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Posted by Michael Stern on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 6:36 AM

After a barrel full of trouble (legal, marital, labor, utility) closed it in April, the Carnegie Deli is reopening today, February 9th at 8am. (The Carnegie's formal mascot, by the way, is Dilly the Pickle.) We have reactivated the review.

Posted by Cliff Strutz on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 3:58 AM

If you want to see what Fort Myers, Florida was like before the strip malls and huge housing developments sprang up, head on over to the Farmers Market Restaurant. It is located just outside the downtown area, next to the State Farmers Market and has been in business since 1952. The house motto is, "Put the Taste of the South in Your Mouth!"

Open three meals a day, seven days a week, I like it best for lunch. They have a wide array of meats to choose from. The meatloaf is a thick slice of comfort food covered in brown gravy, but our favorite is the catfish. It is served boneless, the sweet, flaky meat encased in a delicate, thin crust. One of these days, we are going to get around to trying the ham hocks, the country fried pork chops or the chicken livers and gizzards.

No matter what meat you choose, you get three vegetables and they are well seasoned Southern classics. Among the vegetables we have enjoyed over the years is the limp, flavorful steamed cabbage, wickedly crunchy fried okra, real mashed potatoes, slightly bitter and earthy collard greens and not quite as bitter mustard greens. The best of the vegetables is the field peas. Cooked in pork juice, the peas are firm, irresistibly fresh, with snaps and small bits of pork mixed in.

Farmers Market Restaurant also makes their own pies. The chocolate or the coconut cream pies aren't world-class, but the meringues are tall, the fillings nice and custardy. The signature pie is the strawberry. Unlike most strawberry pies, which are runny or a gelatinous mess, the slices here hold together and are so densely packed with sweet fruit, it is impossible to take a bite without ending up with at least a quarter of a whole berry.
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Roadfood of the Day: Thomas House - Dayton, VA
Posted on Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Oysters and the Best Macaroni
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Posted by Michael Stern on Monday, February 8, 2016 6:26 AM

319 Peabody in Nashville, Tennessee, is a free-standing Quizno's-anchored food court. Inside, it is possible to go to the main counter and order a Tuna Torpedo or Flatbread Sammie. On the other hand, if you want something good to eat, make a 90 degree turn and step up to the 400 Degrees counter along the side of the room. Here you will find soulful leg quarter sandwiches, quartets of wings, and pork chops sided by sweet baked beans. How such strange mallfellows came together (along with another formulaic eatery called Apollo's Grill) in the same location, I do not know. But I can say that if you want to eat Nashville hot chicken at its best, 400 Degrees should be on the short list of essential destinations.

The name of the place refers to its hottest chicken, which is taken from the fry basket and painted with a dark pepper impasto. 200 degrees is brighter red, less hot, but still sinus-clearing – somewhere between Prince's hot and medium.

Proprietor Aqui Simpson, who reminded me that regular customers call ahead so their chicken is ready when they arrive (hot chicken demands a 20 minute wait), said that she has a local police chief who comes in five times a week for 400 degree breasts and legs. "He came in the other day with a cut on his lip and ordered 200. But I was so used to giving him 400, that is what I did. He ate it, and he liked it, but I felt so sorry for his lip."
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Posted by Michael Stern on Sunday, February 7, 2016 9:28 AM

Years ago Jane and I came across a roadside tourist attraction with a sign outside that said, "Prepare to be Amazed." I offer the same advice to anyone who goes to Carbone's Market for a grinder (Connecticut's word for a hero or hoagie). These sandwiches are huge. Lengthwise, yes – available as an 8-inch regular, as a Super-Sub, which seems about as long as a healthy newborn baby, and as a family-sized Extra Large, which I hadn't the courage to order. But length is not their most outstanding trait. What's truly amazing is girth. Each torpedo is a half-foot tall with an 18-inch circumference – far too large for any human jaw to encompass. In addition to the main ingredient of choice, which ranges from bologna to veal loaf – piled on in superabundance – all sandwiches come festooned with lettuce, tomato, cheese, mayo, oil, and spice. Other garnish options include bacon, onions, olives, pickles, and peppers.

I went for the roast beef grinder, which came highly recommended by indefatigable contributor ketteract, who has made it his business to seek out Connecticut's finest and largest grinders. The roast beef, made in house by Tony Renzullo, who's the great-nephew of founder Alphonse Carbone and has been running things here since 1972, is velvet soft and mild flavored. It would not be exciting on its own, but piled high in grinder form and boosted by a hail of pepper and salt and sliced onion and tomato and mayo and peppers, it is a hugely satisfying lode of meat. The bread that holds all these ingredients is sturdy enough. However, as is typical of Connecticut grinders, it is not a memorable loaf.

Grinders star, but Carbone's also has a steam table with hot dishes available. I tried the chili, which a sign warns is HOT; but it is not. It's good northern-style chili with great clods of ground beef and beans in a tomato-red emulsion that is a little bit sweet and just whisperingly peppery.

