The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 23, 2009

Book review: Bring an appetite for ‘500 Things to Eat’

“500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late

and the Very Best Places to Eat Them”

By Jane and Michael Stern

OK, I promise that my next review will have nothing to do with food! I couldn’t help myself, though, when we got the latest book by Jane and Michael Stern at the library.

I’m a big fan of their “Roadfood” books and Web site, as well as their books on popular culture like “Way Out West,” “The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste,” “Jane and Michael Stern’s Encyclopedia of Pop Culture” and their other food books, too. I was sad to see that Gourmet magazine has folded, because the Sterns had a “Roadfood” column there. Here’s hoping they’ll find a new home for it!

So, their latest guide is called “500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late and the Very Best Places to Eat Them.” Divided into six regions (New England, Mid Atlantic, South, Midwest, Southwest, and West), it details the foods of each region and the best restaurants and food stands to find and enjoy them.

Lots of the foods covered are familiar to just about everyone. Ice cream, hot dogs, doughnuts, chicken fried steak, French fries, hamburgers and so on. It’s interesting to read about some of the regional variations, though. Hot dogs, for example, can be Coney Islands, dip dogs, Dixie dogs (a Southern concoction including cole slaw), the Newark hot dog (deep-fried dogs, onions, peppers, fried potato chunks in a half-loaf of Italian bread), Chicago red hots (including the “dragged through the garden” dog with raw onion, sliced tomato, pickle spears and celery salt) and more!

Aside from regional variations, there are things that I suspect most people who haven’t lived in certain regions are unfamiliar with. I was unaware of the existence of coffee gelatin (a Boston item) and coffee milk (Rhode Island). They like their coffee in New England! Also in Rhode Island, they evidently like their snail salad. I think if I go to Rhode Island, I’ll settle for the coffee milk.

In New York, folks like Cornell chicken, an egg vinaigrette marinated grilled bird. In the South, Kentuckians like their barbecue. Of course, lots of people like barbecue, but it’s not usually mutton.

Out West, I have had a date shake (although it’s been many years ago) and I remember that it was pretty darned sweet and I liked it. In Gilroy (home of the world famous garlic festival), you can get garlic fries, garlic ice cream, pretty much garlic anything.

Closer to home, there are listings for barbecue ribs, chicken and waffles, the Playboy steak at Jess & Jim’s and the “ultimate garlic grilled cheese” sandwich at the Eden Alley Café (all in Kansas City) and gooey butter cake, and frozen custard at Ted Drewe’s (St. Louis). Two St. Louis items I hadn’t heard of are the slinger and the St. Paul sandwich.

The slinger is a version of a “garbage plate” — a late night/early morning item. It consists of a pair of cheeseburgers with fried potatoes on the side, topped with sunny-side-up eggs, covered in chili with grated cheese and raw onions over the whole shebang. There are variations with sausage patties or Spam (as if it wasn’t “interesting” enough) and sausage gravy instead of chili. I believe I’ll pass. The St. Paul, at least at Wong’s Inn, consists of an egg-foo-young patty with your choice of pork, ham, chicken, beef, shrimp or vegetables between two slices of soft white bread with lettuce, tomato, pickle, mayonnaise and (optionally) a slice of American cheese. Again, I think I’ll pass.

Having saved all that room, I could have Stroud’s fried chicken in Kansas City, or catfish at the White River Fish Market and Seafood Restaurant in Tulsa, or perhaps some of the allegedly best french fries in America at Murphy’s Steak House in Bartlesville! If none of that does the trick, I could head to Chicken Dinner Road outside of Pittsburg. That’s right! Chicken Annie’s and Chicken Mary’s both made the book. Personally, I don’t know why Gephardt’s is often overlooked. During my years in Pittsburg, it was my favorite.

But enough about me. If any of this piques your interest (or appetite), check out this book (or one of the other Sterns’ books) at the Joplin Public Library.

Linda Cannon is the circulation supervisor/collection development librarian Joplin Public Library.