Trip Coach: September 5, 2006

Todd France
Roadfood experts Jane and Michael Stern

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

Jane and Michael Stern: Howdy, and welcome to the Roadfood chat. Jane got called out on an ambulance run (she's an EMT), so it may just be me for the hour. And I have to warn you that I currently have use of only 7-1/2 fingers, as I fell off my horse yesterday and 2-1/2 digits have blown up to resemble an order of Texas hot links. So I may be a little slow. But let's go!


Newark, DE: Me & my husband will be driving "The Crooked Road" in SW Virgina September 12 through the 16th to explore & experience the bluegrass, gospel & country music landmarks. The towns include Floyd, Galax, Bristol, Hiltons, Norton & Clintwood. Any suggestions for great country dining? We are especially fond of breakfast. Thank you! I am a huge fan.

Jane and Michael Stern: It's been a while since we ate our way through Southern Virginia. You'll find great country ham and red-eye gravy for breakfast (and lunch and dinner), that's for sure, but the one must-not-miss specialty of this particular part of the state is Brunswick Stew. I'm not sure if it's still there, but there was a great little cafe in Lawrenceville called Larry's Lunch: Brunswick stew, griddle-fried ham, corn cakes, and delicious rice pudding for dessert.


Tucson, AZ: Hi, Jane and Michael! My husband and I are taking a road trip into New England during October. While in Vermont we will be traveling the Ethan Allen Highway. We will be traveling in that area on Sunday, October 8th from the Mt. Washington area on our way to Bridgewater Corners. What good road side places, not pricey, could you recommend? Thanks so much! We are very active and young minded seniors but doubt if that makes any difference where we eat!

Jane and Michael Stern: In Woodstock, just east of Bridgewater Corners, there is a little diner named Wasp's. It's where the locals eat, and the menu ranges from blue-plate corned beef hash to such specials as calamari salad with a lime mint soy dressing for the greens and chipolte aioli for the calamari. We like the hamburgers, with pie for dessert. Also, check out Gillingham's hardware: they've got everything (including local edibles).


Charlotte, NC: I'm flying into Charlotte for a business meeting. I will have lunch hour free. Any suggestions for a good meal?

Jane and Michael Stern: My Charlotte friend assures me Lupie's Cafe cannot be beat, and looking at its website has made it top priority for when we visit Charlotte in October. From past experience we can unreservedly recommend Price's Chicken Coop for some of the southland's best fried chicken.


Astoria, NY: As vegetarians, we're usually stuck eating salads and grilled cheese when we hit the road. Have you ever come across any great meat-free meals at your favorite roadside haunts? Thanks!

Jane and Michael Stern: We were amazed in Memphis, Tennessee, when we went there several months back to discover that many of the soul food cooks have forsworn hamhocks and any other pig meat in their long-cooked vegetables. (In particular, check out Alcenia's and The Cupboard: vegetable lovers' heavens with lots of meat-free choices.) Southern cafeterias and cafes generally do have great vegetable selections, but you have to watch out for the ham bone that is traditionally used to season them. We've also found that good Mexican restaurants can be vegetarian friendly (although not so vegan friendly), because it is less common nowadays to make refritos with lard.


Bethel, CT: While eating an ice cream at Dr. Mike's, I swear I saw you leaving the yoga studio. Is this true? Should I expect a new Yogi Roadfood in the future? And what is the best food to eat after yoga?

Jane and Michael Stern: Yes, that was I (Michael) exiting yoga class on Greenwood Ave. in Bethel, which happens to be less than 100 yards from Dr. Mike's ice cream, 1/4 mile from both the Sycamore Drive-In (home of the Dagwoodburger and swell root beer) and a small, slightly upscale storefront called Pizzeria Laurentano, where you'll find beautiful boutique pizzas and very yummy salads. I suspect my yoga teacher might not recoommend pizza and ice cream after class, but I find it builds up a very healthy appetite. As for a special edition of Roadfood for yogis only (where to eat a hot fudge sundae while lounging on a bed of nails?), it's safe to say that it is a long way off. As I see it, yoga is the yin to Roadfood yang. Or is it vice versa?


Charleston SC: I'm heading to the charleston area. What classic low country foods are a must to try? And where is the best place(s) to chow down?

Jane and Michael Stern: Oh, the lowcountry is one of the great places to eat. In general, look for anything served with creamy grits. These are nothing like watery grits. They are rich and buttery and especially wonderful as a bed for a school of grilled shrimp and mousseline at The Old Post Office on Edisto Island. Oysters are now in season, and nowhere are they tastier in and around Charleston. If you're in Mount Pleasant, go to Gullah Cuisine, a restaurant devoted to lowcountry ways. Also, don't think that a listing of "flounder" on a menu is just a drab filet of fish. Lowcountry flounder is a thing of beauty (and deliciosity!)


butte falls, or: will be making a quick trip from Atlanta Airport to a day in Chatanooga, TN. in early October....any ideas for a place to eat lunch and/or dinner....also the same for Atlanta, on the next day....we only have one day in each city.....thanks a lot!


