Traveller's guide: Gourmet USA
The nation that finessed fast food also boasts a world-class culinary scene. By Andy Lynes
Friday 30 November 2012
Hotdogs, hamburgers and Mom's apple pie are all wonderful things when done well and deserve their iconic status in helping to define American cuisine. But they only represent a tiny fraction of the country's dynamic food scene, which spreads far beyond the major hub cities. If you're a food lover, you'd be foolish to ignore New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago, but if it's the new, undiscovered gourmet USA you're after then you'll need to look a little further.
You'll eat well everywhere from Alaska, where you can sample seafood at the Marx Brothers Café, Anchorage (001 907 278 2133; marxcafe.com), to Hawaii, where you'll find celebrity chef Alan Wong's restaurant in Honolulu (001 808 949 2526; alanwongs.com). Nearly every state has something gastronomic to shout about. California has over 350 different crops and some terrific wines. New England is justly renowned for its seafood – the annual Maine Lobster Festival (001 207 596 0376; mainelobsterfestival.com) is world famous and the state is also home to that most American of fruit, the cranberry.
Colorado breweries produce more barrels of beer annually than any other state and you'll find a high concentration of craft brewers in Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs.
Indianapolis, in the heart of rich agricultural land, is at the forefront of America's farm-to-table movement, with Indianapolis City Market (001 317 634 9266; indycm.com) and Broad Ripple Farmers Market ( broadripplefarmersmarket.org) popular choices to browse the produce.
Combined, the unidentical twins of North and South Dakota are the same size as Norway, with a sparse population of just 1.5 million people. That leaves plenty of wide open spaces, which is perhaps why Scandinavian migrants were attracted here. Among the many venues where you can get a taste of the Nordic homelands are Magic Morsels in Minot, North Dakota (001 701 509 4794) – serving up Norwegian lefse, a potato flatbread, and Titan's Family Restaurant in Frederick, South Dakota, known as "little Finland", where locally hunted venison may be on the menu.
Good new restaurants are opening across the country, including Aviary in Portland, Oregon (001 503 287 2400; aviarypdx.com), The Catbird Seat in Nashville (001 615 810 8200; thecatbirdseatrestaurant.com) and Oxheart in Houston (001 832 830 8592; oxhearthouston.com).
There are burgeoning restaurant scenes in Richmond, Seattle, Minneapolis, Louisville, Santa Fe, Austin and San Diego. You'll find a restaurant run by just about every American celebrity chef in Las Vegas, including Mario Batali's B&B Ristorante (001 702 266 9977; bandb ristorante.com) and Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro (001 702 414 6200; bouchonbistro.com).
Numerous culinary tours explore the country's incredible bounty. Seattle Food Tours (001 206 725 4483; seattlefoodtours.com) offers a Taste Pike Place guided walk through Seattle's food markets. Milwaukee Food Tours (001 800 979 3370; milwaukeefoodtours.com) offers a range of walks, including a tour of the Village of Wauwatosa that includes tastings from local French, Italian and Dutch restaurants, a visit to an olive oil shop and the local farmer's market. Alternatively, you can discover Columbus Ohio's authentic Mexican street food scene with the "Taco Truck Tour" from the Columbus Food Adventures (001 800 838 3006; columbusfoodadventures.com).
And that slice of Mom's apple pie? Head for the Grand Traverse Pie Company, Traverse City, Michigan (001 231 922 7437; gtpie.com)
For further information, visit DiscoverAmerica.com
Mordern American cuisine
Since opening in 2010, Husk, the restaurant in Charleston (001 843 577 2500; huskrestaurant.com) has been showered with plaudits. Chef Sean Brock's daily-changing, market-driven menu is created solely from ingredients found in the southern states and might include cornmeal-dusted catfish, with Anson Mills purple cape beans, yellow squash and sweet creamed corn.
Housed in a late 19th-century mansion complete with walled garden, Volt in the historic town of Frederick, Maryland (001 301 696 8658; voltrestaurant.com) is about as fine as dining gets. Eat in the chic dining room where the modern assemblies might include foie gras with strawberry, rhubarb and coconut, or book well in advance for one of the eight kitchen counter seats, where diners are served an epic 21-course tasting menu.
With just 28 seats and charming rustic features, Bondir, Cambridge, Massachusetts (001 617 661 0009; bondircambridge.com) has a cosy farmhouse feel. It's the perfect setting for chef Jason Bond's daily changing menu, which highlights New England produce such as butter poached Scituate lobster and smoked Wellfleet oyster.
