LOCATION: Emlenton Truck Plaza, Exit 42, I-80, Emlenton PA
Ed Schmader and JoJo Burke know how to run a truck stop.
I was driving to Cleveland for Christmas with my nephew and family. I started to see signs for The World’s Best Apple Pie. Now that is interesting, because I have worked on my apple pie for years and it is pretty darned good. I turned in for a pit stop, and as I entered the store Ed gave me a big “Hi” — looked really interested in me. I dashed through, on a tight time schedule to make it to Cleveland in time for church and the angel choir.
But the “Hi” brought me back. I had to see what went with the “Hi” and also to check out the brag on the apple pie.
On the way home, in the predawn I started with an hour-long argument with my GPS, but eventually got to I-80 and Exit 42. Emlenton Truck Plaza is a truck stop in the middle of nowhere. It requires something special to get people and truckers to turn off the Interstate, and Ed and Jo-Jo deliver.
Ed is the general manager. The truck plaza has a big, comfortable and clean restaurant. The store is just as big and just as clean and organized. It is a trucker’s paradise, with stuff I have never seen in my life; yard-long windshield wipers, log records for truckers, fancy leather purses for wives (or the occasional lady trucker), souvenirs and chotskies, lots of varieties of jerky, clothing, coffee, two liter bottles of soda, 5000 items in all. There was even a table with free Christmas wrapping paper for gifts going home.
Ed’s all-glass office is built high over the driveway like the bridge of a ship, and I think he is close to all-seeing. He isn’t the only energetic and friendly person. He wasn’t there on my second trip, but the help (with one exception) was just as nice as he was.
Jo-Jo is Joseph Burke, who actually owns Emlenton Truck Plaza. Emlenton is one of three of his trucker’s stores, called Jo-Jo’s Variety Store. There is so much in the store, so well displayed, that I had to look at it, walk the aisles and imagine another life, a life on the road. If I hadn’t had that hour-long argument with my GPS, I might still be there.
I was also hungry, having left Cleveland before dawn. The eggs, bacon and home fries were standard. Lots of locals in the roomy dining room. My waitress looked askance at my bacon, and got me more without me asking.
On the beams of the dining room are inscribed various inspirational quotes. “One man with courage makes a majority.”(Andrew Jackson) “I have never met or heard of anyone who could outsmart honesty.” (Abe Lincoln) “A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.” (John A. Shedd) Something for a trucker to think about on the long road to Kansas City or Atlanta.
This owner and manager convince you at every turn that they are 1) friendly and 2) competent. They also convey that they care. Good job, Ed and Jo-Jo.
And what about the apple pie? The crust is exactly right, flaky, flavorful, not soggy. The Plaza filling is medium-good, for my money needing more cinnamon and nutmeg, more character to the apples. My crust is soggy, but you will be transported by the filling.