It seems logical that the Lone Star State’s favorite comfort food, chicken-fried steak, traces its heritage back to central European immigrant cooks who found themselves in Texas but without the fixin’s for a fine, tender cut of veal to make wiener schnitzel. Instead, they took a hunk of cow and beat the chaw out of it, then fried it up like southern-style chicken and served it with pan-dripping peppered milk gravy and mashed potatoes. This genealogical speculation is supported by the fact that the Hill Country, with its preponderance of German great-grandmas, is home of so many excellent chicken-fried steaks. In many other places throughout the Southwest, CFS means diner grub at its worst.
Brunswick Stew is a fundamental side dish for barbecue in Georgia and beyond. Originally made as a hunter’s gallimaufry using whatever critters had been bagged and whatever vegetables were available, today’s version almost always contains pulled pork along with beans, corn, tomatoes, and spice. Accompany the really porky ones with a hunk of cornbread and you have a full meal.
Along the Northeast’s Atlantic coast, the term “shore dinner” doesn’t just mean some seafood on a plate. Descendant of Algonquin clambakes in which clams and corn were layered in seaweed over hot stones, it is a mighty feast, traditionally built around lobster and clams, but also including red potatoes and corn on the cob boiled in the same salty water as the lobster. Fried fish, grilled sausage, deep-fried clam cakes, and baked Indian pudding or strawberry shortcake complete the picture. Maine is where shore dinner is best, but this route starts with a couple of favorite shore dinner destinations in Southern New England.
Few eats stir Yankee passions more intensely than fried clams. Most devoted clamophiles insist on whole belly clams (the big gooey ones), and while clam strips do tend to be thin and rubbery, there are some pretty tasty strips out there, too. But nevermind them. Here are our favorite sources for big, oozy, oceanic whole belly clams.
There are many Cuban sandwiches in Florida, and many opinions about exactly which ingredients one should contain, the primary point of contention being Genoa salami. Most Cubans in Tampa, where it is said they were invented, include Genoa salami. Most in Miami do not. We are in no position to proclaim which is correct, nor would we call one better than the other, except to say that there is something pretty darn wonderful about the way salami’s garlicky fat oozes out as the sandwich is heated and lends its flavor to the whole package.
Although it isn’t shaped like one, this is our kind of food pyramid, containing protein in the form of meat and cheese, vegetables (green chile and maybe onions, too), and carbs (the bun). The green chile cheeseburger, a specialty of New Mexico (where the chile pepper shares State Vegetable status with the pinto bean), is a brilliant combination of flavors and can range in Scoville hotness from cozy warm to incendiary.
Whether it includes pork or not, Oregon chowder always is plush and luxurious — usually more substantial than even creamy New England style chowder. A large bowl of it, replete with clams and potatoes, is a hearty meal; a smaller portion can be a substantial appetizer.
Whereas a whole lobster requires some work to get the meat, a lobster roll is trouble-free. The cool version – meat bound with mayonnaise and bits of celery loaded into a bun that may or may not be toasted – is a staple northeast of Boston. In 1929 Harry Perry, proprietor of a seafood shack in Milford, Connecticut, came up with a twist: the hot lobster roll. He eliminated the mayonnaise and simply piled warm picked meat bathed in butter into a toasted bun. Both styles of roll are found all along New England shores, the hot one still more popular in southern New England, cool ones predominating downeast.
Few of the memorable dishes one encounters at the casse-croûtes (snack bars) of Quebec, between the Laurentians and the Gaspé Peninsula, are notably exotic. There’s poutine, of course (French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds), but hot dogs, hamburgers, smoked meat, and fried dough all are cognates of familiar stateside fare. However, north of the border, they flaunt unique personalities. And the region’s magnificent pommes frites – foundation of all poutine – are themselves incentive for a casse-croûte road trip. In fact, another colloquial name for the casse-croûte is cabane à patates (spud shack).