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Posted by Michael Stern on Friday, March 6, 2015 3:56 AM

Here is a place with ten-dollar breakfasts and a million-dollar view. A humble joint literally at the foot of the southbound Exit 34 ramp off the Merritt Parkway, the Lakeside Diner is set up just like countless other diners with a counter and stools and a scattering of tables; but one whole wall is a picture window that overlooks Holts Ice Pond where waterfowl skim past while customers fork into pancakes.

And what good pancakes they are! Let's face it: 9 out of 10 diner pancakes are crude and doughy, made tasty only by liberal application of butter and syrup. Lakeside's truly are elegant -- thin, lightweight, and full-flavored. You can get them with butter and powdered sugar, which is all they need, or with syrup (but if you want pure maple, bring your own). We love them loaded with blueberries.

A sign in the window boasts of homemade donuts. Even if you are getting pancakes, you must try at least one of these. No variety to speak of: they are modest cake donuts stuck with massive amounts of coarse sugar. Simple and beyond improvement.
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Posted on Friday, March 6, 2015

Seafood Cakes and Baked Beans

Brown bread doesn't come with the meal, but can be ordered separately.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Thursday, March 5, 2015 10:50 AM

The deep South still has many wonderful cafeterias, but this style of you-point-they-serve food service is rare in the North, where sloppy pile-your-own-plate buffets are more the rule. One great exception to that pattern is Indianapolis. Home of America’s earliest cafeteria (in 1888), the Circle City still has a handful of top-notch cafeteria restaurants where every day is like Thanksgiving. Among the best of them is Gray Brothers south of town in Mooresville. It is a huge place, very deluxe as far as cafeterias go: leaded glass windows in the doors, plenty of tasteful nick-nacks for décor.

Almost any time you walk in, it will be crowded, but that’s no problem because the cafeteria line moves really fast; and besides, your wait takes you along the “preview line,” which allows you to study the dozens and dozens of food items from which you will soon be choosing. Although the trays are especially big ones, if you’re like us, you’ll find yours fully occupied with dishes of food well before you get to the rolls and beverages at the end of the line.

It’s hard to know what to recommend because we’ve never had anything at Gray’s we didn’t like. Among the most memorable dishes are the fried chicken, which has an ultra-flavorful crust that pulls off the pieces of the bird like chewy bacon. The way things work in Gray’s line is that you tell the servers what entrée you want; they put it onto a nice flower-patterned partitioned plate then slide the plate down to the vegetable area, where it is piled with whatever sides you desire.

Who can resist the cornbread stuffing? Or mac ‘n’ cheese? We also love the heartland salads, especially creamy pea and carrot-raisin-marshmallow. Desserts are dazzling, with whole pies arrayed on shelves below the individual slices (many pies get bought and taken home). The Indiana favorite, and a specialty of Gray’s is sugar-cream pie … as simple and pure and good as the name suggests.
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Posted on Thursday, March 5, 2015

New York's Michigan

The hot dog itself is buried beneath sauce and onions. Also not visible: mustard.
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Posted by Al & Janet Bowen on Wednesday, March 4, 2015 8:21 AM

Joe Huber's started out as a "U-Pick" Veggie Garden and Produce Stand in the Knobs (hills) just north of Louisville on the Indiana side of the Ohio River over 50 years ago. Since then, the family business grew and expanded to include orchards and vineyards, as well as large farming plots. The restaurant came next and then the winery really got going, with over 25 varieties being bottled each year, many winning awards from the Indiana State Fair. Recently, Huber's has expanded to include it's own distillery making brandies and cognac. Plus, for the first time in Indiana, they will bottle a locally distilled vodka in 2014. All of these branch enterprises are part of the family farm operation and many are open to public visitors.

The restaurant has one large main building and three auxiliary "barns" used for overflow crowds on busy weekends. Meals served in the barns are much less formal, more of a country buffet than a 'sit-down' dinner. We much prefer the main dining room and try to time our visits to 'off-peak' hours to avoid the holiday crowds.

While there are many choices on the menu, the Family Farm Dinner is the top choice for most visitors. It offers the wonderful fried biscuits with homemade apple butter and an AYCE Feast of fried chicken and honey ham surrounded by side dishes of various types and bottomless beverages. For extra cost, you can enjoy some of the Huber wines with your meal.

