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Posted by Dale Fine on Sunday, January 25, 2015 8:23 AM

BBQ throughout the South and Midwest varies from region to region. Depending on where you are, you'll find brisket, pork or even mutton. Some prefer a thick opaque red sauce or a thin marinade of vinegar and pepper, while others would find it an atrocity to serve your smoked meat with any sauce at all. Everything from the sides that are served, to the wood being used are endless debates of minutiae.

Northern Alabama is no exception for it's regional contribution to BBQ. In the suburbs of Birmingham, as soon as you approach the standalone building of Miss Myra's Pit Bar-B-Q, the odoriferous essence of smoke permeates the parking lot and your senses alert you that you're in for something unique. Entering the restaurant, you are greeted by happy pig figurines. Order at the counter and afterwards, when your meal is ready, bring your tray to any of the available tables in two separate rooms.

Miss Myra's menu, like most Alabama BBQ shacks, serves pork, ribs, brisket and even sausage. However, it's the hickory smoked chicken that Miss Myra's is most famous for. Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel describes it as the best smoked chicken he's ever had. You have the option of ordering a quarter or half a bird and for those with a light appetite, a sandwich. Although squirt bottles of traditional red sauce are readily available at the table, you want Miss Myra's famous white sauce; a mayo based marinade with vinegary undertones. Tearing into my smoked bird, the taut crispy skin yielded to a juicy explosion of smoky flavor which is only enhanced by the creamy, white marinade.

Sides include slaw, potato salad and chips. However, the baked beans are a standout; thick and creamy and reminiscent of Boston style baked beans, but without the sweet molasses flavor. Unique to many Alabama BBQ shacks, the homemade deviled eggs would make any southern mamaw proud.

Don't forget dessert: the cool lemon ice box pie or better yet, the magnificent creamy and custardy banana pudding, loaded with chunks of banana and vanilla wafers, whose consistency is more cake than cookie. It is without hesitation, that I loudly proclaim this the best banana pudding that I've ever had.

Overall, although there are several BBQ restaurants between Huntsville and Birmingham that offer smoked chicken with white sauce, there is a "je ne sais quoi" that makes Miss Myra's extra special.
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Roadfood of the Day: D'Arcy's Pint - Springfield, IL
Posted on Sunday, January 25, 2015

Buffalo Shoe

The fried chicken in the Buffalo shoe is good and crisp and its cheese sauce is plenty gloppy. What a mighty meal! Note the abundance of blue cheese and red sauce in the ramekins on the plate.
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Roadfood of the Day: Junior's - New York, NY
Posted on Saturday, January 24, 2015

Pastrami and Corned Beef on Twin Onion Rolls

Pastrami and corned beef on twin onion rolls: a deli classic, and Junior's tender, meaty version was just great.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Friday, January 23, 2015 5:07 AM

The Works

When we first came across the Salt Lick, some 40 years ago, it had neither four walls nor a restroom. It was just a smoke pit and makeshift tables on Thurman and Hisako Roberts' 600 acre ranch. My, how it's grown! Located in the Hill Country west of Austin, it has become an immense restaurant, banquet facility, and outdoor pavilion with seats for 2000. It is a veritable theme park of barbecue, its limestone buildings surrounded by rough-hewn log fences, the air smelling of slow-smoked meats. Compared to the region's back-of-the-butcher-shop barbecue parlors, it's a fairly civil place with ambience I would call Rustic Deluxe. There is a printed menu; you are served at your table by waiters; food comes on plates rather than on butcher paper; utensils are supplied; and the kitchen's repertoire includes all sorts of side dishes and dessert as well as barbecued meats. Fancy, it is not, but neither is the Salt Lick primitive.

One other element that separates the Salt Lick from the primal parlors: sauce. Unless you ask to have your meat dry, it comes already painted with sauce. Not that the meat needs it – it's moist and full flavored – but it does happen to be really tasty sauce, a tangy-sweet glaze with perhaps a hint of mustard. In fact the sauce is good enough to use as a between-meat dip for the slices of good white bread that come alongside the meal. The sausage is smoky and rich, like kielbasa, made from equal amounts of pork and beef. Brisket, slow-smoked for sixteen hours, is lean and polite (unless you request fattier slices); and if it lacks a certain succulence, Salt Lick sauce is an instant fix. Pork ribs drip juice from the tender meat at the bone and deliver a stupendously concentrated smoke-pit flavor in the chewy burnt ends.

Among the worthy side dishes are an intriguing cabbage slaw flecked with sesame seeds and cool, German-style potato salad. And of course, pickles and sliced raw onions are available with every meal.
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Posted on Friday, January 23, 2015

Insalatina di Zucchine, Parmigiano, Pinoli e Olio

Insalatina di Zucchine, Parmigiano, Pinoli e Olio di Tartufo: A very beautiful salad of thinly sliced zucchini with Parmigiana, pine nuts, and truffle oil.
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Roadfood of the Day: Dottie's Diner - Woodbury, CT
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2015

All Chocolate All the Time

There is so much chocolate icing that only a wee bit of actual donut is visible, at the right of the photo. If there are donuts in heaven, I hope they're like this one.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 3:24 AM

We first came upon Little Cafe Poca Cosa many years ago, having just discovered its big-sister restaurant, Cafe Poca Cosa, which was then located in a cheesy downtown hotel. Cafe Poca Cosa has since moved to very classy digs and has crystallized its status as a beacon of creative Mexican food. Little Cafe Poca Cosa continues as it always was: a boisterous, colorful, party-time eatery. Luis Davila, who created it, has passed on; his daughter, Sandra Davila, maintains all the restaurant's unique charms and has added her own – a warm hug for just about everyone who walks in the door, friend or newcomer.

