Regional food is the best part of traveling and has been for years. On our honeymoon in New Orleans twenty-three years ago, we ate beignets and crawfish and soft shell crabs and muffalettas. I am originally from the home of Buffalo wings, but what I really miss is beef on weck; a hard roll, and who knew that a truly hard roll was an East Coast regional food, with kosher salt and caraway seeds on top called a kimmelweck roll served with thinly sliced rare roast beef soaked with au jus. My mouth is watering just describing it.
I then lived in St. Louis where the regional food claims to fame are toasted ravioli and provel cheese. Honestly, I’m not a fan of either. One cannot grow up with East Coast style pizza and claim to also like thin crust pizza topped with provel cheese. Those two regional preferences cancel each other out.
Here is Chicago, the regional food claim to fame is deep dish pizza with the sauce on top. Gino’s East is next door to the hotel, so I knew that I would eat there once during my trip (and writing marathon). But Sunday at dinner time, twenty or more people stood waiting on the sidewalk, trying to not crowd too closely to the sidewalk tables. Monday night at dinner time, twenty or more people again stood waiting their turns. I knew deep dish pizza would not be part of my dinner plans. But on Tuesday at lunchtime, I walked right in. No one on the sidewalk, and not many people inside. I had a choice of sitting at the bar or ordering the lunch express. Oh yeah, I chose the express. Before I finished paying my personal deep dish pizza was waiting on a tray. It’s not East Coast pizza, but more importantly, Chicago-style pizza does not use provel cheese.
Tonight, I wandered around. The hotel and next door Gino’s East are about a block off the tourist-beaten path; at 7pm, ten people or so are waiting for deep dish pizza. At the nearby Giordano’s restaurant, another landmark deep dish locale more on the tourist-beaten path, at least twenty people are still waiting to be seated. And it occurred to me, do locals eat regional food?
Is everyone in New Orleans eating beignets for breakfast and crawfish for dinner every day? Do people in Buffalo only eat wings and beef on weck? Do St. Louisans scarf down toasted ravioli and Imo’s pizza every night? Do Chicagoans wait in long lines to eat deep dish pizza? I don’t think so. I think what makes regional food popular are the visitors; people who will eat the regional food every day are those who have to travel to find it. And I certainly miss my beef on weck more now that it is 620 miles away. And yesterday’s deep dish pizza was extra delicious since I will be 184 miles away the next time that I’m craving it.