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Posted by Michael Stern on Thursday, October 29, 2015 3:13 AM

Like ice cream, potato chips, and coffee, hamburgers have gotten much better over the last few decades. There are more and better choices all up and down the status ladder. Cheap or fancy, good ones are plentiful. But great ones remain hard to find. Poppy's serves a great one.

It is not an unusual or outrageous burger in any obvious way. It is decent-size, an honest quarter pound, crusty and irregularly shaped, thick enough to ooze juice but not boastfully large. A single is listed on the menu as a Classic Little. Two in a bun is a Classic Big. Both automatically come with a spill of chopped sweet red onion and a melting mantle of Adirondack cheddar cheese (from Barneveld, NY), which is sharp enough to be a significant presence, but not so flavorful that it in any way detracts from the booming protein flavor of the beef. Like the cheese, and like so much of the menu here, including tomatoes in tomato season and Hudson Valley lettuce, the beef used to make these burgers is local. The menu promises it is grass-fed and humanely raised and has a "distinct, clean flavor that melts in your mouth." Yes, it does. Other burger options include a BBQ bacon burger, an egg-topped burger, and even a veggie patty made of beans. Beyond burgers, there is a short list of beefless rice bowls and salads available.

Every good hamburger deserves a good spud companion. Poppy's offers two: sweet potato chips that are sliced see-through thin – crisp and elegant – and French fries that are gorgeous golden twigs, served piping hot.

For all the attention paid to the provenance of the provender, Poppy's is a casual, bare-table, paper-napkin sort of place. Burgers come wrapped in foil; and while glasses are available for soft drinks and beer, my waitress apparently sized me up as a more rugged sort of guy, bringing my root beer in its bottle with the twist-off cap still attached. For those who came to Poppy's back when it opened in 2009 and service was do-it-yourself, note that it has since remodeled, but not dramatically. Indoor seats are at handsome wood-back booths and out back there is now a nice patio for open-air eating.
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Posted on Thursday, October 29, 2015

Smothered fresh sausages were on Thursday's menu, along with smothered cabbage and white beans. Glenda's famous stuffed turkey wings are available Monday through Thursday, and we nabbed the last one of the day.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Wednesday, October 28, 2015 6:44 AM

Villager's distinct po boys are toasted. Langlinais French Bread, baked in Lafayette, is the foundation for sandwiches that are available full-size or half. Ingredients range from fried shrimp or oysters to sauce-drenched meatballs to the meatless Villager Veggie. When the Roadfood tour ate there, many agreed that the favorite is a pot roast po boy, fully dressed with lettuce, tomato, and mayo, dripping with beef juices that sop the good bread. Cheese is an option, but I felt that cheese actually detracts from the direct deliciousness of the pot roast.

Great side dishes. French fries are atypical chunks rather than twigs: lots of crisp exterior around soft insides. Corn nuggets are little deep-fried fritters with a center of sweet, creamy kernels. For dessert, funnel cake fries are squiggles of freshly-fried state-fair Midway food, dusted with powdered sugar.

Although a sign outside says that Villager's is "Louisiana's Best-Kept Secret," the secret has not been kept so well. It is a small restaurant with far fewer seats than customers, so chances are good you will wait for a place at one of the electrical-spool tables. If you're too impatient for that, you can call ahead and pick up po boys at a drive-up window.
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Roadfood of the Day: El Camión - Woodbury, CT
Posted on Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A beautiful balance of flavors: ocean-fresh fish, sweet salsa, and sour cream. A great fish taco delivers textural excitement, too, as in the wicked crunch of the fish's cornmeal coat and crisp cabbage garnish.
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Posted by Keith Mclendon on Tuesday, October 27, 2015 4:32 AM

It's hard to describe a business that has been open since 1879 as a hidden gem, but thats what Hildebrandt's is. A grocery store since day one, they eventually added a kitchen and seating in the rear. There are still a few groceries up front, but most of the space has been taken over by antiques, collectibles and more tables. The place has been in Louanne Hildebrandt's family since it started. She grew up there and still runs the kitchen today. They make excellent sandwiches and sides and are open only for lunch 10-4 Monday-Saturday.

