When you’re away from home—and especially when you’re trying to stick to a schedule—a meal can resemble a refueling stop.
And fuel is fine … but a meal can be so much more.
Experiencing a destination should mean trying it on for size: exploring its streets and paths, opening the doors to its museums and attractions, and listening to its people.
But don’t miss a meal:
Pull up a chair and taste the local food. Sample a signature dish and sip a local liquid.
We’ve collected distinctive dishes—the favorite flavors—from eight destinations, so read your way through this menu map.
Who’s hungry? Hey … who isn’t?
Maryland: Steamed crabs
Steamed crabs are a staple in Maryland, and a summertime must-do is hand-picking a meal at a waterside crab house and then sampling the succulent, sweet, and tender meat.
Maryland is home to Chesapeake Bay, where generations of watermen have harvested Callinectes sapidus, the scientific name for Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, which means “beautiful swimmer.” Since the 1600s, Marylanders have used crabs as a food source, and through the years, the classic steamed crab has remained a favorite.
The topping of choice is Old Bay, a traditional seasoning. This mix of crushed pepper, paprika, and celery salt (with other spices) adds flavor and heat to fresh-steamed crabs.
Traditional crab feasts include newspapers spread out on a picnic table, wooden crab mallets, and bibs. The cracking of crabs is a social activity for Marylanders, who can sit for hours and enjoy the bay’s best, dipping the crab meat in melted butter or apple-cider vinegar.
Peak season is from April to the end of November, although crab can be enjoyed through December.
Where to try it: Pick one of the many authentic waterside crab houses along Maryland’s Crab & Oyster Trail, including Faidley’s Seafood in Baltimore City.
Campbell County, Wyoming: American bison
According to Courier’s Campbell County connections, bison meat is one of the most naturally flavorful and healthy red meats available. Also called buffalo, bison meat is lower in fat and higher in protein than beef.
One of the world’s oldest and largest bison ranches, the Durham Bison Ranch is located just south of Gillette. Members of the Flocchini family, owners of the ranch, are committed to managing their land and livestock holistically.
To fully enjoy a bison meal, visitors should first take a tour of the ranch to see thousands of majestic animals in their natural environment and learn how the family raises bison and processes the meat. The next step is to visit a restaurant in Gillette, where bison is offered as full steaks (sirloin, ribeye, flank, and other cuts), skewers, sirloin tips, burgers, and Philly sandwiches.
Locals suggest that first-timers order the bison medium rare or rare and wash it down with locally crafted mead served out of a steer horn at Big Lost Meadery or with an award-winning craft brew at Gillette Brewing Company.
Where to try it: Prime Rib Restaurant & Wine Cellar, Pokey’s Barbecue, Rib & Chop House, and Silvercreek Steakhouse
Brandywine Valley, Pennsylvania: Mushrooms
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, is known as the home of Longwood Gardens, which is visited by over a million people a year. But a few miles up the road is another gem: Historic Kennett Square, the “Mushroom Capital of the World.” More than 60% of the United States’ mushroom crop comes from this region.
A day in the area can begin with a visit to The Woodlands at Phillips to learn about mushroom cultivation from one of the country’s largest producers. Then travelers can look for unique gifts, regional specialties, and a variety of fresh-picked mushrooms in Kennett’s charming downtown shops.
Fittingly enough, Kennett Square is the home of the annual Mushroom Festival, which has been voted one of the 10 best festivals in Pennsylvania. The event takes place each September on the weekend following Labor Day, and attendees celebrate with music, rides, and entertainment; taste-test mushroom soups; and learn from the pros about cooking and storing mushrooms.
And New Year’s Eve is marked with the dropping of—you guessed it—a mushroom … an 8-foot, 700-hundred-pound, illuminated, stainless steel mushroom!
Where to try it: Portabello’s, where Chef Brett Hulbert prepares an array of delicacies for mushroom lovers (and others).
Springfield, Illinois: Springfield Horseshoe Sandwich
The Springfield Horseshoe Sandwich was created at the Old Leland Hotel in 1928 by Joe Schweska and Steve Tomko. The name was derived from the horseshoe-shaped cut of ham used in the original. French fries represent the nails of the shoe, and the sizzle platter represents a hot anvil.
The 1939 Christmas edition of the State Journal Register revealed Chef Schweska’s recipe. The sandwich is made by laying two pieces of toast on a preheated platter, then placing the meat on the toast, covering the entire sandwich with cheese sauce, and circling the platter with French fries. A dash of paprika adds color to the Horseshoe.
Variations of the sandwich are as open as a hungry imagination—or as the imaginations of the chefs at local eateries. Most options include substituting ham with another meat: chicken (a grilled, fried, or Buffalo-style breast), hamburger, walleye, tenderloin, or Reuben. And diners with a smaller appetite can order a Pony Shoe.
