TRANSCRIPT

Trip Coach: August 12, 2008

Roadfood experts Jane and Michael Stern answered your questions about roadside dining.

By , Tuesday, Aug 12, 2008, 12:21 PM

Jane and Michael Stern: Good day, hungry travelers! Jane and I are here to offer whatever tips we can for finding good Roadfood stops along the way. Our goal primarily is to find food unique to its place and region, but we have no objection to such non-local treats as a great hamburger, hot dog, or pizza, and feel that just about any excellent, one-of-a-kind eatery deserves attention. So, who's going where, and what do you want to eat?

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New York City, N.Y.: I love your weekly segments on Splendid Table! What's the biggest mistake people make when planning a road trip when it comes to roadside dining? Or, put it another way, what's the best advice you could give folks like me that you haven't thought of?

Jane and Michael Stern: Thanks. Probably the biggest mistake is looking for something familiar. For us, the whole point of traveling is to experience the place we are, and that means eating the food people there eat, the way they eat it. That could range from Indian pudding in a Maine diner to carnitas tacos from a truck in South Tucson. In other words, be adventurous! Try new things! Meet new people!

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Los Angeles, Calif.: What is the best Jewish deli in the San Francisco Bay Area?

Jane and Michael Stern: It's nothing fancy, but for a good pastrami sandwich, matzoh ball soup, and noodle kugel, David's Deli on Geary Street is the place we've enjoyed. (I cannot miss this opportunity, however, to rave about how good the grazing is down at the Ferry Building, where I just was last week. No Jewish deli there, but the salami store has cured meats to die for.)

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: We will be in the DC/No. Virginia area this weekend. Ben's Chili Bowl is a must. Any other can't miss suggestions?

Jane and Michael Stern: D.C. can be tough for finding Roadfood, especially since Scholl's cafeteria closed. You're right, Ben's is a must. We also really like the good old Florida Avenue Grill, especially for breakfast. Over in Virginia, we had time for a quick meal in Fairfax and found ourselves at Chutzpah Deli and were really impressed at just how authentic it is.

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Seattle, Wash.: My husband and I are going on a coastal road trip starting from Astoria, Ore. to San Francisco, Calif. in early October. Could you share a few of your favorite diners along the way that do not require venturing off Hwy 101 too much? Thanks.

Jane and Michael Stern: We just did that trip a couple of weeks ago, but the other way, starting in San Francisco. There is no shortage of good things to eat right on—or just off—the Coast Highway. The one real diner-like gem is the Otis Cafe, just off 101 in Otis, Oregon. It is a tiny place, usually crowded. Hearty, homey food. While not precisely diners, some of the other casual Roadfood eateries along the way include the Marshall Store in Marshall, California, for oysters barbecued to order, served on makeshift tables overlooking Tomales Bay. In Oregon, a few favorites include the South Beach Fish Market in South Beach for excellent fried fish & chips (especially halibut) and fresh Dungeness crab, a place called Fresh Seafood NW in Tillamook across from the big creamery (great chowder), and the Ecola Market in Cannon Beach (fresh EVERYTHING; they have their own boats). Also in Cannon Beach, there is a bakery called Waves of Grain that makes sensational sticky buns, cheese biscuits, and cupcakes. Beyond Cannon Beach, in Gearhart, we like Norma's Ocean View Diner for a full menu of local seafood, along with a list of wines from Oregon. Oh, and one more place if you want to have a more upscale meal: Sidestreet Bistro in Florence. It is a small, cozy place with an ambitious menu of mostly Pacific Northwest seafood.

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Hot Springs, S.D.: I will be in Bellevue, Idaho a few days in September while my dog undergoes elbow replacement there. Where are good, reasonable places to eat?

Jane and Michael Stern: Wow, elbow replacement. That's amazing that it can be done. Sorry to say, we have never been to Bellevue, so don't have any recommendations (please let us know if you find something good to eat there!) but if you can get over to Boise, definitely give Andrade's Restaurante Mexicano a try. They've got a salsa bar where you help yourself to chunky salsa roja, pico de gallo, four-alarm habanero puree and a large variety of other tongue-tinglers that are just right for dipping tortilla chips. Another fine place in Boise is the Westside Drive-In, run by local celebrity chef Lou Aaron, inventor of the Idaho Ice Cream Potato (!). Great burgers and stupendous, gigantic baked potatoes.

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Vero Beach, Fla.: Wanted a quick stop for a pulled pork sandwich off Interstate 95 going north (or south for that matter) in North Carolina. There used to be a wonderful stop at Benson that's now closed. Boy were we disappointed! Our mouths had been ready for 200 miles. There is another (I think called the Swan?) in the vicinity that's no comparison. Can you suggest any alternatives, as it was one of the treats that made the ride back north worthwhile. Thanks.

