American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Sampling Regional Cuisine in the Right Region
As many folks will attest, food is undeniably linked to travel. In fact, part of the joy of traveling to a new place is the chance to taste the cuisine for which that city or region is celebrated. Here in the United States, for instance, it makes sense to sample steamed lobster and traditional clam chowder when visiting New England, barbecued ribs when touring Memphis, and Southwestern dishes when passing through Santa Fe. When you're fond of a particular cuisine, however, it's hard not to resist the temptation – no matter where you stumble upon it.
Such was my thinking back in late July, when my husband and I were visiting Traverse City, Michigan – the self-proclaimed “cherry capital of the world” – for the annual Traverse City Film Festival. While in town, we decided to try a relatively new eatery cleverly named the Soul Hole (408 S. Union St., 231/929-7238), a restaurant that purported to serve “eclectic Southern cuisine.” Both die-hard fans of Creole, Cajun, and Southern cuisine, Daniel and I were excited to sample the soul food and seafood dishes on offer, perhaps hoping to get a taste of New Orleans, my beloved birthplace and our part-time home. I must admit that we were especially intrigued by all the positive reviews we'd read online.
As luck would have it, we arrived between meal times, allowing us our pick of seats. Despite the incessantly pesky breeze, we decided to sit outside, where we were greeted by a friendly, helpful waitress. After ordering our drinks, I glanced at the small but promising menu, delighted to spy hush puppies, fried green tomatoes, shrimp remoulade, oyster po' boys, catfish and fried chicken dinners, bourbon pecan pie, even Zapp's potato chips, a long-standing Louisiana brand. It didn't hurt either to see a bottle of Tabasco sauce on the table.
Unfortunately, not everything lived up to the hype. While the spicy crawfish remoulade sauce and three homemade vinaigrette salad dressings – sweet potato, avocado, and vidalia onion – that I tried were all unique and tasty, the dishes that I ordered were simply not as good as those available in many of my hometown restaurants. The hush puppies, while crispy, were much too sweet; the fried green tomatoes were a bit too thick; and the shrimp and grits entrée was not at all as I remembered it from my last French Quarter Fest experience.
Now, don't get me wrong – the Soul Hole is a decent little place, with a pleasant atmosphere and its share of followers, and while some of the dishes are interesting twists on traditional southern-style cuisine, it's probably a better option for those who aren't accustomed to such food. Although Dan and I have found interesting New Orleans-style places around the country, such as The Gumbo Pot in Los Angeles, we've discovered that, for the most part, it's better to eat seafood gumbo, jambalaya, and other Cajun, Creole, and Southern dishes in the place where they're most celebrated.
Of course, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't be open to new possibilities. You never know when you might stumble upon a culinary gem – even in an unlikely place. Just remember that, if a particular cuisine doesn't live up to the hype, you might do well to try it in the right region before you rush to judgment.
So, what's your favorite regional cuisine in the United States?
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and my Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of the Soul Hole / Text © 2010 Laura Martone