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On the road with Jane and Michael Stern

Admit it. Even when you’re away from the shop, it’s there. The never-ending, oft times all-consuming quest for really good food. And you’re not alone. Name one fellow restaurateur who hasn’t had the same fever—or who hasn’t planned an entire vacation around food at least once. With that in mind, we’ve asked America’s evangelists of “Roadfood,” the authors of the indispensable guide of the same name, to design four custom-made, mouth-watering vacations just for Restaurant Business readers. So clear your calendar and top off the tank. It’s time to take a road trip.

Admit it. Even when you’re away from the shop, it’s there. The never-ending, oft times all-consuming quest for really good food. And you’re not alone. Name one fellow restaurateur who hasn’t had the same fever—or who hasn’t planned an entire vacation around food at least once. With that in mind, we’ve asked America’s evangelists of “Roadfood,” the authors of the indispensable guide of the same name, to design four custom-made, mouth-watering vacations just for Restaurant Business readers. So clear your calendar and top off the tank. It’s time to take a road trip.

The Shore Route: Boston to Acadia National Park

Start with beans in Beantown and end with lobsters cooked right after they’ve been pulled from the cold waters off the Maine coast.

340 Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, MA, 617-227-2038
Durgin-Park, where the incontrovertible catchphrase is “Established Before You Were Born,” serves handsome slabs of fish, old-fashioned fishcakes and spaghetti, and prime rib sized for a lumberjack’s appetite. On the
side, baked beans are essential. Ambience is rough and tumble, a cross between army mess and a neighborhood picnic.

Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe
429 Columbus Ave., Boston, MA, 617-536-7669
The most important thing to know about the menu of this democratic South End institution is turkey hash. Charlie’s is rich and satisfying, and it’s great for breakfast or lunch, but for the midday meal, we need one of Charlie’s excellent cheeseburgers.

Nick’s Famous
Roast Beef
139 Dodge St., North Beverly, MA, 978-922-9075
North of Boston is serious roast beef country. Dozens of inconspicuous shops specialize in cut-to-order sandwiches of rosy beef piled high in a bun. Nick’s “super beef” is nestled in a roll festooned with onion squiggles and topped with your choice of condiments, the best of which are barbecue sauce and horseradish.

Village Restaurant
55 Main St., Essex, MA,
A polite small-town restaurant with a menu of great North Atlantic seafood, including four-star fried clams from Cape Ann. The Village also serves good steaks and pasta and definitive Indian pudding, the old cornmeal and molasses dessert from Colonial times.

Flav’s Red Skiff
15 Mount Pleasant St., Rockport, MA, 978-546-7647
Since Winslow Homer, artists have come to the community of Rockport to paint its picturesque woods and waterfront. In the heart of town is the minuscule Flav’s, where locals have chat ‘n’ chew breakfasts of French toast made from the old Yankee classic, anadama bread—baked right here.

The Clam Box
240 High St., Ipswich, MA,
978-356-9707 (Seasonal)
Cape Ann is to fried clams what Champagne, France, is to wine. Succulent soft-shelled clams—perfect for frying—are harvested here; and the best are served at The Clam Shack, a 1930s roadside attraction built to look like the trapezoidal cardboard box in which fried clams are traditionally served.

Maine Diner
2265 Post Rd., Wells, ME,
For a full and complete taste of the time-honored Maine kitchen, there’s nothing like this place. From homemade muffins to the best seafood chowder on earth to grandmother’s-recipe lobster pie, this friendly diner has a dizzying array of Downeast dishes. Even such plebeian standards as franks and beans and boiled
dinner are prepared with the skill of a four-star chef.

Clam Shack
Rt. 9, Kennebunkport, ME,
207-967-2560 (seasonal)
This really is a shack, with no place to sit and eat other than a few scattered benches (many dine standing on the sidewalk). While the clams are excellent, the piece de resistance is a lobster roll: juicy hunks of just-picked meat gathered in a good bakery bun and topped with your choice of melted butter or mayo.

Becky’s Diner
390 Commercial St., Portland, ME, 207-773-7070
Becky’s hours of operation tell the story: open at 4:30 a.m., so fishermen and dock workers can catch an early “titanic omelet,” on through dinner so families can come for such square meals as pot roast and hot turkey
dinner. For dessert, do not miss Whoopie Pie cake, an ecstatic layering of fudgy chocolate and creamy filling.

