Food Riot contributors are insatiable and insatiably curious eaters, so we asked them to pick the single best things they ate this month. The collection below represents home cooking, restaurants, store-bought goodies, and all kinds of cuisine. Hope you’ll find something new to taste!
Rebecca: Diner breakfast at Just Like Grandma’s in Winchester, VA: The husband and I took a little getaway for some hiking and leaf-peeping in the Shenandoah Valley earlier this month, and we woke up even hungrier than usual on a crisp fall morning. By the powers of Yelp and a helpful hotel concierge, we made our way across the street to this unassuming, utterly charming diner. And I mean DINER. Eight stools around a counter, and that’s it. I had bacon, eggs, hash browns, toast, and a bottomless cup of coffee, and it was delicious in that this-is-exactly-what-I-want-right-now way. Nothing fancy, nothing unexpected. Just simple and perfect and gooooood.
Wini Moranville: I had the most amazing chocolate chip scones at The Bakery Station in Salinas, California. The restaurant is the cutest little spot: It’s an old Texaco station converted into a bakery that serves great casual breakfasts (get this: the breakfast sandwiches are served on brioche) and lovely lunches (the quiche rocks and the sandwiches get all kinds of awards locally). The owner is Ana Melissa Garcia (left), pastry chef extraordinaire who sources as much locally as she can (and there’s a lot to source locally—the Salinas Valley grows most of America’s produce). So if you happen to be heading through this fertile area of Monterey county—for the nearby wineries, Salinas’s John Steinbeck Museum, or the not-too-far-off Pinnacles National Park (for hiking)—stop at The Bakery Station for breakfast or lunch. The Bakery Station is at 202 Monterey St., Salinas.
Elizabeth Bastos: Lentils with bacon, dried cherries, and…wait for it…gorgonzola, from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Ottolenghi. I was experimenting with new side dishes for Thanksgiving and this one won, like, I want a bowl of it right now. It is a mouthparty: salty and bacony, earthy and pebbly (from the lentils, and I mean pebbly in the best possible way, as a wonderful texture), sweet-n-tart from the cherries, and, from the cheese, deeply funky. It is orchestral and if you thought lentils were plain-Jane and slightly 70s Moosewood, I say to you, Duuuude, these subvert that paradigm.
Dana Staves: Every Christmas, my mom makes peanut butter balls, and when I moved away from home, I tried to replicate those little treats. Alas, after several attempts, a lot of tears, and a temper tantrum when my roommate tried to help, I gave up – the delightful peanut butter balls looked more like misshapen puddles of peanut butter covered in chocolate. But this year, I’ve discovered cookie dough truffles, which capture all the cuteness and decadence of peanut butter balls but without all the heartache. And there are chocolate chips in them, so win. The recipe is from Love & Olive Oil, and these truffles couldn’t be easier to make. They don’t last long when you set them out for company, and they make a great chocolate fix during the day. Buttery, chocolatey, and bite-sized, these truffles are the perfect remedy for peanut butter ball failure. (PS Of course, I’m going to try a peanut butter cookie dough version. All in good time.)
Susie: I had a biscuit at !Bang Bang! Pie in Chicago that was life-changing. It was moist, and dense (but not in a bad way), and buttery and steamy and fluffy (but not too fluffy). I got a biscuit and a piece of apple pie; while the pie was outstanding with its lard-a-licious crust, I couldn’t really eat it until I finished my biscuit because I couldn’t put the biscuit down. I was a little mad that I had to share it with my husband, who is not usually a biscuit guy, but even he couldn’t stop eating it. Seriously contemplating a move to Chicago just for the biscuits.
Danguole: Oatmeal, Fig, and Fennel Cookie. I’m in serious, serious like with Homage Bakery in Reno. It’s cozy and friendly, the coffee is amazing, and the baked goods are to die for. (Offering a “dense and boozy” chocolate and bourbon Drunkel Uncle Cream Pie for the holiday season is just the cherry on top of this fine establishment.) Anyway, I had an oatmeal cookie here that changed me forever: a big, chewy, perfect oatmeal cookie, taken to new heights by not only the natural, earthy sweetness of dried fig bits, but also fennel seeds. Amazing. I’m now obsessed with putting fennel in any and all baked goods.
Colleen Shea: I had dinner last week with my darling and part of his delightful family. Neither of us have family here, so dinners like this are always special. It’s also a little complicated: hubby and I are vegan, I’ve recently developed a mild soy allergy, and his father is Celiac! Lola’s Kitchen in downtown Toronto came gracefully and deliciously to the rescue. We’d been before, so I knew the Summer Kale Salad was a must, but we broke out and tried some new things including the Fennel Potato Soup, the Tacos (this was my most, most favorite: it’s made from round walnut, pico de gallo, romaine and roasted red pepper cashew cream), and the Black Bean, Mushroom and Walnut burger–and they were all super-excellent. We’re going to have to work very hard to not go too often and thus make ourselves sick of this lovely place.
