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Posted by Michael Stern on Thursday, September 17, 2015 4:18 AM

Healthful Pancakes

At first glance, outside and in, the Northside Grill looks like a common cafe: bare tables, green-upholstered booths, knotty pine walls, a waitress patrolling the dining room with three different pots of coffee in her two hands (regular, decaf, flavored). But at first bite, it is extraordinary. Even before the food arrives, you'll notice that it is a diner with a difference. At 7:30am, the radio is tuned to NPR's "Morning Edition"; when you order coffee and choose French roast, the waitress says, "Good! It's fair trade organic." You begin to realize that the Elvis iconography on the walls has a twist of cultural irony.

There can be no question about an elevated consciousness at work in the kitchen when you ease a fork down into a stack of apple-oat bran pancakes. The cakes really have a tweedy oatmeal texture and they are studded with large chunks of apple that deliver a fruity tang and cinnamon vibe. At my waitress's recommendation, I paid extra for real maple syrup, which crowned the short stack beautifully.

Pancakes were the order of the day, so on the side I got a single potato pancake. What a beauty! Crisp and crunchy on the outside but creamy within, and sparkling with herbs and spices, the cake came topped with slivers of grilled red onion and ramekins of sour cream and apple sauce.

Next visit must-eat: a breakfast skillet built upon hash brown potatoes.
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Roadfood of the Day: Sundae School - Dennisport, MA
Posted on Thursday, September 17, 2015

A flavor sensation! The peanut butter ice cream would have been a solid stand-alone, but the crunch and salt of the pretzels truly enhanced the scoop.
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Posted on Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Item Results
Ice Tea 261
Water 152
Lemonade 121
Beer 87
Soda Pop 28
Cocktail (Mojito, Planters Punch, etc.) 15
Fruit Juice 12
Comments (2)
Posted by Michael Stern on Wednesday, September 16, 2015 4:37 AM

Elgin sausage is known far and wide as the best in the west. For well over a century, the town of Elgin (say it with a hard G, as in gut) has been famous for all-beef links that are pit-cooked, smoky, and succulent. The Southside Market has been Elgin's primary meat market since 1882.

It used to be a creaky, sawdust-floored store downtown, but several years ago the Southside Market moved to a huge, spanking clean, barn-size building on the outskirts of town. While the new place lacks the charm of a well-aged and charmingly dilapidated house of barbecue, it still has a working butcher shop on premises, and it still smokes sausage and beef brisket the old-fashioned way, in big iron pits over slow-smoldering post oak wood. Order your meat by the pound at the pit and carry it to a table.

The sausage is spectacular – vividly spiced, taut, and moist beyond description; but don’t ignore the sliced beef; it too is luscious and flavorful, needing no companion other than a few slices of white bread just to mop its juices.
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Posted on Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Grasshopper ice cream is Oreos in mint.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Tuesday, September 15, 2015 7:20 AM

While not formally affiliated with the Slow Food Movement, the Rainbow Falls Café and Bait Shop is all about unhurried dining. It took a good twenty minutes for lunch to be delivered when I first found a table in the rag-tag dining room. Krystal, the cook and waitress and wife of Ron Williams, whose grandfather originally built the place as a bait shop, came out from the semi-open kitchen a few times – once to apologize because the rice for the hash was taking longer than she expected, once to nab an onion from the grocery bin near the cash register for an omelet another customer had ordered, and twice to make certain my ice tea glass was full. This is not fast food.

But if you seek a South Carolina meal cooked with the care of a mother feeding children and served in a one-of-a-kind cafe with a beautiful pond full of catfish, bass, and bream out back, this humble grocery, hardware store, bait and tackle shop, and diner is Roadfood nirvana. I tip my hat to Stephanie Turner, Arts and Entertainment Reporter for the Aiken Standard, for her revelatory story about it. Had she not put it on the map, even finely tuned Roadfood radar might not beep when driving past. Other than a sign advertising boiled peanuts, this roadside establishment gives no indication that it is a place to eat.

That first lunch was outstanding: a Saturday special of pork ribs – sauceless and potently peppered, so enervated by smoke that gentle fork tugs easily released bites from the bone – along with hash on rice, the hash dotted with little bits of potato (some skin-on) to balance its intense sweet pigginess. On the side were mustard/pickle potato salad, barbecue beans, and slices of buttered toast. This country feast cost all of $12. I ate well and took home a container of leftovers enough for a whole other meal.

I returned for another winner – the Rainbow Whopper, which is the house’s hamburger supreme: a full-fat big boy dressed with all condiments and garnishes known to mankind and piled into a buttered and grilled bun. It comes with French fries still glistening from the kettle, the potato pieces ranging from soft, spuddy logs to crisp strips of deep-fried skin. Fried chicken is another pleasing meal, the meat moist, the crust crisp if timidly seasoned. It is improved by good shakes of salt and pepper, which are found on the table in modified Coca-Cola bottles. Among side dishes, the fried okra is OK, but cole slaw is special. It is creamy and shockingly unsweet, tasting not of sugar but of the fetching green-garden snap of scallions – a brilliant twist.