Standard Baking Co.
75 Commercial St., Portland, ME, 207-773-2112
Above Standard Baking is Portland’s most esteemed fine-dining restaurant, Fore Street. One thing that makes Fore Street meals so excellent is the hard-crusted, sturdy-crumb levain bread—baked right here, along with feather-light croissants, pain au chocolat, biscotti and even brioche.

Harmon’s Lunch
144 Gray Rd., Falmouth, ME,
Falmouth is a short detour for travelers along the coastal route, but if you like blue-plate hamburgers and cafes with attitude, Harmon’s is a must. Have your burger topped with cheese and a tangle of caramelized onions, and definitely get an order of superior French fries. Just don’t ask proprietor Peter Wermell for lettuce and tomato. The sign on the wall warns, “This is not Burger King. You don’t get it your way. You take it my way or you don’t get the damn thing.”

Red’s Eats
Main &
Water St., Wiscasset, ME, 207-882-6128 (seasonal)
About the size of a house trailer and with no indoor seating, Red’s has a long line of people waiting to order and eat all summer long. They come for humongous lobster rolls, guaranteed to contain all the meat from a pound-plus lobster.

1885 Atlantic Hwy./Route 1, Waldoboro, ME, 207-832-7785
A roadside diner dating back to the 1930s, Moody’s serves three squares a day, including Yankee
pot roast, fried tripe and Indian pudding. But it’s best known for its house-made pies, especially the walnut pie, which is a local variation of Southern pecan.

Beal’s Lobster Pier
182 Clark Point Rd., Southwest Harbor, ME,
207-244-7178 (seasonal)
Here’s the quintessential summertime lobster dinner: eaten off picnic tables on a pier where fishing boats come and go. Once you place your order, go outdoors to buy drinks, chowder and Maine ice cream for dessert. Lobsters arrive with their shells pre-cracked for easy meat extraction.

Blues Highway: Memphis to New Orleans

Highway 61 from Graceland through the Mississippi Delta, then on to the Gulf of Mexico and that magical place that no serious foodie can avoid.

Charlie Vergos Rendezvous
52 S. Second St., Memphis, TN, 901-523-2746
Rendezvous ribs are charcoal-cooked, and they don’t have traditional BBQ sauce on them, that’s for sure. Instead, they are enveloped in a thick coat of ultra spicy seasoning, all of which shores in their juices and encourages a tremendous thirst for beer by the pitcher. Addicts consider these “dry ribs” the ne plus ultra.

Cozy Corner
745 North Pkwy., Memphis, TN, 901-527-9158
Were you to argue that Memphis has the best urban barbecue in the nation, Cozy Corner would be good proof. The smoke-cooked ribs, pulled pork and Cornish hens are magnificent, as are barbecued bologna and that only-in-Memphis side, barbecued spaghetti.

317 N. Main, Memphis, TN,
Soul food heaven! The fried chicken and pork chops are to die for, and the luxurious side dishes include brilliantly spicy cooked cabbage, long-cooked greens and hot water cornbread. Dessert? You will remember the bread pudding forever.

Blue & White
1355 US Hwy. 61N, Tunica, MS, 662-363-1371
An outpost of good Southern food at reasonable prices in a non-casino atmosphere. Breakfast can be such Dixie standards as country ham and grits or biscuits and gravy; lunch choices include a fabulous chicken and dumplings. And don’t forget fried dill pickles, a salty and addictive snack invented nearby in the Delta town of Robinsonville at a club called The Hollywood.

Ground Zero Blues Club
0 Blues Alley, Clarksdale, MS, 662-621-9009
Clarksdale has been hometown for an amazing number of blues musicians, and it is now the site of the Delta Blues Museum. Ground Zero is a colorful, graffiti-decorated juke joint where the music is live every night and the menu’s signature dishes are catfish, hot tamales and fried grits.

616 N. State St., Clarksdale, MS, 662-624-9947
At the Crossroads where legend has it that Robert Johnson traded his soul to the devil for mastery of slide guitar is a restaurant called Abe’s, where you can eat great barbecue and enjoy the Mississippi Delta’s own peculiar culinary specialty, the hot tamale. Tamales are always available “to go” for messy eating off the dashboard.

Doe’s Eat Place
502 Nelson, Greenville, MS, 662-334-3315
Doe’s is a disheveled dive in the back room of an old ex-grocery store with cookstoves and countertops among the dining tables. But as your knife glides into the juicy pink center of a char-crusted T-bone, it’s apparent you have found the finest country steak house in the nation.

Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales
714 Saint Mary St., Lake Village, AR, 870-265-3108
South of Memphis on both sides of the Mississippi River, it’s hot tamale country. Rhoda Adams revealed
that hers are especially soulful because she enriches the beef with chicken meat. Her cafe is also a superior bakeshop, especially for cupcakes and sweet potato pie.

722 Carrollton Ave., Greenwood, MS, 601-453-5365
Dine on first-class steaks and elegant pompano in a private curtained booth of this funky old grocery store that first opened during prohibition and was a favorite place for locals to drink and dine in private.

Dinner Bell
229 5th Ave., McComb, MS,
Are you really, really hungry? If so, you will love the Dinner Bell, where meals are served boarding house style. All the entrees and all the side dishes are set out on a big lazy susan in the middle of round tables where strangers sit elbow-to-elbow and eat until it ouches.

US 51 N., Akers, LA, 505-386-6666
Overlooking the Manchac swamp since 1934, Middendorf’s location is extraordinarily inconvenient, but it’s always crowded. Disciples journey up from New Orleans to Tangipahoa Parish for diaphanous ribbons of catfish filet with hushpuppies, but don’t ignore the soft-shelled crabs, po-boys and gumbo.

1409 Henderson Hwy., Henderson, LA, 337-228-7594
Henderson is in the heart of crawfish country, and there’s no better place to savor that fact than Robin’s, where the menu includes crawfish bisque, boiled and fried crawfish, crawfish etouffee and crawfish pie. For dessert try a dish of Tabasco ice cream.

Cafe Des Amis
140 East Bridge St., Breaux Bridge, LA, 337-332-5273
Let the good times roll at this three-meal-a-day gathering place where citizens come to dine, dance and socialize. The menu is a primer of Cajun specialties: beignets, andouille gumbo, tasso ham omelets and gateau sirop, a spicy cake sweetened with local sugar cane.

4330 Magazine St.,
New Orleans, LA, 504-895-9761 (seasonal)
Eat them raw in this tile-walled neighborhood oyster bar or, better yet, have an oyster loaf. That’s like a po-boy but even bigger: two slabs of sideways-sliced bread filled with countless, crunchy, ocean-flavored fried oysters.

209 Bourbon St., New Orleans, LA, 504-525-2021
The one and only pure classic Creole eating experience in New Orleans is at Galatoire’s—since 1905. From shrimp remoulade to crabmeat sardou to cafe brulot, these are the fundamentals on which the city’s reputation as a serious food town was built.

Route 66: Osage Frontier to the Grand Canyon

Largely supplanted by interstates, the route’s landscape remains hypnotically beautiful—and leads to a bonanza of Southwestern food.

319 E. Illinois Ave., Vinita, OK, 918-256-9053
One of the first restaurants to open along the Oklahoma stretch of the Mother Road, Clanton’s serves a chicken and dressing plate that makes every day feel like Thanksgiving. Coconut pie virtually hovers on a crust that is fall-apart fragile.

1522 East Apache, Tulsa, OK, 918-425-9912
You’ve got to love Wilson’s motto: “U Need No Teeth to Eat Our Beef.” Moist and full-flavored, smoky brisket is especially excellent on a combo plate with taut hunks of hot link sausage. Also noteworthy is Wilson’s smoked potato: a huge spud splayed open, available “plain” with just butter and sour cream, or stuffed with your choice of brisket, cut-up hot links or bologna.

White River Fish Market
1708 N. Sheridan Rd., Tulsa, OK,
Choose the piece of fish you like at the order counter, tell the server whether you want it fried or broiled, and it is cooked to order. Our favorites are catfish live-hauled from Arkansas and whole Gulf Coast flounder. And don’t
forget onion rings and hushpuppies on the side.

Rock Café
114 W. Main St., Stroud, OK,
This primal Route 66 eatery has its own twist on chicken fried steak. Instead of beef, it’s made with a pork cutlet. The juicy meat is encased in a buttery-crisp crust and topped, of course, with spicy cream gravy.

1309 S. Agnew Ave., Oklahoma City, OK, 405-236-0416
Surrounded by the largest livestock-trading center on earth, Cattlemen’s is the consummate western steak house, where the menu ranges from lamb fries to ultra-swank sirloin steaks. Not to miss: steak soup, ridiculously crowded with beef and vegetables.