Festivals and events
From 10-13 January 2013, Taste of the South, Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tennessee (001 800 557 8864; blackberryfarm.com) celebrates Southern cuisine with cooking demonstrations from some of the region's best chefs, including Vivian Howard of The Chef and the Farmer in Kinston (001 252 208 2433; chefand thefarmer.com).
Pebble Beach in Monterey County will be at the epicentre of US gastronomy between 4-7 April 2013. The line-up for the sixth annual Pebble Beach Food and Wine (001 866 907 3663; pebble beachfoodandwine.com) has yet to be finalised, but previous events have included cookery demos from the likes of Jacques Pepin, gala dinners cooked by teams of celebrity chefs and wine tastings with notable producers, including Caymus from the Napa Valley.
The Tales of the Cocktail festival, New Orleans (001 504 948 0511; talesofthe cocktail.com) from 17-21 July 2013 is one of the largest events of its kind in the world. The schedule offers the opportunity to sample the creations of some of America's leading "mixologists" and bartenders, including Joaquin Simo of Death & Co, New York (001 212 3888 0882; deathandcompany.com).
The Judgement of Paris in 1976, when Californian wines were rated above their French counterparts in a blind tasting, put American wine firmly on the map. The Napa and Sonoma valleys in California are must-visits, along with Mendocino and Santa Barbara.
While California produces about 90 per cent of America's wine, it's not the only region worth exploring. With more than 700 wineries, Washington state ( washingtonwine.org) has 40,000 acres of vineyard planted in areas as diverse as the beautiful, temperate Puget Sound to Red Mountain in the southeast corner of the state, where the daytime temperature averages 32C and helps to produce some of the state's highest quality grapes. On 17 November, Washington state's top winemakers, including Chateau Ste-Michelle, Woodinville (001 425 488 1133; ste-michelle.com), will be pouring samples of their wares at 20 Something: the New Vintage, Fremont Studios, Seattle ( thenewvintage.org).
Neighbouring Oregon is noted for its superb pinot noirs. Oregon Wine Tours (001 503 681 9463; orwinetours.com) offers a one-day minivan tour of some of the best producers in the Willamette Valley, such as Styring, Newberg (001 503 866 741; styringvineyards.com). The starting price of $350 (£220) for one to two people includes a tailored tour and tastings.
Comfort food classics
You'll have to travel to Key West in Florida, the country's most southerly point, to taste an authentic version of the iconic key lime pie. At Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shoppe (001 800 376 0806; keylimeshop.com) you'll get a Graham cracker pie crust with condensed milk, eggs and lime juice, topped with delicious whipped cream.
If you want to compare the best chilli dogs in Detroit, you won't have far to travel. Lafayette Coney Island (001 313 964 8198) and American Coney Island (001 586 219 0995; americanconeyisland.com) have stood side by side on Lafayette Avenue for more than 70 years. Both serve frankfurters topped with ground beef chilli sauce and chopped raw onions in warm steamed buns, a variation on the American classic that was created in the city.
At Lunchbox Laboratory, Seattle (001 206 621 1090; lunchboxlaboratory.com) Scott Simpson is putting a modern twist on the American burger. The Dork burger is made from duck and pork, while Capt' John's Flyin' Hawaiian features a lamb patty and pineapple mayonnaise. Traditionalists may prefer the Burger of the Gods, made with ground sirloin, rib eye, and prime rib topped with candied onions.
The religion of BBQ
To say that Americans take barbecue seriously is an understatement. From the hickory-smoked pork spare ribs at Dreamland Drive-Inn Barbeque Inc in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (001 205 758 8135; dreamlandbbq.com), to the dry-rubbed, mesquite wood smoked brisket at Bob's Smokehouse in San Antonio (001 210 333 9548; thesmokehousebbqsa.com) barbecue attains a near-religious status with the pit masters – chefs who tend the meat for hours in pit ovens.
Each region has its own take on barbecue. Vera's Backyard Bar-B-Que, Brownsville (001 956 546 4159) is only open on weekends and is one of the only places to prepare barbacoa, a Texan speciality. The picked meat is cooked over mesquite and ebony branches for eight hours in a pit and is served with corn tortillas and salsa – eaten for breakfast.
The Rendezvous Restaurant in Memphis (001 901 523 2746; hogsfly.com) is the home of dry ribs; something of an anomaly in America barbecue. They're grilled over charcoal at high heat and only seasoned with vinegar, salt, spices and a secret blend of seasoning once they're done, rather than during cooking. They may not be traditional, but that hasn't prevented the likes of Justin Timberlake from enjoying them.
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