Go long way with roadside stops

When I was married I used to receive complaints from the wife about my driving.

It wasn't a safety issue, but the fact that I tended to daydream at the wheel in a way that usually added unnecessary detours to otherwise efficient commutes.

Years later, I'm still susceptible to diversions, but since I'm often a solo traveler (as we've covered in previous columns), the sidetrips are more of a charming personality quirk than an annoyance.

There are still places that I can't pass in a car without stopping to check them out – even after multiple visits. I passed one – or, rather, failed to pass one – again on a recent Interstate 4 road trip to Tampa.

Like so many of the must-stop destinations, Buddy Freddy's (813- 754-5120) – an old-fashioned country buffet off Thonotosassa Road, just a few miles from the highway in Plant City – is a restaurant.

To be honest, it's not even the best restaurant you could find along the interstate, although the food and service used to be more consistent than it is now. Heck, it's perhaps not even the best restaurant at the Thonotosassa Road exit, with an Outback Steakhouse right around the corner.

The competition was pointed out to me by a lady friend that accompanied me to Buddy Freddy's once on the way to a concert in Tampa. She's was diplomatic at dinner, only later uttering the painful truth: "I couldn't believe we were eating at the buffet, with a perfectly good Outback sitting in the next parking lot."

Yeah, I still have a lot to learn about women, but I know what I like. I like the fried chicken and fried shrimp at Buddy Freddy's, where you also can make your own strawberry shortcake for dessert on a spring visit.

Other restaurants I can't pass up: Dixie Crossroads in Titusville (dixiecrossroads.com), where the corn fritters that the shrimp mascot is holding in the photograph accompanying this column are a delicacy worth the drive. And yeah, I'll stop at almost any Waffle House, a love affair that started when I realized the jukeboxes are loaded with songs about Waffle Houses.

When it comes to places without kitchens, a good bookstore such as Haslem's (haslems.com) in St. Petersburg or Abraxas Books in Daytona Beach (386-258-8060) also is too much temptation to resist.

There are others, but I'd also like to hear from Postcard readers: Email me your top roadside stops. I'd like to check them out.

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