By Laura M. Kidder, Rand McNally
At Rand McNally, a Good Sam travel-planning information partner, summer is the season to celebrate small towns. During Rand’s annual Best of the Road contest, folks discuss and vote for their favorite communities across the country. In this series of articles created just for Good Sam, Rand highlights the Americana that makes small towns fun, friendly, beautiful, patriotic—and delicious.
Move over New York and Chicago, with your $30 burgers, 7-pound franks, and hallowed greasy spoons. It turns out that small town America—particularly the Midwest—is just as obsessed with hot dogs and hamburgers. Here are a few of the region’s quirky attractions devoted to the American staples. And, for more small town food buzz and to vote for your foodie favorites, be sure to visit Best of the Road.
The Classic Meats
Hamburger Museum and Festival – Seymour, WI. Although many places claim the hamburger as their own, Seymour—a town just outside Green Bay—actually bills itself as the “Home of the Hamburger.” You’ll learn why at the Hamburger Museum and Hall of Fame and during the August burger festival.
Hot Dog Museum – Athens, OH. Not far from Columbus, this college town is home to the popular hot dog restaurant, Oh Betty’s, which is, in turn, home to an eclectic collection of hot dog memorabilia. Stop by for a red-hot all-beef frank (in natural casings and from Ohio) and to check out the wiener-related toys, games, appliances, clothing, and more.
McDonalds No 1 Store Museum — Des Plaines, IL. In 1955, Ray Krock opened the first McDonald’s in this community just northwest of Chicago. The recreation of this first branch is sublimely retro, with its red-and-white tiles, period food-prep equipment, and “staff” of mannequins in vintage uniforms. You can’t go inside, but, after taking a peek, you can head to the operational McDonald’s across the street.
The Classic Condiments
National Mustard Museum — Middleton, WI. The collection at this free museum in Middleton, a town northwest of Madison, includes more than 5,000 bottles and jars of mustard from all over the world. Memorabilia, exhibits on the history of mustard, a tasting room, and a store round out the offerings.
World’s Largest Ketchup Bottle — Collinsville, IL. The 70-foot riveted-steel, bottle-shaped structure sits atop 100-foot steel legs as part of what was once a water tower. Built in 1949 as novelty advertising for a Brooks ketchup (a.k.a. catsup) plant in the area, the tower was moved to its current location and restored in 1995 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Look for it on the southern edge of town along Highway 159.
Other Classic Fixings
Partial to pickles? Stop by the factory/showroom of the heritage brand, Sechler’s, in St. Joe, IN, which is also home to a pickle festival every August. Since 1970, the town of Waynesville, OH, has been hosting an October sauerkraut festival that serves up some 7 tons of the stuff. If cheeseburgers are your thing, check out the 10-page cheese travel guide put out by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.