the shaved ice you get around here, where all the syrup pools at the bottom of the cup, no REAL water ice. My faves were vanilla, watermellon, and occasionally if I were feeling wild, bubblegum. Served in the paper cone and always stained your lips and tongue.

ahh, summer in Philly.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 7, 2007 10:27 AM

The Jersey Shore was the best--especially Brigantine island & AC & the boardwalk where we'd go to Capt'n Starns too & feed the massive sea lions there. I always thought the goal of most adults was to get back to the best parts of their childhood--that would be going to the "shore" for me!

Posted by: cem | May 7, 2007 11:20 AM

Oh, what happy memories! They nearly parallel my own, since I'm a Philly girl. We spent our summers in Ventnor. Beach, bike, walk the boards all the way to Steel Pier and back every night. And Captain Starns, of course. And the local deli - Jacks, was it?. Sacko Subs. True delights from my youth. Thanks!

Posted by: Nessa Z | May 7, 2007 11:29 AM

I remember many summers of camping food. Mac and cheese with bits of hotdog cut up into it. Fresh caught fish, dipped in beaten egg and crushed ritz crackers, then deep fried. Or when we went hiking, a large cookie spread with wispride and slices of summer sausage. Not the fanciest fair, but it still reminds me of the outdoors.

Also...my boyfriend picked up a mysterious herb at Super 88 -- parilla. Has a strange mint-basil-cumin flavor that I haven't warmed up to yet. Any ideas for how to use?

Posted by: Rita | May 7, 2007 12:01 PM

I spent mosts summers at my grandparents' place on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. Playing with the cousins, swimming in the pool, teasing the neighbors' cows and sheep, and jumping from the hayloft into huge piles of warm sweet hay.
As for food, my grandfather would set the grill alight and we would feast on a whole chicken (or two) slow roasted for hours, basted frequently with butter and it's own juices, and finally, slathered in bbq sauce. Fresh picked corn, my grandmother's cole slaw, and a huge pitcher of icy cold sweet tea round out my memories (although I'm sure there was more food - those were just my favorites).

Posted by: 21117 | May 7, 2007 12:23 PM

Yes, I spent my summers in Ventnor. Wyoming Avenue, to be exact. My great aunt and uncle bought the house in 1975, I think, and I remember it in connection with the opening of Resorts Casino, the first casino to open in Atlantic City. I remember Sacko Subs, and White House hoagies!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | May 7, 2007 1:29 PM

I'm a Philly girl, too, and was lucky enough to spend many of the summers of my youth in Ventnor, just off the boardwalk. I remember a pizza shop right near the old Knife & Fork restaurant that made the BEST meatball hoagies and made pizza with little shrimp on top. There was a deli called Lou's where I ate my first chef's salads (many of them), and a drugstore a block from our apartment that still had a real soda fountain for ice cream sodas. I have Cap'n Starn's memories, too, and the Planter's Peanut store right across from Steel Pier where there was always the aroma of roasting peanuts (mingled with the smell of the sea) and a live Mr. Peanut walking the boardwalk handing out samples. Sandy fudgicles and fruit, and flounder my father caught that morning, fileted and fried for dinner -- my mom called them "fish cookies" and handed them to my brother and me wrapped in paper towels so they weren't too hot to hold; I think we ate them as fast as she could fry them. And the constant debate over whether Fralinger's or James's made the best salt water taffy . . . We always had to get some of each to settle the argument. Thanks, Kim, for the happy memories!

Posted by: Mel | May 7, 2007 1:35 PM

Chincoteague Island. From Washington, DC it was a trip to a different world. They read the Baltimore Sun. Occasionally. We would get two or three dozen oysters or clams wrapped in newspapers to be steamed at home and the kids would eat hush puppies and heavily-breaded crab cakes on the picnic table in the rental house while toads hopped at our feet.

I am old enough that I remember my father buying large (coffee-can-sized) CANS of fresh oysters from a factory there.

Later in the 1970s we'd spend August in Maine, wading out in low tide for a lobsterman who would come by, go through his traps, and then work out a deal with us as we swam to his boat with our parents money, gave him $10 for 4 lobsters straight from the ocean, and then we'd swim back in a mock panic that the lobsters would escape back to the ocean. those lobsters boiled with fresh corn and a tomato and cucumber slice salad with an official Bar Harbor "Harbor Bar" for desert, and I mean the real deal harbor bars when you had to drive to buy them at this woman's house- we're talking 1978 you know? the soundtrack to Grease on the radio ubiquitously. That is one of my greatest summer food memories ever.

