My annual year-end "deleted scenes" column has a focus on some of the best food that my family and I ate on the road in 2014. We tried this food while traveling through the South this summer and during short road trips to Southern Illinois.
Cock of the Walk, Ridgeland, Miss.
This restaurant, located along the scenic Ross Barnett Reservoir, provided a great place for us to rest during our long drive north on Interstate 55.
We arrived at Cock of the Walk during the busy Sunday lunch hour, but the staff quickly got us seated and served. Our fried catfish and chicken meals were piled high on pie pans, accompanied by fries, hush puppies, cornbread and a pot of mustard greens. The food was delicious.
My wife, Beckie, and I spent time after lunch watching our children, Hannah, then 8, and Owen, then 3, feed geese and ducks near the restaurant.
Heaton Pecan Farm, Clanton, Ala.
While traveling south on Interstate 65, we took a break at the Heaton Pecan Farm cafe and shop. Beckie and Hannah browsed over the sweets and other gifts in the shop, while I followed Owen as he burned off energy climbing the stairs to the loft.
We all peered through the kitchen window to watch the staff cook up pecan treats. Beckie and I both fell for Heaton's pecan pie tarts, and I also chowed down on a Belgian pecan waffle sandwich from the cafe.
Red's Donut Shop, Paducah, Ky.
Positive word of mouth from my family in Southern Illinois drew me to this local favorite doughnut shop, located at U.S. Routes 45 and 60.
We arrived late in the day at Red's when the contents of the display case were getting thin, so I missed out on the fruit-flavored fritters. Still, I was able to get a dozen doughnuts and was particularly impressed by the crushed peanut-topped doughnut, a great combination of sweet and crunchy.
The Chocolate Factory, Golconda
Good reviews from my family also led me to this chocolate shop, located along Illinois Route 146 across from Dixon Springs State Forest in Southern Illinois. We were amazed by their large selection of novelty candies, including a chocolate baseball and bat, tool set, construction vehicles, and makeup.
The Chocolate Factory also is well stocked with gourmet chocolates, fudge, peanut brittle and more. We sampled chocolate-covered fruit pieces, ate hand-dipped ice cream at the shop, and purchased chocolates for the road. I am a fan of the chocolate-covered bacon, cooled in the fridge to make it extra crisp.
Mamma Antonia's, Salem
On Southern Illinois trips, I enjoy taking two-lane highways part of the way instead of Interstate 57 to see more local scenery. Mamma Antonia's in downtown Salem caught my eye a while back and I finally had time to stop there for lunch last month.
I placed an order at Mamma Antonia's while getting my family's favorite glass-bottled milk at the nearby Farm Fresh store. Hannah and I had planned to eat on the road, but Owen insisted that we stay for a meal. Owen, a picky eater, gobbled up the sausage pizza. We did take a piece of rich, creamy tiramisu home for dessert.
Alabasha Greek & Lebanese Cafe, Hammond, La.
While passing through Northern Louisiana this summer, we we made a quick stop at the crossroads of Interstates 12 and 55. We pulled into the well-manicured Hammond Square shopping center and were drawn to Alabasha.
My wife and I had wanted to try shawarma ever since this Lebanese dish was referenced in 2012's "The Avengers" movie. We were not disappointed. Alabasha served up tasty grilled chicken shawarma with hummus, rice and flat bread, along with gyros. We also ordered mousaka, a Greek dish with eggplant.
I feel a little guilty about not eating any Cajun or Creole food in Hammond, but I am glad we tried Alabasha. The wraps were a great meal to share on the road home.