Amuse-Bouche Part Deux: Some of Our Favorite Belly Pleasers From the Past 9 Months

After our first 6 months of road life, we compiled a list of our favorite eats from the road under our “Amuse Bouche” part 1 edition. Nine months have passed since then and we have been eating our way across the country, but neglectful in compiling a list of some of our favorite belly pleasers along the way. Once again, I divided it up into two parts, this portion focuses on eats, the next will be on drinks. (Disclaimer: neither of us has food allergies and we are omnivores- we consume everything. We are not affiliated with any of these establishments, nor receive compensation for our endorsements).

 

Listed in order based on chronology from February 2018 thru October 2018:

Best Breakfast Spot:

T-Coon’s, a “Zydeco” restaurant in Lafayette, LA. When you want decadent comfort food, go Southern all the way, and particularly, Louisiana cooking. By far our favorite breakfast spot from the past year was this little local spot in an unassuming strip mall. Sweet potato pancakes with fresh pecans, crawfish and cheese omelet, a batch of fresh beignets in a cloud of powdered sugar, and endless cups of coffee in yellow “Mellow Joy” mugs. Worth every calorie!

Lunch Worth the Wait:

This next spot was pretty popular and comes with a little bit of a wait, but for a Sunday, it wasn’t too bad. Tiny, colorful, eclectic, and a standoffish greeter, Coop’s Place in New Orleans, LA serves up New Orleanian food without pretension, excuses, or high prices. We absolutely recommend the grilled lamb ribs with pepper jam. We had never tasted anything like it. The ribs taste like they have been marinated in some sort of mild vinegar sauce, which is a perfect balance to the sweetness of the pepper jam. From the shrimp creole, to the fried chicken in fluffy crispy batter, to the side of duck sausage jambalaya- everything was fantastic and the use of meats like lamb and duck as opposed to more traditional choices gave it an innovative twist on traditional New Orleans-style fare (* the duck sausage jambalaya has since been replaced with rabbit & smoked sausage, but they have now added smoked duck quesadilla to the menu!).

A Worthy Staple:

Lots of reviews we read on New Orleans, LA recommended Napoleon House for its history and authentic Creole cuisine. Occupying an old house from the early 1900s with a back courtyard, this spot is rich in charm and memorabilia. While the wait staff is dressed smartly in white collared shirts and black pants, the décor and ambiance are laid-back and casual. Muffuletta is one of my favorite sandwiches, and this place has a well-earned reputation for theirs. Having only eaten Muffulettas outside of New Orleans, it was a bit of a sticker shock to see what felt like high prices and the fact that they are listed in 1/2 or full orders. Rarely are sandwiches listed in this way, or so expensive. However, a 1/2 order is big enough and stuffed with enough meat for two adults to split and a full order with sides would be enough for two meals for two people. We paired a 1/2 order with their boudin, jambalaya, and shrimp Creole and had an all-around fantastic sampling tour of Creole cuisine in a historic setting. One where you can even leave your mark by writing your name on an interior wall. The Pimm is their signature drink and they have a few different variations to try- because all that food needs to be washed down somehow!

Ask a Local:

While in New Orleans, LA we asked around for lesser-known spots to grab a bite and were directed to Jacques-Imo Restaurant in the Uptown neighborhood. Occupying a house, the seating is dispersed throughout the rooms and adorned with funky art and old posters in an intimate and fun atmosphere. One table is on the street- in the bed of a parked pick-up truck, to be exact. Offering a wide menu of Creole and Southern staples, we ordered lots of appetizers to compose a tapas-style meal and created our own food tour of the menu. We ate our way through shrimp & alligator cheesecake, mussels in marinara sauce over mashed potatoes, fried green tomatoes topped with shrimp remoulade, boudin balls (w/ jalapeños), complimentary cornbread muffins, and Crème brûlée for dessert. The food was fantastic and the atmosphere was both warm and fun!

Northshore Must:

After New Orleans, we crossed the impressively long Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and camped in Madisonville, LA. Here we stumbled across a casual little Cajun-Creole style diner called Orlando’s Seafood Restaurant, which specialized in all things seafood- much of it fried or with lots of butter, or both! Sharing a bowl of crawfish bisque, fried catfish Po’boy, mushrooms stuffed with shrimp & crabmeat, and a ½ dozen oysters, the food was rich, comforting, affordable, and all the things that we had come to love about Louisiana food and lifestyle. By the time we left Louisiana, we definitely needed to go on a diet, but it was well worth the “winter weight”.

