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Posted by Michael Stern on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 3:33 AM

Why is Rip's fried chicken so extraordinarily good? Bill Rounds, the man whose grandfather started the place, says, first of all, you need to start with fresh chicken, not frozen nor cryovacked. He gets it twice a week, freshly killed. "We can do that because we have such a big turnover. Poultry is especially hard to keep. Beef can age; fish always smells; but good chicken spoils easily. Everything depends on freshness.

"When we get it, we fine-tune it. We trim it, cut it, remove 60-70% of the skin. Then we brine it. There is an extreme amount of work that goes into good chicken before it gets battered and fried. Our recipes are simple, we don't have a lot of ingredients. But each step along the way is crucial."

Details matter. The oil used by Rounds' grandfather is no longer available, so he has devised his own oil, blending three different kinds. Granddad got his flour from one supplier for more than half a century; but that supplier moved to Canada. Rounds says, "Now we need to blend our own to get the spring wheat quality for its lightness."

The payoff is chicken with significant crust, but no doughy softness – crust that is just-right salty, each bite a savory crunch. Even white-meat breasts are insanely moist and full-flavored down to the bone. Pieces where the batter has clumped, absorbing chicken fat flavor as well as frying fat, are some of the most sumptuous bites imaginable. And yet, miraculously, this chicken sheds no oil. The pallet of white bread on which it arrives is dry and intact even after every scrap of meat has been dispatched. While forks are available, no one uses them. This is chicken you want to touch as well as eat.

Then there are crunchies. After each time the cook pulls a batch of chicken from the bubbling oil, he then sweeps through the oil with a big screen, retrieving a great tangle of squiggly skin and fried batter that have detached from the large pieces. The crunchies are hot, rich, reminiscent of cracklins or gribenes, but pure, fat-crisped batter laced with the flavor of chicken that has fried in the same oil. They are served crisp and hot along with a cup of tart dill pickle chips. Betha, the bartender, showed us that the custom is to fold a pickle chip around a little cluster of crunchies, creating a finger taco. This is fried-food-lovers' heaven!

A great side dish: crisp-fried al dente mushrooms, their earthy rankness nearly truffle-strong. Catfish and whitefish are fried on Fridays. The only other things you need to know are that Rip's is always crowded and that while you wait in line for table, you can drink beers from the bar.
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Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hot Chicken Wings

Datil peppers and chicken wings are an inspired combo, enriched with plenty of butter and garlic. Of course, blue cheese dressing comes alongside.
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Posted by John Clevenger on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 1:47 PM

Garbo's Grill has the quintessential Key West vibe. Not really a restaurant, it's a food cart with a permanent location on a side street not far from the west end of Duval. I went there on a recommendation looking for the best fish tacos in town. Mine were absolutely fresh mahi mahi, served on warm tortillas with cabbage, onions, cilantro, jalapeno, mango and a spicy Caribbean sauce that will make your lips tingle. You can substitute korean barbeque or shrimp for the fish with no regrets.

Half of the fun are the people who work there: two perpetually smiling women working the front and two guys working the grill, all in a space the size of a small walk-in closet. And of course the chickens strutting around. They play great tunes, treat you like a friend and keep the food coming. Fair warning: there are no tables and if you get there around noon time, the line can get long. Only open from 11:30 to 3PM and not when it's raining. Get there early.
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Posted on Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Plate #1

For under $20, Whitey's keeps delivering catfish to your table until you've had enough. These crusty, moist-meat lovelies are accompanied by cheese-rich au gratin potatoes and hushpuppies with just a hint of onion sweetness.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Monday, July 21, 2014 5:17 AM

Named because it is a gleaming silver mid-20th century Kit Companion travel trailer, the Old Tin Can is all about cheeseburgers. They are hand-pattied from locally-raised beef and they are cooked to order, medium-thick, and dripping juice. While the standard cheeseburger is terrific, especially when garnished with the works – onion, lettuce, tomato, etc. – there always is an interesting oddball burger on the menu, too. The cowboy burger is packed into a bun with bacon, barbecue sauce, and fried onion straws; the grilled cheese cheeseburger is made on thick, griddle-cooked toast; other specials include chili and avocado burgers and peanut butter-bacon-cheddar burgers; there's even a quinoa burger for vegetarians.