This is the place we take visitors to "Hoosier-country" to enjoy a leisurely dinner while watching the ducks and geese on the ponds or the U-Pickers bringing in their produce. If you want to enjoy Indiana Fried Chicken at it's best, take a ride up to Hubers. But do call ahead, as they are closed many weekdays during the winter months.
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Roadfood of the Day: Niecie's - Kansas City, MO
Posted on Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The pancakes are light, fluffy, and topped with real butter.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Tuesday, March 3, 2015 4:59 AM

To mollusk-loving epicureans, the name Apalachicola has a real twinkle. Deep-cupped oysters, harvested from the fresh/saltwater mix where the Apalachicola River flows into the Gulf of Mexico, are unique for buttery meatiness that sparkles raw, baked, broiled, or fried. In the town of Apalachicola, a great place to savor the bounty is the suitably named Boss Oyster. While the natural harvest has suffered in recent years due to a dearth of freshwater flow, oyster season remains a big deal in this restaurant, which boasts that it owns the only refrigerated oyster boats in the state. So, even if they're not from right here, you can be sure they're fresh. The raw ones I ate in the fall at the beginning of oyster season were spectacularly bright and briny. I ordered a half dozen, but was given eight because three were on the small side.

When the big oysters get fried, each is a great mouthful that is lusciousness incarnate, enveloped in a thick, spicy coat of gold. They're also available steamed or baked, or gilded with Thai chili, wasabi and ginger, or flying fish roe. If you are allergic to oysters, we recommend "Grand Grits" – cheese grits topped with cream sauce, tasso ham, and shrimp so juicy that they are a revelation for those of us accustomed to wooden, pale-flavored ones. The grits theselves are creamy, rich, buttery, and mild, a fine platform for the wonderful shrimp.

Aside from its totally local menu, Boss Oyster is notable for its setting at the water's edge with tables that provide a great view as well as the good, briny scent of Gulf waters. The deck is outfitted with signs warning, "Please do not feed the birds"; and despite wooden scarecrow owls perched along the rail, if you sit at an al fresco picnic table, you can expect an audience of gulls perched on nearby pilings.
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Roadfood of the Day: Burgerittoville - Newtown, CT
Posted on Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Original Burgeritto

In a world of wraps-gone-wild, the Burgeritto no longer has novelty appeal. But it remains what it was when Joseph A. Rebecco, the restaurant's founder, created it several years ago: an inspired combination of ingredients that probably would fall out of any normal hambuger bun, but are held close and mess-free inside a tortilla. This is an excellent eat-while-you-drive sandwich. (Not that I'm suggesting anyone should have their hands anywhere other than at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel.)
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Posted by Michael Stern on Monday, March 2, 2015 5:53 AM

James Freeman, whose grandfather started the family barbecue as a natural extension of his work as a pig farmer, says that whole-hog cookery simply cannot be formularized. Long ago, he scoffed when his father first told him that the only way to check meat for doneness is to sniff at it while it cooks. But now he is a believer and says that smelling is the only way. He uses no thermometer and he doesn't poke to check resiliency. He inhales; and because he has been barbecuing long enough, his nose tells him exactly when it is done just right. Still, it is a tricky business, he says, because the cooking time changes according to the phases of the moon. Just as the moon effects tides, so it influences the moisture content of the hogs that are cooked low and slow over smoldering hardwood coals.

We're eaters, not cooks, so let us say that however the barbecue gets done, it is done extraordinarily well at this friendly roadside shack. The chopped meat is a variegated festival of creamy-sweet shreds and nuggets and long strips of smoke-haloed pork that need only the slightest application of house-made sauce to attain simple perfection. That's the way it is served – lightly sauced – and there is more of the pungent potion available in bottles. Mr. Freeman told us that his wife uses it in nearly everything she cooks, from meat to vegetables. Indeed, I found myself applying drops of it to white bread just to savor it. Heat-seeking diners can ask for extra-hot sauce, which is so ferocious that it is kept in back unless specifically requested. "When I was young, I used to put the hot on my sandwiches," Mr. Freeman tells us. "I can't eat it now. I am not the man I used to be." But he does say that he has Mexican and Indian customers who pour it on with glee.

The pork is available in a sandwich or on a platter. I definitely recommend the latter, mostly because it is such a joy to fork through the beautiful meat, but also because platters come with side dishes, which are excellent. Hash on rice is notable for the fresh, luxurious nature of the hash, made with both beef and pork. Mac 'n' cheese is a comfort-food classic.

Dessert is the one menu item that Mr. Freeman does not make himself. The lovely lemon pound cake that is sold by the slice comes from a local woman named Tricia. It is good cake, especially welcome as a tender final note after a meal of such kaleidoscopic flavors.

Note: Freeman's is open only Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, for lunch and early supper.
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Posted on Monday, March 2, 2015

Strange Brew

A Texan might accuse the Woodyard pitmaster of making an end run around the Lone Star bean prohibition, but we think the combination of mild bean chili and burnt ends atop it is inspired. This is not always on the menu, but if it is when you visit, I highly recommend it.
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