South of the Border, North of the Border:

We happened across a little family Tex-Mex restaurant called El Patio Mexican Grill in Natchitoches, LA. It had a fun, festive, and vibrant décor with an extensive menu of tasty food and very large portions and low prices. As soon as we sat down, we were greeted with a large basket of chips and a full decanter of salsa, all made in-house. I ordered grilled tilapia with shrimp on a flaming hot skillet and Cay ordered skillet steak with cheese and sautéed mushrooms. The skillets alone were a full plate, and much to our surprise, the “sides” (guac, sour cream, rice, and beans” came on an entire second plate for each of us, along with a full basket of tortillas. Everything was very flavorful, very fresh, and very filling!

Happy Hour Tacos:

On our last stop in Louisiana, we came across a relatively new taco shop called Parish Taceaux in Shreveport, LA. With a generous 2 for 1 happy hour deal, Parish serves up delicious tacos with twists and Southern flair. Sharing rows of tacos, we tried their fried oyster, brisket, pulled pork, and fried catfish tacos, and were hooked. The tacos came in a double layer of corn tortillas and metal holding racks. All of the tacos came with their own sauces and flavoring and we delighted in how different each was. The fried oyster was our favorite and it was also the largest and meatiest taco in our order by far!

A Great Spot for a Cup of Joe & Comfy Office Space:

This one isn’t so much an “eat” spot, as we did not order food, but it is worth mentioning because it was one of the best cafes we visited on our journey. In Memphis, TN we spent an afternoon working from Otherlands Coffee Bar & Exotic Gifts. It has colorful bohemian décor where all the tables and chairs are different and house lamps adorn the table tops. Local art is featured along the walls, much of which is available for purchase, and there is even a funky gift shop in addition to the cafe itself. Wi-Fi was good and the vibes are welcoming and relaxed. Unlike the trend in many new coffee spots, this place does not make a circus of pouring coffee, has none of that sterile warehouse aesthetic, and there are plenty of outlets beckoning you to stay long after you have finished your cup of coffee. A great place to grab a coffee, a snack, and hang out.

Hot Chicken:

“Hot Chicken” (a.k.a fried chicken) is a Nashville, TN staple and there are several places that dominate the buzz when it comes to this poultry indulgence. One spot that doesn’t get quite as much attention is a bar & restaurant combo called Party Fowl in downtown Nashville. With bottom loading beer glasses, an entertaining novelty for us, and a decadent twist on “hot chicken” we shared a salad with flash fried chicken and an order of their hot chicken & beignets, garnished in powdered sugar and a very pleasing way to mix Nashville’s poultry craze with a ‘lil something sweet.

His & Hers:

Rarely do we come across a restaurant that seems to just get us. Mussel & Burger Bar in Louisville, KY got us. One of my favorite dishes to order is a large bowl of mussels in lots of broth, and Cay’s all-time favorite comfort food: burgers. Imagine our surprise when we found a new-ish bistro in Louisville that created a menu centered around these two very unrelated food choices. With several burger and mussel options, we were collectively in heaven. We shared a plate of spare rib nachos on home-made chips, which was excellent. Cay went with the Mediterranean lamb burger and sweet potato fries and I went with the Basque style bowl of mussels, which we respectively devoured. With a fancier bistro flair, inventive menu options, but reasonable prices, and amazing food, we would definitely like to find ourselves in Louisville again to enjoy a second round.

Best Burger in the Chicago ‘burbs:

This is Alfie’s all the way. Located in Glen Ellyn, IL along Roosevelt Road, Alfie’s Inn is a staple in the western burbs, and often my first meal when visiting home and the last before leaving. Dark wood interiors, medieval weaponry, and suits of armor are the décor. The food is hearty, great, and reasonably priced. The clientele, all locals and their lucky guests. The ribs are fall off the bone fantastic, but it is their cheeseburger that I always crave when far from home. They offer a few different variations, but for the most part, they are traditional beef burgers with some sort of magic that makes them addictive. With a thick juicy patty that is cooked to order, I recommend topping it with cheese and a load of grilled onions. Simple, honest, classic burger that is above and beyond any burger I have ever tried. Next to the register, there is a basket of Dum-Dums and a ball-shaped candy mint dispenser to offer up sweet treats for the road.