Classen Grill
5124 Classen Circle, Oklahoma City, OK, 405-842-0428
From fresh-squeezed OJ in the morning to three-layer enchiladas at lunch, Classen is a homey place where everything is made from scratch. At breakfast, don’t miss the migas, a Mexican scramble of eggs, tomato, sausage and strips of corn tortilla.

301 S. Rock Island, El Reno, OK, 405-262-4721
It’s easy to know the specialty of El Reno; just drive through town along Route 66 with your windows down. The air is perfumed by onion-fried burgers, cooked on a grill with parchment-thin ribbons of sweet onion smooshed into the crust of the meat. Johnnie’s are the best in town.

Jiggs Smoke House
Clinton, OK, 580-323-5641
There is no more explosively savory chaw than Jiggs’ beef jerky. Flaps of meat are marinated in a brown sugar-pepper mix, smoked and air dried to supreme intensity. Among Jiggs’ easier to chew smokehouse eats are pigsickles (boneless pork rib sandwiches) and the “kitchen sink,” a slightly insane combo of beef, sausage and ham—sandwiched between a pair of sirloin steaks!

Big Texan
7701 E I-40, Amarillo, TX,
Big Texan is best known for its 72-ounce steak challenge: eat the whole thing with all its fixins’ in an hour and your meal’s free. But this steak house also serves terrific normal-size, world-class beef steaks, prime rib, spare ribs and half-pound hamburgers.

Chimayo, NM, 505-351-4569
In this mountain village, Leona Medina-Tiede makes consummate flour tortillas into which she piles chicharrones, carne adovada or whole, cheese-oozing chilies rellenos. Dine in the shade of a catalpa tree.

Bobcat Bite
420 Old Las Vegas Hwy.,
Santa Fe, NM, 505-983-5319
A ravishing neon sign lights up the night sky above a pintsize diner best loved for cheeseburgers smothered with vibrant green chilies. Steaks are grand, too. The only problem is finding a seat.

El Norteno
6416 Zuni Rd. SE, Albuquerque, NM, 505-256-1431
“La Casa de la Salsas” starts every meal with warm tortilla chips and four different salsas. The menu includes roasted goat, pork wrapped in banana leaves, carne adobada (chile-marinated pork chunks), burritos and chile rellenos.

2400 Central SE, Albuquerque, NM,
Just because the meals set forth across the stand-up order counter come quickly doesn’t mean they are cookie-cutter fast food. Tortillas are served hot off the flame; green chile stew and enchiladas are just like home. Frontier is a round-the-clock mess hall that is huge and irresistibly lovable.

Joe & Aggie’s
120 W. Hopi Dr., Holbrook, AZ, 520-524-6540
Holbrook has the feel of Route 66’s two-lane days. It is home of the iconic “Sleep in a Wigwam” motel and to Joe & Aggie’s, where road trippers come for old-fashioned roadside diner meals with a Southwest accent. That means puffy sopaipillas hot from the fry kettle and served with honey, huevos rancheros with green chilies and roadworthy chicken-fried steak.

Old Smoky’s
624 West Route 66, Williams, AZ, 520-635-2091
Williams bills itself as the Gateway to the Grand Canyon, and for many visitors a stop at Old Smoky’s is essential. This well-worn, wood-paneled pancake house makes French toast from homemade bread.

Around Lake Michigan: Chicago to perch country

From the City of Big Shoulders through the Dairy State, continuing on into cherry country and then south to feast on Lake perch.

Al’s #1 Beef
1079 W. Taylor St., Chicago, IL, 312-733-8896
Al’s is Chicago’s premier source of Italian beef. That’s a double fistful of sliced, gravy-sopped, garlic-scented roast beef piled into sturdy Italian bread and topped with a medley of marinated chopped vegetables known as giardiniera. There are no tables and chairs. Dine standing up at the counter around the perimeter of the shop.

The Wieners Circle
2622 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL, 773-477-7444
In this wiener-conscious city, with hundreds of little shops dishing out delectable all-beef dogs nestled
in poppy seed buns and topped with a wheelbarrow full of condiments, Wieners Circle is a stand-out,
and not only for the sass of its counter help. Dogs here are exemplary, offered steamed to bursting plumpness or charcoal-grilled to a blistered crunch.