Jane and Michael Stern: The place I'd recommend is Parker's in Wilson, North Carolina—a classic, old-time pig-pickin originally made popular by local tobacco farmers long ago. Get the chopped pork and Brunswick stew with hushpuppies, corn sticks, cole slaw, and boiled potatoes on the side. If you are willing to detour off I-95 and head east to Ayden, you will there find the Skylight Inn, which many consider to be one of the greatest barbecue parlors anywhere. It is whole-hog 'cue done the old-fashioned way, and there are exactly two items on the menu: a sandwich (pulled pork with cole slaw included) and a tray (pulled pork with cole slaw and a tile of cornbread). Either way, it is a meal to remember.

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Belleville, N.J.: Whenever we travel around the state, my wife teases me because it seems like I've been to just about every diner we drive by. (Yeah, it's a Jersey thing—although, California has a diner culture too, doesn't it?) So what is your one can't-miss diner?

Jane and Michael Stern: In New Jersey, I am especially fond of White Rose System in Linden, which my eater-pals Bruce Bilmes and Sue Boyles directed me to for the Taylor ham sandwiches with eggs, cheese, AND home fried potatoes. (As a New Jersey native, you KNOW just how beloved Taylor ham is in the Garden State; it is a treat that few out-of-staters know or understand. The fact is that New Jersey really does have the best and the most diners, although you will find some good ones all over the country, such as Mickey's Dining Car in St. Paul, Bobcat Bite in Santa Fe, and Bette's Oceanview in Berkeley. I'm not sure about California having a thriving diner culture any more. Even Bette's is a modern place that is more an ode to the diner (but a thoroughly worthy one). Another interesting dinerish place in Oakland is a place called Bakesale Betty's, known for great pastries and its chicken salad sandwich. At this place, you dine out on the sidewalk at tables made from old ironing boards!

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West Palm Beach, Fla.: We will be road tripping from Atlanta to Asheville then on to Charleston, then Savannah and back to Atlanta from October 9th to the 19th. We're two adults in our late 30s, no kids. We'd love to find some good food on the road but haven't found any websites that help you plan a road trip around food. Any suggestions?? Thanks, Angela

Jane and Michael Stern: Hooo-wee, you will be traveling through some of the most delicious country anywhere in this nation. In Atlanta, I would start my trip with fried chicken, pot likker and plates full of southern style vegetables at Mary Mac's Tea Room. If you like classic old-style diners, check out the Silver Skillet: ham and red eye gravy for breakfast, and some of the best lemon icebox pie anywhere. Then, of course, who can leave Atlanta without a visit to the Varsity, the worlds' largest drive-in, for a slaw dog or two? I don't know the route you are taking to Ashville, but I suggest you plot it so you can stop in Statesville at Keaton's for barbecued chicken -- it is fried, then dipped in hot, hot sauce, emerging with a taste like no other. Charleston is an eater's paradise: seafood at Hyman's, great southern food of all kinds at Jestine's, and if you want an upscale version of Southern food, check out Magnolia's. Even more upscale, and pretty pricey (but very, very good) is 82 Queen. Oh, and the Hominy Grill must not be missed—for breakfast, lunch, or supper. In Savannah, be sure to have lunch at Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House. For many more tips along the way, check out Roadfood.com. There are state-by-state listings and maps showing where the restaurants are, as well as discussion forums where you can ask for suggestions.

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Cicero, N.Y.: I am taking a trip in mid Sept. up the coast of Maine to Bar Harbor. Would you suggest some GREAT lobster shacks/pounds on the Maine coast?

Jane and Michael Stern: It's almost hard to find a bad lobster on the route you are taking. Heading downeast from the New Hampshire border, one of our favorites is The Maine Diner in Wells. It's not a scenic lobster pound, but the grandma's-recipe lobster pie is memorable. One of the most beautiful settings is at The Lobster Shack in Cape Elizabeth: dine on picnic tables overlooking Casco Bay. And at Five Islands Lobster Co. in Georgetown, while you are eating steamers, lobster, corn, and potatoes—a full shore dinner, cooked to order—you can watch the lobstermen bring in their catch. If you want to go a little more formal (utensils and washable plates), try Mabel's Lobster Claw in Kennebunkport. Just down the road from Mabel's is the Clam Shack, where you will get one of the best lobster rolls on the coast and where, next door, they will boil up an excellent lobster for you (but bring your own wine, side dishes, etc.).

