Sunday, June 21, 2009

Addie Speaks

Yes, it’s hard to believe that we have been on the road for over a year now. We traveled through VA, TN, NC, AR, MS, LA, TX, NM, AZ, NV, UT, WY, and MT, putting 25,100 miles on our truck and about one-sixth of that amount on the fifth-wheel RV.

During that time we have eaten some memorable meals and some not so memorable. The worst of the lot, and there have been some real disappointments, never made it to this blog. My editor-in-chief wants to keep things positive (or is afraid of being sued) so really harsh criticisms have been few. When arriving in a new area, one of my first steps is to go on the web site. The reviews are from fellow travelers like Chuck and I, and they have a ranking system that includes both upscale and not so upscale places.

Another guide is whether Guy Fieri (of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on the Food Network) ate there. I’ll drive miles to visit one of the places he has featured on his program. And we have some dated copies of Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood. But some of our favorites are the result of just dumb luck.

In most of the categories below, I have listed only our top finalist. Where we disagree, I’ve noted each of our favorites. And when it comes to burgers and pizza, you’ll see our top five. So here is the past year's Best of Addie winners:

Best Biscuits and Gravy: The Pines Restaurant in Sparta, NC. for their light fluffy biscuits and flavorful sausage gravy. We found this by getting lost.

Best Pancakes: The Sunglow Family Restaurant in Bicknell, UT. Matt’s Big Breakfast (a Guy Fieri place) in Phoenix, AZ was a close second.

Best Huevos Rancheros: Garcia’s Kitchen on Central Avenue in Albuquerque, NM. It’s all about the red chili sauce.

Best Sweet Roll: The Iowa Café in Mesa, AZ for their giant iced cinnamon bun.

Best Sticky Bun: Peter’s Café and Bakery, Cody, WY.

Best Breakfast Burrito: Sarah’s in Billings, MT for the egg, cheese, potato, and chorizo burrito.

Best Overall Breakfast: Joe’s Farm Grill in Gilbert, AZ. I had the ham and cheese fritters with boysenberry syrup and herbed potatoes. Chuck had the grilled vegetable scramble with herbed potatoes. And for a fitting conclusion, we shared the giant cream puff hot fudge sundae.

Best Gumbo: Prejeans in Lafayette, LA for its deep chocolate roux flavor.

Best Soup: The Turquoise Room at the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, AZ for their signature soup, a black bean and creamy corn soup. A close second is (cousin Mike’s wife) Joanie’s tomato, chili, and lime soup which will be gracing our table in the immediate future (Billings, MT).

Best Appetizer: Chef Roy’s Frog City Café in Rayne, LA for the Cajun egg roll – crawfish tails, corn, and rice in a thin wrapper and served with a sweet and hot sauce.

Best Hummus: The Cedar Grocery and Deli in Lafayette, LA – full of garlic, lemon, and great olive oil.

Best Fries: Slacker’s in Torrey, UT – hand cut, twice cooked, crisp, and grease-free.

Best Potato Salad: The Filling Station in Bryson City, NC for the baked potato salad – skin on potatoes, sour cream, bacon bits, chives, and ranch seasoning.

Best Onion Rings: Kate’s Choice – Chef Roy’s Frog City Café in Rayne, LA; Chuck’s Choice – Boudin King in Rayne, LA. In both cases, these were thin cut and lightly battered.

Best Cole Slaw: 3 Brothers Pizza in Hardin, MT – shredded, creamy, and seasoned with dill and sugar.

Best Boudin Balls: Bubba Frey’s in Mowata, LA – nothing better than a fried pork product.

Best Green Chili Cheeseburger: Monte Carlo Dining Room in Albuquerque, NM – a half-pound flame-grilled burger topped with plenty of hot-hot-hot green chili sauce.

Best Burrito: Sadie’s in Albuquerque, NM for their giant--it lasted for two meals--burrito.

Best Chili Relleno: Conchitas on Main in Kerrville, TX for the rice paper-wrapped stuffed chili.