Carbone's is a neighborhood grocery store, and it seemed to me that just about everyone ordering sandwiches at the counter was a regular customer known to the staff. There is no indoor seating and just a trio of picnic tables along the sides of an adjoining parking area. Grinders are presented firmly swaddled in heavy butcher paper, making it easy to carry them to wherever they'll be eaten. But do not expect to munch one while driving anywhere. They're cut in two pieces, but even half a sandwich is a two-handed proposition, and some sort of drop-cloth is necessary to catch all the ingredients that inevitably tumble out.

In July, 2015, Carbone's Market was sold to new owners, who have promised to keep everything the same. Tony still will be roasting the beef, and the merry crew of sandwich makers behind the counter will remain.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Sunday, February 7, 2016 4:10 AM

Al's is heaven for those of us who spend our lives in search of great diner breakfast. It is smaller than small, wedged perpendicular to 14th Avenue among the shops of Dinkytown, near the University of Minnesota. Customers waiting for one of the fourteen stools at the counter stand hovering just above and behind those who are seated and eating. In the narrow space between the counter and the back bar, where Al’s hash slingers race to and fro with seasoned aplomb, decor consists of pictures of Elvis and Wayne Newton, foreign currency, and a sign that advises, TIPPING IS NOT A CITY IN RUSSIA (curiously, changed from an earlier sign that said TIPPING IS NOT A CITY IN CHINA). Also behind the counter is a pile of meal ticket books, each inscribed with someone's name. Many of Al's customers buy these books and keep them here, so they know they can come eat, using coupons instead of dollars, even when their wallet is empty.

The specialty of the house is pancakes, which are made with either a whole wheat or buttermilk batter, and are available studded with blueberries, walnuts or corn, kernels. We chose blueberries and buttermilk -- an enchanting balance of sweet fruit poised in their faintly sour medium, infused with butter. They were just barely sticky, delicate-textured, and profoundly satisfying, especially when lightly drizzled with maple syrup. Al's flapjacks are sold as a short stack (2), regular (3), or long (4); and you can also have your waitress garnish them with sour cream and/or strawberries.

The short-order chef up front spends his time poaching eggs, constructing omelets, and griddle-cooking corned beef hash and crisp hash browns. It is an old-fashioned pleasure to watch this guy work, handling about a dozen orders at a time, always snatching whatever he is frying, poaching, or grilling away from the heat at the peak of its perfection.
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Posted on Sunday, February 7, 2016

Fried mac and cheese with truffle sauce
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Posted by Michael Stern on Saturday, February 6, 2016 4:57 AM

My first pimento cheeseburger was at the Ruby Seahorse Café on Edisto Island in South Carolina. It was billed as "the original Dairy Bar Pimento Burger," referring to the generally accepted belief that it was J.C. Reynolds, proprietor of a place called the Dairy Bar in Columbia, who sometime in the early 1960s first had the brilliant idea of crowning a burger not with ordinary American or cheddar, but with pimento cheese. The Dairy Bar is gone, as is the Ruby Seahorse Café, but South Carolina in general and Columbia in particular remain a bonanza of excellent pimento cheeseburgers.

It is hard to imagine one more impressive than that listed on The Kingsman's menu as "The Palmetto." It is ten ounces of ground ribeye hand-pattied into a thick, rugged disc, grilled and put into an enormous bun along with a massive amount of rich pimento cheese, thick strips of bacon, and crisp-fried chips of jalapeno pepper. Connoisseurs get theirs all the way, meaning garnished with mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle. The awesome monument of a meal arrives at table with a sharp knife plunged into it up to the bolster. The knife is a welcome tool, along with a fork, for this burger will test the dexterity and strength of anyone who tries to pick it up like some ordinary wimpy.

Somewhat less outrageous is the Kingsman's regular pimento cheeseburger – six ounces of certified Angus beef that is, in fact, quite delicious when paired with the zesty pimento cheese and topped with all the fixins. The French fries and onion rings I got alongside these four-star burgers were ho hum. Those in search of hot lunch rather than a burger will find satisfaction here. There are meat-and-three specials every day, including barbecue on Thursday and fried pork chops and/or chicken livers Friday, the vegetable list including superb peppery collard greens. For a non-burger hot sandwich, I highly recommend the Philly cheese steak, an upscale torpedo made with succulent strips of ribeye.

The Kingsman is a fascinating hybrid of restaurant genres. The room into which you walk at first looks like a tiny diner, complete with counter and short-order chefs working the flat tops. Beyond that is a larger room that has the feel of a neighborhood café: upholstered booths and unclothed tables, a short counter here with a view of whiskey bottles on the shelf, but also of the big urns of ice tea, a favorite lunchtime drink. Then there is a third room – deeper, quieter, more tavern-like. By mid-meal, all three rooms are perfumed by hamburgers and filled with rollicking conversations of customers. I arrived just before noon. Soon thereafter, all seats were occupied and there was a wait for tables.
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Roadfood of the Day: Diner Grill - Chicago, IL
Posted on Saturday, February 6, 2016

Slingers are associated more with St. Louis than Chicago, but don't let that stop you from enjoying one at Chicago's Diner Grill, particularly if it's after midnight.
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