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Posted by Michael Stern on Saturday, November 22, 2014 5:43 AM

During a recent hunt for soul food restaurants in the Orlando, Florida, area, Jane and I spent some time in Zora Neal Hurston's home town of Eatonville, Florida (the first municipality in the U.S. to be incorporated by families of emancipated slaves). Our visit was in January, timed to coincide with Eatonville's yearly Zora! festival, which pretty much takes over the main street (Kennedy Boulevard) to celebrate the life and works of the seminal 20th century African-American writer. Of course, there is plenty to eat. A big, open-air food court offers such local faves as collard greens, candied yams, and oxtails along with more typical fair-food such as funnel cakes, gyros, and Polish sausages. The most memorable thing we found at the festival came from a humble tent where a local woman was selling six-foot-long sugar cane stalks as well as her baked specialties, which included brownies, cookies, and slices from a splendid 7-Up cake. Made in a bundt pan, the cake was a creamy pound cake with icing that added beguiling citrus tingle.

Just beyond the fair, at the town line with the municipality of Maitland, we hit Roadfood paydirt in the form of Gordon's Be Back Fish House. What curious eater could resist visiting a place with a hand-written sign outside boasting "YES WE HAVE MULLET" and a somewhat more formal sign, planted in the lawn, advertising "Hot Fish and Grits"? This corner cafe, the name of which was devised to suggest that if you eat here once, you will be back for more, is presided over by Abraham Gordon, Jr., who came to Eatonville over a half century ago and spent some time as its mayor and as a school teacher before opening his restaurant. Mr. Gordon, who told us that he first worked as a short order cook in a diner at the age of 12, sits at the cash register taking orders, holding forth for all in the restaurant to hear (it's that small), and giving advice about whether he thinks you are a mullet person or a catfish person. "We like anything where we don't have to battle with the bones," we tell him.

"That's the irony," he replies with great glee. "I eat all the bones and give you all the meat." Crisp-fried catfish is indeed boneless and meaty, clean and mild. It's good, but we prefer the character of Gordon's mullet, which is ineluctably unctuous, its succulent flesh fairly wallowing in a golden envelope of vividly-seasoned crust. Bones may be present, but they simply are not an issue. We also love the flounder, which is moist and cream-soft, breaded only enough to envelop the pure white meat. "Butter and cheese?" Gordon asks, regarding grits that are fish's de rigueur partner in this place. They are stout grits, especially indulgent when sopped with butter and crowned with molten yellow cheese. Fried okra is another immemorial companion. It has a thick, crunchy coat but is intensely green-tasting once bitten – a serious vegetable presence. Naturally, hushpuppies are included in every Styrofoam dinner tray (all dishware is disposable). They are crunchy and sweet, and oily enough to make fingertips glisten.

Gordon does not make the cakes, but he gets them from local bakers. A lady in Winter Park makes the bright green, and brightly flavored, Key lime layer cake. Red velvet cake, pound cake, and sweet potato pie are made by a gentleman up in Altamonte Springs.
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Posted on Saturday, November 22, 2014

Old Montreal

The timeworn character of Willensky's gives it a charm that transcends the sandwiches, cherry Cokes and egg creams on its menu.
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Roadfood of the Day: Swensons - Akron, OH
Posted on Friday, November 21, 2014

Galley Boy

Swenson's signature dish, the Galley Boy, is two modest-size patties of beef, cheese, mayo-onion sauce and barbecue sauce on a buttered and toasted bun. Optional condiments include ketchup, relish, sweet pickles, horseradish, Worcestershire, Tabasco, cocktail, honey mustard, tartar and Cajun spice. Garnish choices are tomato, lettuce, olives, grilled onions, hot peppers, bacon, Coney sauce and cole slaw.
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Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2014

Big Babka

If you hate chocolate, don't get Cheskie's babka. It's veined with it to the max. A whole one is a mighty hefty brick. Even a half, which we brought to the nearby espresso shop, was more than enough to make breakfast for two.
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Posted on Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Chicago Dog

A Chicago dog minus onions, nestled in fries (poppy seed bun, of course).
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Roadfood of the Day: Schwartz's - Montreal, XX
Posted on Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sandwich Close Up

