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Roadfood of the Day: City Billiards - Aiken, SC
Posted on Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hand-pattied and a full inch thick, the burger is griddle fried to extreme succulence, the cheese laid on at the last minute and covered with a lid so it melts quickly. We wouldn't dream of having it any way but with the full complement of condiments, including mustard, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, and raw onion. The sesame seed bun is steamed soft and able to absorb burger juice, mayo, and mustard, becoming a delicious breadstuff.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Monday, January 18, 2016 4:17 AM

Jean-Kay's pasty shop was started by the Harsch family in 1975 in Iron Mountain and, as Jean Kay's Sweet Shop, its specialty was donuts. But Jean Kay Harsch suggested they change their business plan to make pasties. She felt the Upper Peninsula could use a place that made the Cornish meat pies the way her grandmother used to do it back when they were a staple in the diet of the region's settlers.

If you want to know what grandmother's pasties were like, I suggest a visit to Jean-Kay's of Marquette, a restaurant started by Jean Kay's son Brian, sold to someone else, then rebought by Brian when he didn't feel the pasties were up to snuff. Here you will savor a classic, made with steak (not burger meat) and suet (not lard). Although rutabaga-free pasties are on the menu, Brian explained the value of rutabagas in the filling – an ingredient frequently ignored by Jenny-come-lately bakers. "It is an amazing vegetable," he enthused. "Aside from its own flavor, it works with whatever else is in there to keep the moisture flowing. It is a conduit."

While Jean-Kay's is a small storefront with a few tables inside and out, the pasty-making part of the operation is big. Being USDA-approved, it can Fedex half-baked, frozen pasties coast-to-coast, any time between September and May. Available varieties include steak, veggie with cheese, and mini pasties that make wonderful hors d'oeuvre.
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Roadfood of the Day: Track Kitchen - Aiken, SC
Posted on Monday, January 18, 2016

Baked bacon often arrives in clumps of stuck-together strips.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Sunday, January 17, 2016 5:26 AM

Ployes

Accessible by snowmobile from Trail 96, by boat or seaplane on Long Lake, or by car when Sinclair Road is plowed, the Long Lake Sporting Club is a year-around north woods supper club that specializes in such splurge meals as prime rib, shrimp, salmon and lobster as well as what place mats tout as "legendary barbecued ribs." Customers come early and have cocktails at bare tables in the spacious bar. When the kitchen is ready to serve supper, each party is escorted to a table in the nearby dining room.

The entrée for which the restaurant is best known is chicken that gets pressure fried to develop an extraordinarily toasty crust that shores in massive amounts of juice. All meals come with ployes that arrive by the stack: ultrathin versions of the buckwheat crepes that are traditional farmhouse food in the region. They arrive with butter, a pitcher of syrup and an extra plate in which a pool of syrup should be poured. Peel one off the top of the stack, butter it, roll it into a tube, and dip it, bite by bite, into syrup as a companion for supper. Long Lake's ritual dinner also includes finely chopped salad bathed in a curious spicy tomato dressing and really good, pride-of-Maine French fried potatoes.
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Roadfood of the Day: Carmen's Deli - Bellmawr, NJ
Posted on Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Rose's Special hoagie is a tour de force of two kinds of provolone, hot capicola, prosciutto, sopressata, roasted peppers, tomato, onion, oregano, and oil.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Saturday, January 16, 2016 4:06 AM

Monumental

The mission statement of the Monument Café is to "be reminiscent of Texas roadside cafes of the 1920s to 1940s." Fans spin overhead, tables are chrome-banded, and windows are hung with Venetian blinds. Service is fast and efficient and the food is a roster of Lone Star classics at their very best. One blackboard itemizes the daily specials. Another lists the gardens, ranches, farms, and orchards from which the kitchen's provisions are obtained. Lunch items include crunchy fried catfish, charred chicken with poblano sauce, and a fine two-alarm (no-bean) Texas chili; but the meal we recommend most is breakfast.

