By Linda Domingo, Laura Downey, Carolyn Heneghan and Natalie Hope McDonald
When in Rome, do as the Romans do—and that, of course, is eat bruschetta, pasta and all of those Italian indulgences that both locals and travelers crave. When in Philadelphia, visit the Liberty Bell, but don’t forget to enjoy an authentic Philly cheesesteak. Whether globetrotting or trekking across domestic soil, along with every location’s must-sees and must-dos, there are at least a few must-eats. In the following pages, discover the famous foods that have become key ingredients in the history, culture and local pride of these American cities.
Chicago pride runs deep through the veins of its longtime residents, and embedded somewhere in each individual’s DNA is the recipe for a Chicago-style hot dog. There’s room for some minor variation in cooking style, but the basic elements—which have remained unchanged since the dogs were sold for a nickel during the Great Depression—are as follows, in order: a poppy seed bun, an all-beef frankfurter (most Chicagoans swear by Vienna Beef), yellow mustard, green relish, quarter-inch diced onions, two half-slices of tomato, a pickle spear and two sport peppers, all seasoned with celery salt.
The dogs are found on what seems like every street corner, but there are a few institutions that battle for the title of best in Chicagoland. Among the greats, Jimmy’s Red Hots is known for its Depression-era style, boiled sausages; in nearby River Grove, the Gene & Jude’s version comes steamed; and Fatso’s Last Stand—previously known as Phil’s Last Stand—touts a charred frank. But even if you’re privy to the Windy City’s top dogs, there’s one sure-fire way to out yourself as an out-of-towner. “We have a little sign up that says, ‘Notice: It is considered bad manners and harmful to your taste buds to put ketchup on your hot dog within the city limits of Chicago,’ ” says Bob Corbett, general manager of Fatso’s and a born and raised Chicagoan. If a grown man asks for ketchup, he jokes, “I’ll ask [the customer] where they’re from and when they’re going to turn 18.”
The staff members at Jimmy’s Red Hots and Gene & Jude’s are known to take offense to such a request, however, so Corbett says to exercise caution. “They get mad,” he warns. “Don’t even ask.” To add to these mainstays, Corbett’s new restaurant, Frank Meats Patty, recently opened in the Avondale neighborhood. The eatery takes up residence in the building that once housed Hot Doug’s, a former hot dog haven famous for its exotic meats and infamous for its long lines. Among its menu items, the new Frank Meats Patty offers burgers, po’ boys and, of course, Chicago-style dogs.
It’s been said that James Beard was an avid fan of fried chicken. The late “dean of American cookery” would have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner if he could. It’s easy to see why—the dish has been prized for centuries. Its origins can be traced back to fricassee in the 1300s; the fried bird later gained popularity in the South during the colonial period. Now on menus across the nation, the staple is a favorite of the Atlanta crowd.
“I love eating fried chicken in the summer,” says Olivier Gaupin, executive chef of Loews Atlanta Hotel and its on-site restaurant, Saltwood. “When you bite into it, the meat is juicy and that’s really what makes it special.”
His recipe is simple: “I cut up the chicken and marinate it overnight with herbs, garlic, olive oil, black peppercorn and sea salt. The next day, I soak it in buttermilk, a little bit of flour, buttermilk again, flour and then I deep-fry it. So you’ve got that small layer of crisp around the chicken, and on the inside, it’s juicy and tender,” he explains. And for the side? “I love to eat the chicken with pickled vegetables.”
With local ingredients and sourcing all-natural poultry from places like Atlanta’s Prestige Farms, guests might just see Gaupin’s version of this classic on his newly revamped restaurant’s menu. “I don’t have a signature dish defined just yet,” he says. “Will there be fried chicken? There will definitely be a Southern influence. It is about simplicity, and simplicity becomes sophisticated only if the ingredients are top-notch.”
Gaupin’s not the only one with bird on the brain. American folk rocker Emily Saliers’ (of the Grammy Award-winning group, Indigo Girls) Watershed on Peachtree restaurant prepares a batch of its “famous fried chicken” only on Wednesdays. Diners wanting a taste of the James Beard Award-winning eatery’s brined game should make reservations in advance, as it’s usually devoured by 8 p.m.
Back to Basics
Thinly sliced meat, melted cheese and a long roll: They may sound like three very simple ingredients, but the quintessential Philadelphia cheesesteak is both a culinary and cultural phenomenon known worldwide—and for good reason. This famous sandwich has been around for more than a century, gaining popularity as early as the 1930s from Pat’s King of Steaks, one of several outposts in South Philly that duke it out for the title of best cheesesteak.
“It’s one of those things that was absolutely created and born in Philadelphia,” says Tony Luke Jr., the owner of his eponymous eatery on East Oregon Avenue. In recent years, Luke has become a hometown favorite thanks to both his cheesesteaks and roasted pork sandwiches.
“It’s almost like a rite of passage,” Luke says. “To me, Philly is a blue-collar town and it will always be a blue-collar town. And this is a blue-collar sandwich of meat, cheese and bread.”
Luke says what really sets the best cheesesteak ahead of the pack is the quality of ingredients. If it’s served with onions or green peppers and is overcooked, it’s just not a Philly cheesesteak. “I slow cook mine,” he says. “And I never salt it.”
