definition: the act of finding & dining at different restaurants as well as visiting many of America's attractions.

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2008 Newspaper Article

Staff Writer

Foodie's quest: 1,000 restaurants in 50 states by 2010

GREENSBORO — Fifteen restaurants in five days.

It was a food spree that spanned four states -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. Vestal Palmer and Judy Conover will travel for food.

They've been close friends and traveling companions for more than 30 years. They never know exactly where their quest for a certain restaurant will lead them. They've driven several hours just to try a diner or a plate of barbecue ribs at a place they heard or read about.

Their recent Midwest food tour included cafes, diners, an Irish pub and an upscale Green Bay steakhouse.

"And I only gained four pounds," Judy says while dining at an Italian restaurant in downtown Greensboro. Vestal and Judy are sharing details about their trip during lunch. Vestal owns and operates Carolina Publications, Inc., which has a North Carolina internet furniture directory,

Their food journeys are part of Vestal's overall goal: to eat at 1,000 independently owned restaurants in 50 states by July 12, 2010.

Since July 12, 2003, Vestal has eaten at nearly 700 different restaurants in 22 states. He rates and records each visit in binders with the receipts. Some entries include handwritten notes about the experience.

But for Vestal, this isn't just about the food. It's the journey to these culinary destinations, and his experiences along the way that he enjoys the most. In his notebooks, Vestal numbers each restaurant. He also gives each restaurant a score from one to ten: ten being the best. 

* * * *

Entry No. 187: Double Wow!!!! What a pleasant surprise!!!! I've been driving by this place for 28 years!! It looked like a smoke-filled beer spot. But el contrare! (sic) Great lunch: baked Greek chicken, black-eyed peas, potatoes & gravy & rice & banana pudding. All very good & for a total of $6.15.
Rating: 9.25

It would be inaccurate simply to call Vestal Palmer, 63, a "foodie."

Sure, he'll drive 100 miles out of his way just to find an old-fashioned soda shop or a restaurant  that has been recommended and he's been known to coordinate his vacations solely around certain restaurant that he wants to try.

Although he may be drawn to certain cities for their food, he also enjoys the historic sites and attractions.

He rarely eats an entire meal by himself. He often shares plates with Judy. Take his barbecue blitz in Macon, Ga.: five barbecue restaurants in one afternoon. "We did't eat barbecue for several weeks after that," Vestal says. 

Since he started his quest, Vestal has learned some things about eating out. He calls beforehand to see what the hours are.

He avoids restaurants that are empty or have only a few customers during peak lunch and dinner hours.

And if he passes a restaurant with a full parking lot or a line of people standing outside, he will usually stop and eat even if he's not very hungry.

Vestal also learned that a restaurant can't be judged solely on how it looks. Occasionally, good food can come from what some people would call "a dive."

Take Entry No. 181: Geez!! This place looked like it is falling apart. Fairly good pizza though! Pizza: 7.25

When it comes to rating a restaurant, Vestal considers its decor, service and food. He often comments on a restaurant's decor, particularly if it displays a lot of memorabilia, or if it's in a historic building.

The decor documented in Entry No. 215 says a lot about the town's history. Wow!! What an interesting place!! In business since the 1920's. This restaurant was in the heart of the downtown furniture manufacturing district. Many pictures, plaques & other interesting memorabilia & artifacts.
Ambience 10.0; Food 7.75; Overall 9.0.

Sometimes Vestal notes really good — or bad — service. Some entries don't mention the decor at all, and others may only say, "average," with a simple score.

Entry No 313:
Well, they can't all be winners. Rating: 1.25
He's not a food or restaurant critic, he says.

"The best thing about it, it's not a life-threatening situation," he says. "It's a fun hobby."

* * * *

Entry No. 238:
A little too dainty for me. Naturally, Judy loved it.
Her chicken, fruit & nut salad: 9.0    My meal: 5.0   Over all: 7.5
Vestal and Judy don't always agree on a restaurant's rating. But their overall scores are usually just a couple of points apart.