Back in DC it was: boiled hotdog with mustard and a chocolate milkshake. The cream of the crop of what a 9 yr old could make at home, having run nonstop from the Bannockburn Pool with flip flops smacking sprays of water on the back of my legs.

Posted by: DCer | May 7, 2007 2:51 PM

I grew up in central Maryland but we were poor and never went anywhere for a vacation trip. Every summer was spent at home working in our own garden. HOWEVER, we did go to a beach on the Chesapeake Bay (Alpine Beach) south of Baltimore one day each summer for a Sunday School picnic. The beach was filthy -- tap dancing permitted on the first 50 yards of surf -- and my brother got an infected hand because he had a scratch. I hated the trip, but Mom always packed a great picnic lunch: fried chicken, potato salad, iced tea, green bean salad, sliced tomatoes from our garden, fresh plums, potato chips or pretzels to munch during the ride. It seems we drove for hours to get there in the heat, and then badly sunburned on the way home. The only good part was the food. I don't even recall them having a boardwalk. Only musty changing cabins, dirty water to swim in, and sand. Does that beach still exist? When I grew up I finally got to Ocean City (downy oshun, Hon)with friends and learned to love Thrashers french fries.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | May 7, 2007 2:54 PM

Down the shore! Lucy the Elephant. Camino Open pizza place in North Wildwood. The big Bethlehem Steel strike in the '50s which meant we could stay down the shore an extra week. Paper boats in the gutters after thunderstorms. Sand in bed. Outdoor showers. The coolness under the boardwalk. Hot pretzels w/mustard. Card games at night while big bugs buzzed the screens trying to get in. The sound of the ocean, which permeates my childhood and my present. In our 60s, we still go to the Jersey Shore, to the last motel in Brigantine that's actually on the beach. We sit with our morning coffee and read and do puzzles on the balcony, and listen and watch. We see dolphins, birds and other creatures. The moon, sunsets, that glorious feeling of just a bitty sunburn.

Posted by: Van Ness | May 7, 2007 5:29 PM

I grew up in Ocean County, NJ. When my mom went back to work my brothers and I would go to the beach each day with our aunt. My beach food memories are Twizzlers on the beach, Ice cold nectarines and plums from the cooler, and a lunch of sandwiches on hard rolls packed by my grandmother. No matter what the weather was we had to eat lunch on the beach before we could go back to grandmoms. We went to Ortley Beach then.

As a late teen I worked at the Berkley Sweet Shop on the Seaside Heights Boardwalk, the smell of fresh taffy was ever present and on hot humid nights the girl working the cotton candy station was sticky from head to toe.

Some of the sweetest memories are of picnics under the huge tree where my grandmother's and her sister's properties all met with all the cousins. We would eat raw oysters and clams, hamburgers and hotdogs and classic picnic salads.

I hope my son has such fond memories one day.

Posted by: late to the party | May 7, 2007 6:00 PM

What wonderful memories and stories! Thank you so much for fleshing this thread out even more.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | May 7, 2007 6:08 PM

My family and I used to take a six hour trip every summer to Carolina Beach, NC. It was the worst drive ever, longer than any child should have to endure, but once we got there it was great. Seadogs, a hotdog joint with anything you can imagine, and still my favroite place in the world, New Orleans Snowcones. They were finely shaved ice, with as many favors on the wall that you can dream of. I told my wife next year, thats where we're going for vacation. I can't wait!!

Posted by: Jon | May 7, 2007 7:26 PM

Childhood trip, huh? Parents took me to OC, MD and while we were there the whole three days and two nights, we ate breakfast at a place in downtown OC called "The Rainbow, A Restaurant", ate canned Vienna sausages and crackers for lunch, and ate fried chicken at a beanery on the boardwalk. We didn't have a lot of money.

Posted by: Still eating Vienna sausages | May 7, 2007 7:33 PM

Cape Cod! Fresh caught stripers and blue fish on the grill, clam (quohag)chowder and native corn on the stove. And the penny candy store for dessert.

Our trips began after the 4th of July - we were still in school in May/June during the 60s!

