Kona Tiki Bar (Ormond Beach, FL)

As a somewhat frequent business traveler, sometimes business travel is pretty good: I get to go to some interesting parts of the country (and sometimes world), meet interesting people, and explore some restaurants that are quite different from those around my rural New England home. Usually, a trip is one part work and one part pleasure. Well, my June trip to Daytona Beach to do some testing at Embry-Riddle? It definitely wasn’t one of those business trips that went well. Pretty much everything went at least a little askew. Work booking the wrong hotel. The wrong hotel somehow screwing up the room reservation ending up with my stuff in a box, and my rental car getting towed since they showed me as having checked out. Flights back home getting canceled and having to scramble to find a way home to not miss a vacation I was due to depart on. Pretty much, this was the exact opposite of what a good business trip generally is. But there’s one place this trip really shined, and partially made up for all the headaches, and that was on the culinary front.

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Riff’s North (Turners Falls, MA)

One of the areas I do really like exploring is Western MA’s Pioneer Valley. A semi-rural area much like VT/NH along the Connecticut River, it’s got a nice selection of college towns (Amherst, Northampton), quiet former mill towns (Easthampton, which is surprisingly SW of Northampton, and Greenfield), and the like. Nestled among these towns are a bunch of great little restaurants, breweries, art galleries, farm stands, and the like, and it’s nice to occasionally get out and explore a new town. In this case, while we’ve been to Greenfield a few times, I had never really had a chance to explore the village across the river, Turners Falls. It’s actually part of Montague, MA, but Turners Falls is a fairly compact downtown area along the now-defunct Turner Falls canal (now a reservoir for a dam downriver in Greenfield). In any case, it’s a rather nice little downtown, with an arts center, some galleries, and a rather nice selection of restaurants. After looking at a few menus, we ended up settling on Riff’s North.

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Harlem Shake (Harlem, NY)

Our last stop in NYC was a fairly relaxed burger shop on Lenox Ave called Harlem Shake. Kitty corner from our previous reviews of Sylvia’s and Red Rooster, Harlem Shake seemed like a good place to grab a light lunch on the way out of town. Harlem Shake Interior Basically, Harlem Shake is your classic 1950s-style burger diner: a modest art deco interior including a semi-functional diner counter (while it’s got the row of classic spinning stools, there’s little room at the counter itself for eating), with a little bit of an edgier, modern music selection (indeed, the autographed signatures on the wall include P.Diddy and A$AP Rocky), but one look at the menu board confirms that this is classic diner fare: a selection of burgers, patty melts, fries, milkshakes, fried chicken, and the like. There are also a handful of interesting items on the menu, like jerk chicken, hot honey chicken, and even a few unexpected twists like the Red Velvet or “Double chocolate bacon” milkshakes. But the twist here is that they are trying to really do these diner classics well: the burgers are made from Pat Lafrieda patties (as are fully half of the “craft” burgers in the city), the ice cream is from Blue Marble, and most of the sauces and toppings are made in-house. Despite the invocation of the phrase “craft burger”, these aren’t the typical half-pound-plus $20 deals sold at entirely too many restaurants, either, but the classic retro-style burger with two ~2 oz patties seared to a crisp on the griddle and served up on a toasted bun.

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Red Rooster (Harlem, NY)

Our trip to New York City also gave us a chance to check out a relatively new restaurant just down the block from Sylvia’s: Red Rooster, which has been rather well known as a good place to experience Southern food, comfort food, and a good brunch. As an added bonus, I’ve always liked the recipes of Marcus Samuelsson, the Ethiopian- and Swedish-trained chef from Top Chef several seasons ago. I didn’t realize until after dining at Red Rooster that it was one of his restaurants, so I got to kill two birds with one stone.

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Sylvia’s (New York, NY)

I’ve always had a love of both Southern cooking and the related “Soul Food”, the variant that sprang out of the 1960s as folks in various Northern cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York that had moved north in the Great Migration started to celebrate their Southern cultural tradition in music (Soul Music) and food (Soul Food). I’ve had a lot of periodic visits to Harlem over the decades, and one only has to take a quick look around Harlem to see that it has changed a lot; the demographics of 2018 are distinctly different than those of the Great Migration 1960s, and the socioeconomics different as well (the brand new Whole Foods and rising rent are testaments to that), and unfortunately, many of the institutions that sprang up in the 1960s are starting to disappear, but one of the cornerstones of “Soul Food” in Harlem is still around: Sylvia’s.