A close view of a smoked meat sandwich we ordered 'fatty.' To our taste, it was just right: warm, spicy meat with just the right amount of fat to infuse every bite with sheer succulence.
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Posted on Monday, November 17, 2014

Pulled Pork Sandwich

Clem's pulled pork sandwich is more like a pulled pork hoagie and a real bargain at $4.50.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Sunday, November 16, 2014 6:16 AM

JR's really is a shack, in the best sense of the term. The building is ramshackle, décor inside includes a few dozen game animal trophies, pig figurines, and signs with slogans such as "If my pick-up truck ain't here, I'm in the woods chasin' deer…" Bathrooms are labeled Bucks and Does. When waitress Susan comes to take our order she notices that the roll of paper towels on the table (in lieu of puny single napkins) is low, so the first order of business (after bringing 32-ounce tankards of sweet tea) is to replace it with a full roll.

Ribs are the star of the show, and although the meat slips easily from the bone, they provide a serious, ecstatic chew that sets forth great waves of smoky, piggy flavor. Barbecued chicken is so tender that juice-saturated dark meat quite literally falls from a drumstick when we lift it from the plate. It is memorably delicious chicken, some of the best anywhere.

Only the chopped barbecue (pork, of course) is disappointing – somewhat drab and dry. But that situation is easily remedied by application of one of three sauces provided to the table: mild, sweet, and hot. White sauce, echoing Alabama preferences to the north, also is available on request. It's probably best suited for the chicken, but for me, this chicken is too good to mess with.

Fine, fine side dishes: thick, firm mac 'n' cheese, sweet, meat-laden barbecue beans, crisp and refreshing cole slaw. While Brunswick stew can sometimes seem like a kitchen afterthought, JR's is nothing short of magnificent: packed with big shreds of pork, sweet tomato-fruity, and tongue-tickling spicy. When Susan heard me and Jane declaiming our admiration for it, she piped in, "I eat Brunswick stew here six days a week. I've been working here twelve years and I could never leave … because the food's too good!"
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Roadfood of the Day: Valle Luna - Chandler, AZ
Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2014

Combo 1 With Extra Taco

My standard fare. A combination 1 plate with an extra taco. They are too good to just get one.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Saturday, November 15, 2014 5:47 AM

There is no better culinary reflection of the eclectic nature of Bisbee, Arizona, than the High Desert Market and Cafe. Owned and operated by Peyton Tamburo, an actress from New York who arrived on motorcycle at the turn of the millennium, it is a place to eat-in or buy meals to take out, a coffee-juice-smoothie bar, a grocery store, a wine shop, a crafts gallery, a cosmetics emporium, and a town gathering place.

We're especially fond of dessert: mammoth cuts of cake or pie that is fresh and expertly made. Coconut cream pie is a big, hearty western slice that is endlessly creamy atop a crust that is surprisingly fragile and with an ever-so-slight savory flavor. A thick layer of whipped cream floats atop the chocolate sour cream cake. It is quite sweet, but the cake itself, moistened by plenty of sour cream, is less sweet than most chocolate cakes: a fabulous, intriguing balance.

For dinner, you can tuck into elegant artisan pizza, such specials as manicotti stuffed with spinach and ricotta along with wonderful garlic bread, or pad Thai with shrimp, bean sprouts, and peanuts tossed with rice noodles. Sandwiches, served on organic whole wheat or grilled focaccia bread (or on gluten-free bread), are made of interesting cheeses and cold cuts, accoutered with the likes of sliced avocado, pesto, caramelized onion, etc.

Breakfast is wonderful: immense egg-loaded burros, sweet potato pancakes, and pastries that are made on premises every day. Of the muffins, biscuits, and cookies, our fave are the scones. Like the pie and cake, they come as mighty blocks of food – one scone easily feeds two – and they are jam-packed with whatever ingredient is featured, from chocolate chips to cranberries.

The juice bar will concoct just about anything you wish. Apple-lemon-ginger-beet is a house favorite. Among smoothies, the knock-out is a double espresso chocolate with banana and ice cream.
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