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Posted by Michael Stern on Tuesday, February 24, 2015 4:27 AM

The Track Kitchen is so laid-back and friendly that the first day I ate there, I finished breakfast, brought my dishes back into the kitchen (as all customers do), and walked out … forgetting to pay! When I returned the next day and confessed my crime to Carol Carter, who runs the place with her husband, Pockets, she joked, "I've got my eye on you!" I did remember to pay that day – for both meals – but I get the feeling that a lot of customers just pay weekly, or whenever they remember to do so. It's that casual.

Named because it adjoins the dirt track where thoroughbred horses are exercised, this little breakfast-only joint is more like a friendly company dining room than a regular restaurant. The same people come in every morning and usually sit in the same seats and table-hop throughout the meal. They are the trainers, owners, and riders of the sport horses around which much of Aiken's life revolves. They range from billionaires to hourly wage earners, from Arabian sheiks to southern rednecks.

What do they eat? Good old southern home cooking. Nothing on the menu is exotic or audacious, but it all is prepared with care. You know this because every meal takes a good while to cook; every plate is doted over by the one and only one person who does the cooking: Carol. The last time I stopped in -- the first customer of the day -- she was sitting at her kitchen counter painstakingly dicing green peppers, destined for one of her fine and fluffy omelets. Carol's grits are rich and buttery; eggs are cooked exactly as requested. Country ham is pretty good, although not ringing with cured-meat savor like the best of them, but Track Kitchen bacon is fabulous. It is baked, the slices put close enough together in the oven that several might stick together, resulting in deliciously unctuous bacon clusters that are crisp but barely bendable – just the way bacon ought to be.

Note that the Track Kitchen closes in the summer; and note also that it can get very crowded on weekends when races, steeplechase, or other equestrian events are going on.
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Posted on Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Chicken Fried Steak Lunch

Chicken fried steak, hand battered, with homemade smashed potatoes, veggie and country gravy.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Monday, February 23, 2015 5:40 AM

Since Richard "Stubby" Stubblefield, Jr. opened it in 1952, Stubby's has become a benchmark of great barbecue, not only in Hot Springs but in all the South. Now in the capable hands of Chris Dunkel, whose parents bought it from Stubby in 1977, it is a restaurant where everything is done the old-fashioned way. Sauce is brewed daily in the back room. Meats are slow-smoked over hickory and carved to order as you watch from the short cafeteria line.

Ribs are big and meat-laden; ham is sweet and swanky; ruggedly-hacked pork ranges from velvet-soft white meat to chewy bark. Even the brisket is Texas-tender and dripping juice. Chicken, which in our book of barbecue tends to be a secondary consideration, is absolutely first class here, its skin glazed dark, its meat moist and ludicrously tender.

No matter what meat you choose, two side dishes are essential. The smoked pit potato is a massive spud that emerges from a long, slow heat bath with insides that are fluffy and delicious even before massive amounts of butter and sour cream are applied. (It is possible to get the potato loaded with barbecued beef or pork -- an awesome meal.) Stubby's pot-o-beans is larded with hunks of smoky ham and blanketed with sauce. The sauce is one of the nation's best: tangy, peppery and so beguilingly spiced that even after the meat on your plate is only a glowing memory, you may find yourself using white bread to mop the last of it from the bowlful that comes with every meal.
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Roadfood of the Day: Grandaisy Bakery - New York, NY
Posted on Monday, February 23, 2015


Potatoes, onions and bread... a winning combination.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Sunday, February 22, 2015 5:04 AM

As one who very much likes gluten and yeast, I wasn't all that compelled to stop at Mama's Cheese Bread Factory. Everything this Brazilian Mama makes is gluten-free and yeast-free. Gluten-free cakes and cookies and even pie crusts, yes; but gluten-free and yeast-free bread? I thought not… until Mama's rolls made me a believer. These cheesey spheres are lightweight and yet joyously chewy – a real bread-lover's delight, the sharp flavor of cheese a radically fine substitute for the tang of yeast.

While my sandwich was constructed in the kitchen, the gent behind the counter gave me a little pão de queijo (cheese roll) to nosh as a sample; and as I savored its fresh, big flavor, he described the process by which the breads are made using tapioca flour and fermented leavener derived from yucca root. It is an ancient formula that dates back to South America before Europeans and wheat arrived.

