For months before we headed to America for our Christmas holidays I had the theme song from Team America on repeat running through my head, and as our departure drew closer I found myself singing it with increasing frequency: in the shower, in my car, as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning. I was excited, because I truly do love America (Fuck yeah). I love its foods and giant drinks, I love its friendly peoples and different cultures, and I love the way they always try and up sell you a Mimosa at breakfast...Sold.
Before we left I had a list twice as long as the number of days we had on holiday of places I wanted to check out, resulting in a military style snacking schedule to ensure we didn't miss anything out.
What we learnt, sadly, is that you can't eat it all. But you certainly can try...
La Sandwicherie at South Beach is an all day (and night, it's open till the crack o') sandwich spot where you can design your own sandwich much like Subway. Choose from baguette, croissant or wheat bread, then choose your meats or seafoods and fillings such as green and hot peppers, lettuce, tomato, cornichons and "magic sauce" (don't get too excited, it's just vinaigrette). You should study the menu and make your decision before reaching the front of the line, or risk the short-fused sub-makers moving you along Soup Nazi style if you are not ready to place your order. Make your life easier and choose from one of their signature sandwiches, like The Italian which comes with salami, prosciutto, ham and arguably the best sandwich cheese there is, provolone.
Cafe Versailles claims to be "the world's most famous Cuban restaurant". I'm unsure whether its fame came before or after it was popularised in the movie Chef starring chubby heartthrob Jon Favreau (it's the restaurant where he eats a Cubano and decides to do the food truck). But the line is long and full of tourists who all seem confused about how to obtain a seat. The scene inside is delightfully kitsch: chandeliers dangle over cheap formica tables and tiled floors; the staff are all wearing crisp green vests and little black bowties; and bozos photographing their Cubanos (this asshole included) share tables with elderly Cuban mom and pops who are eating fried plantains and plates of simply grilled fish, salad and rice. For me, the sandwich was worth the trip (and any embarrassment I felt from being just another schmuck who saw the restaurant on the movie). It's huge, golden with butter, and the pickles possess an air of Mc D's cheeseburger. Which let's face it, we all love.
Another unmissable Miami spot is Joe's Stone Crab. Although it's huge, and runs with the well-oiled efficiency of a chain restaurant it is still family owned and has been around for over 100 years. As the name suggests, they are famous for their Florida Stone Crab claws, served chilled with mustard sauce. The waiters are mostly 50 plus and work the room like they are doing stand up at a comedy club. You should do whatever your sassy server says, they know what's best: Get the crab claws, the mac n' cheese, the hash browns and the key lime pie. If you can't be arsed waiting two hours for a table (which is inevitable at peak times), they also have a takeaway restaurant next door, get your crab claws to go and eat them on the beach. The takeaway menu also has a list of sandwiches which I deeply regret not trying, the lobster reuben; crab cake; and mahi mahi sandwiches all sounded good.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
I have a rock hard culinary boner for New York City (but who doesn't, am I right?). We'd be here all day if I were to detail every good thing we ate in NYC, and we didn't take any photos because we were too busy having the time of our lives. But I can tell you this: The best sandwiches in the world reside in NYC. All the big ones, all the hits. And they're everywhere.
Don't get me started on the pizza.
And another thing: If you are ever going to New York, do yourself a favour, open a savings fund before you go and save your pennies to treat yourself to a dinner at Momofuku Ko. Your budget definitely will not allow it, but it will probably be the best meal of your life, as it was mine. The bar style seating that surrounds the central kitchen means you can perv on the cooking and chat to the people making your food. One lovely young man named Houston happened to live down the road from our hotel in Brooklyn and recommended a bunch of places for us to eat, which all turned out to be killer. Thanks, Houston.
NYC highlights include, but are certainly not limited to: Pink peppercorn pasta and white truffle soft serve at Lilia; Tacos, queso fundido and mescal at Gran Electrica; Natural wine and the juiciest pork ever at The Four Horsemen; Pizza heaven at Roberta's; The famous roast chicken at Nomad matched with a flagon of dark beer brewed specifically for the dish; Spicy fried chicken sandwiches and kimchi pickle backs at Fuku; A transcendent country ham platter at Saäm bar; Italian-American comfort food at Rubirosa and Parm; Sandwiches on golden, perfect focaccia at Saltie...I could go on. But as I said, we'd be here all day.
THE BIG SLEASY
Like any city, New Orleans can be something of a hard nut to crack culinarily if you don't know where you're going. You could wander the French Quarter aimlessly for hours before settling on some subpar gumbo, or queue with the hundreds of others outside Cafe du Monde for beignets (what's the big fucking deal?). Better beignets in a more serene setting - we were told by the ponytailed man who we hired bikes from - are found in City Park at The Morning Call coffee stand. While you're on wheels you can admire the run down beauty of the pillared houses in the outlying suburbs, stop at some spooky cemeteries and arrive at Parkway Tavern just in time for happy hour and a po' boy. To get your po' boy fully dressed means to add iceberg, tomatoes and mayo, and its definitely the only way to go.
The worst possible thing you can do before visiting Cochon is to Google Cochon. It means baby pig, and you'll be confronted with adorable pics of piglets wearing tiny red gumboots before heading in to a very pork-heavy restaurant. We had a oyster and bacon sandwich, a fancy version of the classic New Orleans sandwich they call an Oyster Loaf. We also tried fried 'gator, which we liked and would buy again. But better than Cochon is its more relaxed sister sandwich restaurant round the corner: Cochon Butcher. They cure all their own meats and have all the classic sandwiches: muffaletta; bacon sarnie; pulled pork; beef brisket. It's a vegetarian's nightmare, they even put bacon in their praline (which I also recommend). Their most famous sandwich is Le Pig Mac (pictured below) which is exactly what it sounds like: a Big Mac with pork patties instead of beef. Sloppy, porky and as wonderful as you'd imagine.
Turkey and The Wolf has the kind of food that makes me wish I smoked pot, just so I could get the munchies and eat every single thing on the menu (the sad reality is I would be so riddled with anxiety I would struggle to even make an order). You'll find all sorts of stoner delights here, like soft serve sprinkled with savoury snack foods; fried bologna sandwiches with potato chips and American cheese stuffed in to thick slabs of toasted white bread; and garnishes like Dorito dust and bagel crumbs. Unfortunately, due to my dining companion suffering from stomach cramps and dizzy spells from god knows what (possibly alcohol withdrawals) we had to opt for a lighter lunch of lamb curry served on a crispy roti with yoghurt sauce and herbs; devilled eggs topped with crispy chicken skin; and a boring old cabbage salad, which was actually not boring at all thanks to the addition of roasted chilli vinaigrette, fried garlic and crispy pig ear crackling...so healthy.
So thanks a bunch, America. Thanks for the five extra kilos I came home packin' round my mid-section and the borderline alcoholism I'm currently trying to shake off.
We had a blast. Until next time.