Gene & Georgetti
500 N. Franklin St., Chicago, IL, 312-527-3718
It would be a sin to visit Chicago and not eat steak, especially the steak at this one-of-a-kind beef palace where the sirloin, T-bone and filet mignon arrive with a charred crust and juice-heavy insides. On the side: crisp cottage fries and the cornucopic tossed antipasto known as garbage salad.

Bendtsen’s Bakery
3200 Washington Ave., Racine, WI, 262-633-0365
Racine has its own unique specialty, kringle. A Danish-ancestored pastry that is in fact like a gigantic Danish pastry that serves four to six people, kringle is made by a handful of bakeries in town. We like Bendtsen’s because it has a few chairs where you can sit down with coffee and enjoy kringle warm from the oven.

Three Brothers
2414 S. St. Clair St., Milwaukee, WI, 414-481-7530
Milwaukee is rich with great ethnic restaurants, foremost among them this one. The meals in this building that began life as a corner tavern owned by the Schlitz brewing company are Serbian, which means roast lamb so tender it falls from its bone and burek (a cheese and flaky pastry pie).

1634 W. North Ave., Milwaukee, WI, 414-562-1272
Corned beef boiled in big pots is some of the best in the deli universe. At the counter where sandwiches are ordered, a cutter sprinkles paprika on the brisket, then slices enough of the deeply seasoned and unspeakably luscious meat to stuff between a couple of slices of slick-crusted, sourdough rye.

Jack Pandl’s
Whitefish Bay Inn
1319 E. Henry Clay St., Milwaukee, WI, 414-964-3800
A restaurant decorated like a cozy Bavarian lodge, Jack Pandl’s repertoire is a little bit German and a lot Great Lakes. The puffy German pancake is sensational as a meal or side dish, and every Friday you can count on whitefish encased in a yummy paprika-flecked crust. Meals are accompanied by steins of Augsburger beer or glasses of sweet May wine.

Charcoal Inn
1637 Geele Ave., Sheboygan, WI,
Brats (rhymes with hots) are Wisconsin’s favorite sausage, and Sheboygan is the state’s brat capital. The Charcoal Inn cooks them the traditional way, grilled over coals and served two by two in a tawny bakery bun with pickle, mustard, onions and plenty of melting butter.

108 N. Eighth St., Manitowoc, WI, 920-684-9616
Beerntsen’s chocolate-covered spun molasses “fairy food” is good enough to coax angels out of heaven. We also love this vintage confectionery for its ice cream sundaes, topped with fudge, caramel, butterscotch, marshmallow, maple, strawberry, raspberry, cherry or pineapple.

Chili John’s
519 S. Military Ave., Green Bay, WI, 920-494-4624
In 1916, “Chili John” Isaac invented Green Bay chili: enthusiastically spiced ground beef atop spaghetti noodles with beans, cheese and a handful of spoon-size oyster crackers. We like ours extra hot with a few dabs of sour cream.

4231 US 2, Brevort, MI,
Not a restaurant, but a party store and gas station, Gustafson’s ready-to-eat smoked fish is deliriously delicious. Whitefish, trout, menominee, chub and salmon are smoked to gorgeous shades of red and gold and presented in butcher’s paper. No plates or utensils are needed. And it’s a real pleasure to pluck flavorful hunks of fish straight out of the wrapper.

1418 S. Bridge St., Charlevoix, MI, 231-547-9212 (seasonal)
Juilleret’s bakes cinnamon bread for French toast and regular bread for lunchtime sandwiches of broiled whitefish. Everything in this happy cafe is a cut above: fresh squeezed juice, plate-wide buttermilk pancakes and ethereal cream pies.

The Cherry Hut
246 Michigan Ave., Beulah, MI, 231-882-4431 (seasonal)
Comfort food lunch is grand at this 1920s roadside eatery, but it’s pie baked from locally grown cherries that is the destination dish. Bright red fruit spills out the sides of each unwieldy slice; with a coop of creamy vanilla ice cream, it’s an especially comely sight.

US 30 & Hwy. 41, Schererville, IN, 219-865-2000
Large feasts of boned and buttered perch are a tradition around the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Teibel’s, since 1929, is the place to savor that tradition. The fillets come dripping with butter and are followed by a warm apple dumpling. Also not to miss: crumb-crusted fried chicken made from Grandma Teibel’s recipe.

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