Two for Tuesday: Food Americana Books

A Century of Restaurants by Rick Browne

and

The Taste of America by Colman Andrews

A Century of Restaurants by Rick Browne was released this past October 2013.  Browne is known for his Barbecue America series, and what a fun endeavor he created for himself with this latest book.  He traveled around the United States, dining at historic restaurants.  What could be better than that?  Included is a write-up on each restaurant as well as photos of the decor and food and a recipe from the restaurant.

To judge the authenticity of this book, I looked at the New York section to see what he chose.  A lot of my favorites were in the bunch.  His choices include restaurants I’ve been to:  Barbetta, Delmonico’s, Ferrara, Fraunces Tavern, Katz’s Deli, Keens Steakhouse, Old Homestead Steakhouse and  Peter Luger Steakhouse.  It is no mistake that so many steakhouses make the list.  These classic restaurants are some of the best in the city.  In fact, four of my favorite meals are on the list–Barbetta, Delmonico’s, Keens and Peter Luger.  He even included recipes for standout items like Delmonico’s lobster Newburg, Ferrara’s cannoli, Keens’s mutton chop, the Old Homestead’s toast tower, and Peter Luger’s fried potatoes.

While I’ve traveled to many states and have eaten at many local favorites, I have been to only a handful of restaurants in the rest of the book:    Columbia in Ybor City, FL; The Berghoff in Chicago; La Fonda in Santa Fe, NM; Union Oyster House in Boston, MA and Old Salem Tavern in Winston-Salem, NC.

I’ve learned about many new ones I want to try:  The Griswold Inn in Essex, CT, looks like an adorable old-time seaside tavern.  The lobster potpie looks amazing too.  The huge circle of ham at the Log Inn in Haubstadt, IN, looks great.  the huge circle of ham at Breitbach’s Country Dining looks great, but I’d have to eat half to save room for the crazy-good-looking raspberry pie.  I’d love to have an old hot brown at The Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, KY.  The creamy Mornay sauce looks divine.  OK, my favorite recipe is the blueberry cream pie from The Publick House in Sturbridge, MA.    The maraschino cherry-studded banana fritters at Stagecoach Inn in Salado, TX, look delish too.  The brandy ice at the Wilmot Stage Stop in Wilmot, WI, is ice cream, brandy and creme de cacao.  I’m all about that!

Seriously, Rick, if you need a dining companion for a second book, I’m in!

The Taste of America by Colman Andrews was also released this past October 2013.  Colman Andrews is a food writer known for founding Saveur magazine.  His book is divided into chapters based on food categories like dairy products or condiments.  Within each category is an alphabetical listing of foods that come from or are produced within the United States like cheese straws or kolaches.  There’s a short blurb about the food’s origin and who makes the food.  Some of the foods are depicted in colored drawings.  The book showcases 250 foods.

I was disappointed with this book for a few reasons.  First, I would have preferred a photograph of the food/shop/market rather than the drawing.  Many of the foods do not have a drawing, so there winds up being a lot of white space that isn’t aesthetically pleasing.  I do like the drawings; they are great and add to the feeling of nostalgia to the book.  But for a book like this that also serves as a guide book with contemporary information on each food, I’d prefer photos.  However, the main reason I don’t like the book is that it doesn’t list where you can get the products.  (There is an index at the back of the book, but I’m talking about listing it on the page that discusses the food.)  I would have preferred if it gave information on the origins of the food but then listed purveyors of each one in an organized and easy-to-use format.  Also, it would have been nicer to have a more comprehensive listing of American foods because many regional favorites are not included in the book (for example, Carolina BBQ or New Jersey taylor ham/pork roll).  In general, I think books of this type lend themselves to a lot of subjectivity on the part of the author because the author chooses what types of foods/states/regions/ethnic foods to include.

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