Interstate 80 is the most efficient East-West route between New Jersey and San Francisco, but long stretches of it are a culinary wasteland. Not Iowa, where memorable heartland eats are within striking distance of the highway. Just west of the Quad Cities, the utterly charming Wilton Candy Kitchen just may be the oldest soda fountain in the nation. A few miles south of the highway on the square in Sully, the Coffee Cup is a quintessential small-town cafe with pies to die for. Of Des Moines’ many edible treasures, we like steak at Jesse’s Embers and peach ice cream at Bauder Pharmacy. On the way to Omaha, a short detour north to the towns of Hamlin and Audubon takes you to a couple of four-star versions of the Hawkeye State signature sandwich, the breaded pork tenderloin, at Darrell’s Place and the Chatterbox Cafe.
The color of New England’s autumn foliage attracts seasonal visitors to the southern foothills of the Berkshires, but year around, it is an excruciatingly beautiful land: rolling hills, stone walls, covered bridges, field, forest, and stream. The food is an outstanding mix of culinary sophistication and rural charm. Start the day with root vegetable hash at Mamie’s (weekends only) or breakfast pizza at the Hidden Valley Eatery; visit Clamp’s, a vintage roadside burger joint so well known to fans that it has no sign and no phone number (summer only), and stock up on bread, fruit tarts, muffins, and the notorious dirt bomb (a butter-dipped, cinnamon-dusted nutmeg muffin) at the Bantam Bread Company. Save plenty of appetite for a trip just over the state line to Big W’s in Wingdale, New York, for some of the finest barbecue north of the Carolinas.
In the Dairy State, great cream pies are a given. Abundant cherry and apple trees mean outstanding fruit pies as well. In short, Wisconsin is pie paradise, home of what might be the best apple pie anywhere, at The Elegant Farmer, which bakes it in a paper bag, as well as of memorable cherry pie to round out a spectacular Door County fish boil dinner, at the White Gull Inn. Our roster of five leading purveyors also includes the piecentric Stockholm Pie Company (for savory as well as sweet), dazzling fruit-of-the-forest pie in a Christian shrine (the Holy Hill Cafe), plus the not-quite-pie dessert so popular after grilled brats in and around Sheboygan — a cream torte at the Charcoal Inn.
Even if you are not in town for the annual Iowa State Fair, which offers days worth of good food, Des Moines is a city of eating opportunities far more colorful than suggested by its old nickname, “Hartford of the West.” After coffee and a mighty cinnamon roll at Java Joe’s Coffee House, a visit to B&B Grocery or to Mr. Bibb’s provides a memorable taste of the state’s passion for outlandishly large breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches. Bauder’s Pharmacy is a must for its ice cream, especially peach and strawberry in summer. For a grand climax to the movable feast, tuck into a supper-club meat and potatoes feast at Jesse’s Embers. (And, if any time during this delectable day the craving strikes for old-fashioned chili, a chili dog, or a chili cheeseburger, George the Chili King will be your new best friend.)
It is not quite right that deep-dish pie gets all the attention when it comes to Chicago pizza. Yes, the forkworthy casserole-style pizza was first created in Chicago, in 1943 at Pizzeria Uno, where it continues to be a magnificent meal (as it also is at Gino’s East). But Chicago’s best pizzas aren’t all three inches tall. There are thin crust pies and ultra-thin crust pies, traditional Neapolitan pies with chewy collars (Freddy’s Pizzeria‘s are swell), and even weirdly wonderful pizza pot pies at the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company). Consider these four Roadfood faves the beginning of the pizza-eating adventure that is Chicago.
Which is America’s #1 pie state? Iowa, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Maine all are contenders, but we’re tempted to give the nod to Arkansas. Cream pies and fruit pies, baked pies and fried pies are at their best throughout the state. So, when eating barbecue, catfish, meat-and-three, or country ham — all pretty darn wonderful in “the Natural State” — do save appetite for pie at one of these Roadfood gems.
Long before the apotheosis of food trucks, Chicago was a city where a person could eat extremely well without picking up a knife and fork. Here is a day’s worth of utensil-free deliciousness, starting with spectacular donuts at Firecakes. No eating tour of the city would be complete without a fully dressed red hot (at Superdawg) or an Italian beef sandwich (at Johnnie’s), as well as a corned beef sandwich (at the Corned Beef Factory). While all of the above are frequently consumed standing up, a seat is necessary to plow into a deep-dish pizza at Pizzeria Uno (where, in fact, a fork can come in handy).
Santa Fe’s bounty of good food merits at least a week of eating … or two or three weeks, or more. But let’s say you have just one day to taste what is known as “The City Different.” You’ll want breakfast of huevos motulenos or corned beef hash at Pasqual’s and late morning sopaipillas or Frito pie at the Plaza Cafe. Then, on to the best burger of any kind, anywhere: the green chile cheeseburger at Santa Fe Bite. Enjoy an afternoon pick-me-up from Roque’s Carnitas, a jolly food cart on The Plaza. Climax the day with a spectacular southwestern/cutting-edge dinner at stylish Santacafe.
Early in the 20th century, settlers from Italy came to the north central part of West Virginia to work coal mines, railroads, and farms. Their legacy is a bounty of Italian-accented good eating as well as one dish unique to the state: the pepperoni roll. Invented by baker Guiseppi Agiro in 1926 at the Country Club Bakery, the pepperoni roll is a tubular, self-enclosed sandwich wieldy enough for miners to carry with them and have as lunch. Agiro’s invention has since become a Mountain State signature dish, sold either as a neat hand-snack (think bread-wrapped Slim Jim) or a knife and fork supper covered with red sauce and cheese. The heart of good Italian eating in the state is Clarksburg. Here Roadfood travelers find Tomaro’s bakery, where the motto is “Always Eat Tomaro’s Bread Today,” the vintage grocery and sausage-making store Oliverio’s Cash and Carry, and the fine-dining eatery Julio’s, which offers four different versions of pasta e fagiole.
Twenty-eight states have an official state drink. For several in dairy country, it is milk. In California, it is wine; in Maine, Moxie; in Indiana, water. Dine around Rhode Island and it becomes apparent what the Ocean State’s official drink is: coffee milk. It is mild stuff — more milk than coffee, and more sweet than caffeinated. Food historians speculate that Rhode Islanders’ passion for the pale tan beverage (as well as for coffee ice cream) owes to an Italian heritage and the old country tradition of gentling strong coffee with milk and sweetener. Add a scoop of ice cream to coffee milk, as can be done at Gray’s, and you have a coffee cab (short for coffee cabinet) At Olneyville New York System and Wein-O-Rama, it’s just the right beverage to accompany the state’s unique wieners up the arm, and at the down-and-dirty food truck known as Haven Brothers, it pairs well with a 3am murderburger.