Saturday, February 25, 2023

The Radical Sabbatical: The Crazy Food List

This is wild trying to cram writing a few thousand words about a trip that happened six months ago into our family's winter adventures. Basketball season, braces and bunches of other busyness are threatening to swallow us up, but they won't win. No, no.

It's halftime of our seven-week-long trip, so let me break down a few things for you about *food*, because the internet loves lists.

Best Food Cities:

5. Baltimore
This was the surprise. Baltimore has a reputation, but it's not for its amazing history or stellar food. I want to be a voice that changes that. It's a beautiful city that you can eat your way through (see below).

4. San Antonio
San Antonio's street food and taco trucks got it here. Plus, (*spoiler*) they'll be in the top overall cities in my upcoming post. Just too much good stuff going on here to ignore. 

3. Chicago
The level of tastiness in Chi-town was unfairly skewed because we stayed right in the middle of Wicker Park, which is a food paradise. Pizza, coffee, bakeries, burgers. See my favorites below.

2. New York City
This isn't fair for two reasons: The city is bigger than my entire state AND we never left Manhattan. But let me tell you somethin'. NYC lives up to the food hype. Space is so limited and competition is so fierce, they just don't have time for bad food. (And the pizza places are crazy.)

1. New Orleans
Not even sure what to say on this. Po boys, beans and rice, beignets. I feel like we barely touched the food scene here, but it was all excellent. Flavors in a city only matched by the architecture. Go ahead and hate all of NOLA's weaknesses, but the strengths are indisputable.

Best Coffee (with this disclaimer: everywhere else in the US but the Pacific NW--as a general rule--has pretty bad coffee, so most of these places only met the standard I'm used to here in Portland):

5. Amped - Anthem, AZ

4. Impact Coffee - Decorah, Iowa
This is the biggest coffee shop in Iowa. And they serve Fruity Pebbles lattes. 

3. The Wormhole - Wicker Park, Chicago, IL

2. Bitty and Beau's Coffee - French Quarter, Charleston, SC
If there's one single establishment I could brag about in the 31 states that we visited, it's Bitty and Beau's. Not only did they make me a great iced mocha on a hot South Carolina day, they have made it their mission to hire people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and foster a setting that sends a clear message. It's found on the t-shirts of the staff: NOT BROKEN. 
I couldn't help but buy a t-shirt for myself.

Non-Stop Encouragement at Bitty and Beau's

1. Historic Seligman Sundries - Seligman, AZ
I got my best coffee of the whole trip in one of the most famous gift shops in America. A delightful German lady made me an iced mocha that blew my mind. I can't explain it.

Chain Restaurants We Couldn't Stop Going To:

Honorable Mentions: All the fried chicken places. Zaxby's, Bojangles, CF-A. We came and we conquered.

5. Dunkin' - I don't like this place at all, but I couldn't stop going here because *they're everywhere!* Sometimes you just need a coffee and Dunkin' got my money for that reason only.

4. Culver's - OK, we only went here once, but butter burgers are better. Anxiously awaiting my next chance.

3. Buc-ee's - Does this count? This crazy truck stop is the most existential American experience possible. We came for the bathrooms and left with a t-shirt, a tank of gas and dinner.

PC: Jameywiki

2. Whataburger - We went here so many times because they have breakfast. We were either behind or in a hurry or both a lot of mornings and this place saved us. Plus, it is pretty amazing junk food

1. Waffle House - Oh my goodness, this place was the biggest hit. We'll take three all-star specials forever and ever.


Honorable Mention: Churros - Historic Market Square, San Antonio, TX

5. Various Hot Dog Carts - NYC, NY
They hand these to you with a single sheet of wax paper. Sabrett carts were our go-to.

4. Shave Ice - Ice Queen - Fort McHenry, Baltimore, MD

3. Box of Cookies - Twisted Sugar - Boise, ID

2. Fruity Pebbles Marshmallow Bar - Cereal Killers - UTEP, El Paso, TX
Fruity Pebbles has been mentioned twice in a food post I'm expecting people to take seriously.

1. Beignets - Cafe Du Monde - French Quarter, New Orleans, LA
This place deserves to be legendary. We each got our own bag of beignets for dirt cheap and I added a frappe made with that famous chicory/coffee blend we've all seen in the store. This is a must for any first-timer. I'll do a deeper dive next time through town to see if it can be topped.

Muggy day in the French Quarter demands iced coffee and beignets

Best Single Meals:

15. Cheeseburger Dumplings - Avatar - Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World, FL
The food at Walt Disney World doesn't quite measure up to Disneyland in California, but when we went to the cafe at Avatar Flight of Passage and they served us bao dumplings mashed up with a diner-style cheeseburger, I couldn't help but be impressed.

