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We’re a week away from the official start of summer 2019. Which means summer vacations; which oftentimes means summer road trips.

We could talk about those amazing discoveries just off the exit ramp; those “Mom and Pop” eateries with the amazing dishes you won’t find anywhere else; but since I don’t know which way you’re going, today we are discussing the standard bearers.   

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What do I mean by standard bearers? It’s those chain restaurants that can almost always be counted on to deliver in a pinch. You’re hungry. You’re on the road. You have little time to spare; and you just want some comfort food.

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Here are my top five; and some of the dishes that put them there.

5. The honorable mentions

Arby’s, for an amazing roast beef sandwich you won’t find anywhere else.

McDonald’s, for the best fries and coke products on the fast-food circuit – there’s a science behind their fountain drinks and no one matches it.

Wendy’s, for the best fast-food salad money can buy; and those amazing square burgers – if you only had square buns too.

Quiznos, you have the best sub in the fast food arena; too bad your business model isn’t as good as some other sub chains.

Shoney’s, you’d deserve a higher spot on the list but what I love about you is simple to convey: all-you-can-eat breakfast bar. Any place that offers unlimited bacon earns a spot close to my possibly clogged heart.

4. Cracker Barrel

When I’m driving, nothing powers me up more than breakfast food. And Cracker Barrel is one of the few chains that offers the trinity of breakfast meats: bacon, sausage and ham.

It’s also one of the few places with okra, turnip greens and cornbread on the menu.

However, Cracker Barrel earns the top spot for one reason alone: their meatloaf. And it’s not just the combinations of lean meat and other ingredients, it’s the fact that they top it with ketchup and not gravy. Meatloaf topped with gravy is called Salisbury steak; not meatloaf.   

3. The mini-burger chains

White Castle and Krystal, two of the oldest hamburger chains, are know for their tiny little square hamburgers. And they’re heavenly.

With chopped onions, mustard and pickle and the magic steam that’s created in those little carboard boxes, there’s nothing else quite like it.

It’s great road trip food to experience not only for the taste; but because they are not readily available in here Southwest Florida. Get ‘em while you can.

2. Denny’s

Denny’s is a great place to vacation eat. Not just for road trips.

If you’re in a new town, and it’s late, you can usually count on Denny’s being open; even after everything else is closed.

And you can get nearly everything on the menu whenever you want it: from the amazing loaded nachos to several grand slams (many for under $5) and custom pancakes; including, for a limited time, tres leches pancakes; served with a side of milk and topped with ice cream. These bad boys are the bomb!

Great food, great value!  

1. Waffle House

Simply amazing. You won’t find a lot of gimmicky food on the menu; what you will find is consistency and a time-tested menu.

I highly recommend the omelets. No one does them better. And let’s talk about the hash browns; covered with cheese and topped with chili; that’s how I like them.

Consistency is important to this chain. They work hard to make sure that when you enter a Waffle House anywhere, you will have the same great experience again and again.

And that’s why they’re number one on my list!

Have a great summer! Safe travels and happy eating!   

More: Looking for a place to eat on Marco Island?

This newspaper pays for all meals related to dining reviews. We do not solicit or accept free food.

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