Traveling for work and going on various job related interviews has exposed me to some very interesting places across America. While food guides may be helpful, a little homework and a little luck will be of great value in finding places that are fun and enjoyable without breaking the bank. It is more about finding your own “Groove” and using the same formula over and over again, while trying new places. America has some of the best and most diverse cuisine in the world, which is a result of some fine chefs and fantastic produce. Again, the primary goal is to have fun and enjoy, while having a memorable experience.
The Napa Benchmark
Well within walking distance of Beaulieu Vineyard and Grgich Hills Estate, the Rutherford Grill is a welcome place to sit down and enjoy a meal after a day in Napa Valley. High ceilings abound as does the smell of roasting. After taking in the tours at the big production places like Robert Mondavi Winery, Beringer Winery, and Francis Ford Coppola Winery a needed break before visiting the little jewel, Frog’s Leap may be in order. The staff is always pleasant and the food excellent. To start the meal, their famous cornbread with cheese served in an iron skillet must be tried to be believed. Very tasty, and it goes well with both white and red wines from Napa and beyond. Speaking of wine lists, the Rutherford Grill is very well stocked and has some amazing bargains regarding local growers. While the starters and wine list are both impressive, nothing prepares you for the ribs, which are the best I have ever had outside of Chicago. All in all, the Rutherford Grill is a wonderful place to relax and have a great meal in Napa.
The Beef Bastion
Speaking of Chicago, its reputation as the “Beef Bastion” of America is well founded. Sure there are some fantastic Chicago restaurants like Charlie Trotter’s that are not carnivore-centric, but if one likes beef, then Chicago is Valhalla. The Chicago Chop House is big and has plenty of dark wood, which makes for a comfortable environment. While the salads are more than acceptable, the main dishes and sides are both reference standard. The Chicago Chop House New York Strip is simply amazing as is their signature Russ’s American Fries, which add the right spices to augment the entire dining experience. If one is into the “Steak House” experience, the Chicago Chop should on their short list.
The Southern Thing
My son attended the University of South Carolina, which enabled me to be educated on the local BBQ scene. Being a big fan of Texas BBQ I was skeptical of what the Palmetto State had to offer. Doc’s Barbeque & Southern Buffet changed that. The big industrial parking lot is a prelude to one of the most austere interiors of any eating establishment I have ever encountered. I have been to garages getting oil changes with more personality, but Doc’s delivers where it counts – the food. The fried chicken is meaty and tender, with freshness to it. The pulled pork was also quite good, offering pepper vinegar and sweet blend variants. At the end of the meal is a lava chocolate “Thing” that is just diabolical. If you want to watch your calories, then Doc’s is not the place to be, but if you want some real Southern BBQ, then please stop by this Columbia icon, it is worth the trip.
From eclectic to down to earth, America has it all. While we may be a young country, we have been blessed with sights like Half Dome at Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon, which can match any Old World country in terms of beauty. As far as food, we have some master chefs like Alfred Portale, Charlie Trotter, and Thomas Keller that can do some wonderful things with local produce. Not to be forgotten are those chefs in the hot kitchen making simple dishes that touch our soul. A wonderful place this America.