Best Enchiladas: Garcia’s Kitchen in Albuquerque, NM – good lightly seasoned beef generously topped with your choice of green or red chili (or ask for “Christmas” – both sauces).

Best Flour Tortillas: Garcia’s Kitchen in Albuquerque, NM – the standard for flour tortillas, these are large and light and made in their kitchen daily.

Best Red Chili Sauce: Garcia’s Kitchen in Albuquerque, NM – hot and spicy without being harsh.

Best Green Chili Sauce: Taco Sal in Albuquerque, NM – the Super Hot will clear your sinuses and swell your lips. Just what a green chili sauce is meant to do.

Best Fried Seafood: Frog City Café in Rayne, LA – from the crawfish tails to the catfish bites, this place knows how to fry seafood. Special mention to Bubba Frey’s in Motawa, LA for the fried oysters and fried shrimp.

Best Red Beans and Rice: After many disappointments, Chuck has decided that Kate’s Kitchen (in other words, me) makes the best.

Best Ribs: The Bar-B-Q-Shop in Memphis, TN – a favorite of locals, these dry rub ribs need no embellishing sauces, they are perfect just as served.

Best Pulled Pork: Kate’s Choice – Central BBQ in Memphis, TN – large, juicy, tender pieces of smoked pork with lots of smoking bark (dark outer crust); Chuck’s Choice, Corkey’s in Memphis, TN – also juicy and tender with less bark.

Best Chicken (Country) Fried Steak: Hill Country Café in Kerrville, TX – tender and juicy meat with a crust that erupts into stalagmites on the surface. The king of chicken fried steaks. Coming in a close second is Our Place in Cody, WY.

Best White Pepper Gravy for Chicken Fried Steak: Our Place in Cody, WY – just thick enough but not too thick and full of pepper flavor. Just beats Hill Country Café, Kerrville, TX by a whisker.

Best Non-Burger Sandwich: Joe’s Farm Grill in Gilbert, AZ for the seared ahi tuna sandwich with Asian slaw--cooked rare and topped with a ginger-infused slaw.

Best Ice Cream: Wilcoxson’s wherever it is served in Montana and Wyoming – Chuck’s favorite is the huckleberry and mine is the cream and coffee fudge.

Best Gelato: The Turquoise Room at the La Posada Hotel in Windsor, AZ – made at the restaurant, the hazelnut and dark Belgian chocolate flavors are decadent.

Best Pie: Rock City Café in Black Canyon City, AZ – the blueberry crumb is spectacular. A close second is Stella’s in Billings, MT for the huckleberry pie.

Best Festival Food: The Chautauqua Festival in Wytheville, VA - Phil Wood’s Blooming Potato, a whole potato spiral-cut and dropped in extra hot oil and served with malt vinegar and seasoning; The Giant Omelet Festival, Abbeville, LA – Paul Benoit’s Boston Butt and andouille jambalaya.

Best Lunch Counter Manager: Jackie Tipton at the Broadwater Drug in Gate City, TN – when told by her grill cook that she couldn’t do Chuck’s hot dog because they were out of buns, Jackie replied: “So use a slice of bread, it won’t kill him.”

Best Combo of Music and Food: Christopher’s Pizza in Meadows of Dan, VA – Shu Shumate and Sue and Maynard Nester made us a part of the Christopher’s family. Also serves a dynamite calzone.

Best New Food Experience: Kate’s – the discovery of sweet potato fries; Chuck’s – (cousin) Big Mike’s Bodacious Buffalo Burger, Billings, MT. And then there is the king of berries – the noble huckleberry. Be they served in pie, mixed into ice cream, or used as a topping for french toast, this is a berry men go to war over--literally. Grown wild, blood may be shed if you pilfer from someone’s secret huckleberry patch.