14. Cheesesteak - Sonny's Famous Steaks - Old City, Philadelphia, PA
No, we didn't drive across town to Geno's or Pat's. We were in Philly to see the Liberty Bell. And I had a beyond awesome cheesesteak sandwich at Sonny's. Oh yeah: cheese whiz isn't good! Get these things with mozzarella or provolone.

13. Carne Seca - El Charro - Downtown, Tucson, AZ
When I saw that the house specialty was beef being sundried on the roof of the oldest Mexican restaurant in the US, I quickly ignored the price tag and told them to bring it. Chewy, savory, spicy and everything that's good about the Southwest.

Looks slightly like barkdust, but carne seca is a one-of-a-kind Tucsonian experience

12. Rigor Mortis Tortoise Breakfast - Roadkill Cafe - Seligman, AZ
You have to go to at least one of the roadside diners when you're on Route 66. The creative naming for each item on the menu at Roadkill made it even better.

11. Peri Peri Chicken - Nando's - Chicago Loop, Chicago, IL
Think of this as rotisserie chicken, but elevated Portugese style. With sauce.

10. Bmore BRD - BRD - Federal Hill, Baltimore, MD
Baltimore is all about the Old Bay Seasoning and this crispy-crunchy chicken sandwich made full use of the flavor.

9. Jambalaya - New Orleans Creole Cookery - French Quarter, New Orleans, LA
This was a *mid-tier* NOLA restaurant and I sucked up this massive platter of jambalaya like a vacuum. Not sure how I'd even behave in one of those places you stand in line for an hour.

8. Wood-Fired Pizza - Luna Valley Pizza Farm - Decorah, IA
The small town where my brother lives is so ridiculously adorable (more on that later). They're serving pizza in a barn. And it's *good*!

7. Spaghetti with Meatballs - Tavola - Hell's Kitchen, NYC, NY
Have you ever dreamed of being in NYC in a small Italian cafe with brick walls and Frank Sinatra playing the background? We did that. I ordered spaghetti and drank Italian soda. It was glorious.

6. Margherita Pizza - Angeli's Pizzeria - Little Italy, Baltimore, MD
Anthony and Erica always know where the good spots are, even in non-foodie Baltimore. Angeli's did not disappoint in a trip full of Chicago and NY pizza, some solid cheesy/saucy Baltimore Italian food.

5. Tacos and Frijoles Charro - Taquitos Mexico - Misty Oaks, San Antonio, TX
I'm sure I spent no more than $16 to feed all three of us. Styrofoam coffee cups full of Frijoles Charro for a dollar. Crispy street tacos and quesadillas bursting with Mexican goodness.

4. Grandma Pizza - Vito's Slices and Ices - Garment District, NYC, NY
There's *so* much pizza in New York, I probably could have given fourth place to Joe's "Spider-Man" Pizza on Broadway, but The Grandma at Vito's put it over the top. Thick crust. Sauce pouring off it. Soft. Crunchy. Juicy. Stretchy. I dream of going back.

Mariah goin' in on The Grandma

3. Chicago-Style Pizza - Giordano's - The Strip, Las Vegas, NV
The Chicago pizza we got in actual Chicago didn't compare to the double-decker pan of insanity we got from this Chicago-based location in Vegas. Took forty minutes to get to our table, but oh my. Check it out if you're ever in LV. And I'll try to go to the main branch someday.

2. Chicken and Waffles (and Biscuits) - Steffan's Restaurant - Kingsland, GA
This little diner just off I-95 in Kingsland is wall-to-wall people. We went absolutely nuts ordering hush puppies and mac n cheese. But I save most my energy for the Chicken and Waffles, with a side of biscuits. I don't regret trying to drive six hours after that, but I *do* regret leaving those three biscuits on the counter.

1. Cheeseburger Po-Boy - Domilise's - Magazine District, New Orleans, LA
I struggle for words. This dumpy sandwich shop is no secret. Celebrity photos line the walls. The Manning brothers go there all the time. Phone-in orders are flying out the door. I wish I could have ordered one of each sandwich, because they (the meatball, the wiener, the ham and cheese) were all that good, but if I had to pick one, it's the messiest of all: The Cheeseburger Po-Boy. The chili, the hot sauce, the grilled onions roll up nicely in this delicious disaster. I shall return.

This is as impressive as this place looks. (I ate the food too fast for a picture.)

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