Visiting Pasadena without Licking Telephone Poles

Last week, in the middle of Old Town Pasadena’s swirling of food and foot traffic, I stumbled on the city’s newest source of gastronomy: Rocket Fizz, a store selling locally made soda from around the country and the world. Newest, as in just opened that day.

Locally microbrewed beer already finds its way into beer bars (and into gaggles of NYC delis), but what about root beer? With all this grown-up drinking behavior, have we forgotten to be kids again? The stock at Rocket Fizz seems to include every age bracket: blueberry soda from Maine; Thomas Kemper Marionberry soda from Portland, Oregon; rows of Leninade (“A Taste Worth Standing in Line For,” as their slogan says); and hundreds more from small companies that still sweeten their sodas with cane sugar instead of corn syrup. And a whole section dedicated to root beer.

Say what you want about the backwater simplicity of root beer, but I still find that it’s one of the best accompaniments for pizza. So I was happy to find a place that legitimizes the drink.

At the same time, however, I felt a tug of sadness. One of the disappearing jewels of the ever-homogenized American landscape is the regional specialty. Rocket Fizz indulges one’s local flavor fancy with the convenience of not having to travel, which, in effect, de-localizes these beverages and takes them out of their context. For example, since I wasn’t in Maine when drinking the aforementioned blueberry soda, I wasn’t able to hear folks pronounce Bar Harbor like “Bah Hahbah” while they tell stories about fighting off the state’s infamous black flies. (I understand that not everybody needs such ambience while drinking soda.) In the end, though, no matter where you drink it, you are supporting a small, independent bottling company.

Rocket Fizz isn’t a Pasadena phenomenon. Mark Friedman, owner of the Pasadena store, told me that there are almost a dozen locations in the franchise, most of which on the West Coast. That’s a lot of tasty but context-free soda.

But then there’s the Moxie holdout. I have only recently heard of Moxie, a soda mostly bottled in New England, even though I grew up in Connecticut. That’s how obscure it is. While Rocket Fizz sells the newer Moxie Blue, a cream soda with a bubblegum-esque flavor, they have not been able to secure orders of the original Moxie. A recent article in Gastronomica described Moxie as tasting like the tar on a telephone pole, which doesn’t stop Moxie from claiming a tight following, maybe from smokers who can’t get enough tar from cigarettes or something. As the Omnivorous Traveler, I feel it is my duty to verify claims of such a festive flavor profile. Original Moxie occasionally turns up outside New England at shops that are as peculiar as Moxie’s flavor, but as of today, I have been denied.

Moxie: promoting regionalism, one telephone pole at a time.

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About OmnivorousTraveler

Darrin DuFord is a travel writer, mapgazer, and jungle rodent connoisseur. His writing has won numerous awards and has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, BBC Travel, Gastronomica, Roads & Kingdoms, Narratively, and Perceptive Travel, among other publications. He is the author of Breakfast for Alligators: Quests, Showdowns and Revelations in the Americas (released in July 2016) and Is There a Hole in the Boat? Tales of Travel in Panama without a Car, silver medalist in the 2007 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Awards.
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