The Crown burger
Once upon a time, Buffalo chicken wings could only be eaten in Buffalo, and the steak and cheese sandwich was strictly a Philadelphia menu item. While such regionally popular cuisines often take off and suddenly gain popularity nationwide – as is the case right now with barbecue and many Southern foods – there are still many uniquely regionalized foods that are best eaten in very particular parts of the United States.
If you are a food lover, here is a good New Year’s resolution: try one of these indigenous meals that are still closely associated with one place or region. Even in cases where they have become more widely available, they are usually much better at the source.
Crown burger, Salt Lake City, Utah
Take some lean pastrami, soak it in paprika infused beef broth, slice it up and serve it wet and warm on top of a cheeseburger with tomatoes, lettuce, onions and fry sauce (what Utah locals call Thousand Island Dressing) and you have the signature dish of the family-owned Crown Burger mini-chain, where it was invented. Or try one of the many other similar pastrami-topped burger variations widely available throughout the greater Salt Lake City area, Ogden and Provo.
Burnt ends, Kansas City
Kansas City is a melting pot of the other three main regional styles of barbecue, that of Memphis, the Carolinas and Texas Hill Country, and here you will find almost every type of slow-cooked meat, sauced and dry, including brisket, pulled pork, pork ribs, beef ribs, lamb ribs, poultry and many different sausages. But Kansas City’s unique contribution to the barbecue world is “burnt ends,” blackened crispy exterior chunks of slow smoked beef brisket. In many cases, this thin exterior strip is removed from a fully cooked brisket, re-seasoned with dry rub, including the previously interior edge, and smoked again. It is usually served in small chunks, each piece having a tasty bit of “bark,” as the crusty exterior is known. You will now occasionally see burnt ends on menus from Austin to New York, but the real thing has to be tried in Kansas City, where it is sometimes off the menu and needs to be requested.
Crabs, crabs, crabs
There are many species of crabs, and most are unique to certain regions, as are their preparations. Visitors to Seattle and San Francisco should absolutely put Dungeness crab, which many fans consider the ultimate crustacean – even more so than lobster – on their list. Likewise, Florida’s stone crab claws, made famous by Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant in Miami Beach, have a vocal and passionate following and can be found fresh virtually no place else but South Florida. These claws are served cold, meaty and usually dipped in a mustard sauce. As many as a one-third of all U.S. blue crabs live in Chesapeake Bay, and throughout Maryland they are revered both as the state’s famous and unrivalled crab cakes, and in the more primal steamed and cracked version. Blue crabs that have recently molted their hard exteriors are also beloved in Maryland as soft-shell crabs, usually breaded and fried and served as a sandwich. All of these regional styles are delicious and well worth seeking out.
Loose meat sandwich, Iowa
The unique loose meat sandwich is widely available throughout Iowa, and to lesser degree in surrounding states. It is also known as the “Maid-Rite,” after the 85-year old Maid-Rite chain which invented it and now has more than 80 locations throughout the Midwest, plains states and Texas. At its simplest, in the original form, the loose-meat sandwich is cooked ground beef mixed with finely minced onion on a roll – an unformed hamburger or a sloppy joe minus the sauce. It is traditionally accompanied with sliced pickles and mustard, while some diners add ketchup – and others consider this blasphemy. American cheese is another option that elicits passionate opinion. Some establishments season the meat with spices, and at most of the Maid-Rite franchises now offer a wide range of loose meat variations including Philly, chili, bacon and even a loose-meat wrap. However you order it, you get crumbly beef on a bun that lives up to its name, and it is a hands-on experience that require napkins and should not be attempted while driving.
Muffuletta sandwich, New Orleans
Many fans consider this nothing less than the world’s best sandwich, and at Central Grocery in the city’s French Quarter, the small Italian grocery store where it was invented, people line up at all hours, routinely take them home on planes and even mail order them. Served on a large, round, flat bun derived from a traditional Sicilian bread, it contains ham, mortadella, salami, pepperoni, cappicola, Swiss and provolone cheeses, plus a very particular chunky “relish” of whole green olives, celery, cauliflower, carrots, onions, hot and sweet peppers, capers, olive oil, vinegar, spices and garlic. The sandwiches can last a couple of days in the fridge and actually improves with age!
Tell us, what are your recommendations for regional fare that can't be missed?
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