Waffles are elegant; pancakes are big and fluffy; biscuits are served warm; and the sour cream coffee cake is a sugar-crusted masterpiece. One hot breakfast unique to the region is migas, Mexican scrambled eggs that include melted cheese, chunks of tomato, and small ribbons of crisp tortilla that soften in places but stay crunchy in others. On the side of migas, you get red salsa to heat it up along with grits or hash browns and a soft flour tortilla rolled in aluminum foil so it stays warm.

The Monument Café makes some of the best desserts anywhere in Texas, using the finest ingredients to produce classic sweets. There is usually a fried pie (fruit fully enclosed in a pastry crust and fried to a crisp); we have had superb baked tapioca pudding as well as angel food cake with fresh strawberries; and the cool cream pies are dazzling. Chocolate pecan is dark and fudge-like, loaded with chunks of nut and topped with a ribbon of pure white whipped cream. Coconut cream pie is every bit as wonderful, but more angelic than sinful: light, silky, fresh, and layered on a flaky light-gold crust.
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Roadfood of the Day: Donkey's Place - Camden, NJ
Posted on Saturday, January 16, 2016

Three things are immediately apparent on the Donkey flattop: the meat is not chopped, the rolls are round, and there are loads of onions. And that's the Donkey steak story.
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Roadfood of the Day: Chick's Deli - Cherry Hill, NJ
Posted on Friday, January 15, 2016

They're not standard issue when ordering a cheesesteak but we urge you to ask that your steak be garnished with the ferocious long-hots.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Thursday, January 14, 2016 4:35 AM

It is all too easy to drive past the Hilltop Café and not see that it's there. A lone, weathered wood hut at the junction of two country roads, it has but one tiny placard hanging outside that reads "Hilltop." Look closely and, if it's lunchtime, a sign on the front door says "open." Below that is an "A" rating from the health department. Welcome to a Roadfood gem in the rough.

The only decision you might have to make when lunching at the Hilltop Café is whether you want pie or pudding for dessert. Everything that comes before that is preordained. Hattie Williams, owner and chef for more than 20 years now, cooks a different meal every day, and that is the meal you will get. It might be pork roast or neck bones or meat loaf, and there's almost always fried chicken, too, along with rice and gravy, collard greens, and black-eyed peas and, of course, a square of cornbread.

Walk in, sit down, and you will be brought a mason jar full of ice. Tables are set with pitchers of lemonade and sweet tea. Pour your own. In good time, a plate full of steaming-hot lunch arrives. It's messy-looking food, all the more appetizing for the way savory gravy from the rice swirls into pot-likker-soaked collard greens and the square of cornbread sops up juices from the thick, fork-tender slices of pork roast. Fried chicken is, for me, the stand-out item, although it comes like a side dish to complement the main course. Its brightly seasoned crust balances delectably between crunch and chew; the meat inside is luxuriously moist.

When I finish early lunch, I step up to the semi-open kitchen and watch Hattie assemble the day's banana pudding. She slices bananas, whisks custard, and adds vanilla wafers. It is elemental pudding, no more to it than that. The other dessert is apple pie. I waffle between the two, so Hattie suggests I get half-and-half: a small portion of each. Because I am the first recipient of pudding this day, its wafers still are crunchy – a curious and not unappealing effect. The pie comes warm, in a bowl: soft, caramelized wedges of apple humming with sweet spice intertwined with drifts of soft pastry.

"This is pie?" I ask Hattie.

"That's what I say," she responds. "I make it in a big pan, not a circle."

"I'd call that cobbler," I say.

"Some folks do," she answers. "I call it pie."

Whatever it is, it is masterful: fitting finale to an artisan meal in the middle of nowhere.

Note: The Hilltop Cafe is lunch only, every day. There is no on-premises phone.

PS: Thanks to tipster Dione Carroll for this great find.
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Posted on Thursday, January 14, 2016

Country-fried steak with creamed corn and mac 'n' cheese
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