Fish Out of Water BBQ Gem:

Illinois is known for a few things, but great BBQ isn’t one of the claims to fame. Sure there are some great spots to find BBQ, but when they do emerge, they make headlines because it is a rarity. There was one spot that we had overlooked as it was literally sitting under our noses for a number of years. At the corner of a small strip mall on the edge of town in Wheaton, IL sits a gem in the wall BBQ spot called Steamboat BBQ. They have their own smoker in-house and serve up everything from ribs, brisket, pulled pork, sausage links, wings, fried catfish, and fried shrimp (and some burgers and sandwiches). Everything we have had there has been amazing, and the stand-outs for Cay and I were the ribs, rib tips, and their fried mac-n-cheese bites; triangular shaped breaded pockets of cheesy heaven. They have around 5 different sauces, ranging from a couple sweet BBQ sauces, a hot sauce, to a mustard BBQ sauce, and a vinegar based sauce. My favorite is their “Butler Tribute” BBQ sauce (one of the sweet ones), but the meat honestly doesn’t need any sauce, as it is stand-alone flavorful and tender. Picky about what you drink? On a budget? Cool- just bring your own, as Steamboat allows BYOB. The hardest part about this place is deciding what to order and finding a seat!

It’s Called a “Pizza Pie” for a Reason!:

One of my favorite foods of all-time and a Chicago institution: Pizza! Chicago, IL serves-up all kinds of pizza: pan style, thin crust, stuffed, and Chicago’s signature deep dish style. Both stuffed and deep dish style are baked in a deeper dish with the crust at the bottom, followed by cheese, then ingredients, and then topped with tomato sauce. Most stuffed pizzas differ by adding a second layer of dough just below the tomato sauce. My non- Chicago friends like to bemoan how filling these hearty variations are, especially if they are used to the fold-over New York style, but you would be missing out if you didn’t give this amazing pie style pizza a try- just pace yourself! Pizzas come in all shapes, sizes, and variation of ingredients, and I love it for that. One of my favorite Chicago spots for deep dish pizza is Lou Malnati’s, which now has several locations throughout the city of Chicago, making it an easy endeavor to get some good pizza. With their buttery, flaky crust, and homemade Italian-style sausage, this place sticks to tradition, tasty ingredients, and is rock solid every time.

Big Picture Show:

While traveling down Vermont’s beautiful Route 100, we stopped for a late breakfast at a little mom & pop-style spot that turned out to be both a café serving up locally sourced dishes, and also doubled as the community movie house, called the Big Picture Theater & Café in Waitsfield, VT.  With two theaters featuring a mixture of new and classic film nights in a unique venue (frescos adorn the ceiling and the front of the theater has sofas and loungers with traditional theater seats in the back). The cafe was uttering charming with its old-time furnishing of 1950’s era metal kitchen tables and throwback movie memorabilia. The breakfast dishes were made-to-order like at home, very tasty, and featured fresh ingredients from local farmers. The cafe itself also hosts guest chefs to introduce new culinary delights to the neighborhood. The week we rolled through, the guest chef event spotlighted Ethiopian food prepared by an Ethiopian chef.

New England Fare & Some History:

In the picture-perfect little town of Manchester, VT we grabbed dinner at the Ye Olde Tavern, which occupies an old stagecoach inn built in the late 1700’s, and now boasts a “candlelit” dinner service. While it has been well-preserved, the house stands today much as it did when it was built, and you can see how it has weathered the years in the way that the original floorboards warp a little here and slant a little there, and the charming way in which the doorframes are just off kilter. Each room is decorated with antique pieces and the walls are painted with stenciled adornments (like pineapples) in the manner fitting of its time. The food was fantastic and we were started off with complimentary cranberry fritters and whipped Vermont maple butter. Serving up a lot of game fare and dishes common in New England, we opted for the “early bird menu” dinner, which runs from 5:00- 5:59 pm Sun-Fri. For the fixed price of $20.00. It comes with the aforementioned fritters, choice of salad, choice of main, dessert selection, and coffee/tea service. Cay opted for their pork chop with applesauce and I had their pot roast, and both were very flavorful and tender. The kind of comfort food that resembles a home-cooked meal. A very charming colonial dining experience, and one that came at a very reasonable fixed price.