French fries are hand cut; and from a non-published "secret menu," you can order such occasional specialties as "The Mess" (French fries, grilled onions, bacon, jalapeno peppers, and special sauce) and peanut butter brownies with chocolate ganache.

The Old Tin Can is one of several food trucks that regularly park at Sandpoint's Oak Street Court across from Farmin Park. Dining is all al fresco, at picnic tables under tents. Other options at this happy eating spot include Tug's Hot Dogs, Hawaiian shave ice, Thai banana crepes, and Memphis barbecue. It is open from Spring until October.
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Roadfood of the Day: Marcy's Diner - Portland, ME
Posted on Monday, July 21, 2014

We couldn't help but notice the beautiful muffins behind the counter. When we selected the raspberry muffin, our waitress offered to split them in half and grill them. How could we say no to that?
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Posted by Dale Fine on Sunday, July 20, 2014 9:28 AM

Ever since the demise of the legendary soul food classic the Coffee Cup some five years ago, I've been scouring the Charlotte area for a suitable replacement. It appears that my search has come to a favorable conclusion. La'wan's is located in an urban strip mall about 15 minutes south of the airport. Entering the restaurant, you will find a basic, no thrills dining room, just the right atmosphere for down home southern fare.

Perusing the menu there are several soul food favorites including fried chicken, beef tips, salmon cakes, chicken livers, pork chops and country fried steak. According to Roadfooder Chris Ayers (Ayersian), the catfish is top notch. On both of my visits, I ordered the fried chicken and tried both white and dark meat on each occasion. The chicken is encased in a light crispy breading with just the right amount of spices, allowing the chicken to retain it's juices, and fair warning; it's loaded with flavor.

For my two sides, I ordered the mac n cheese which was more of a "mac n cheese bake", generously loaded with melted cheese . The collards were cooked well, limp but firmly textured, slightly sweet and enhanced with porcine flavor. The small corn muffin which comes with each meal was merely an afterthought. Don't forget dessert. The peach cobbler is clearly homemade with fresh peaches in a glazed crumble.

Within the last couple of years, La'wan's moved across the street into bigger digs, a great sign that this potential Charlotte soulfood landmark will be around for many more years to come.
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Roadfood of the Day: Hicks' - Clarksdale, MS
Posted on Sunday, July 20, 2014

Delicious little pouches!
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Posted by Michael Stern on Saturday, July 19, 2014 4:56 AM

Many great Roadfood restaurants are blue-collar diners, dives, and truck stops. We tend not to gravitate to eateries with vegetarian proclivities, where the menu boasts of the "integrity" of natural ingredients, fair-trade coffees, and gluten-free options. Not that there's anything wrong with all that stuff, but usually the food is pretty blah and without much regional character.

But we shall not hold Sweet Water Cafe's elevated consciousness against it. We would inscribe this cheerful place in our little black book if only for its wonderful homemade breads and for the locally-made maple spread offered at breakfast. Maple trees are part of what make Michigan's Upper Peninsula so beautiful in the fall, and syrup made from their sap is as big a deal here as it is in New England. In addition to providing it for pouring on French toast and pancakes and to sweeten yogurt in the morning, Sweet Water offers (at $3 extra) a ramekin full of spreadable maple paste about the consistency of peanut butter. Applied thickly to house-made three-grain toast, it is a veritable maple orgy. We also like it dolloped on hot winter grain cereal and even on grilled potatoes.

Sweet Water's menu promises that everything is a cut above normal. Burgers come from naturally raised local beef and are served on made-here oatmeal wheat buns. Bacon in the BLT comes from Vollwerth's of Hancock, Michigan. Fruit salad is freshly cut. The grilled cheese sandwich is available with cafe pesto. While it is an especially good place for breakfast, one non-breakfast meal we recommend is Lake Superior whitefish. The day we came to dinner it was baked just-so, leaving the freshwater jewel heavy with moisture and sweet lake flavor. It came sprinkled with lemon pepper atop a bed of buttery limp spinach leaves and it was crowned with a globe of melting herb butter.
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Roadfood of the Day: Glider Diner - Scranton, PA
Posted on Saturday, July 19, 2014

Hot Roast Beef

A diner classic.
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