It's hard to decide when ordering, as everything sounds so good, but the wife and I narrowed it down to three which we would split. The Louis, which is named after Louanne's father, starts with selecting a type of bread, four meats of your choice and then you get to choose your cheese. Every step of the ordering process is handled slowly and they love offering suggestions on making it special for you. You can also have Louanne make it "her way" also. She chooses and that always works for me.

The grilled pork chop sandwich is unusual in this area and is one of their top sellers. It features two portions of boneless pork loin grilled to perfection. Again your choice of breads, dressings and toppings. It can also be spiced up while grilling with an excellent spice rub or cooked mild. Sourdough, cheddar, mayo, lettuce and tomato were my choices and it is a sandwich I would order again.

The star of the day though, was the reuben. I tend to order reubens before all other choices and this time it really paid off. It is tender corned beef (pastrami is an option), just the right amount of kraut and cheese on soft rye. The side of German potato salad was also a hit. Louanne serves it warm and it contains a generous portion of real bacon bits. I believe I could have made a meal of just the potato salad.

Hildebrandt's is well worth your time for a great lunch.
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Roadfood of the Day: Jampot - Eagle Harbor, MI
Posted on Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Like a little house in a fairy tale, the Jampot Bakery is nestled deep in the woods.
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Posted on Monday, October 26, 2015
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Roadfood of the Day: Vito's Deli - Hoboken, NJ
Posted on Monday, October 26, 2015

Prosciutto from Italy, fresh basil, bread from Dom's a few blocks away, and handmade mutz from this very shop - other than a straight mutz hero this is one of the best ways to appreciate Vito's sweet, creamy mozzarella.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Sunday, October 25, 2015 4:37 AM

Located in a shopping center at the edge of Aiken, Auten's is a town café with a couple of airy dining rooms and big menu of hearty breakfast (served all day) and hot lunch of meat and threes (or meat and twos). It closes every day at 2pm, except Sunday, when a big dinner is served until 3pm.

Star attractions on a full breakfast menu that includes creamy grits, plate-size pancakes, and sweet-bread French Toast are two specialty items: the Bowl and the ABC. The former is grits mixed with egg and bacon or sausage topped with melting cheddar cheese. The latter is a baked potato that gets hollowed out, toasted on the grill, and filled with egg, cheese, and a breakfast meat of choice. It comes as a half potato or a halved whole.

While lunch can be a burger, a sandwich, or a visit to the salad bar, it's hot meals that have earned Auten's a loyal midday clientele. Every day Monday through Saturday, there is a choice of four entrees – country-fried steak, pot roast, chicken pot pie, shepherd's pie, fried chicken, salmon patties, etc. I very much enjoy Friday's meat loaf, which is moist and beefy, dotted with tender bits of green pepper, and topped with ketchupy sauce. A rotating selection of side dishes includes broccoli casserole, blackeye peas, steamed cabbage, fried squash, collard greens, and fried okra. Every day you can count on mashed potatoes (nice and lumpy), macaroni 'n' cheese, cole slaw, and potato salad.

Auten's is a curious theme restaurant, the theme being back to school for adults, and the logic of that being that such a theme provides a fun place for adults to remember their childhood. According to the restaurant website, "No matter who you are, what your religious or political beliefs or your nationality, we all went to school. Everyone has memories of that, some are good and some are bad, that’s why we have the paddle. So if someone thinks that the theme is a bad idea then don’t look at it on a child’s level, look at it on a childish level and have some fun. So if you need a stress reliever, visit us." While it is not at cuisine's cutting edge (nor is it trying to be), Auten's is indeed a stress-free place to sit and have an eminently satisfying square meal.
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Roadfood of the Day: Fiore's Deli - Hoboken, NJ
Posted on Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thursdays and Saturdays, Fiore's roasts beef and slices it for their much-loved roast beef, fresh mutz, and gravy heroes.
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