Twice a year, every year, for the past ten years, we drive 850 miles from New York to South Carolina to spend a week at the beach. It’s a long drive. With two kids in the back, singing Adele a capella, it’s a really long drive. We try to do it in one shot with just one stop: Sally Bell’s Kitchen, two minutes off the highway in Richmond, Virginia. Their famous lunchboxes, which they’ve been packing since the ’50s, are almost worth the trip alone. We buy four, then walk to a park nearby to sit in the sun, stretch our legs a bit, and eat.
Inside each box is a happy meal from another, better time: a Smithfield ham-and-iceberg sandwich on a roll, a paprika-dusted deviled egg wrapped in parchment paper, a two-bite cupcake (You get three choices: chocolate, almond, or caramel) that is frosted on three sides, a cheese crisp, a packet of Duke’s mayonnaise and, best of all, a small paper cup filled with super-eggy potato salad and topped with a lone sweet pickle chip. Hot damn!
While the girls love the salty ham with mayo and the novelty of a cupcake that’s more frosting than it is cake, it’s the whole package—and the act of unwrapping of it—that blows their small minds. The white cardboard boxes, tied with bakery twine and lined with checkerboard tissue paper, are prizes they’ve earned by enduring four hundred miles lashed to their booster seats, watching I-95 roll by, and being force-fed Dad’s music. The food is real and great and they love it, but they also love what it represents: the trip is halfway done, and the next time we stop, they’ll be in vacation land, with all its attendant promise.
Occasionally, we try to replicate the lunchbox at home. The tangy potato salad in particular is a mainstay at our summer barbecues, and goes perfectly with a well-cooked burger and a salad. The kids eat up a (slightly less eggy) version as eagerly as ever. For them, it’s a little taste of vacation — but from the comfort of their own home
This is our “Providers” column from the May 2012 issue (The Travel Issue!) of Bon Appetit — on newsstands today. Please head over to their site for the Eggy Potato Salad with Pickles recipe and to access the entire Providers Archive. Photo by the amazing Marcus Nilsson for BonApp.