Rainy Day Discovery:

On a very rainy spring day in Lenox, MA, we took shelter in a little pub called the Olde Heritage Tavern and discovered a culinary delight in the process. As is our tradition when tempted with chowder, we ordered a bowl to share, and it was buttery perfection. Our mains stole the show. I ordered a flat iron steak with a baked potato and veggies, and at $13.99, I was not expecting the tender, flavorful cut that I was served, which was adorned with a fantastic balsamic reduction sauce. Cay ordered a new menu item that they were testing, and if we have any say in the matter, they should definitely add this to their regular offerings. It was fresh fish tacos, seasoned just right, served on naan bread with a lite garlic flavor. A little gem of a spot with great food and low prices.

The Local Option:

While staying in Bar Harbor, ME, we were looking for a sports bar where we could watch the FIFA World Cup match and grab some lunch. We settled on a local spot called the Side Street Cafe, which advertised a lobster roll special on their sidewalk chalkboard that sealed the deal. The lobster roll came with a side of chowder (which was fantastic), and some chips. At $26, this may not seem like a good deal, but having paid roughly the same amount for just a lobster roll a la cart, we came to appreciate this full meal for the value it was. The lobster roll was stuffed with enough sweet, tender, lobster meat for two rolls and the roll itself was not the typical boring split-top hot dog bun normally used, but a toasted brioche bun that added to the sweetness and robustness of the lobster meat. We also ordered a bowl of their salmon stew, which was deliciously creamy and full of lots of salmon meat.

All of the Soup:

Sarah’s Cafe & Twin Schooner Pub in Wiscasset, ME was a great little discovery and had the best little soup and baked bread bar. Their soup bar features a couple different soups daily, normally one seafood chowder, one vegetarian, and a third rotating selection, all made fresh and featuring in-season items from the area. In addition to that, this restaurant may not boast itself as such, but it is a fantastic little bakery and they offer a plethora of baked goods in the soup bar. On the day we visited, this include foci bread, muffins, sweet rolls, croissants, and countless other items also featuring seasonal ingredients. The entire soup & baked bread bar was utterly comforting, happy food. A bowl of soup is $6.50, with refills at $1.50 and the baked bread items were unlimited per visit, as there were brown paper bags to fill with your assorted treasures.  Cay ordered their seafood trio with fresh baked haddock, lobster, and a crab cake, and came with a choice of two sides (mac’n cheese and oven fries w/ gravy). Everything was delicious.

Fusion Seafood:

A bit too trendy for our liking, if it weren’t for the fact that the food is incredible! Admittedly, this spot strays from our usual dining experience, as both Cay and I prefer casual spots with laid-back vibes and avoid crowds, trendy “it” spots, and basically anything that involves waiting in line for a seat or paying a mortgage for a meal. Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland, ME definitely has a hipster vibe, the cool “in-crowd” scene, and is an overly popular spot that frequently has long waits, particularly on the weekend. However, we can eat our words, because their food is pretty amazing and lives up to the hype. Rather than wait in line, I decided to call and see if we could place an order for pick-up. I was told I could only place an order for pick-up there in-person. Since I was calling from right outside the restaurant, I told her that wouldn’t be a problem and walked in. Turns out, as we were preparing to order our takeaway, they made room for us at the standing bar. Among the items we ordered, we had heard good things about their lobster roll and wanted to try it for ourselves. I cannot stress enough that this is a departure from the traditional New England lobster roll, but I also cannot recommend enough giving this lobster roll a try. At $15 + tax, this lobster roll has a lower price-point than most, but it is also significantly smaller than a traditional lobster roll. This is a “gourmet” spot and they serve “gourmet” portions. The lobster roll was about the length of a finger and amounted to around 2 small bites for each of us, but they were the 2 best bites of lobster roll I have ever had. The roll itself was more like an unsplit dumpling-style bun topped with lobster meat. It was super tasty, by far the best tasting bun we had had yet with a lobster roll and the most untraditional. The lobster meat was mixed in a “brown butter” concoction, and we weren’t entirely sure what was in said “brown butter”, but it was fantastic. The entire creation was consumed far too quickly and much enjoyed. We paired this with a bowl of their Thai inspired coconut and curry lobster stew, the flavor of which was unreal and we were both fighting over the last slurp.