Like her father, Sandra is a character whose personality infuses the whole dining experience. She is one of those restaurateurs who seems to be everywhere, up front and in the kitchen, all the time. Her enthusiasm for the food, the restaurant, and for life in general is contagious. When we stop in one day for lunch, she shows off a really nice belt she is wearing, made of javalina and including a scabbard for a knife she "uses all day, for everything." Its handle, she notes, was made from a mesquite tree in her back yard.

Little Cafe Poca Cosa is a breakfast and lunch place, and one of its specialties is juice – incredible juice, such as one amazing refresher extracted from beets, mandarin oranges, lemons, and limes. At breakfast you can dine on huevos rancheros, the eggs enveloped in vivid red chili sauce, the plate also holding rice, lettuce, and a brace of fruit: pineapple, strawberry, and watermelon. Or start the day with huevos Mexicanos, scrambled with tomatoes, onions, and chilies; or machaca con huevo, which mixes moist shreds of beef with bits of green chile in a veil of scrambled egg.

Vegetarians can eat very well here. We rarely can resist at least one order of the tamale de elote – a souffle-like swirl of corn meal, sweet corn, green chilies, and cheese steamed to comforting warmth inside a corn husk. Chile relleno is another meatless meal, served in a mild salsa ranchero redolent of tomatoes. Vegans with big appetites will want to know about the "Gigantic Vegan Tostada," which is a spill of pinto beans and seasonal vegetables atop a broad fried corn tortilla. Salsa ranchero comes on the side.

Moles are sensational. A thick mix of bittersweet chocolate, red chilies, ground peanuts, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds becomes a lush, syrupy mole negro that is dazzling on a chicken breast, or as part of a platter of cheese-stuffed quesadillas.

Little Cafe Poca Cosa is not just a place to eat. It is a significant presence in the community. A blackboard in the dining room lists the charities and good causes in Tucson and south of the border to which customers' donations are given: an elementary school, an orphanage, a children's breakfast program, a girl who needs an operation.
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Posted on Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tortelli di Patate al Capriolo

Tortelli di Patate al Capriolo: potato-filled ravioli with a venison sauce.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 4:37 AM

Sharing space in a modest strip mall with a Conoco gas station convenience store and a Take ‘n’ Bake pizza place, Meltz does not look like the interesting restaurant it is. “Extreme grilled cheese” is its stated mission, and the specialty sandwiches really are far out: items like the Korean Krazy, which is provolone and pepperjack cheeses, barbecued beef, kimchi, crushed sesame sticks, scallions, hot pepper ketchup, and cilantro. I got mine on sourdough bread, well-buttered and grilled to a fare-thee-well. Whole wheat bread also is available. The Korean Krazy earned a first-place trophy in the 2014 National Grilled Cheese Invitational competition.

A few other dazzlers from the menu are the Oinker (cheddar, pulled pork, bacon, creamy pasta, and buttermilk fried onions), the Briqueso (cheddar, brie, roasted artichokes, red peppers, caramelized onions, garlicky spinach, grilled zucchini, and sundried tomatoes), and the German Curd (cheddar, pretzel-crusted cheese curds, bratwurst, braised sweet onions, and bacon sauerkraut with stone-ground mustard sauce).

Simpler sandwiches of merely cheeses also are available, and it is possible to create your own sandwich by specifying which of the several cheeses, veggies, and meats you like. Available cheeses include Cheddar, Fontina, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, Colby, Swiss, Provolone, Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Gruyere, Brie, Blue, Chevre, American, even Cheez Whiz.

Beyond the assembly of fantastic ingredients, what gives these sandwiches an edge is that they are made on thick-cut bread that gets masterfully grilled to crusty succulence. It is not uncommon for cheese to ooze out and turn crunchy on the grill, creating yummy little wings that extend well beyond the slice. Because the sandwiches tend to be complicated and are, of course, made to order, the wait time is a good 10 minutes. When your order is ready, your name is called and it’s up to you to tote your tray to a table in the small, crowded dining area.

To go with the sandwiches, Meltz makes thick-cut potato chips (from Idahos, of course) that are salted and brilliantly seasoned.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 4:36 AM

Just east of the Thornton Gap entrance to the Skyline Drive in Virginia's Piedmont, Triple Oak Bakery is a charming patisserie that makes cakes and pies and coffee-companion pastries. There is no sit-down dining on premises, and no table service; but folding chairs are available out back, where customers can relax on a lawn overlooking the Thornton River while enjoying an al fresco slice of apple pie or mocha cake, baklava, brownies, or biscuits, scones, quiche, or rugelach.

The one quasi-meal available at Triple Oak is Saturday morning continental breakfast. It is as informal as an ad hoc gathering of friends and neighbors. Everybody stands around the kitchen chatting and pouring their own coffee from a large French press carafe or fetching a cup of brewing chocolate from a pretty blue pot on the stove or, best of all, making a half-and-half mix of both. To accompany the beverages, trays are laid out with cinnamon buns, chocolate espresso scones, and fresh, chewy bagels. Cream cheese, jelly, and coffee condiments are arrayed on a table, and there are a few extra chairs marshaled on the back porch, ready to be unfolded for those who wish to sit outdoors.

Did we mention that Triple Oak is gluten-free? Even if you share our love of all things glutenous, don't let that dissuade you from the consummate baked goods at this wonderful place.
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