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Frame: To Do List – 10 US Classics

April 4, 2011

The first of four lists in my 40 Before 40 series was a little light on the good old USA, but this post will even the playing field.

For my 10 Regional US Classics to Eat Before 40, I’m craving authenticity from foods that just doesn’t taste the same anywhere else. Sure, you can order New England Clam Chowder in Texas, but why would you?

I want time-tested classics, not something Adam Richman would eat. I can pass on the Krispy Kreme – bunned burgers, any regional delicacy containing spam, or pizzas the size of my car – I want foods like real Maine lobster rolls, cioppino from San Francisco, and Philly cheesesteaks (all of which I’ve had).

The below list is a little skewed towards the south, mainly because I haven’t spent much time there- things like “crawdads” and “hush puppies” are still mystical to me. The list is also heavy on foods whose appeal I don’t necessarily understand- I think if I taste them in their native habitat, they’ll make much more sense to me.

10 Regional Classics to Eat Before 40

The South:
1) Sweet Tea: What is all of the fuss about sweet tea? It’s tea that is … sweet? What am I missing?
2) Fried Chicken and Waffles: I like fried chicken, but I don’t love it. Is it just that I’ve never had “real” fried chicken? And the waffles- they seem like an odd bonus, but I could see how their subtle sweetness might enhance the whole affair.
3) Gumbo: This is something I never order because it just looks like a mess in a bowl. But I imagine if I had it in the right southern state, I could enjoy it.
4) Grits: Yes, I’ve had grits before. And 99% of the time, I don’t like them. I want to eat real, serious, Southern grits and see why anyone would choose them over, say, french fries.

Mid Atlantic:
5) New York Bagel: I’ve been to New York several times, but when I look back I realize I’ve never really sought out an authentic bagel (maybe I was watching my carbs during those trips?). I want one, piled with cream cheese and lox.
6 ) Soft Shell Crabs: As an adopted New Englander, I always choose lobster when it comes to large shellfish. Frankly, I think crab is too much work for too little pay off. I’ve tried soft shell crabs before and been unimpressed, maybe the Chesapeake Bay will change my mind.

7) Poke: Poke is a raw fish salad well-known to native Hawaiians, and this description – “delicious rubies of cubed fish dressed in light sesame oil, garnished with minced bits of reddish-brown seaweed and the ground centers of kukui nuts” – makes me drool. I’m sure there are some non-Hawaiian sushi places that serve their own version of poke, but I want the real thing.

photo credit: accidental hedonist

8 ) Chicago- style Pizza: I’ve had deep dish pizza before, but not IN Chicago. I’d have to imagine that it is vastly improved in its hometown, but it is possible my thin crust sensibilities may never appreciate this style.
9) Cincinnati Chili: Chili is a multi-faceted animal, and this version is supposed to be served over pasta. Which, to an Italian, seems relatively blasphemous, but I’ll give it a try.
10) Coney Island Hot Dog (in Detroit): Ok, Adam Richman would probably eat these. Ok, Adam Richman did a whole show on these. But the chili-dog is something else this hot dog purist (just a dab of mustard, really) doesn’t understand. Maybe Detroit will show me the light.

Somehow I don’t think the trips to find these foods will be quite as exciting as a foray to Brazil to eat at D.O.M., but I’m sure Detroit, Cincinnati, and the south will be just as colorful.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Dad permalink
    April 4, 2011 12:40 pm

    Southern Sweet Tea is brewed by the sun. Gumbo in the south is great. Conch chowder is great in the southern coastal states but you should experience it all even the larded pie crusts

  2. leslie permalink
    April 4, 2011 1:52 pm

    for the bagel and lox — def check out barney greengrass:

  3. Ken permalink
    April 6, 2011 6:46 pm

    1) You have to try the shrimp & grits in Charleston SC. Hungry Mother’s version is very good, but each restaurant has a slightly different version in Charleston. This sounds strange, but when I go to a city that is known for a certain food, I often order the same meal at (almost every) restaurant that I visit. Normally they are all very good, all genuine, but one will always stick out. Try this with some of the items on your list.
    2) I’ll send you an article from the Huffington Post that describes the “Best Hot Dog” in the world – from Iceland. If you read the comments, there is a lot of banter about Coney Island, Chicago & several other location. However, nobody mentioned “The Original” in Oakland!

    All the best from warm & sunny CA! Ken

  4. Labs permalink
    May 26, 2011 12:53 am

    I’ve had these things –
    1.) Sweet Tea is sweet iced tea – you’re not missing anything.
    2.)I’m not saying its worth driving to, but if you’re walking by you can eat chicken and waffles at back bay social to get an idea.
    3.) Good, but likely not here. The okra makes it look weird but besides that its fairly straight forward flavors.
    4.) You’re Italian – stick with polenta, its better.
    5,6 – no opinion
    7.) Pacific Catch in SF next time you’re in town – really good.
    8.) Tastes good. Anything more than one slice = huge stomach ache.
    9,10 – these are not destinations that should be high on your list.

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