Bowling Alley Cuisine:

The host of our campground near Kennebunk, ME recommended a couple local spots to us for good food. One of the recommendations drew a chuckle, as he told us the bowling alley in downtown Kennebunk has a restaurant inside that serves up gastropub fare. We decided to give that a try and headed over to the bowling alley for trivia night and some incredible food. The Crotux Kitchen & Taphouse inside the Garden Street Bowl truly teaches you not to judge a book by its cover. The menu contained so many items that we wanted to try, that we were hard-pressed to decide. We shared a bowl of their corn & chicken bisque, a PBJ sandwich with pork belly, and a very untraditional Reuben composed of kimchee and grilled steak. The sandwiches each came with a side of house made chips, so we ordered one Tandoori style and one BBQ style. The chef definitely had creative license with the menu and we benefited from these inventive twists to old standards. Everything was delicious, with the PBJ + pork belly being our favorite and the Tandoori chips were completely addictive.

Milepost Tavern:

In Duxbury, MA is the Milepost Tavern, a long-standing restaurant in the community and one that serves up fancy American comfort food in the New England charm of a tavern setting. Their clam chowder was one of the best we had had along the New England corridor and it had an added ingredient that we couldn’t place, but we speculated was cheese or some sort of cream (like the cream used in Stroganoff sauce). I had chicken Marsala and Cay ordered linguini with locally caught seafood in a white sauce, and for dessert, we shared their turtle cheesecake. The food was wonderful and everything came out very flavorful. The kind of comfort food that tasted like a home-cooked meal. If in the area, we also recommend visiting the Duxbury Cemetery, which is not too far from the Milepost. It houses the remains of many of the original pilgrims that came over on the Mayflower expedition, such as Myles Standish, and is largely only known to locals, as tourists are too busy descending upon nearby Plymouth.

Good Judgment:

In Newport, RI we happened into a little pub called Pour Judgement, which ended up being one of the better lunches we have had on the road. We shared wonton nachos with a curry sauce and coconut shrimp, glazed pork chop with mashed potatoes and a bowl of littleneck clams in a “Fra Diavolo” sauce (spicy tomato). The food was amazing. The sauces alone were over the top. To the point that long after we had finished the nachos and the clams, we were scraping the bottoms of the plate to get the last drop. Gastro fare was not at all what we expected when we wandered in and we left with two very full and happy bellies.

Philly Staple:

While in Philadelphia, PA we knew we had to try their signature dish- the Philly Cheesesteak, but we didn’t know where. A friend who had lived in Philly recommended that we try Sonny’s, so we headed there. They serve up a few different varieties of cheesesteaks, with different cheese and topping options, and a few other menu items. From order to food, the process is all very quick and relatively cheap. We tried a few varieties, including their loaded and their pizza options, and ate lunch there 2 days in a row. At the end of our sampling, we were hooked and decided that while the varieties were fun, our favorite was the traditional cheesesteak because you could taste the meat in that one the best.

Carolina Sushi:

Killing time before a movie one night, we decided to do sushi for dinner and tried a little corner spot in a strip mall area called Mai Japanese Restaurant in Charlotte, NC (Arsley location). Both Cay and I prefer sashimi to sushi rolls (we have an unscientific theory that you get served better cuts of fish when it comes naked), and we were in heaven as this spot had a sashimi platter that came with a spread of 15-17 cuts of assorted fish for $25.00. The sushi chef stands like the captain of his ship at the fish bar preparing the sushi. The fish was amazing and some of the best quality fish we have had in a long while, which was only made better by the fact that it was such a good value as well. The fish was so fresh and delicate that it melted in our mouths like butter. With a range of fish including salmon, yellowtail, saba, mackerel, different types of tuna, shrimp, and octopus, and others each mouthful was bliss. We paired this with a tuna appetizer and a couple other light sides and walked away feeling like we had had one of the best sushi meals in a long time.