Posted by: jmt | May 7, 2007 7:38 PM

Bethany Beach for three weeks each summer to stay with my grandparents. We'd get up at the crack of dawn (maybe 6am) on Saturday morning to beat the traffic on the bridge, and would stop for a "snack" in Bridgeville. That "snack" always consisted of ice cream and soda at, what, 9 am?

Needless to say, we looked forward to every twist and turn in the road leading us to the beach. We'd spend our days out on the sand, sipping water out of sandy paper cups until it was time for lunch (bologna, fritos, pickles). Dinner was always an affair - after showers, my brother and I would shuck the evening's corn, picked that day (Silver Queen, thankyouverymuch), and stuff ourselves with fresh produce from the stands (tomatos, cantaloupe!!).

The evening was topped off by a walk in to town for ice cream at this tiny shop with a picture of Ming the Merciless displayed on the wall. Rainbow sherbet was the treat to be had, and then we'd hit the beach with glow-sticks until it was really time to come inside for some sleep.

I miss being 10 with all of my heart.

Posted by: Beth and E | May 8, 2007 7:13 AM

Not a childhood memory, but a couple of years ago I had clam cakes for the first time, with clam chowder at Point Judith, in Rhode Island. Man are those things good!

As a kid I remember burgers and 'dogs on the grill, with corn on the cob, fresh tomatoes, and watermelon (before the days of seedless) - followed by a trip up the hill to the local ice cream stand, J&T's!

Posted by: Ballston | May 8, 2007 3:06 PM

We weren't a beach family. We were a mountains family. I remember wonderful summer weekends spent in the pop-up trailer camped out on some park or another. I loved the parks best that didn't have electricity or running water, because that kept away the people who think "roughing it" is when you have to watch the small TV. I'd hike or ride my bike all day long, stopping only for lunch.

I loved hotdogs cooked over the campfire until the outside gets burned spots. I can't stand the things any other way, but I scarf them down if they are cooked over the campfire. We also made campfire sandwiches with irons that clamped shut. Put a slice of buttered bread - butter side out - on each iron, fill, clamp shut, and tear off excess bread. You can fill them with anything, even sweet pie filling. They toast up so hot and tasty.

When we went with a group of my parents' friends, there was always a big potluck. I love potlucks. You get to sample a bit of everyone's favorite dish and guess what it is and what's in it.

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | May 8, 2007 3:40 PM

Oh, such memories.....Salem Willows, north of Boston. Every Sunday from late May through Labor Day, 8 or 10 families in our neighborhood headed up for a full day of swimming, sunning and picnicing. We all went clam digging and feasted, buckets and buckets full, along with the requisite hot dogs, hamburgs, salads, watermelon, etc. Marshmallows roast, singalongs around the campfire, tired kids sleeping on the drive home.....so many good times, so many now long gone. Sigh.

Posted by: Allegra | May 10, 2007 11:25 AM

Oh, the posters who mentioned Captain Starn's in AC really brought back memories of my first summer away from home, living with four other coeds and working at Captain Starns in my white uniform and apron w/ red and blue stripes!! I still have a photo taken of me just before going to work and hoisting those huge trays from the kitchen through the long main floor and up a narrow stair to serve folks on the second smaller floor. I also remember the hole in the kitchen floor where all the clams and shells "returned to the sea"!!! And seeing wannabe Miss America's come for dinner the day after the Miss America Pagent! Days on the Beach, working 5pm to 10pm, then a little nightlife and dancing at the Blue Moon Cafe, next to the Philly Cheesesteak place. I remember a small neighborhood grocery where I bought Dannon strawberry yogurt for a quarter. Yum!

Posted by: Summerof68 | May 10, 2007 1:16 PM

When I was very young, it was just my (also very young) mom and me. During the summer, she would pack me into my booster seat, roll the windows down and turn the radio up as we drove out to Ocean City, Maryland. We made day trips there every time she got a day off work.

I remember sitting on the boardwalk in my ruffly blue bathing suit and eating shrimp fried rice from one of the beachfront vendors. I have no idea where she found shrimp fried rice at the beach, but it was my favorite thing in the world. That smell always makes me think of our day trips to the ocean.

I also loved the way the boardwalk smelled, although I learned much later that the smell I attributed to the boardwalk was actually the smell of kids lighting up a doob. Who knew?

Posted by: daisyriot | May 10, 2007 4:10 PM

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