"There's only been one time that I had to ask Judy, 'Are you outta your mind?' " Vestal says.

"I don't particularly like all the places he goes to, but I go to be with him," Judy says.

Vestal generally prefers independently owned restaurants that serve American fare. "I just think the food is better at locally owned restaurants," Vestal says. "The people who run these businesses are extremely hard-working." They tend to know their customers by name. And their customers are down-to-earth people. "You can talk to people more at these places," Vestal says.

Judy prefers more refined establishments: French restaurants, tea rooms and lodges with roaring fires.

So, they have a deal: for every handful of diners that Vestal drags her to, Judy gets to pick a restaurant. "And he's glad to get there sometimes," she says with a grin.

* * * *

The binders where Vestal files his receipts from each restaurant are more than just food diaries. They document part of Palmer's life over the last 10 years.

Entry No. 266:
Wow! An old restaurant and an unique building. Almost dumpy looking. Great 'home-cooked' restaurant. Very ancient and old in every way. Rate: 8.0

His notes sometimes reveal who was with him or whether a certain food reminded him of something or someone from his past.

Entry No. 531:
Loved the banana pudding (like mother used to make). Ate with Fred and Don. Rate: 5.0 (except for pudding)

His notes tell certain details about a trip. "Here begins the northern trip of 9/28/05 to 10/02/05. Richmond, Williamsburg, Fredericksburg, Baltimore, D.C".

Entry No. 262: 
Richmond, Va. Overall fairly average food. Decor really nice. Rate: 5.5

And every now and again, he really strikes gold.

Entry No. 365:
Ogunquit Lobster Pound. Ok, this was the MO-JO!! You go and pick out your own lobster from the holding tank! And it is unbelievably fresh and delicious. 10.0

He and Judy just happened to discover the restaurant while on a visit to Maine. That's how they found Ogunquit Lobster Pound. On their return from Nova Scotia, they drove past the restaurant. Palmer looked back and noticed a packed parking lot. They had to turn around.

"Really, I've changed my whole attitude about restaurants since tagging around with him" Judy says. "Vestal can really find great restaurants out of the way. He has sort of a restaurant GPS built in."

And then there was the time Vestal and Judy knew where they wanted to eat but couldn't find the restaurant. The BBQ Shack had been featured on "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," and when they visited Kansas, they knew they had to go there. But when they finally found the restaurant at 9pm, it had just closed for the day. Vestal walked to the back of the dark restaurant and knocked on a screen door.

"Come on in," the owner yelled to them.

Vestal explained they had driven from Kansas City to Paola — about 50 miles — just to try his barbecue.

The owner enthusiastically dished up a jumbo barbecue platter: smoked ham, barbecue chicken and ribs. And after learning Vestal and Judy were from North Carolina, he showed off his large collection of Andy Griffith and Barney Fife photos in the dining room.

"They were so friendly and so nice and so happy that we came in, and they were in no hurry for us to leave," Judy says.

Because the BBQ Shack was closed, Vestal and Judy ate their barbecue in a nearby parking lot.
Score: 8.5

Palmer and Conover's next gastronomical adventure will lead them to try Texas barbecue. They might even learn to dance the two-step.

They have some ideas about where they want to eat. But they're always open to new discoveries, too.

Alliance, NE - June 2009
Vestal walking thru Carhenge.
It is a unique car sculpture with 
thirty-eight automobiles that were placed in the same proportions as Stonehenge in England. The circle measuring approximately 96 feet in diameter and is located on 10 acres of land.

Grand Canyon
April 2009
Attractions in Arizona:

Grand Canyon
Arizona Trail
Navajo Nations
Hoover Dam

 Kingman, AZ - April 2009
Lunch at Mr. D'z while traveling on historic Route 66.

