Like Bruce and several others here I am another who thinks that one of the great joys of travel is the discovery of people through of their food and local customs.
I’ve traveled for over 50 years now, and to 60 countries, and this holds true pretty much everywhere.
Across North American, regional specialties, time honored local institutions, the interplay between folks in eating and drinking places and the great diversity of local customs and taste makes it all endlessly fascinating.
In the age of the iPad and the Internet just Googling the name of the town you’re in, and maybe Where to Eat In So and So, often turns up clues to interesting places.
Traveling with such an interest, you eventually develop a sixth sense which helps you read between the lines of the Trip Advisor and Yelp and Chowhound, etc and etc. reviews. This added sense mostly protects you from the misguided advice of locals as well. You learn fast that a cab driver’s idea is hardly ever your idea of where you wanted to go.
Almost everywhere in North America you will find places that have become local institutions. There’s usually a good reason for the local, or wider, fame.
Right near Jackson Center, at Sydney, Ohio, you’ll find a 100-year-old diner, still in it’s last 1940’s building:
The Spot to Eat!
These are the kinds of places that folks in old age homes still remember having their first date at - and where the Jell-O is still served in chunky glass bowls.
Even if DINER is not your food style the charm and eccentricity of these places almost always make the visit worthwhile. And they are everywhere to be found.
A few warm memories of my last trailer trek down South:
Very regional things like gooey butter cake in SAINT LOUIS, gumbos and budin in LOUISIANA (even if the best gumbo I had was served at the GUMBO BAR in historic downtown GALVESTON, Texas), breakfast tacos in AUSTIN, TX, among the many, many other local treats.
The explosion of craft brewing everywhere: Have a Magnolia Pecan Ale from Kiln, Mississippi with your Southern dinner at the Walnut Hills Round Table in Vicksburg or spend an evening at Bell’s Brewery in KALAMAZOO, Michigan.
The totally unique AUSTIN, TEXAS food scene, with its “trailer park restaurants” – several blogs and web sites devoted to the subject – and the World Headquarters for WHOLE FOODS, which is really a GIANT RESTAURANT masquerading as a super market.
(Another way to find interesting stuff: Google ‘New York Times’ plus the name of the town you’re in. They have a way of finding cool, funky, terrific places. That’s how I found JUSTINE’S in Austin, about the best French Bistro this side of the Atlantic, hidden away in a rough industrial section of town, across the road from a propane plant!)
I also found ADMIRAL that way, in Asheville, N.C. Described as in a “ cinderblock building in the wage earning section of town” (probably an old auto body place), the fresh caught fish served with wild ramps was unbelievable, like something you’d expect to find in San Francisco or Boston.
And there is someplace to eat besides the Waffle House in Meridian, Mississippi. At one of the oldest restaurants in America, WEIDMAN’S (1870), I had a pork cutlet to die for. Being in the South, I kept trying them. Same thing at the Black Mountain Bistro in Black Mountain, N.C. - and at EPIPHANY in downtown Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
And smokehouses across the South:
Indy Anne of this Forum tipped me to The Original DREAMLAND in Tuscaloosa. This is the 1950’s original in a former black ghetto, not the fancy franchise that’s downtown now - and in some other Southern cities. Hard to find and worth the effort.
PAPPY’S in midtown Saint Louis is so famous that I had to go 4 times before I got in. Closes early, around 9, when the food runs out.
The Germantown Commissary has great ribs and cool local flavour in suburban Memphis TN.
And neat novelty places like TED DREWE”S FROZEN CUSTARD, operating for 80 years now in Saint Louis. Open the 11 warmest months of the year, the “concrete” custard is served to you upside down, with the spoon unable to fall out the so-thick, delicious product.
SOLLY’S HOT TAMALES is now an institution in Vicksburg, Mississippi, having operated there since 1937.
The only BORDEN'S Ice Cream and Soda shop left in America is still running in Lafayette, LA.
Herby K’s is a 1936 landmark in Shreveport LA, still serving visiting fireman and the local cops.
The TOMATO PLACE, just south of Vicksburg on the famous Blues Highway 61, is a cool spot featured as “Best of the Road” in this year’s Rand McNally Road Atlas. Seasonal fruit and vegetables, local products, good eats and the funky hats the owner likes to wear around the joint.
I’m going to stop now but will report in after my return from Newfoundland and Atlantic Canada this summer.
My mouth is watering already.