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Posted on Thursday, January 29, 2015

Beef on Weck

I've never had a worthy beef on weck outside the Buffalo area ... until finding this one. The roll is crowned with the same amount of caraway seeds and salt as in the Nickel City (where, as here, I always brush some salt off lest I die of thirst an hour later), but more important, the beef is right: rosy, tender, thin slices that radiate luxurious flavor.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 5:38 AM

A fixture on Route 138 since 1966, Chez Micheline is an exemplary Quebecoise casse-croûte (snack bar). There is no indoor dining. Customers place orders at the window and carry their own meals back to the car or to one of the picnic tables out back. The counter itself is intriguing – littered with coins so servers can quickly push the right amount of change out along with the food.

I was wowed by a house specialty billed as "nouilles Chinoises," a dish reminiscent of the vaguely Asian ya-ka-mein served in New Orleans and in low-end Chinese restaurants in the mid-Atlantic states: boiled then wok-finished elbow macaroni glazed with sweet soy gravy, laced with caramelized onions and shreds of pork under a mantle of chopped scallions. I don't know if it will cure hangovers as ya-ka-mein is supposed to do, but it is a hugely hearty and delicious under-$10 meal. Burgers are a big deal at most casse-croûtes, the top of the line at Chez Micheline being one known as the "Inter Burger," a cheeseburger dressed with sautéed onions, ketchup, mayonnaise, and trio of onion rings hot from the fry kettle.

During a road trip devoted to finding good casse-croûtes throughout Quebec, I was delighted to discover that nearly all of them serve their version of "le hot dog Michigan," the chili dog that first took shape in Plattsburgh, New York, in the 1940s. Most of the Canadian Michigans I encountered were topped with something that was more Bolognese sauce than chili, and they were served in crisp-grilled, split-top buns rather than the softies more typical of New York's North Country. Chez Micheline's Michigan is unique because it also includes a handful of cheese curds (fromage en grains).

The curds Chez Micheline uses are resilient and squeaky-fresh. Bed them atop superior French fries, at once crisp-edged and creamy-centered, and you understand that the much-maligned north-of-the-border dish, poutine, really can be good. Topping variations here beyond traditional gravy include chicken and peas (galvaude) and red tomato sauce (Italienne). Each is available in three sizes: regular, large, and "familiale."
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Roadfood of the Day: Los Baez - Salem, OR
Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mexican Comfort Food

Enchiladas: your choice of beef, pork, cheese or seafood wrapped in corn tortillas, smothered in both red sauce and gravy.
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Roadfood of the Day: Darrell's Place - Hamlin, IA
Posted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Of all the four-star tenderloins in Iowa. Darrell's is among the very best, bound in a crunchy wave of crust and fairly bursting with juice at first bite.
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Posted by Mike Iacoucci on Monday, January 26, 2015 7:49 AM

Tucked away in the industrial city of Elizabeth, NJ, lies a pizza joint that receives high praise and respect amongst the locals and former locals. Santillo's Brick Oven Pizza serves what has been dubbed "The best Sicilian pizza in America" and is typically listed high on lists of best pizzerias in the country. Needless to say, this warrants a road trip to Elizabeth to see what all the fuss is about.

Approaching the pizzeria, one can see the glow of the old fashioned pizza sign hanging out front. Once there, you will find that the entrance is in fact in the alley along side the building. Walk through the alley door and you will find yourself in nothing more than a 3 foot by 6 foot takeout area. If you're claustrophobic, place your order and wait in the alley. Beyond this is the prep area and the main attraction: the 1957 brick oven and a ceiling lined with pizza peels. Most of the peels are 40 to 60 feet long, to reach into the depths of the brick oven.

Besides the oven, there are several other facets to Santillo's that make it a popular destination. First of all, they make their own Italian bread fresh daily, whereas most pizzerias will carry bread from a local bakery. This is the reason their garlic bread is a must-have side dish. Besides their famous Sicilian pies, they recreate classic pizza styles from decades past and there are many to choose from. Luckily, during my visit we were fortunate to have a regular customer waiting for their order, so we were able to get some suggestions. First thing we were told, "Get the garlic bread!" After a short conversation, the decision was made to get one of the famous Sicilians with sausage, and a 1957-style round pie (extra thin crust).

Now that we have our order, the other decision needs to be made. Unless you live right in the area, you need to walk out of this joint with a plan of where to eat the food. My visit was in 15 degree weather and eating in the car was not really an option. From what I was told, you can ask the owner, Al, for suggestions. One suggestion I've heard is he will advise you to go around the block to the local bar and they will deliver it there. Having driven over 40 minutes to get here, driving home was not an option, as I was starving. Between my friend and myself, the perfect plan unfolded. A sign on the wall says that Santillo's sells the pizza bags that keep the pies hot for $20/bag. My friend had suggested that since we were headed back to New York, to dine at the rest stop on the turnpike, 20 minutes away. When we arrived, the pizza was still piping hot. Fantastic $20 investment that will keep on giving. FINALLY, we can try the pizza we've heard so much about (and had to smell from the trunk for 20 minutes!).

First up, we had to try the sausage Sicilian. Upon opening the box, you can see the characteristics of a brick oven-fired pizza. The outer edges of the crust had blackened soot lined across and some blackened spots of cheese across the top. The bottom of the crust had some nice golden to dark brown markings. As with most fresh Sicilian pizzas, it tended to get a tad soggy in the middle sections and were best eaten after being heated a second time. However the outer slices were nice and crisp, with a delicious taste to the crust. The sausage, which is put on the pizza raw, gave the pizza a nice, sweet flavor. The sauce and cheese work well with the crust to make for a well-balanced pie.