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Bethesda, Md.: I am going to Renninger's Antique Show in Kutztown, PA at the end of September. Any suggestions for that area—Bethlehem, Allentown, Lancaster?

Jane and Michael Stern: How about the Allentown Fairgrounds Farmers Market. Our friends Bruce Bilmes and Sue Boyle checked it out and recommended the pierogi, donuts, sausages, and chicken pies. There are all kinds of things to eat, but Bruce and Sue referred to it as a "meat-eater's mecca, a carnival for carnivores," including meaty slab bacon, etc. Don't forget the shoofly pie, too. The market is open Thursday through Saturday, and while much of the food is for taking home, there are plenty of opportunities to feast on the spot.

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New York, N.Y.: What kind of ice cream recommendations do you have for an upcoming trip to New England?

Jane and Michael Stern: As you may know, New England eats more ice cream per capita than any other region, not to mention it being home of the original Howard Johnson's as well as of Ben & Jerry's. Recently a team of ice cream fanatics from Roadfood.com sampled 50 of the top independent ice cream shops in the region. Some of their top choices are Tubby's in Wayne, Maine, for Cinnamon Trail flavor, Sundae School in Dennisport, Massachusetts, for Bass River Mud flavor, and Buttonwood Farms in Griswold, Connecticut for chocolate-covered Graham Cracker ice cream. Two personal favorites are The Big Dipper just outside Waterbury, Connecticut, for its toasted almond, and the Ridgefield Ice Cream Shop on Route 7 in Ridgefield for its purer-than-pure custard. The most intense ice cream you ever will eat is Rich Chocolate, at Dr. Mike's, in Bethel, Connecticut. In New Hampshire, check out Bishop's in Littleton; in Rhode Island, Gray's of Tiverton (get the ginger ice cream). And the Boston area is a hotbed of ice cream greatness, including Christina's and Toscanini's, both in Cambridge.

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Wellesley, Mass.: I will be traveling with another adult on Sept. 7 on I -35 north between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. Any good restaurants? A life-long foodie

Jane and Michael Stern: In Fort Worth, the Paris Coffee Shop (named not for the city in France, but for the family who started it) is a modest place that has become a landmark for its excellent pies as well as good chicken-fried steak. In Oklahoma City, we are particularly fond of the Classen Grill, especially for its breakfast migas (a sort of tortilla omelet). Between the two cities, it's a short trip off I-35 into Tioga, Texas (birthplace of singing cowboy Gene Autry), for a visit to Clark's Barbecue, one of the Lone Star State's best.

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Trenton, N.J.: One Roadfood chicken meal: deep-fried, pan-fried, Broasted, or Cornell?

Jane and Michael Stern: That's like asking Hugh Hefner if he prefers blondes, redheads, or brunettes. But if you held a gun to my head and forced me to choose (oh, what a great dilemma!), I would go for the pan-fried, especially if it was the pan-fried chicken served at Stroud's in Kansas City, where it is presented with crusty skin inbued with the flavor of chicken fat and as rich and savory as bacon. It comes with real, rugged pan-drippin' gravy, fluffy mashed potatoes, buttery-sweet cinnamon rolls and even superb chicken soup with homemade noodles and juicy shreds of thigh meat. Everything comes in big bowls meant for passing among friends and family.

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San Diego, Calif.: My wife and I are going on a retirement road trip from San Diego to New Jersey taking a Northern route there and a Southern route home. We are going through Utah (Zion NP), South Dakota (Deadwood), Iowa (Amana Colonies), Illinois, Michigan (Holland, Detroit), Ohio (Canton), Penn. (Hershey), New Jersey, Virginia, Tennessee (Memphis), Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and home. Can you recommend some not to miss, non chain places to experiences local foods? Thanks in advance.

Jane and Michael Stern: Oh, my gosh. You could take 5 years to make that trip and not hit half the great eateries along the way. A small handful of must-not-miss opportunities that come immediately to mind are barbecue in Memphis (at Interstate, A&R, or Cozy Corner), a green chile cheeseburger in New Mexico (at the Owl Bar in San Antonio) or a full-bore New-Mex meal at the beautiful and romantic Rancho de Chimayo north of Santa Fe. If you go through Tucson, great Sonoran-Mexican food in such gems as Pico de Gallo, El Charro, and the upscale Poca Cosa. It wouldn't hurt to take a copy of our book Roadfood with you; that's what it's for! ;-)

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Jane and Michael Stern: Thanks for chatting, everyone. And here's hoping we run into one another somewhere at the counter of an excellent diner down the road. Adios.