Best Pizza (all of these are thin crust, light sauce, and cheese and with the exception of the fifth place finisher, baked in a gas-fired and brick-lined oven): First – New Jersey Pizza Company in Flagstaff, AZ – the standard by which all pizzas are measured. Their pizzas are topped with an uncooked tomato sauce, fresh hand-pulled mozzarella, and excellent sausage; Second – a tie between Smoky Mountain Pizza Co. in Sevierville, TN and Adriano’s Italian Restaurant in Cody, WY – baked by Italians who put passion into their work; Third – Pizza Palace in Scott, LA – the pizza is great, but the owner claims that his fried catfish is better; Fourth – Pug Mahon’s in Billings, MT for their white pizza with artichoke hearts and; Fifth – Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, AZ – a really good pizza, but not worth the three-hour wait.

Kate’s Top Five Burgers: First - Classics Burgers & Moore in Kerrville, TX for the jalapeño, mushroom, bacon, swiss burger; Second – Our Place in Cody, WY for cooking my burger medium rare as ordered; Third - Slacker’s in Torrey, Utah for their mushroom swiss burger; Fourth – Milt’s Stop & Eat in Moab, Utah for their double mushroom swiss burger; Fifth – Tootie’s in Bristol, TN for the bacon cheeseburger.

Chuck’s Top Five Burgers (He usually orders a cheeseburger with onion only. Sometimes he will throw caution to the wind and add bacon.): First – Classics Burgers & Moore; Second – Tootie’s; Third – Slacker’s; Fourth – Milt’s Stop & Eat; Fifth – Monte Carlo Dining Room in Albuquerque, NM (the green chili cheeseburger without the green chili).

Best Food Products: Duke’s Mayonnaise from Richmond, VA – “The Secret of Great Southern Cooks;” Community Coffee from Baton Rouge, LA – an instant coffee you would not know is instant; Opa’s Sausages from Fredericksburg, TX – smoked beef, bratwurst, and smoked pork; powdered red chili from Chimayo, NM; Wilcoxson’s ice cream from Livingston and Billings, MT; Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams from Madisonville, TN.

Best Groceries: H-E-B in Kerrville, Texas; Ingles in Kingsport, TN; the Kroger/Smith’s family of stores; Albertson’s.

Best Food Recommendations: Our thanks to - Jim at Frog City RV Park in Duson, LA for recommending Chef Roy’s Frog City Café in Rayne, LA; Chuck’s cousin Raina for recommending Joe’s Farm Grill in Gilbert, AZ; Dean at the Buffalo Bill Dam and Visitors Center for recommending Our Place in Cody, WY; the park ranger at the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center for recommending Bubba Frey’s and; the guy at the gas station in Sparta, NC who directed us to the Pines Restaurant.

And, finally, for our favorite diners/cafés, restaurants of past year. What they have in common is an owner who frequently doubles as the chef and is a visible presence.

Best Restaurants we Stumbled Upon by Dumb Luck: The Filling Station in Bryson City, NC and 3 Brothers Pizza in Hardin, MT. A change in plans for the day led us to each.

Best Diner: The Hillsville Diner in Hillsville, VA – a 1936 O’Mahoney moved to Hillsville in 1946, this is the oldest continuously operating streetcar diner in the state of Virginia, and it still has the original pocket doors and patches of the original flooring. The owner, “Mac,” serves up mighty fine pancakes and country ham.

Best Comfort Food Restaurants: Mike Piper’s Hill Country Café in Kerrville, TX and Carolyn’s Our Place in Cody, WY. In both cases, after our first meal we felt like locals. Great food at great prices, friendly service, and always a welcome from the owner.

Best Upscale Restaurant: Number One—Chef Roy’s Frog City Café in Rayne, LA – co-owners Robert Credour (manager) and Benoit Morel (chef) have combined talents to create what may be my favorite restaurant ever. The restaurant, with its Louisiana-centric menu, is the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion, but comfortable enough for those whose attire runs to flannels and feed caps.

Best Upscale Restaurant: Number Two--The Turquoise Room at the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, AZ: Combine a Mary Coulter designed building with impeccable food, and this is the Turquoise Room. Chef John Sharpe’s menu leans to local ingredients combined in imaginative ways.

The photos by Kate are presented as visual interludes between the suspense of the awards.

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