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The Best of the Florida Keys

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The Best of the Florida Keys

I had an amazing week in the Florida Keys, exploring the parks, pubs and restaurants that make the Keys so great. I’ve been coming to the Keys since I was in high school and they’ve always held a special place in my heart. They’re America, but not. The Keys are like a little slice of the Caribbean, right over the bridge. While last week I wrote up my ultimate Keys Pub Crawl (which you can read HERE), some people have been asking for more ideas and suggestions on the Keys. So I thought I would jot down some of my favorites to help you navigate through the islands and find some really top spots along the way.

Beaches

Many people are surprised to find out there aren’t many great beaches in the Keys. The islands are generally surrounded by mangroves so the sand beaches are mostly man-made. That isn’t to say there aren’t some great beaches along the strand, but you do need to know where to find them…

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Robert Is Here

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Robert Is Here

Robert Moehling began his fruit empire when he was just six years old. His father had some cucumbers he wanted to sell, so he sent Robert out to sit on the corner in front of a coffee table loaded with cucumbers and sell them to passers-by. On that first day, he didn’t sell a single one. The next day his father sent him back to try again, but this time he placed a big sign on either side of the table proclaiming in big red letters that “Robert Is Here”. He sold out by noon. A neighboring farmer had seen Robert selling cucumbers and wondered if he would sell some of his tomatoes as well. The business took off and hasn’t slowed down since. Robert’s mother arranged for the school bus to pick him up and drop him off at his fruit stand, and soon he had someone else working for him while he was at school. When Robert was 14, he used his earnings to buy a ten-acre property and planted an avocado grove on it. Robert is Here Fruit Stand has continued to grow ever since and is has become an iconic road-side Florida stop.

This isn’t any old fruit stand though. Robert Is Here specializes in local and exotic fruit, so while you can buy apples and oranges, you can also buy Guanabana and Passion Fruit. Not only that, but Robert and his crew will be happy to answer any and all questions you may have about the fruit they sell, and they’ll even wash it and cut it up for you so that it’s ready to eat. The true highlight of a visit to Robert Is Here, though, is a fresh fruit milkshake prepared with your favorite exotic fruit while you shop. You can even take it out back and enjoy it while you look at the goats, chickens and tortoises wandering around back there…

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The Colonel In Kentucky

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The Colonel In Kentucky

Harland David Sanders, one of Kentucky’s most beloved and well known celebrities was actually not from Kentucky at all. He was born September 9th, 1890 in Henryville, Indiana. His father died when he was just 5 years old, and when his mother took a job at a tomato factory, Harland was left to watch his two younger siblings.

watch his two younger siblings.

He dropped out of school in the 7th Grade, and went to work as a farmhand. Leaving home at 13, Harland had many jobs over the years from a carriage painter to a streetcar conductor. He joined the army when he was just 16, and worked as a teamster in Cuba. He was honorably discharged before his 18th birthday, and went to live with his uncle in Alabama. He worked for the railroad for many years, and studied law at night through a correspondence course. He graduated and would practice law in Little Rock for several year…

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Country Stores Hanging Tough in Henderson County

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Country Stores Hanging Tough in Henderson County

While for years people have discussed how the proliferation of Walmart across the country has contributed to the downfall of many towns’ historic downtown shopping districts, most people may not know that the same thing is happening in deeply rural parts of the country as well. As the number of Family Dollars and Dollar Generals has grown, the number of small country stores has rapidly declined. While these big chain stores can carry more items at lower prices and can be incredibly important in rural “food deserts”, they don’t have the same personality as independent stores. You certainly won’t get the same level of service from an hourly employee as you will from an owner/operator. I was very happy when the Marketing Director of Henderson County’s tourism department contacted me with a list of the six independent shops which were hanging on in Henderson County. I took a day to visit these six stores and meet the people who were running them and try and get a feel for how they are making a go of it. It was a great day in the American heartland. These places were sometimes hard to find, and some didn’t even have a sign out front at all. They were definitely catering to the locals more than the casual passers by, but all welcomed me in warmly with true Kentucky country hospitality. Henderson County’s country stores may not have had a lot on their shelves, but they were wonderful places with a lot of heart. While trying to capture the soul of these places on film was somewhat of a challenge, it was one I embraced. This is what I hoped to find as I traveled the country. These places are the very definition of the word “local”…

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Mutton is What's Cooking in Owensboro

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Mutton is What's Cooking in Owensboro

Moonlite Bar-B-Cue is an institution in Owensboro, and in Kentucky for that matter. Family run from the time it opened in the 1940s, Moonlite is currently run by the third generation of the Bosley Family. Their grandfather, Hugh “Pappy” Bosley and his wife Catherine bought the small 30 seat restaurant in 1963, and there’s been a Bosley there running the place ever since. Today, the restaurant seats 350 people and they have a catering business which can serve up to 15,000. 350,000 people eat at Moonlite each year, and they have even had a few celebrities pop in over the years. William Shatner, Reba McIntyre, Kevin Costner, Bill Clinton and Al Gore have all eaten at Moonlite Bar-B-Q. Quite frankly, anywhere that has served both Shatner and Clinton must have good food.