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The Student Prince (Springfield, MA)

A recent trip down for the weekend to New York City had us driving again through Western Massachusetts, stopping off for dinner in Springfield. Western MA has quite a few pockets of different immigrant heritage cuisines, including Italian, Polish, and German. Indeed, there’s one German place that’s been on my radar for a long time, and that’s The Student Prince, which has been serving up German and German-American food in Springfield for over 80 years. Our trip through at dinner time was a perfect excuse to finally stop in and check them out.

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Cadieux Cafe (Detroit, MI)

It’s someone fitting that a few days after a write a tribute to Anthony Bourdain, I find myself writing up a spot that I first learned about watching his second show, No Reservations. Bourdain was actually quite a fan of Detroit, loving the people and the food. One of his quotes was “I’d love to be able to say that I came from Detroit. That would be like the coolest thing I could ever say,” and you could tell by watching his shows that he enjoyed his visits. And one of the places he visited and enjoyed was a quirky spot on the east side of town: Cadieux Cafe.

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A&L Ham Palace (Detroit, MI)

A good discussion of Detroit’s culinary history has to include not only the Coney Island and the unique square pizza, but it’s also got to talk about ham. You see, back in the mid-20th century, much of Detroit’s burgeoning workforce needed quick, cheap, and nourishing meals to sustain them through their work day. The many “Coney Island” restaurants that are still common throughout the metro area were one answer to that, but in the middle of the 20th century, the many factories of Detroit and Dearborn lead to another style of diner appealing to the blue collar worker: the Ham Palace, and instead of the typical Greek owners of a Coney, a ham palace is generally owned by Eastern Europeans such as Albanians or Poles. The concept is simple: your basic diner, but instead of focusing on Coney dogs, the star of the menu at a ham palace is ham: one of more large ham roasts sitting in the kitchen, with thick slabs cut off the bone to order. It makes for a great centerpiece to both breakfast and lunch menus: a ham platter for breakfast, a ham sandwich for lunch, or a nice pea soup made from the trimmings. Starting in the middle of the 20th century, a good number of factories around the area had ham palaces, ham sandwich stands, or even places that sold entire roasted hams to go (indeed, the famous “Honey Roasted Ham” company started in a modest building, existing but vacant, on Fenkel Road in northern Detroit). At one time Dearborn even had over a dozen such establishments, but as the auto industry and the area’s fortunes waned, these businesses started to wane as well. That said, there’s still a good number of them in existence, like Lile’s Sandwiches in Dearborn on Michigan Ave (in a true nod to multiculturism, it’s actually a ham sandwich shop nestled in among several halal Middle-eastern places now), or Mike’s Famous Ham Place about a mile to the East in Michigan. Or, for this visit, I was looking for one of the places still named as a “Ham Palace”, A&L Ham Palace on Fort Street.

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Remembering Anthony Bourdain

Like just about everyone else in the culinary and media worlds, yesterday I got the early morning notification that Anthony Bourdain had passed away, by his own hand. No, I never had the chance to meet Bourdain; I would have moved mountains to make it happen if it had been a possibility. But his presence is definitely felt here: a good chunk of why I started this blog back in the first place was that, like Bourdain, I’ve had a love of food and love sharing quirky, offbeat, and interesting places with people, and sharing the underlying culture that makes food one of the great things that brings us together. No, Offbeat Eats will never become anything like No Reservations or Parts Unknown; I don’t have the budget, the time, the talent, nor the personality (although if someone has a spare camera crew lying around…), but it was my experiences with his various books, shows, and commentary that really inspired me to improve my cooking, my travel, and my enjoyment of different food.

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Grand Trunk Pub (Detroit, MI)

Continuing with the side topic of Detroit Architecture, I rather like some of the little bits of older Detroit that are still around. One block “south” of Campus Martius Park is a mixed block of old four-story buildings that’s dwarfed by the huge Z-shaped First National Building on twos sides, and the Vinton Building on the other, but the rest of that block is vintage 1870s buildings left over from a much earlier Detroit area (a similar out-of-time block can be seen in the nearby wedge-shaped Flatiron Building, which I visited in 2011 for my Greenwich Time Pub review). Originally a jewelry store (home of the famous Traub Bros. jewelry company whose “Orange Blossom” vintage jewelry is still quite valued), this spot then for decades was a ticketing office for Montreal’s Grand Trunk railroad, selling tickets for the nearby train at Brush Street Station (long gone, razed in the early 1970s to make room for the Rennaisance Center, although the eagle-eyed pedestrian can see lots of little bits of evidence of the track’s existence between downtown and the Dequindre Cut rail trail). The age of the automobile ended the Grand Trunk’s operation in the 1930s, and the impressive ticket counter was repurposed as a bar for the nearby Metropole Hotel. Over the next few decades it changed hands several times, and when I first encountered it, it was “Foran’s Pub”, and since the early 2000s it has been Grand Trunk Pub.

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