As for finding the best representative of the Philly favorite, Luke suggests, “Try all of them.” There are even vegetarian versions of the famous sandwich at Govinda’s Gourmet Vegetarian and HipCityVeg.
Want to start a heated debate in New Orleans? Ask any two people how to prepare the best gumbo, and watch the endless cultural traditions emblazoned on the dish unravel. At its core, gumbo (the name is derived from a West African word for “okra”) is a soup dish made with an assortment of proteins and vegetables and a wide range of influences, from Cajun and Creole to French, German and Native American.
While gumbo purists abound, Carl Schaubhut, executive chef at Loews New Orleans Hotel’s Café Adelaide, takes a more open-minded approach to the gumbo tradition. As long as a gumbo has a good stock, roux and uses the “trinity” of vegetables (onions, celery and bell pepper), the sky’s the limit.
“Gumbo has always been just whatever you have laying around,” he says. “There [are] no rules to it. A lot of people say there are, but I don’t really abide by that.”
As a result, gumbo comes in an endless array of combinations: shrimp and okra at Café Adelaide; duck and foie gras at Commander’s Palace; cochon de lait gumbo with creamy potato salad at SoBou; and Death by Gumbo, an andouille-stuffed quail slathered in gumbo, at R’evolution, to name a few.
At Café Adelaide, Schaubhut says that customers crave the restaurant’s gumbo year-round. One of his secrets is the rich seafood stock, made using all leftover Gulf shrimp shells and fish trim combined with celery, carrots, onions, bay leaves and peppercorns. To give the gumbo its stick-to-your-ribs texture, Schaubhut uses a darker peanut butter-color roux as well as file, or ground sassafras leaves, and okra, also a natural thickener.
As with the rest of Café Adelaide’s menu, Schaubhut focuses on using local ingredients to bring a more authentic flavor to his gumbo, which he feels is a testament to what gumbo and New Orleans cooking are all about. “You won’t find gumbo with mussels and prawns in it because it would be sacrilegious to use other ingredients that don’t come from Louisiana or surrounding areas,” he says. “We take pride in what’s local and what’s grown here.”
From Beach to Bowl
Traditional New England clambakes are an all-day endeavor—starting with digging a sand pit, which is filled with seaweed and hot stones, followed by live clams and other seafood. Participants cover the pit with more seaweed, sand and a tarp, and then wait for the bounty to cook. They are festive occasions that bring together family and friends for a community-strengthening event that’s rooted in Native American tradition.
Restaurants across the country have harnessed the flavors and celebratory spirit of the clambake by offering their own versions which diners can enjoy sans sand-digging and hours of waiting. Precinct Kitchen + Bar, inside Loews Boston Hotel, is one such restaurant. Executive chef Olivier Senoussaoui, originally from France, did his research before presenting his take on the iconic dish, which includes Cape Cod clams, Prince Edward Island mussels, shrimp, corn, red bliss potatoes and local kielbasa. “I looked around to see what was in traditional cookbooks, and then kind of did it my way, still using the original products in a clambake,” he explains. Guests can opt to add a whole lobster, which Senoussaoui says makes it a great dish to share.
For a little added decadence, Senoussaoui uses lobster stock in his clambakes, which he says is more flavorful than the more traditional clam broth. “When people open the lid, all of the flavor, the scent of olive oil, fresh parsley and mussels come out,” he describes. “We give diners a side of bread so they can dip their bread in the broth.”
While seafood isn’t hard to come by in Boston, the allure of a good clambake brings foodies to select establishments such as Precinct Kitchen + Bar as well as Neptune Oyster—already well-known for the mollusk in its name—an intimate eatery in the city’s North End that serves a Maine lobster clambake featuring corn, chorizo and marble potatoes.
No matter what city you’re visiting, be sure to add signature tastes to the itinerary. Authentic regional dishes await those with a little insider knowledge and a healthy appetite.
Loews Hotels are perfectly situated for food tourists looking for the best tastes across North America, whether the signature dishes are served in the hotels’ restaurants or in tried-and-true establishments nearby.
Chicagoland is now home to two Loews Hotels: Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel, conveniently located near the international airport and many of the area’s live entertainment hot spots, and Loews Chicago Hotel in the city’s fashionable and culturally rich Streeterville neighborhood, surrounded by restaurants serving Chicago favorites like deep-dish pizza and Italian beef.
Loews Atlanta Hotel is in the heart of Midtown. Surrounded by cultural entertainment like the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and High Museum of Art, the 400-plus-room hotel provides a contemporary environment complemented by customized service. As an added bonus, the hotel puts guests near top eateries such as Watershed on Peachtree, famous for its fried chicken.
The Loews Philadelphia Hotel offers panoramic skyline views just a few blocks from the Liberty Bell and Rittenhouse Row. The Art Deco design harks back to the building’s 1930s heritage, while the new restaurant, Bank & Bourbon, has become a coveted destination for happy hour sips and late-night sups.
Situated near the Mississippi River and the French Quarter, Loews New Orleans Hotel is a downtown gem with spectacular views, dining (Café Adelaide), nightlife (Swizzle Stick Bar), relaxation (Balance Spa) and other amenities.
Savor the authentic flavors of New England at Loews Boston Hotel, which places guests in the heart of the Back Bay, a historic and fashionable neighborhood. The area is ideal for those wanting to experience the best in dining, shopping and playing in Massachusetts’ capital.
For more information and reservations, visit loewshotels.com.