Diners are perhaps one of my favorite things about the United States. They are these nostalgic thresholds of Americana in which time somehow stands still. Whether they’re of the shiny stainless steal city-Diner variety or the comfy booth country-Diner variety which seems to draw the same crowd every day they are a haven of American food fantasies.
4.) Tom Wahl’s. If you didn’t grow up in Upstate New York then you probably haven’t been here. It’s a small chain of diners started in the 50’s retaining that neon drive-in feel. You can get your Root Beer in a frosted mug and the burgers are delicious. As a kid we would beg to go there because the children’s meals came in little cardboard pink convertibles. This place is a throwback in the best possible way. Meiko and I stopped at the Canandaigua location for burgers on our way back from Niagara Falls. I knew he would love it because the feel of the place is so heartily American. I went for the Bleu Cheeseburger (a gooey and delicious mess) and Meiko went for the classic Wahl Burger, a ground steak burger with melted Swiss cheese, grilled ham and Tom Wahl’s sauce. The burger was as delicious as I remembered it. So delicious, in fact, that I had to go back a week later after a family day trip.
Root Beer anyone?
5.) Gramma’s Butterflyed Potatoes. I am assuming these exist elsewhere in the United States. But I’ve never seen them anywhere but at the Windmill (a farm and craft market in Upstate New York). These giant potato crisps are everything that is good about America. Carved, supposedly, from a single potato, the purveyors of the shop refuse to give away how they make them. But they sell them with a host of fantastic toppings: sour cream and chive, nacho cheese with bacon, ranch, BBQ, and a Mexican style ‘inferno’. And, in a charming small town American fashion, the potatoes are fried in soybean oil (“good for you!” the website boasts). It doesn’t matter how bad these potatoes actually are for you because never have so few ingredients come together in so magical a capacity.
We went for sour cream and chive. But the nacho cheese and bacon is a close second favorite of mine!
If you’re into something a bit healthier and a little less greasy you can also enjoy the benefits of the vast countryside by exploring the many fresh produce stalls.
My runner-up choice for Windmill treats is a new addition. On July 4 as we listened to the country music playing from the bandstand and tried to decide what snacks to try my friend Erin disappeared at a respectable clip. We found her in line for a snack that is supremely American in flavor and design. Tater tots. You can’t get them here in the U.K. (as far as I’m aware) which is a real shame because they are versatile little potato treats! These ones came with nacho cheese and bacon bits (sensing a theme?!).
6.) Ok, so maybe I’m a little obsessed with diners. But I think there are few things that Americans do better than breakfast. And for that we went to a traditional diner car. Hard to find these days but there just so happens to be one close by to my hometown. It’s called The Diner and was (I think) built in the 30’s. It is an absolutely fabulous stop and with only a few seats it is worth waiting and fighting for a place to have your breakfast at any time of day. The pancakes fall off the edges of the plates (as they should). The maple syrup comes in a plastic, squeezable container. The prices are low, the portions are huge, and the coffee is refilled before you hit the halfway point. God bless America. I have a slight obsession with French Toast and I have to admit that it is my absolute hands down favorite choice for breakfast when I’m home in the U.S. It’s a love I’ve had since childhood and I just can’t get enough of this eggy bread. And, the icing on the cake is the scoop of whipped butter that comes on the side of every syrup needing meal in this fine country. Is there anything better than whipped butter plopped on top of french toast with an ice cream scoop?
7.) Homemade Ice Cream. There’s a place just ‘down the road a pace’ that has the greatest American ice cream I think I’ve ever had. The hard ice cream flavors are all homemade and the atmosphere is distinctly of the American Ice Cream Parlor flavor. I think while I was home we probably went four or five times (in addition to some closer ice cream locations). Needless to say we are not alone. Americans love their ice cream. A word to the wise. If you’ve lived outside of the U.S. for any period of time you will be shocked by the size of ice cream cones in this country. If you want anything resembling a normal portion make sure you order a ‘kiddie’. It will still be larger than anything I’ve gotten in England. But manageable. If you really want a typical American experience, order a small. You’ll be shocked by how large it turns out to be! This ice cream shop even boasts a drive-thru. Be careful to weigh efficiency with choice, though. Choice can be overwhelming!
I could probably go on and on forever in listing my favorite American foods. BBQ (or Jalapeno) potato chips, chicken spiedies (thanks Pat for that one!), salt potatoes (another Upstate New York classic!), hot dogs, s’mores (ideally around a fire), apple pie (and Key Lime for that matter!), beef jerky (a favorite of Meiko’s), cornbread, barbecue pulled pork, buttered popcorn, New England clam chowder, lobster and drawn butter, Buffalo wings, Reuben sandwiches, bbq baked beans, steak in the summer time, the other kind of biscuit, pumpkin pie, anything served at Thanksgiving or Christmas, fried chicken, cobbler, fried dough, and that ever elusive state fair fried butter that I’m still waiting to sample.
Meiko and I made sweet potato fries for dinner the other night and I introduced him to the wonder of dipping them into maple syrup. American food might not be the healthiest but we sure know how to pair things!