Jane and Michael Stern: In Chattanooga, if you are there at lunchtime, Monday through Friday, seek out Zarzour's. It's open only for those five meals, but it is a plate-lunch treasure. In Atlanta, we love Mary Mac's Tea Room for old-fashioned southern fare and Harold's Barbecue. Also, a humble diner called the Silver Skillet has the best lemon ice box pie I've ever tasted.


Centennial, CO: We're planning a Freeport, Bar Harbor, Boothbay Harbor, Kennebunkport trip to Maine next month and are interested in best small places for lobster, of course but also other foods - my husband doesn't eat seafood!

Jane and Michael Stern: Not eating seafood can be a serious handicap along the coast of Maine, where Harraseeket Lobster in Freeport and the Clam Shack in Kennebunkport are at the top of the summer/fall seafood scale. If, however, your husband likes hot dogs, Maine is a great state to eat them ... especially with the hot relish in which so many shoreline places specialize. Also, look for pies (at Moody's Diner in Waldoboro), great burgers (at Harmon's in Falmouth, north of Portland) and terrific hot-lunch sandwiches at the Maine Diner down in Wells. And if you'd like something fancier, Fore Street in Portland is one of the nation's great urban upscale restaurants -- plenty of non-seafood choices there.


Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Firenze, Italia: Hey Michael, Sue and Bruce here - all of Italy is Roadfood! Check it out!

Jane and Michael Stern: Hi, Bruce and Sue (members of the team)! I would love to say I will hop right on a plane and meet you for something Florentine ... but I do have a nice chili dog planned for lunch here this afternoon. :)


Bucks County, PA: We are trailering our horses to Danbury CT for trail riding in Tarrywile Park. Are there any good eats within riding distance?

Jane and Michael Stern: Across from Tarrywile Park on the other side of Mountainville Road, you can ride through the Danbury nature preserve and find yourself at JK's Texas Wieners, a Danbury dog house on South Street that has been around since the 1930s. Alas, there is no hitching post or ride-up window. If you happen to be riding your horses through the park next year around mid-August, the raspberry bushes are loaded with the best little berries you have ever eaten for about 10 days or until the birds swoop down.


New York, NY: Hey Michael, I'm planning a fall foliage tour in Massachusetts next month. Any tips for great roadfood near or around Boston? Thanks!

Jane and Michael Stern: Oh, yes. Where to start? In Cambridge, you need to have ice cream at Christina's. In Boston, Durgin-Park is large, rude and touristy, but it is true-blue Yankee. Going north of the city, have a roast beef sandwich at Nick's in Beverly or Kelly's at Revere Beach. And if you get to Cape Ann, see if the Clam Box is still open: the best fried clams anywhere. Also, in Essex, there are Woodman's and the Village, both open year-around.


Knoxville Tennessee: Jane and Michael:

We all know that you travel extensively and how you endure so manymeals a day truly amazes me. I have often wondered why you have never concentrated on East Tennessee quisine. It is more than soul food as the folks of east Tennessee in times past existed solely on home grown food. Country ham, free range chicken, eggs picked out of who knows where, veggies, desserts sugared with mollasses and veggies, everything canned and sugar cured ham. Do you ever plan on doing a segment entirely on East Tennessee food?

Paul E. Smith
Knoxville, TN

Jane and Michael Stern: We've had nothing but good luck hunting food in Eastern Tennessee, including the Ridgewood Barbecue in Bluff City and Litton's in Knoxville. But you're right: we are overdue for a serious eating tour there.


Marriottsville, MD: How do you feel when a wonderful "one of a kind" Roadfood place closes it's doors forever? And what are some of your nicest memories of places that have gone out of business?

Jane and Michael Stern: Alas, it happens all the time (although I have to say that there are plenty of great new Roadfoodly places opening, too). Only recently, we've seen the loss of Stone's in Marshalltown, Iowa (home of mile-high lemon chiffon pie) and the big-feed, family-friendly Branch Ranch of Plant City, Florida, not to mention a bunch of New Orleans places not likely to rise again. More than the places, we miss the people who ran them and worked in them: Mrs. Bonner of Mrs. Bonner's Cafe, who used to tell customers what they would have for lunch, the Dipsy-Doodle soda maker at Zaharako's in Columbus, Indiana, the motherly waitstaff at the old Four Way Grill in Memphis.


Roselle, IL: We will be traveling along Route 66 all the way to California in November. Is there any place to dine that we should not miss?

