Now that we’ve managed to see – and smell, hear, touch and TASTE – our way around half of the fifty states we thought we’d pause and reflect. So what will follow are some countdowns on some of the best places we’ve stayed, bars we’ve drunk ourselves into stupours in and, of course, (because we are two of the greediest people you’ll ever encounter) meals we’ve demolished.
Kicking off with our favourite restaurants, in descending order…
10. Lobster Claw (Cape Cod, Massachusetts)
So not only was this the first place where we ever ate lobster together but it was the night before Josh proposed to Hannah so will always be a little bit special to us, cheesy but there you have it. We stopped by the completely unpretentious and cheerful red-clapboard clad building on the adorably named Cranberry Highway where – not only did we have one classy waitress (of 60 years plus) really rocking some shorts – but we got to discover what tomalley is. A highlight of our first USA roadtrip, which unfortunately gave us a taste for lobster which our salaries can’t adequately service.
9. Lou Malnati’s (Chicago, Illinois)
When is a pizza more than a pizza? When it’s a Deep Dish Chicago-style pizza pie that very nearly annihilates you for daring to eat it. After a day exploring the windy city we queued up, beers in hand, for quite a while for a table at Lou Malnati’s and were initially “meh, is that it?” when presented with the pie. Sure, it had a BUTTER CRUST my friends, but we thought we could take it. Easy. Well, after many mouthfuls of deep, dreamy tomatoey, cheesey gooey goodness we did complete it. But we needed a lie-down afterwards.
8. Hot N Juicy Crawfish (Las Vegas)
Any restaurant which helpfully provides acres of kitchen towel, a plastic bib AND plastic gloves to their diners is one we’re immediately going to warm to and Hot N Juicy Crawfish – a place that has previously featured on Man V Food – was a heckofalotta fun. We ended the meal COVERED in all kinds of hot sauces and fish innards and stank of garlic and spice for, seemingly, days after but our first ever crawfish experience was tasty, memorable and really good value. You can’t say fairer than that.
7. Slow’s Bar BQ (Detroit, Michigan)
We have a soft-spot for Detroit – a bold, proud city – that’s fallen on hard times that we so want to triumph. A city we’d urge people to visit – and spend their tourist $$$ in – to help it get back on it’s feet. And one great place to spend them dollars would be Slow’s Bar BQ. Yards of craft beer, fine and tasty bourbon, ribs upon ribs, mounds of juicy pulled pork and the FINEST MacNCheese and Cheese-drenched waffle-fries we ever encountered. We regularly daydream about this place.
6. Keuterville Pub&Grub (Keuterville, Idaho)
So only now when we were writing this blog did we notice that the one photo we’ve got of Keuterville Pub&Grub shows a bearskin nattily decorated with tinsel; but it sums up the place nicely. A rough and ready place to feed yourself and your family but with a little something extra that makes it stand-out. We’d been staying in the World’s Largest Beagle and were frankly deliriously giddy as a result, when we drove to the next tiny-town over and into the Pub&Grub. The food was honest, filling fare: fried chicken steaks, tater-tots and burgers but the people there were decent and so much fun. A genuinely special place.
5. Laurelhurst Market (Portland, Oregon)
Having seen the Portlandia sketch about hipsters struggling to out-do one another on how locally sourced their chicken is when out for dinner, this Steakhouse-Inspired Brasserie/Butcher Shop looked like it could have been dreamt up by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. But let’s not knock the food, OK. Every single morsel we ate was heavenly. Josh’s 12 Hour-Smoked Wagyu Brisket silenced him such was its power. Hannah’s Bacon Cheese Burger was indecently good. We got so drunk here we practically fell out of the cab on the way home and as such we only took this one wobbly photo. It was one exsquisite – locally sourced – meal.
4. Salt Lick Bar-B-Que (Driftwood, Texas)
On the outskirts of Austin, the Salt Lick seats 800 people at any one time and is home to a busy old pit that – in a normal year – cooks over 750,000 pounds of brisket, 350,000 pounds of pork ribs, 200,000 pounds of sausage and more chickens than you want to count. After a bit of a wait – they feed 2,000 people on a Saturday night – we were in, past the smoking pit next to chefs who noisily chopped up brisket and ribs with machine-gun rat-a-tat-tats and eating sausage, brisket, potato salad and beans. It was beautiful. A one-off.
3. Cattlemen’s Steakhouse (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)
If there is one restaurant in all of the world we can imagine Ron Swanson feeling at home, it may well be Cattlemen’s Steakhouse. All leather banquettes and dim lights with cowboys to keep you company – we ate the finest, most tender, succulent (and in Josh’s case HUGE) steaks we’d ever encountered. With jacket potatoes served with whipped butter and a fine pinot noir. It wasn’t cheap but it was worth every single cent.
2. Fat Matt’s Rib Shack (Atlanta, Georgia)
From the moment we pulled up into the carpark it hit us. The sweet, smoky smell of proper southern barbecue. This was our first time to the Deep South and Fat Matt’s knocked our damn socks off. All it took was a chopped pork sandwich, chips, beans and a pecan pie. We sat outside and enjoyed the warm Georgian evening whilst we listened to the blues. We’d have really struggled to spend more than $20 dollars there but it was so good – so unfeasibly good – that we had to head back for one more chopped pork sandwich on the way to the airport to head home. And we want, need, to return. Soon please.
1. Charles Vergo’s (Memphis, Tennessee)
Ribs as big as your face. Waiters with charm and sass to spare. Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous, located in a downtown alley, serves up 5 tonnes of their ridiculously fine dry rub ribs each week. For $17.50 you can get a full rack served with BBQ beans and creamy slaw. Smoky, sweet and with juicy tender meat falling from the bone, the ribs looked colossal on the plate but were soon seen off. And you don’t need to take it from us, Bill Clinton, Justin Timberlake and Al Green love these ribs. It was so good here we’ve already been back. And not for the last time we can assure you.
What’s been your best meal in the USA? Dined in any of our top ten? Where do we REALLY need to dine out? Comments and tweets always welcome!
Han and Josh.