Sushi Take 2:

North Carolina delivered again on delicious sushi spots. The Asheville Sushi & Hibachi restaurant on the outskirts of Asheville, NC was another great little family-run spot for sushi. This was a hidden gem in an unassuming strip mall, which we prefer to the trendy and centrally located downtown-type sushi spots that have to pass off their higher rent in higher menu costs. This spot offered a sashimi appetizer platter of 9 cuts of assorted fish for $11, another great value. Ranging from the common sorts of fish that typically compose this type of “chef’s selection” platter we had tuna, salmon, yellowtail, white fish, shrimp and octopus in each of our orders. We started with a light tempura coconut shrimp appetizer that was absolutely fantastic and tasted of real coconut shavings and an octopus salad that was tender and sweet. Despite being far from the ocean, our fish was incredibly fresh and delicate and melted like butter with each nibble.

All of the Tacos:

It has been a while since we have visited a taco shop that really grabbed our attention and had us salivating for more. We tend to really enjoy the taco places that take a very loose interpretation of what a “taco” is and basically let their culinary license run wild. White Duck Taco Shop in Asheville, NC is exactly this type of spot and it had us coming back two nights in a row for dinner because we could not get enough. Ranging from around $3.50 – $6.50 per taco, this spot serves up high-quality ingredients at a low price point. They may not be the largest tacos on the block, but these are tasty, quality, innovative tacos. Each taco was served with a double layering of corn tortillas for durability. We particularly loved their Korean Beef Bulgogi, Lamb Gyro, and Duck with Mole tacos.

Farm to Table Without Any Fuss:

Near our campground in Asheville, NC was a little complex that looked like a house, and served as the business space for a tiny pub, a little brewery, and a cafe featuring locally sourced and seasonal items. The bar and cafe have a symbiotic relationship and share the outdoor yard space so that customers can grab a drink and a bite regardless of where they are in the complex. While relaxing in the bar, we placed an order with the cafe, called the HomeGrown (West) and enjoyed some amazing home cooking that we didn’t have to prepare. Keeping it light, I went with a bowl of their tomato basil soup, which had an enjoyable kick to it that I have never tasted before and could not place. The 1/2 salad I paired my soup with, a seemingly ho-hum green salad, packed way more flavor than I thought possible because the fresh-cut veggies were all tossed in some type of invisible seasoning, and the 1/2 serving was much larger than I expected. I opted for their balsamic dressing on the side, and would not have needed it since the salad was already so flavorful, but the balsamic vinegar was fantastic. It was the legit old-world kind that comes super thick and tastes sweet.  Cay went with their homemade fried chicken & mushroom sauce platter with a side of fries and seasoned corn on the cob. The fried chicken was incredibly light and fluffy and all of the seasonings used made the food burst with flavor.

Healthy Fast-Food:

As far as fast-food goes, or even dining out for that matter, it can be a challenge finding healthy places to eat, especially if you are sick of ordering a “garden salad”. We eat out more now that we live on the road because we want to experience the new areas we travel to, and trying local food is part of that experience, being health and weight conscious is a constant struggle, so we try to mix our indulgent choices with healthier stops along the way. Barberitos: A Southwestern Grill & Cantina in Augusta, GA was a very happy find one evening when we needed to find a late-night meal after seeing a movie. The website boasts locally sourced ingredients made to order. When we walked in, we were greeted with menu options on the wall, and each option along with all the available ingredients have a calorie count so that you can road-map your way to your desired meal. The website also provides “7 under 500” of 7 crafted meal options that fall under 500 calories if you don’t feel like trying to construct your own dish, and also has a “nutrition calculator” feature to let you pre-calculate/ post-calculate. In a Subway-style fashion, you walk up to the counter and start by choosing: taco, burrito, burrito bowl (no tortilla), salad (in a taco shell bowl), nachos, or quesadilla. From there, you move down the counter and can choose your protein, fillings, and veggies, and you can add or skip to your desire. As a quick, easy, cheap and tasty way to eat out and still feel like you are eating something healthy, we really enjoyed this place and I found that everything tasted fresh and flavorful. I also enjoyed the salsa bar so that I could mix condiments. With a growing number of restaurants throughout Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and the Carolinas, I hope to see more of them pop-up throughout the country to bolster the healthy fast-food niche.

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