Mama's sells cheese breads of various size, either finished or frozen and ready to bake, as well as pizza shells, and whole stuffed chickens and stuffed pork loins. For those who are hungry NOW, there is a short menu of breakfast sandwiches and lunch sandwiches – all, of course, made on the good bread that is sturdy enough to hold massive amounts of ingredients. The "punta cana" sandwich, for example, is a mountain of moist, shredded roast chicken and carrots dotted with a few sweet raisins, laced with crunchy potato sticks, and garnished with lettuce leaves and mayonnaise. It is hugely satisfying. Other available sandwiches include stuffed pork loin, ham-salami-mozzarella subs, sausage, ham and grilled cheese, and several vegetarian combos.

Most business is take-out, but there are a few counter seats for dining in.
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Roadfood of the Day: Blue 9 Burger - New York, NY
Posted on Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Well-Balanced Meal!

Double cheeseburger, fries (with spicy mango-chili fry sauce) and a root beer.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Saturday, February 21, 2015 4:42 AM

Caramel Roll

Catycorner from its parent eatery, Cafe Latte, Bread & Chocolate is an informal bakery and espresso shop open early every day for breakfast. In fact, we had planned to eat pancakes at Al's over in Dinkytown, but arrived there only to discover that Al's doesn't open until 9am on Sundays; so we went back to Grand Avenue in St. Paul and had a whole different kind of feast.

We cannot tell you about lunch (at least not yet), which seems to be mostly about sandwiches on Cafe Latte bread; but we have no problem raving about the morning pastries. Big, beautiful croissants are available plain or filled; they are as flaky as possible, lightweight yet luxurious. We couldn't believe how many blueberries were packed into our blueberry muffin, which was made from a creamy batter that was an ideal medium for the fruit. Best of everything we tried was the caramel roll: crisp, sticky, enrobed in amber glaze and studded with pecan halves.

Of course, it was also necessary to sample a breakfast panini. "Ham, egg and cheese," we said to the counter man, who then gave us a happy third degree: "whole wheat, sourdough or 10-grain bread? ... "Provolone, cheddar, or Swiss?" ... "Salsa with that?" It was a lovely breakfast sandwich, the bread especially delicious, even if the ham was bland.
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Posted on Saturday, February 21, 2015


Patsy Grimaldi's of Scottsdale makes pizzas that compare favorably with the best of the East.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Friday, February 20, 2015 4:53 AM

Fried Chicken Dinner

Pann's is like the polymorphous Flubadub on the old Howdy Doody TV show: a single entity composed of wildly different characters. In this case, the decorative crazy quilt is part medieval grotto (ponderous stone walls), part spaceship-boomerang panache, and part plush tailfin automobile upholstery. In other words, it is a perfect example of what is known as Googie style, aka Do-Wop design, that thrived in mid 20th century America, especially in Southern California.

Like the place itself, the menu is a nostalgic wonderland of such coffee shop classics as roast turkey with cornbread stuffing, liver and onions, chicken & waffles, mile-high layer cakes, and tapioca pudding. Beverages include milk shakes and malts, strawberry lemonade, and root beer floats. If you order coffee, the uniformed waitress corps will top it off approximately every 90 seconds.

Fried chicken is a house specialty, and while it is not in the same league as the elegant, melt-in-mouth versions found in Kansas City, it does come enveloped in a dark gold crust as luxurious as crisp bacon. Mashed potatoes are real, available with white gravy, brown gravy, or country sausage gravy. Pann's is proud of its buttermilk biscuits, served with butter and bubble packs of honey. Unlike fluffy southern-style biscuits, these are dense and heavy. But I don't mean that in a bad way. Their avoirdupois is a style unto itself.

Pann's does not serve the greatest food in Los Angeles, but it is one of the greatest places. If you appreciate extreme restaurant design, there is no more stunning example of SoCal coffee shop.
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Posted on Friday, February 20, 2015

This is So Good!

Most dishes come with sweet potatoes. Don't let that throw you... they are delicious! This dish, spicy chicken, is perfection.
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