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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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Roadfood of the Day: Wedron Office - Ottawa, IL
Posted on Friday, February 5, 2016

Bluegill is a restaurant rarity because you need a lot of fillets to make a meal, but what a wonderful meal it is, each little curl of white fish offering sweet, freshwater flavor encased in a nutty, toasty crust.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Thursday, February 4, 2016 4:06 AM

The Triangle is a single building – a dazzling one, triangular in shape, 1960s in spirit – and it is two different restaurants, each with its own entryway. At the back against the hypotenuse is a lunch-only cafeteria where, for under $10, customers pile their trays with fried chicken, vegetables, and slices of made-here layer cake. Up front at the vertex in a room with picture-window walls and do-wop décor, dinner is served starting at 5:30pm.

Steaks star at dinner: filets, sirloins, and a broad beauty named John's ribeye (named for owner and chef John McDowell). They are grilled on the flattop and so develop a savory skin with a bit of crunch at the edges. The sirloin can't be beat. It is thick and easy to slice and runs savory juice as soon as it is breached with a knife. The plate-wide ribeye, although thinner, is lushly marbled and even juicier. The filet mignon, at eight ounces, is all meat, not quite so flavorful but ridiculously tender. On the side come either French fries, sweet potato fries (along with a shaker of cinnamon sugar), or a foil-wrapped baked potato.

The dinner menu also lists fried shrimp (more about the fried than the shrimp), pork chops fried or broiled, and an array of sandwiches including thick-sliced fried bologna with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise on toast. Next time I get this deliciously unctuous B(ologna)LT, I'll ask for it on a bun. Toasted white bread isn't sturdy enough to hold the substantial slab of meat and all its garnishes.

For dessert, there's cake: Key lime cake (bright green), red velvet cake (bright red), hummingbird cake, coconut cake, and strawberry shortcake. Although the strawberry shortcake is topped with pseudo-whip and the syrupy topping shows little evidence of ever having been a berry, I found myself returning for more and more forkfuls, like it was some kind of addictive Little Debbie snack cake. On the other hand, red velvet cake is a no-excuses triumph, the cake itself cocoa-rich and not too sweet, so well abetted by an abundance of cream cheese frosting. Hummingbird cake with its double-tap salvo of pineapple and banana, plus nuts, will sate the most demanding sweet tooth. The cakes are moist and good on their own, but my waitress reminded me that they also can be had a la mode.

It is fun to eat in the dinner part of the Triangle, where one is serenaded by the sizzling grill and the bell that rings to let waitresses know that orders are ready to serve. Décor is 45rpm records, Coke ads, and other mid 20th century pop-culture iconography; and the view out the big, slanted windows is of the parking lot – an appropriate vista for a restaurant that dates back to the heyday of car culture.

Eating lunch in back, where there is no do-wop decoration and there are no picture windows, has charms all its own – of the edible variety. Service is cafeteria-style, not a buffet, meaning staff dishes out the food, which customers receive and put on a tray. (In other words, no other diners will be playing pattyfingers with your corn bread muffin.) It's a meat-and-three affair, or meat-and-two or meat-and-one for meager appetites, where the day's two or three entrees might be fried chicken, salmon patties, and meatloaf and side dishes are the likes of broccoli-rice-cheese casserole, braised cabbage, mashed potatoes, peas, and beans. The same impressive layer cakes are available here, as are bread pudding and Watergate salad. Although you do tote your own tray to a table, a staff of eager waitresses is always ready to help and to refill glasses of tea or lemonade.

Notes: Lunch is served Monday through Friday, 11am – 2:30pm. Dinner is served Monday through Saturday starting at 5:30pm. While a steak dinner can cost $20 or more, lunch is under $10.
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Roadfood of the Day: Huck's Catfish - Denison, TX
Posted on Thursday, February 4, 2016

Catfish and stuffed crab combo
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Posted by Michael Stern on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 4:09 AM

A list of house rules posted at the Serving Spoon includes admonitions to relinquish a table when you’ve finished so others have a chance to eat and “if you encounter a celebrity sighting, give them the respect of allowing them to complete their dining experience should you decide to approach them.” The rules make sense: the Serving Spoon is so popular that it’s common to wait for a table; and it is a magnet for a cadre of Los Angeles glitterati. For all that, it is tremendously friendly. New arrivals are greeted at the door by a host who is nothing but hospitable.