Tasha Brandstatter: Wells Banana Bread Beer. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but when a friend introduced me to Wells Banana Bread Beer recently, it was love at first sip. This beer is so smooth, with a surprisingly light, peppery taste. It’s definitely not sweet, which is what I was expecting before I tried it. I pessimistically believed there was no way I’d be able to find it locally, but my mom managed to discover a liquor store that carries it! At $5 per pint bottle, she thinks it’s ridiculously expensive, but as far as I’m concerned it’s well worth the price.
Shannon McIntyre Hooper: Just outside Nashville, in the little town of Franklin, we stumbled upon some newfangled shrimp and grits at a local stronghold called GRAYS on Main that were just out of this world. As a Southern gal, I love my shrimp and grits, so my standards are high already – and they were exceeded. The dish comes with four little piles of glory, each with a bed of bacon-y collard greens, a grits pancake, and a buttery and flavor-popping shrimp. The crunchiness of the grits pancake gives a perfect textural balance to the dish, and I’m pretty sure that the butter sauce was laced with an illegal drug. All in all, amazing.
Bob Bires: The Asian Noodle Salad With Seared Maine Sea Scallops at The Buckhead Diner in Atlanta. This upscale diner is one of my favorite places to go when in Atlanta. Clubby and comfortable, the restaurant offers a range of perfectly-executed “comfort foods” ranging from a veal meatloaf to homemade chips with Maytag blue cheese sauce. But this entree salad with four large, plump properly-cooked scallops plus napa, sweet peppers, spring onions, snow peas, cashews, basil, mint, and sesame vinaigrette is usually what calls my name. It is so good that, as you eat it, you try to deconstruct the flavors in hopes of replicating it sometime.
Jill Guccini: This leftover chocolate pecan pie I’m eating for breakfast right now. While I tried some good new recipes of my own this month, this is the first Thanksgiving I’ve gotten to spend with my family in years and years, so my mom’s pecan pie I’m eating for breakfast on Black Friday right now tastes pretty much like perfection.
Jane Ward: Mom’s Thanksgiving Cranberry Bread. This dish has been a Thanksgiving Day staple for as long as I can remember, and one of those sacred holiday dishes that just plain doesn’t get eaten at any other time of the year, making it something truly anticipated and special in a sea of ever-increasing instant gratification. Crunchy walnuts, tangy cranberries, just a hint of bitter orange zest, and a moist, cake-like crumb ensure that this break never gets boring and we keep on eating it for dinner, dessert, leftovers, breakfast, more leftovers…you know the deal.
S. Zainab: Braised Short Ribs and Oxtails. After a wearisome journey from Los Angeles, California to Tacoma, Washington, I walked into my parents’ home; into the scent of slow-cooked meat and reducing wine. Better than a hot bath. My mother’s braised short ribs and oxtails became my favorite dish of our non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The ribs were tender, the oxtail unctuous–the bourguignon-inspired dish was earthy comfort. I never thought anything could beat the coveted turkey leg on Thanksgiving, but moms have a way of changing minds.
Jo Hatherly: Seared Prime Roast in Marsala Wine. There is no photo to go with this month’s best dish due to my failure to have the camera on hand just before our guests swooped down upon it, but imagine if you will, a brown-sugar coated prime roast seared over a bed of caramelized onions and fresh crushed garlic cloves in a pool of sizzling butter, then the whole goods transferred to a soaked clay cooker. The cooker is not the shiny coated variety, but the old-school dry clay that drinks in the essence of all its contents over the years, the flavors to be be imbued in succeeding dishes. Drenched in a rich Marsala wine and dusted with peppercorns and sea salt, the roast steamed all day in a low oven. The result: A roast tender enough to be called cake.
Amanda: Chopped Brussels Sprouts Salad with Creamy Shallot Dressing from Pinch of Yum. I hosted Thanksgiving this year and was looking for something (ANYTHING!) green to serve with the otherwise beige turkey, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole (covered in browned mushrooms). This salad was beautiful and an instant hit that I’ll be making ever year. The raw Brussels sprouts are an unexpected and totally yummy alternative to salad, and the salty bacon, tart pomegranate, nuts, and creamy shallot dressing just pull everything together into a perfectly balanced forkful of goodness.
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