During a recent visit in early September, Krystal told me that the guys soon will be bringing fresh shrimp from the coast that she will add to the menu, breaded and fried.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Tuesday, September 15, 2015 4:56 AM

Super Sundae

Ici ice cream is aristocratic. A first lick tells you there is something superior about it. Even before you taste, the mere list of one day's flavors posted on the wall is sure evidence that rare and exotic pleasures await. Mocha salted almond, anyone? Earl Gray and cookies? Sesame praline? Brandied cherry? How about peach habanero sorbet? The one that knocked my socks off was molasses gingersnap, a golden cream thickly veined with soft streaks of peppery gingersnap cookie. It is similar to the Indian pudding flavored ice cream one finds at a few places in the Northeast, but bolder.

You can have it in a cup for slow savoring – as it softens, the flavor blooms – or perched on a dramatically delicious cone, made here in such limited numbers that the kitchen had run out the first afternoon I visited. Of course, I was back the next day – to dive into a hot fudge brownie sundae, which I had made with not-the-least-bit-plain vanilla – but also to sample a Santa Rosa plum ice cream cone. Modestly-sized, crisp, and elegant, Ici's cones are made with a surprise inside, in the form of a nugget of rich chocolate secreted in the point at the bottom.

While the inevitable wait in line and lack of seating might make Ici seem user-unfriendly, the staff is happy and helpful, offering little spoonfuls of anything you need to taste before committing to a flavor. And there are few food service establishments of any kind more assertively earth-friendly. Among its virtuous practices are the use of spoons made from potato starch and soy oil, biodegradable ice cream sandwich wrappers, and bowls made from material derived from sugar cane fibers recovered as crop residue.
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Posted on Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Classic New England-only flavor

Most New England ice cream stands offer Grape-Nut, but Ranc's adds raisins to theirs for a real textural treat.
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Posted on Monday, September 14, 2015

Black Raspberry Ice Cream

This subtly flavored black raspberry ice cream didn't stand a chance against the warm summer sun.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Sunday, September 13, 2015 8:25 AM

Betsy’s on the Corner is a soda fountain, a diner, and a town café, source of square meals with a southern accent and of a grand, all-American ice-cream splurge.

The big menu offers salads, soups, sandwiches and rugged burgers with all sorts of toppings (turkey or veggie patties also available), including a “Corner Burger” that is a South Carolina paradigm topped with fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese. All-beef Nathan’s brand hot dogs come nestled in New England-style split-top buns that are griddle-toasted to a crisp. I like one called The Murphy Dog, which is a Dixie dog variation, with chili and slaw plus dill pickle chips. Onion rings available on the side are superb: fragile-crusted and fresh, needing a good sprinkle of salt to attain perfection.

Betsy’s serves a Blue Plate Special every day, a meat-and-two affair that includes a couple of side dishes (try the rich, motley-textured mac ‘n’ cheese), a corn muffin, and a drink, all for $9. Monday, it’s pork chops; Tuesday, meat loaf. Wednesday is fried chicken day, when you get a choice of dark or light meat, moist and flavorful and enveloped in crisp crust. Thursday is Betsy’s choice. Friday fried haddock is sweet, fresh, and hearty. On a recent Saturday when I stopped in, the day’s special was chicken and waffles. On Sunday only, Betsy’s also serves breakfast.

Ice cream service is a kick, ranging from cones and cups to sundaes to a top-of-the-line “Heavens to Betsy” that is eight scoops of ice cream, hot fudge, butterscotch, caramel and marshmallow toppings, pineapple, strawberries, bananas, Heath Bar crunch, Oreo crumbles, peanuts, whipped cream, and cherries. I like the Nutty Buddy sundae, which is vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and peanut butter sauce, crumbled Reese’s Pieces, whipped cream and a cherry. There is nothing extraordinary about the ice cream or the fudge, but these concoctions are well-constructed and will satisfy all but the fussy ice cream epicure.

What a lively place to dine – cacophonous and crazy-busy, with what looks like 100 waitresses bustling about and calling to the kitchen and among themselves above the din of chattering diners. It appears to be chaos, but the staff are so in synch and coordinated that one time as I told my waitress what I wanted to drink, another waitress, behind her, eavesdropped and presented the drink to me before I finished ordering my meal! A mere glance of worry or impatience from a diner elicits an “are you alright?” from one of the passing staff within three to five seconds.

Betsy’s clientele includes visitors, locals, and, at lunch especially, people who work in Aiken’s downtown district.
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