 Salem, NH - Oct 8, 2007
Vestal and Judy visited America's Stonehenge and saw stones that mark the solar cycles, 
small rooms and sacrifice rocks. Its builders could be pre-Columbian Europeans or native Indians.

Boston, MA - October 2007
 Union Oyster House-
Vestal standing on Union St. in front of America's oldest restaurant. Great oysters!! 
The toothpick was first used in the US at the Union Oyster House.
Attractions in Boston:
New England Aquarium
North End

           Aug 29, 2003

       David's Catfish House
Definitely a good place to eat! It's is listed as one of the 100 places to eat in Alabama before you die! Monroeville is where Harper Lee was born. She wrote the book "To Kill A Mockingbird".

 Las Vegas, NA - April 2009
Standing on the Hoover Dam with the construction of the new bypass (open 2010) in the background. Then they toured the Grand Canyon. The next night they had dinner at 
Wolfgang Puck's Bar & Grill.

        June 14, 2009
         South Dakota

At Mount Rushmore National Memorial located in the
Black Hills of South Dakota. Also visited the world's largest mountain carving, the Crazy Horse Memorial. Breakfast the next morning in Rapid City, SD, at Arnold's Classic Diner

Nova Scotia - July 2006
Vestal and Judy rode the Tidal Bore at the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. A tidal bore is a tidal phenomenon in which the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a standing wave of water that travels upstream against the current of a river or narrow bay. This only happens in a few places in the world.

        Los Alamos, NM
          May 11, 2010

Los Alamos National Historic Site in New Mexico - This is where scientists worked on the Manhattan Project that developed the two nuclear weapons used by the US during World War II. Vestal and Judy are shown in front of a building that served as living quarters for the first scientists that worked on the Manhattan Project. Later, houses were built as the town grew.

 Eveleth, Minnesota - 

Judy and Vestal having lunch at K & B Drive-In (
Eating "The Pastie")
Attractions in Minnesota:
The Mall of America
Superior National Forest

Nashville, TN - January 26, 2014
Vestal & Judy at the Parthenon in Nashville. This is the only full-size replica of the Parthenon in the world. (the original is in Greece). Then they had lunch at the Blackstone Restaurant & Brewery which is nationally known for brewing award-winning craft beers.  
Attractions in Nashville:

Ryman Auditorium(Downtown):
Original Home of the Grand Ole Opry
Opryland (9 miles NE of Nashville): 
Current Home of the Grand Ole Opry 
The Hermitage: 
   Home of President 
Andrew Jackson
The Johnny Cash Museum
Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum
Belle Meade Plantation District
Broadway St (Downtown Nashville):       Live country music & shopping
The Parthenon & Athena Statue

           Louisville, KY
            Feb 27, 2010

Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwich originally created at the Brown Hotel in 1925 in Louisville. It is an open-face sandwich with turkey, bacon & covered in Mornay sauce.
Woodford Reserve Bar & Grill
Attractions in Louisville:
Kentucky Derby 
Museum at 
Churchill Downs 
Old Louisville
Locust Grove built in 1790

 Lockhart, TX - November 2008
Vestal getting ready to eat lunch at Black's Barbecue. It is one of the oldest barbecue restaurant in Texas that has been continuously owned and operated by the same family since 1932.

 San Antonia, TX - Nov 21, 2008
Vestal and Judy strolling along the river (The San Antonia River Walk). After walking along the river and visiting the Alamo (the city's first Catholic mission built in 1718) they dined at Rosario's Restaurant and Cantina. 

Portland, OR - July 2009
Judy holding a 5 star dessert,"The Chocolate Bag," at Jake's Famous Crawfish Restaurant. After lunch they visited the Portland Market.
Attractions in Portland:

Portland Japanese Garden
The Pittock Mansion
The Portland Market

 Memphis, TN - January 12, 2007
Lunch at Blues Cafe before touring Sun Studios, Graceland & Beale St.
More Attractions:
National Civil Right Museum
The Peabody Hotel Duckwalk
The Mississippi River

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