Where to try it: Most Springfield restaurants offer a traditional Shoe and a house specialty or two, including Charlie Parker’s famous Breakfast Shoe. D’Arcy’s Pint was featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”
Oneida County, New York: Utica greens
Utica greens were not originally chef-prepared restaurant fare. This Italian-American dish, which features garden-grown escarole and pantry staples, such as pickled cherry peppers, Romano cheese, prosciutto, and breadcrumbs, has humble roots.
Beginning in the late 1800s, Utica became home to a thriving community of southern-Italian immigrants, and greens were served at the dinner table of many of these families. The dish was the creation of frugal home cooks who were making do with what they had on hand.
In the 1980s, local chef Joe Morelle included the dish on his restaurant menu as Greens Morelle. It became a hit, and other restaurants adapted and renamed it Utica Greens.
Variations include greens with potatoes, kale, Swiss chard, and pignoli (or pine) nuts. Some restaurants also add spicy peppers to the mix.
Where to try it: You can still find the classic Greens Morelle at Chesterfield’s Tavolo, located in Utica. Other options are Delmonico’s Italian Steakhouse, Babe’s at Harbor Point, and Aqua Vino Restaurant, which has an outdoor patio overlooking the Erie Canal.
Flanders-Belgium: Flemish beef stew and Belgian beer
Beef stew cooked in beer has long been part of the culinary heritage of Flanders, and it is still one of the most popular stews. The classic local beef stew is known for its sweet-sour combination of caramelized onions and beer: usually a dark Belgian-style ale.
The recipe has varied through the ages, and every mother passes on her secrets to her children. Some like to add liver or kidneys to the beef, which gives the stew a more distinctive flavor. Others prefer a sweeter flavor and add a slice of pain d’epices (an old-fashioned bread with honey and spices), or even a slice of country bread spread with a strong mustard. These spicy and sweet flavorings have been an integral part of the Flemish palate and cuisine since the Middle Ages.
Belgium’s brewing heritage dates back many centuries and provides influence and inspiration to modern-day brewers. Beer is a part of Belgians’ DNA, and the passion of today’s wave of innovative craft brewers is redefining how the world perceives Belgian beer.
Where to try it: Whether as a home-cooked meal, at a local pub, or at a high-end restaurant, beef stew and beer can be sampled anywhere in the country.
Gallup, New Mexico: Hatch chiles
Gallup is a premiere place for outstanding New Mexican cuisine. And much of that food features red or green Hatch chile peppers, named for the Hatch Valley region where the peppers are grown.
Situated on I-40 only 30 miles from the Arizona border, this unassuming little town packs big flavors into its dishes. And there are plenty of places to discover them.
Diners can sit down to handmade fresh chile rellenos at Jerry’s Café in the heart of downtown Gallup—or at its bigger (and group friendly) sister location, Don Diego’s, located on Route 66. The green chile rellenos, fried with a golden crust, are topped with your choice of red or green Hatch chile sauce. Another option is “Christmas style,” which includes both red and green varieties.
Also popular in Gallup is the Hatch chile-smothered burrito, which, due to its size, is best eaten with a fork and knife. Every restaurant in Gallup puts its own spin on the dish, but it’s served fresh all day at Railway Café on Route 66, which houses a tribute to the train history of the Gallup area—plus those smothered burritos.
Where to try it: Jerry’s Café, Don Diego’s, Railway Café, and other eateries.
Amelia Island, Florida: Shrimp
For more than six decades, nearly 100 shrimp boats have annually docked in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island. It’s the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry (and once considered the shrimping capital of the world), and the people and businesses of Fernandina Beach’s historical downtown pull out all the stops for the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival.
Options for enjoying shrimp sound like a line from “Forrest Gump”: grilled shrimp, fried shrimp, Cajun shrimp, boiled shrimp, shrimp tacos, shrimp salad, popcorn shrimp …
One of the premier festivals in the Southeast—and a part of island life for more than 50 years—the Shrimp Festival brings together the love of shrimp and the best of arts and entertainment. Celebrating the opening of the shrimp season, the event (April 30–May 3 this year) includes a parade plus contests for pirate costumes, ice cream eating, and decorated boats.
Visitors can learn about the celebrated crustaceans year-round at the Fernandina Beach Shrimping Museum, and seasonally, the Amelia River Cruises’ two-hour eco-tour takes guests on an interactive exploration in the St. Mary’s River Basin.
Where to try it: Timoti’s Seafood Shak, Lulu’s, and The Salty Pelican, to name a few.
Illustration at top by Jeff Quire
Support for Courier articles provided by:
Amelia Island Tourism Development Council
Campbell County Convention & Visitors Bureau
City of Gallup
Maryland Office of Tourism Development
Oneida County Convention & Visitors Bureau
Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau
Tourist Office for Flanders-Belgium