Guess what? I recently took a long drive. A really, really long drive. All the way from Seattle to Chicago. From the Rainy City to the Windy City. Across much of America, that great, big country.
And I ate a lot of sweet stuff along the way. While the driving schedule was fairly tight (I had to make it to Chicago in time for the Renegade Craft Fair), and I wasn't able to stop at every bakery I wanted to based on the hours I was passing through various cities, I did manage to put away my fair share of sweet treats; here are some of the highlights. Let's go:
The first stop? Mary Lou's Milk Bottle in Spokane. What could be sweeter than stopping for a shake at an establishment shaped like a milk bottle? The huckleberry shake was delicious here, perhaps slightly thinner than I would have liked, but the flavor and pretty hue made up for it in my mind.
Last time I road-tripped, I also stopped at Rocket Bakery, which some say makes the best pink frosted cookie in the state.
Sadly, La Vie en Rose was closed by the time I rolled into Coeur D'alene, but next time!
Observation at an Idaho rest area: This is where I started to notice that we were seriously entering Huckleberry Country. Even the rest area had an end cap display devoted to the berry, including sweets like Huckleberry gummi bears. This trend would continue through Montana and Wyoming.
Time for some morning sweets!
Le Petit Outre was the first stop, for coffee and sweets, including a cranberry bread (not cake, I know, but quite good!) and cookies. And caneles.
Next up was Bernice's Bakery, where croissants and a slice of poppyseed cake were obtained. Of note: Poppyseed Cakes are apparently big business in Montana, and I have even heard a rumor that this is where they were invented (who knows? Do you?). I asked a local, who had an interesting theory on their popularity. She she said that drug use is big in the state, and that the poppyseeds might be popular because of the purported high they offer. I'm not sure if I'm convinced about that, but I thought it was an interesting thought.
Recommended by a hotel concierge was Black Cat Bake Shop, renowned for their chocolate eclairs.
For morning treats, you must hit up either Sweetpea Bakery or On the Rise. This trip it was On the Rise, for a weighty oat bar, a tart, and a rich quiche (not sweet!). The reverence for carbohydrates is clear here, with buttery crust and deliciousness abounding. But on to lunch...
Shake o'clock! At Burger Bob's, largely thought of as the city's best burger joint, the chocolate shake was made with vanilla ice cream and rendered “chocolate” with syrup—perhaps not ideal for chocolate shake die-hards, but I thought it was pretty good.
If you have time to go nowhere else, you MUST hit up Caramel Cookie Waffles in Billings, Montana. Owned by a cute-as-pie couple, this place is THE supplier of caramel-filled dutch waffle cookies, and they do a good job. But wait, there's more!
They make a mean cheesecake (which they will top with chocolate sauce and chocolate sprinkles, thankyouverymuch), oatmeal cookies, huckleberry caramels, and—wait for it—they even had NANAIMO BARS!
This made me feel right at home, and theirs have a delicious secret: instead of graham cracker crumbs for the base, they use the crumbs from their waffle cookies. Nom! Yum! Awesome!
...but that's not all that Montana had to offer.
Another thing I love about Montana is that their huckleberry reverence is so clear in every eatery. Even a casino rest area had delicious huckleberry ice cream, though their shake maker was broken (what?!?). Last time I went on a pastry road trip, I had a fantastic Huckleberry bar at a rest area, too.
Sheridan, WY: Sadly I didn't get a chance to stop there, but I want to give a shout-out to Java Moon because it was so highly recommended by a reader. Next time!
In Sundance, WY, I spied this. I was sad to answer "no" at the moment the question was posed to me.
What would a stop to South Dakota be without a krispie bar or Special K Bar? I picked this one up at a gas station. Too delicious. But moving on to Wall, and Wall Drug...
So is the pie.
The ice cream was not as special as the baked goods to me, but still respectable. They also have fudge. Including a flavor called Tiger Butter. What's Tiger Butter? Oh:
Guess what? I also got a speeding ticket in—wait for it—RAPID CITY, South Dakota. The police officer became my new best friend as we both have the same birthday, but he still gave me the ticket. Vive l'aventure, sweeties!
A stop in Mitchell, South Dakota provided a sweet retreat: not only did I get a glimpse of the Corn Palace, but I also got to stop for some tasty vittles at what I was assured was the best breakfast in town, at the VFW Hall.
The biscuits were simple but perfect morning fare, and the cookies and pie were down-home tasty.