The 1957 round pie was up next and in my opinion, outdid the Sicilian pie. The sauce and cheese are the same, so it's not a dramatic palate change. But, what made the 1957 better was its crust. The extra thin crust was nice and crispy throughout, with the same chars on the outer edges. On the bottom, what is now a lost art, the semolina lined crust. If you like thin and crispy pies, this is the one to try.

Having said that, in my opinion, these pies suffer from one flaw - excessive amounts of oregano. After several bites, the oregano started to dominate the flavor profile and took away from the clean flavors of the other ingredients. I like oregano, but I don't LOVE oregano. For only this reason did this place not rank higher to me. The first question I always myself after eating somewhere: "okay, would I want to eat it again?" The answer for this place is - if I was not far away, I would stop in and grab something, but wouldn't drive 40 minutes again for it. However, if you're the type that loves oregano on pizza, this place is not to be missed. Overall, excellent pizza and worth a try.
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Posted on Monday, January 26, 2015

The Varla hot dog comes topped with bacon bits, sauerkraut, 1000 islands dressing, and homemade horseradish sauce.
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Posted by Dale Fine on Sunday, January 25, 2015 8:23 AM

BBQ throughout the South and Midwest varies from region to region. Depending on where you are, you'll find brisket, pork or even mutton. Some prefer a thick opaque red sauce or a thin marinade of vinegar and pepper, while others would find it an atrocity to serve your smoked meat with any sauce at all. Everything from the sides that are served, to the wood being used are endless debates of minutiae.

Northern Alabama is no exception for it's regional contribution to BBQ. In the suburbs of Birmingham, as soon as you approach the standalone building of Miss Myra's Pit Bar-B-Q, the odoriferous essence of smoke permeates the parking lot and your senses alert you that you're in for something unique. Entering the restaurant, you are greeted by happy pig figurines. Order at the counter and afterwards, when your meal is ready, bring your tray to any of the available tables in two separate rooms.

Miss Myra's menu, like most Alabama BBQ shacks, serves pork, ribs, brisket and even sausage. However, it's the hickory smoked chicken that Miss Myra's is most famous for. Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel describes it as the best smoked chicken he's ever had. You have the option of ordering a quarter or half a bird and for those with a light appetite, a sandwich. Although squirt bottles of traditional red sauce are readily available at the table, you want Miss Myra's famous white sauce; a mayo based marinade with vinegary undertones. Tearing into my smoked bird, the taut crispy skin yielded to a juicy explosion of smoky flavor which is only enhanced by the creamy, white marinade.

Sides include slaw, potato salad and chips. However, the baked beans are a standout; thick and creamy and reminiscent of Boston style baked beans, but without the sweet molasses flavor. Unique to many Alabama BBQ shacks, the homemade deviled eggs would make any southern mamaw proud.

Don't forget dessert: the cool lemon ice box pie or better yet, the magnificent creamy and custardy banana pudding, loaded with chunks of banana and vanilla wafers, whose consistency is more cake than cookie. It is without hesitation, that I loudly proclaim this the best banana pudding that I've ever had.

Overall, although there are several BBQ restaurants between Huntsville and Birmingham that offer smoked chicken with white sauce, there is a "je ne sais quoi" that makes Miss Myra's extra special.
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Roadfood of the Day: D'Arcy's Pint - Springfield, IL
Posted on Sunday, January 25, 2015

Buffalo Shoe

The fried chicken in the Buffalo shoe is good and crisp and its cheese sauce is plenty gloppy. What a mighty meal! Note the abundance of blue cheese and red sauce in the ramekins on the plate.
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Roadfood of the Day: Junior's - New York, NY
Posted on Saturday, January 24, 2015

Pastrami and Corned Beef on Twin Onion Rolls

Pastrami and corned beef on twin onion rolls: a deli classic, and Junior's tender, meaty version was just great.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Friday, January 23, 2015 5:07 AM

The Works

When we first came across the Salt Lick, some 40 years ago, it had neither four walls nor a restroom. It was just a smoke pit and makeshift tables on Thurman and Hisako Roberts' 600 acre ranch. My, how it's grown! Located in the Hill Country west of Austin, it has become an immense restaurant, banquet facility, and outdoor pavilion with seats for 2000. It is a veritable theme park of barbecue, its limestone buildings surrounded by rough-hewn log fences, the air smelling of slow-smoked meats. Compared to the region's back-of-the-butcher-shop barbecue parlors, it's a fairly civil place with ambience I would call Rustic Deluxe. There is a printed menu; you are served at your table by waiters; food comes on plates rather than on butcher paper; utensils are supplied; and the kitchen's repertoire includes all sorts of side dishes and dessert as well as barbecued meats. Fancy, it is not, but neither is the Salt Lick primitive.

One other element that separates the Salt Lick from the primal parlors: sauce. Unless you ask to have your meat dry, it comes already painted with sauce. Not that the meat needs it – it's moist and full flavored – but it does happen to be really tasty sauce, a tangy-sweet glaze with perhaps a hint of mustard. In fact the sauce is good enough to use as a between-meat dip for the slices of good white bread that come alongside the meal. The sausage is smoky and rich, like kielbasa, made from equal amounts of pork and beef. Brisket, slow-smoked for sixteen hours, is lean and polite (unless you request fattier slices); and if it lacks a certain succulence, Salt Lick sauce is an instant fix. Pork ribs drip juice from the tender meat at the bone and deliver a stupendously concentrated smoke-pit flavor in the chewy burnt ends.

Among the worthy side dishes are an intriguing cabbage slaw flecked with sesame seeds and cool, German-style potato salad. And of course, pickles and sliced raw onions are available with every meal.
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