Jane and Michael Stern: Route 66 is a bonanza! Just a few recommendations: Cozy Dog in Springfield, Illinois, Ted Drewes Custard in St. Louis, the Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma, Johnnie's Grill (for onion-fried burgers) in El Reno, Oklahoma, Beans N Things in Amarillo, The Frontier (always open) in Albuquerque, and Old Smoky's in Williams, Arizona.


Stanhope NJ: I'll be in Portland, ME the last week of September. Any must eats?

Jane and Michael Stern: Portland has all kinds of good places to eat. We like Becky's Diner on the Wharf for breakfast. Also Marcy's Diner has superb fried potatoes. I mentioned Fore Street in a previous question: top-notch, high end food. And do treat yourself to stopping at Colucci's -- a corner grocery store that makes great Italians, a unique Portland twist on the all-American hero roll.


Virginia: Michael, "i95" here from your wonderful site. For all travelers motoring though the Nutmeg State, is there any update on the future fate of Middletown, Connecticut's famed O'Rourke's Diner following its fire last week?

Jane and Michael Stern: For now, O'Rourke's is in flux. But it seems to have enough support, and Brian O'Rourke has the drive, that I am sure it will be reborn in one form or another. Of course, we shall try to stay abreast of events as best we can. I suspect it will be a while before we have anything like the smooth-functioning place that Brian O'Rourke nurtured for all those years. Those interested can keep up to date at


Seattle, WA: Re: An eating tour in Eastern Tennessee. How do you plan where -- and what -- to eat? Do you pick an area, based on tips from your readers and listeners? And, any tips on how to find great roadfood and what to look for when traveling?

Jane and Michael Stern: When heading out to explore a region (as opposed to one or two or three specific places), we ask everyone we know and we usually post a mention that we are heading somewhere in the newsletter. We almost always get far too many tips to check out in a single trip. The best way to find roadfood when traveling is (a) have a sense of what to look for, i.e. know that spiedies are big around Binghamton, New York, pasties are something to look for on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Minnesotan's love hot beef and sour cream raisin pie. (B) cruise through a strange town early in the morning. Find where the pickups are parked. Even if that restaurant doesn't have great food, chances are that its patrons will be able to recommend their favorites. (C) Get a haircut. We have found some of the best Roadfood places by striking up a conversation with the barber and other patrons.


Washington, D.C.: Have you ever eaten at Chubby's Southern Barbeque, in Emmitsburg Maryland? I've heard its the best BBQ in the US.


Jane and Michael Stern: Yes, Chubby's is fantastic, for its four-star ribs as well as for pulled pork that is soft and smoky, and baked beans are liberally laced with shreds of meat.


Silver Spring, MD: What are your favorite barbecue places in North Carolina? We have an opportunity to drive to Asheville in the spring and would like some scenic - and tasty - locales. We love the Outer Banks, and it's possible that we might make a brief (2- to 3-day)detour coming back. Accordingly, we'd be interested in barbecue places in North Carolina, and possibly eastern Virginia.


Jane and Michael Stern: North Carolina is a big state, and the BBQ from east to west is very different, the westernmost Q generally being pretty saucy, as at Bridge's BBQ Lodge in Shelby or the spicy BBQ chicken at Keaton's in Statesville (not really BBQ, but a destination eatery if ever there was one). In the east, you don't get the thick red sauce. Instead, it's a peppery vinegar emulsion, all the better to highlight the fine smoked flavor of the pork. A couple of eastern places worth finding are Bunn's in Windsor (an ex-gas station) and the Skylight Inn in Ayden. Many connoisseurs consider Lexington Barbecue #1, in Lexington, to be the best of the best.


Allentown PA: Has having a Roadfood website made it easier to find new food experiences?

Jane and Michael Stern: Oh, yes, for sure! When I think back on what it was like before we got together with Stephen Rushmore (the genius who created the website), it's like the dark ages. Now we are connected to a large community of people who all share a passion for finding authentic regional food in one-of-a-kind places. I think that the existence of and the people who use it has genuinely helped these kinds of eateries stay strong and viable.


Phoenixville, PA: Aren't you the same people who wrote Dog Eat Dog? My two favorite things are Travel and Bullmastiffs. Imagine my surprise to see an author of one of my Bullmastiff books mentioned in my favorite travel magazine!

Jane and Michael Stern: Yes, we wrote Dog Eat Dog, and in fact the daughter of the bullmastiff on the cover is still is a member of our household. Clementine is 12 years old (ancient for a bullmastiff) and blind, but happy as can be.


Long Beach CA: We are going to Jackson TN from Sept. 20-24th. Is there a good place to eat around that city?

Jane and Michael Stern: Not sure if it's still in Jackson, but The Old Country Store used to serve pretty good fried chicken. That was a while ago. If you find anything good to eat around there, please let us know!


Jane and Michael Stern: Well, everyone, I think I hear the theme music signaling our time is up. Thanks for all the questions. It has been a pleasure to talk Roadfood with all of you. -- MS

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