Down the street, highly-recommended Daylight Donuts had already sold out of treats, but I do hope I'll get to try them out one day: also disappointed were a husband-and-his-pregnant wife, the latter having a massive doughnut craving. Very cute, and clearly these are craveable doughnuts if the shop sells out so early!
Because I was booking it across the state to get to Chicago in time, I didn't have much time to stop and visit Cake Eater Bakery, and sadly the Minnesota State Fair was already over.
In Rochester, I had previously visited Daube's, and would have loved to have visited again.
I forget where in Minnesota, but I saw this display of fruit...puddings? They were called parfaits. It reminded me of retro cookbook pictures, but this was the real deal.
Wisconsin: is there anything it can't do? It's got amazing dairy, delicious meat products, and plenty of sweet treats.
One of the standouts, for me, was unexpected: the Mauston Rest area. This truck rest stop surprised me with a full-service bakery full of amazing (and huge!) treats. The carrot cake was seriously one of the highlights of my trip: moist and flavorful cake, with sweet-sweet-sweet cream cheese frosting with the perfect lightly-gritty sugar consistency to balance out the cake. It was divine. They also had all sorts of other goodies, including these enormous pig and cow cookies - the scale really isn't evident from this photo, but rest assured each one was as large as your head and half of someone else's head too.
Obviously I needed to drive by Ella's Deli, but didn't stop this time. Sometimes when time is tight I like to hit up a local grocery store--sometimes they have baked goods from a bunch of local bakeries. And I had some good luck at the Willy Street Co-Op, where they had baked goods made on site, such as strawberry crumb bars:
...as well as sweets from local bakers Larsen Bakery, Batch Bakehouse (who made the monkey bread pastry pictured below), Greenbush Bakery, and East Side Ovens.
Reaching Illinois, a waffle was obtained at the Country Kitchen restaurant. Waffles don't hum to me frequently, but this one did, and I was rewarded by a pecan-filled and covered waffle. I was a little put off by the fact that the pecans on top, which were dry, but adding butter and syrup to the waffle made it into something really special.
In Chicago, once I made it to the Renegade Craft Fair, a mandatory stop was made at the Alliance Bakery, where I always enjoy a little something. Sadly no trip to the Angel Food bakery was in my cards what with the time restraints, but I can't wait to visit on my upcoming book tour! I wish I could have gone to every place on this list though.
Happily, Black Dog Gelato had a stand just up the street at the fair, so I finally got to sample some of their stuff. You will not be disappointed if you go.
Another sweet find was Puffs of Doom, a cream puff maker of epic proportions. The portions themselves are modest but the rewards are huge: filled with cream and creative fillings of both sweet and savory persuasions.
Sweet and savory treats were obtained at Milk and Honey cafe, where pastries are made in-house and everything I have ever tried there is delicious.
A big highlight? Natalie of Bake & Destroy brought me one of her crack-filled Peanut butter pillow cookies, which kept me buzzing with happiness all day. Another huge highlight was a delivery of Vegan chocolate snickerdoodles by my pal Bunny Knuckles, who knows how to make me smile.
I tried out some heart-shaped cookies from Artemio Bakery, which were sugary and crumbly and quite satisfactory.
My bff customer Margaret stopped by, and then the fair started and I sold so many copies of my book that I think I might be a bestselling author now.
I also had the extreme and exquisite pleasure of eating at a restaurant called Moto. This place made me want to say “golly” I was so delighted the whole time I was there. And for dessert, they had made a sweet surprise: cookies with a CUPPIE image transfer on top! I kind of freaked out, in a good way. They also let me tour the kitchen, which I thought was oh-so-kind of them. It reminded me of Scott of Seattle Food Geek, who would fit in gorgeously there.
An unexpectedly wonderful treat was the custard at Niko's Gyros. I also had the extreme pleasure of visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oak Park; my curiosity having been piqued after reading Loving Frank: A Novel, I also visited the once-home of Mameh Cheney.
Nearby, Petersen's Ice cream was serving up ice cream pies, as well as pints, scoops, and shakes. I saw a lady lose her scoop from the top of the cone while I was there, and it really made my heart hurt.
Prelimary sketches were made at the home of Michelle of Bleeding Heart Bakery—I'm gonna finish that when I go back for my book tour. But can I just tell you a bit about her newest location? Brunch is King there, and they have a doughnut breakfast sandwich and all sorts of crazy-delicious treats. If you live in Chicago, why are you not there right now, friend?