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Second Chances and a Hot Chicken Takeover

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Second Chances and a Hot Chicken Takeover

Through years of volunteering at soup kitchens and homeless shelters, Joe DeLoss had come to understand how difficult it often was for people who had been incarcerated or experienced homelessness to get back on their feet. Often all they needed was someone to give them an opportunity. When Joe started selling chicken from a pop-up location in 2014, he decided that a part of his business model would be to give people that second chance.. DeLoss now has three brick and mortar locations for his thriving restaurant Hot Chicken Takeover, and his mission to help people in need has continued to grow. 

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The Little Hamburger Wagon That Could

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The Little Hamburger Wagon That Could

In March of 1913, massive rainstorms over Easter weekend caused the Miami River to swell and break through the levees built to contain it. Water rushed through downtown Dayton reaching depths of 20 feet. The flood would do $100 million in damage, destroy 20,000 homes and take 360 lives. Miamisburg was devastated with much of the city underwater. 

Relief efforts arrived with the Red Cross setting up tent cities to provide shelter to the displaced population. Miamisburg resident Sherman "Cocky" Porter volunteered to try and help feed the people and the relief workers. Trying to feed hundreds of people a hot meal is no easy task, so Porter decided to cook up a huge batch of hamburgers and pass them out to the crowds. They were a hit…

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This Week on the Road, July 25th-August 2nd

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This Week on the Road, July 25th-August 2nd

Sadly leaving Athens County behind, I stopped for a brief visit at the Buckeye Furnace State Memorial. Tucked back in the woods, this was a great place to learn more about the production of pig iron, an industry that brought a lot of wealth to the region. I had the place all to myself but could imagine the small community which once stood there and kept the furnace going. This was another of Appalachia's hard labor industries, and one that disappeared as the iron ore dried up and the nation's demands shifted to steal. It was a cool place to visit. 

From there I headed out to the Bob Evans Farm in Rio Grande where I had a big breakfast for lunch and wandered around the property for a while. I learned the story of Bob and how he started with a steakhouse, but soon started making sausage as well. This sausage would catapult his business into one of Ohio's best known names.

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A Cajun In Appalachia

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A Cajun In Appalachia

I first met Will Drury at the corner of a bar in the middle of a parking lot on the edge of an island in the middle of the Caribbean. The bar was Duffy's, an institution in Red Hook on the east end of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Will had arrived that day to take over management of Duffy's and I was a regular there. Duffy's was right down the hill from my apartment and I didn't even have to cross the street to get there. I liked Duffy's because the clientele was a good balance of locals and tourists. While most people who lived on the island tried their hardest to avoid the tourists during their down-time, I loved interacting with them. It was great to welcome them to our little island and help them with their plans, and I never tired of their enthusiasm… 

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Tennessee Rib Trail

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Tennessee Rib Trail

If you are a fan of pork ribs like I am a fan of pork ribs, then Tennessee is one of the places you really have to go. Good Tennessee ribs get a dry rub of spices and are then slow smoked over a wood fire. Back in the 1950s in Memphis, Charlie Vergos combined his father's Greek spices with some New Orleans style cajun seasoning and turned scrap-meat into something altogether magical. Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous still sets the standard for ribs in Tennessee and is definitely one of my favorites. In my travels around Tennessee, I stopped into a few different rib-joint though and found some great spots around the state. While Rendezvous ribs still tops my list, some of these places gave them a run for their money… 

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This Week on the Road - May 31st-June 5th

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This Week on the Road - May 31st-June 5th

I'm going to write this a little early this week as I am headed down to Bonnaroo in the morning. I'll be there for almost the whole week, so I thought I would write this and then put away my computer and go enjoy the festival. I've spent this past week heading up the west side of Tennessee, through a lot of cute small towns and state parks, and finally making my way across the north and into Clarksville. It's been a pretty quiet week, but a good one for sure. It's really starting to heat up down here and while I am really looking forward to Bonnaroo, I'll be making a beeline north when it's over. While it hasn't been the most exciting week I've had, I've still been enjoying myself. Here are some of the things I got into this week on the road.

I left Bartlett when I finished writing last week and headed back north to Mason. I wanted to visit the original Gus's Fried Chicken there…

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The Road From Memphis To Nashville

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The Road From Memphis To Nashville

I have driven Highway 40 from Memphis to Nashville many times. In fact, when discussing the trip I'm currently on, I often reference this drive. I tell people that when I was working as a tour guide I always rushed between the two cities because there is SO much to do in each, but I always wondered what was happening in between. Now I have an answer to that question, and the answer is A LOT. If you have the time to spare, making a day of this journey is well worth it. Here are just some of the things you should definitely check out on the way, with stops in Jackson and Brownsville… 

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