October 07, 2011

Roadfood by the Sterns

First off, I have to say that this review is for the 2008 version of Roadfood. The writers, Jane and Michael Stern have done several editions and this is the latest. I really expected to like this book; I'm a big fan of the Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and other offbeat shows and books about food and sadly, this book merely rated average for me. This is a unique review for me in that I'm reviewing other people's reviews and everyone's opinion is different making it hard to judge.

The book is separated into regions (Mid-West, Pacific Coast, etc.) and then in turn separated by states. Within the state groupings are the restaurants, hot dog stands and other various eateries (700 of them) listed in alphabetical order. This is one of my complaints about this book, I would have much rather had them separated by type (BBQ, Hotdog, Burgers, etc.) than by alphabet as this would have helped readers with specific tastes in mind. At the start of each chapter is a map of the region with each state showing major roadways and where each of the places was located. This is nominally helpful if you're planning a road trip but it still would have been great to see a list in the back of eateries located next to major highways. Still, I'll take what I can get.

To further along our order in the book, each listing has the phone number, address, what meals it serves, and price ranking as a heading. It will also list additional locations and phone numbers and there will be a paragraph to page and a half description for each restaurant. Some of these restaurants got much larger description than others. The back of the book offers a simplistic listing of Region and State eateries also in alphabetical order.

I have to say, while there was a wealth of information contained within this tome of foodie goodness, a lot of the writing drove me up a wall. To start out, most of the writing was about atmosphere rather than food. There was some food listings but most were just the food items thrown in with a few descriptive adjectives. And here's where it went all downhill for me. Some of these descriptions used were decidedly stomach turning. It might just be me, but hearing things described as piggy, or hot dogs being constantly referred to as tube steaks (you really don't want to know what I think of when I hear those words), or a pie's filling being described as "warm, like baby food" really made me lose my appetite. And the worst thing is, these, like the rest of the descriptions in the book, were used over and over and over and over for nearly all the entries. When they weren't turning my stomach they were using overly cutesified phrases. For example, if someone didn't like something they were described as a frowner. Hundreds of entries contained the likes of beef-frowner, veggie-frowner, seafood-frowner, etc. and it made me crazy. One other thing I have to mention, I have visited one of the restaurants in this book (Bar B Q King in Charlotte, NC) and I think its a travesty they never mentioned the fried chicken there. That mere fact makes me wonder what other jewels of goodness are at some of these restaurants and never mentioned by the authors.

However, now that I'm done ranting I should highlight some of the good areas of the book. There is a lot of information and places to eat listed here and they have all been tested by the authors. This is simple good food and most of the entries are on the cheaper side of the scale (a few expensive ones slip in). They offer a range of foods from New England seafood and Anadama bread (which I had never heard of before and promptly looked up) to New Mexican chiles and doughnuts from the Northwest. Some people may be disappointed that there are more eateries listed in major cities and in the southern and eastern regions, but the authors stuck to what they were comfortable with and that's ok. I'd rather have them do a thorough job on what they know than a haphazard one trying to go all over the place. They still manage to cover a good majority of the continental US (no Hawaii or Alaska).

I'll definitely use this book as a guide should I ever be in the areas listed, I just probably won't be looking at the descriptions as a reference on what to eat once there. If you buy this book use it as a map rather than a guide.

Copyright 2008
573 pages

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