By Elizabeth Hey
Groups won’t go hungry on a Grand Central tour through the Midwest. From upscale, Southern charm to down-home cooking and an award-winning winery, this itinerary will appeal to every palate.
Along with great food, fascinating tales of ordinary people and famous folk are waiting to be discovered along the way.
On Route 66, it’s hard to miss the 66-foot-tall soda bottle and straw alongside the futuristic-looking building in Arcadia, Okla. Pops, a rest stop and specialty soda store, has windows displaying thousands of bottles forming a floor-to-ceiling rainbow. At night, light-emitting diode lights transform the bottle into a kaleidoscope.
Pops currently carries 630 flavors of specialty bottled sodas, with flavors like Jelly Belly Blueberry and Sonoma Pear Natural Sparkler. Soda comes from 40 states and 15 countries spanning the globe: Austria, Jamaica, Japan, El Salvador and Lebanon, to name a few.
“Many are old-school, hand bottling plants that are very localized or regionalized,” said Marty Doepke, general manager. “In our coolers, soda is divided by flavor and color. Our cooler guys try everything that comes through and help customers choose.”
Pops’ soda fountain features hand-dipped ice-cream treats. The diner serves salads and sandwiches, plus signature buffalo burgers and hamburgers, made with 100 percent Black Angus beef.
Weekends, diner-style breakfasts featur e omelets, burritos, waffles and pancakes. Seating is available at the fountain’s counter, in booths or on the patio, which overlooks three acres planted with 66 redbud trees, Oklahoma’s state tree, to commemorate Route 66.
Gracious Southern hospitality lives at Marlsgate Plantation. Situated among acres of rice, cotton and soybean fields, this Greek-Revival mansion overlooks Bearskin Lake. Pecan trees planted in the 1880s dot the lawn, and its gardens were designed by P. Allen Smith.
“When people come to my home, I feel they should experience the aura of Old World Southern living prior to the Civil War,” said owner David Garner Jr. “We live everywhere in our house. We are not a museum.”
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the beautiful preservation tells the story of another era, when cotton reigned on the Arkansas delta and the wealthy lived in high style.
The front porch’s Doric columns stand more than 40 feet tall. Inside the 32-room showplace, ornamentation proliferates: original beveled glass windows, handcrafted woodwork, Carrera marble fireplaces and sculpted metal ceilings. Family-owned period antiques fill the rooms.
Diners are seated in the dining room and at tables throughout the house. Fresh flowers from the gardens, silver and crystal grace each table. Multicourse lunches and dinners include rice and other products grown on-site.
Before and after the meal, Garner leads tours of the property, recounting family history and stories.