From Palm Beach to Washington, DC: The Ride through Hell

I haven’t researched my family history, but we must go back to the cursed House of Atreus. At least I can empathize with the plight of Tantalus, condemned by Zeus to eternal hunger and thirst as he stood in a pool of water and beside a fruit tree. Each time he reached for the water or fruit, it would recede beyond his grasp. That would be a problem, but a nuisance compared to my drive from Palm Beach to Washington.

As recounted here, Nancy and I flew to Florida on December 26 and, unlike most Southwest customers that day, we actually made it there. We blithely enjoyed two full days of sun and relaxation, and awoke planning to drive on down to Key West to join the rest of the family. Alas, every silver lining has its cloud, and as Aeschylus warns, “from this good fortune there springs up insatiable misery.” Nemesis appeared in the form of positive COVID tests. We changed our rental car reservation to drop the car at BWI, canceled our remaining hotel reservations, gargled with Purell, hopped in the car, and headed north.

You might say, that’s unfortunate, but pretty much a First World problem. And so it would be, had not I developed, after years of research and untold thousands of calories, my incomparable guide to the best places to eat near I-95 between DC and Key West, with its list of over 70 good and truly great places to eat, including some top barbecue places, a world of excellent hushpuppies, magnificent biscuits, and other delicacies. The best places offer food, moreover, that you just can’t get in Washington for love or money.

Each and every one of the 70+, moreover, is locally owned, each is within 15 minutes of the interstate, and on this drive, each and every one I would miss. Eating indoors was out of the question, and I felt that just going in to, say, a barbecue place for carryout could endanger truly valuable members of society, local restaurants rarely being staffed by Members of Congress or such like, and indeed the survival of many marginal enterprises. This would be a time that tried my soul.

In an effort to distract myself from food … lust, I selected Audible recordings of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility for the drive. Jane Austen hardly ever mentions food, whereas Dickens, for example, sometimes revels in it. (The gift of a quarter of pork in Emma did flitter across my mind, but I pushed it by imagining it cooked over gas rather than wood.) It helped. The drive wasn’t much of a problem as we sped north through Florida. I often skip breakfast, and while I would love to have stopped at Oh Biscuit in Melbourne, things were going as well as could be expected.

Once I got to Georgia things got rough. How I would have loved to stop at Doo Dad’s Express for some fried shrimp, to take a longer detour to Southern Soul Barbecue on St. Simon’s Island, and a quick stop at Gary Lee’s Meat Market, just a mile or so off the interstate! That hurt.

We were able to make some quick stops, such as are inevitable on a long drive, and pick up some snacks while masked and without undue human contact. It was something to eat, but only heightened the contrast with the delicacies beyond our grasp.

We struggled on to Florence, South Carolina, where, thoroughly KN 95ed, we stopped at a Fairfield Inn. There Nancy made do with oranges (we’d bought a big sack at a roadside stand in Florida) and some yogurt from the breakfast bar fridge, while I had some of the microwave popcorn and beer left over from our 7-11 stop after our late arrival. On leaving, we advised the staff that there was more infectious about us than our sense of humor, and left a bonus for the cleaning staff.

I spent a sleepless night as visions of hushpuppies danced in my head. The next morning, we set off on the final leg of our trip with a deep foreboding. I started sweating as we approached Latta, home of Schuler’s Bar-B-Que, home of the best mustard-based sauce around, and I couldn’t help but think about the air dried sausage at Mac’s General Merchandise. I tried desperately to turn my thoughts from food as we approached Stephenson’s, a top Eastern North Carolina barbecue place, but my mind gravitated back to hushpuppies. It was all I could do to stay on 95.

Having skirted Scylla, I almost succumbed to the Charybdis of Parker’s in Wilson with their great barbecue sauce and those amazing corn sticks and the fried chicken.

I braced my self with the thought that they wouldn’t open for 20 minutes, but that only turned my thoughts to Flo’s and their amazing tenderloin cat head biscuits — the perfect way to while away 20 minutes.

I bravely soldiered through, however, and we managed to stop to pick up lunch to go from a chain that will remain nameless. That food got me past Smith’s Red and White in Dortches, but as we approached Richmond, I started to quiver. As it happened, there was an accident on 95 in Richmond, se we took the bypass, and that helped me get past ZZQ Texas Craft Barbecue and The Original Ronnie’s.

I’d been staunch so far, but I was ready to succumb and go to Allman’s Bar-B-Q.

I-95 stops dead at why not pull off and get a meal? And Matt Deaton cooks some of the best barbecue in Virginia. Surely Matt was positively overflowing with antibodies and vaccines.

I was about to pull into the right lane when as if by magic — I mean real magical magic — the left lane ahead of me started to move at speed! Honest! I’d never seen that before in Fredericksburg, nor heard tales of such a prodigy. I blazed ahead past Fredericksburg and made it well across the Rappahannock before traffic stopped dead and our car turned into a pumpkin pulled by four mice. That was just enough mousepower for us to keep up with the molasses-paced ooze of traffic the rest of the way home. I dashed to the kitchen and whipped up some fettucine with Italian sausage and onions and a whole lot of garlic (that I added late a la Pelican Cafe’s Fra Diavolo sauce), and lashings of black and crushed red peppers — the first step on the road to recovery.

For those of you who care, Nancy had a rough 36 hours, while my pre-existing cold may actually have gotten better.

I never want to go through that again. It pains me even to write about it. And let it be a lesson to you: don’t contract any communicable diseases. Just in case, keep a cooler of choice foods in your car at all times.


And while you’re at it, click “follow” on our front page to receive blog posts in your email box.  Or bookmark us and check in from time to time.  If you’re planning a trip, you can “Search” the name of the destination city, state, or country for good restaurants (in Europe, often close to sites, like the Louvre or the Van Gogh Museum, that you’ll want to visit in any event). And stick around for news, all manner of recipeshotel reviews, the odd book or movie review, and occasional fine arts and architecture commentary.  Comments, questions, and suggestions of places to eat or stories to cover are very welcome.  And check out our Instagram page, johntannerbbq.


13 thoughts on “From Palm Beach to Washington, DC: The Ride through Hell

    1. Have you ever tried Kings BBQ in Petersburg. Our family’s favorite for 3 generations. Excellent. Hickory smoked.

      Any suggestions for Durham/Chapel Hill area? Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We discovered it by accident on one of our annual drives from Florida to Boston—it was like hitting paydirt. But very well known locally.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I was tempted. It We were on a mission to get home, so just drove and drove. We got a late start the first day and in the second I was eager to get home before dark. And it would have timed the story.


  1. I’m not positive King’s has closed. When I went there in April 2021, it was not open during its posted business hours – which is obviously a bad sign — but it did not look like it had gone out of business. I did some internet sleuthing and did not find any indication that it’s out of business — there is a review on Yelp from 10 days ago and Google Maps says it confirmed King’s hours of business 10 weeks ago.


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