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Airport Dining, Midway Airport, and the Hot Italian Beef Sandwich

Well, let’s face it, airport food options always kind of suck. Just by being in an airport, the food is more expensive, the clientele more hurried, and most everyone isn’t even in the best of moods. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above writing up food joints in airports, since there are a few gems out there, but overall, one doesn’t ever go to an airport looking for great food. At best, they find good food despitebeing in an airport. But all that aside, there are a handful of airports that, while not really caring for the airport in and of itself, at least manage to give me some easy access to some regional food cravings. That’s definitely the case with Chicago Midway Airport. While it is night and day better than it was pre-2000 (when the new concourses and arrival/departure main terminal across Cicero opened), it’s still a sucky airport, dominated by discount carriers, and seemingly having been designed with each gate having about 1/3 as much seating as a typical Southwest flight. But, with a substantial fraction of my cross-country flights connecting at Midway, it’s also a handy place for me to indulge in some of my Chicago-area food indulgences. I’ve prattled on before about the Chicago-style hot dog, and Midway isn’t a bad place to get one of those… but this time, I’m talking about that other Chicago-area sandwich, the Hot Italian Beef.

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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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In the defense of ‘Travel Guides’…

It wasn’t that long ago that a cornerstone of having the exotic travel experience was the act of heading off to the travel bookstore and picking up a travel guide, and using that as, well, a guide to your travel. Selecting an itinerary, figuring out the sights, finding hotels and meals… The arrival of the internet didn’t change it much, at first. Indeed, it was mostly positive (some guides, like Lonely Planet, really started coming into their own in the internet age, and Amazon certainly made it easier to get obscure titles). But I’ve noticed that in a few cases in recent travels, the market has shifted a bit. Indeed, when discussing the planning of my recent trip to the Faroe Islands (an obscure destination, at least for the non-Danish tourist), I noticed that when I brought out the travel guide (a rather good one from Bradt Guides), more than a few of my friends and a fellow traveler both made comments about “Wow! You’re still using travel guides?! Don’t you have the internet?”

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The Faroe Islands, Tourism, and Self-Catering

While we generally had a great time in the Faroe Islands, especially on the culinary front, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the broader Faroe Island dining scene from a tourist’s perspective. The Faroe Islands themselves are rather small (about 60,000 permanent inhabitants), and aside from the occasional festival or special event (the Klaksvik Summer Festival or the 2015 Solar Eclipse being good examples), aside from Tórshavn (which gets the occasional cruise ship and regular stops by the Smyril Line ferry between Denmark and Iceland), the tourism amenities drop off precipitously once you leave Tórshavn (with a minor exception for Klaskvik, the second largest town). Indeed, there are quite a few towns where the dining options, and heck, even the food options like stores, are limited. So it’s always important to plan ahead a bit.

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Concerning The 99 Flake

Every once in a while, instead of the standard restaurant review, it’s nice to take a few steps back and discuss broader food topics, or those sorts of things that don’t really lend themselves to a review, per se. With this being my first visit to Britiain since 2008 during "summer" (in this case, the trailing edge of it), I was able to finally try one of those British traditions of summer, the "99 Flake". Okay, at this point, my UK readers are probably saying to themselves, “Great, now he’s rambling on about 99 Flakes. What’s next, the finer points of Jaffa Cakes?” While my US and other readers are probably asking themselves, “WTF is a 99 Flake?” Well, the 99 Flake is a standard British dairy treat. At it’s most basic, it’s basically what us Yanks call as soft serve cone, with a large dollop of soft serve ice cream served on one of those wafer cones. And, to top it off, the very pièce de résistance is the insertion of a half-length Cadbury Flake into the ice cream.

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Concerning the Horchata (Various Valencian Locations)

Right after getting into Valencia, we had to go strait to our hotel in the outskirts of Valencia in a quiet little suburb known as Alboraya. Alboraya’s claim to fame is being the birthplace to the Horchata (also spelled Orchata, or Orxata in Valencian), the drink common to several Hispanic nations. The proper Valencian version has exactly three ingredients, water, chufa (tigernuts), and sugar. (The related Mexican horchata is generally made from rice or almonds and is spiced). One legend links the origins of the name to James I of Aragon, who after being given the drink for the first time by a local in Alboraya, was said to have exclaimed “Això és or, xata!” (“That’s gold, darling!”). In any case, the town of Alboraya is almost a shrine to the Horchata. The main street is Avenida de Horchata, and there are about a dozen horchaterias nearby, with Horchata Daniel being one of the most revered.

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Concerning Eggs Benedict…

Anyone that has dined with me for breakfast know that I generally don’t do breakfast, usually opting for just a cup of coffee, and maybe a sweet roll or something. But when I get breakfast, I generally go all out. My favorite breakfast dishes include pancakes (yeah, I’ve got to write up my favorite pancake joints as well), waffles (my college roommate Steve still likes to tell people about my late night waffle cravings in college), a proper biscuits and gravy, all things hash brown related, and eggs Benedict…

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TCHO Beta

One of the odder topics bouncing around a few of the food-related messageboards and magazines is TCHO Chocolate’s “Beta” chocolate samples. TCHO is a San Francisco-based start-up which is trying to develop new chocolate varieties from scratch by making chocolate from single varieties of cacao, trying to find those that express the basic flavors of chocolate. So far, they’ve released “beta” versions of their “Fruity” (from Peru), “Nutty” (also from Peru), and “Chocolately” (from Ghana) varieties…

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Hot Dog varieties: The Half-Smoke

One of my simple guilty pleasures that I indulge in on every trip to the DC metro area: A “Half Smoke” hot dog , with mustard and “cooked onion” sauce. Many of you that aren’t from broader Washington, DC metropolitan area are probably asking, “what the heck is a half-smoke?” Like many areas (Chicago and Rochester being particularly good examples), Washington, DC has it’s own particular variant of the hot dog, the half-smoke. A half-smoke is a close cousin to the hot dog, but is a slightly larger and spicier sausage, with a level of seasoning halfway between a typical smoked sausage and a hot dog, hence the name. Interestingly, however, the sausage itself isn’t smoked (halfway or otherwise).

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Concerning Pasties

During last month’s trip to London for my brother’s wedding, Carol and I took a long side-trip down to Cornwall to visit with my sister-in-law’s family and visit some of Cornwall’s many scenic attractions (as well as learning the joys of barreling down narrow Cornish B-roads at 50 mph, a treat not to be missed…). And no visit to Cornwall is complete without at least one sampling of the hallmark of Cornish cuisine: the pasty.

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