On a podium up front, a sign that says if there will be a wait for a table and how long it might be. When the time comes, you will be directed to a booth or table or armchair seat at a long diner-style counter. ESPN plays on a few overhead TVs, but unless an important event is on, it is totally drowned out by an ebullient room that bustles with conversation, music, and good vibes. Everyone who eats here seems very happy to be doing so; and that good cheer is amplified by a staff who all seem equally happy to be on the job. My waitress fretted terribly when I didn’t finish all my fried chicken, insisting I take it with me in a to-go box along with veggies and cornbread that I hadn’t polished off.

The menu features such homespun items as chicken and waffles, pork chops, catfish, and vegetables galore. In fact, on a recent visit, I forewent an entrée altogether and enjoyed a four-“vegetable” plate that included sweet potatoes spiced like Christmas and tender, clumpy collard greens that were as satisfying as meat. Also on the plate were that beloved southern-style vegetable, mac ‘n’ cheese, which was spicy, soft, and satisfying, and a bowl of thick, brightly-spiced, beanless chili con carne. On the side came a slab of cornbread nearly as sweet as pound cake; and the meal concluded with syrupy peach cobbler.

Notes: *As limited as seating may be, parking can be even scarcer. *Serving Spoon’s location makes it an ideal first or last stop on the way from or to LAX.
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Roadfood of the Day: Starling Diner - Long Beach, CA
Posted on Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Broiled San Francisco Stuffed Toast with brandied apples
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Posted on Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Flat, lightweight, and slightly crisp, spangled with sugar, the malasada is a wonderful companion for a few cups of espresso any time of day. But do note that Carreiros Barcelos does NOT make malasadas on Saturday.
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Roadfood of the Day: Verucchi's - Spring Valley, IL
Posted on Monday, February 1, 2016

The crunchy crust that envelops Verucchi's Italian fried chicken hums with herbs.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Sunday, January 31, 2016 3:44 AM

Phillips is a soul food barbecue parlor (actually three parlors in the L.A. area) that offers little in the way of hospitable charm, no accommodations (it’s all take-out), and an uncompromising menu of smoke-cooked meats. Its character is evident in the sauce: a tart, tangy red emulsion with no sweet charm but with plenty of spicy authority. Even the mild version, while lacking pepper punch, does nothing to amuse a lightweight palate. The hot version is at least three-alarm. An in-between “mixed” sauce is urban que that is vaguely reminiscent of Arthur Bryant's.

Unless you specifically request to have it on the side, Phillips’ serious sauce is automatically applied to any meat you get, which can be pork ribs, baby backs, beef ribs, links, or chicken. As a result, eating is a roll-up-the-sleeves, finger-licking mess, albeit a mighty tasty one. Top of the line, for me, is pork ribs: giant bats with good, chewy meat that resonates smoky-sweet character. There are baby backs, too: more meat, more tender, less flavor. The chicken is lush and smoky, although it tends to be overwhelmed by the sauce. I enjoy the chewy oomph of beef links, which come pre-sliced, but let’s be frank: In this venue, pork is king.

Beans are serviceable, as is potato salad, but the macaroni and cheese is a cut above, creamy and rich and a marvelous counterpoint to the power packed meat and sauce.

The dessert menu is intriguing – sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, banana pudding, sock-it-to-me cake, etc. – but the lure of Harriet’s Cheesecakes Unlimited, which is right next door, derailed my focus.

The two other Phillips are at 4307 Leimert Blvd. in Los Angeles (323-292-7613) and 2619 S. Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles (323-731-4772).
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