Try It, You Might Like It…
I was not a very adventurous eater growing up, but shortly after college, I discovered that even food I wasn't familiar with could be really good. I also discovered that sometimes I may not like the way something is prepared, but I shouldn't write it off completely as it is could be absolutely amazing prepared another way (i.e. poached salmon v. grilled salmon).
Its so easy to get in a rut when you are living in one place – humans are creatures of habit; we go to our favorite restaurants or make (mostly) the same recipes at home. So, as we travel, we have challenged ourselves to try as much of the cuisine local to the areas we are in as we can.
The Safety of Chains
This is the appeal of chain restaurants. We don't eat fast food very often, but do make an effort to try new chains when we come across one. Its an adventure and then if we are ever in a pinch, we have more options. There is nothing more frustrating that a 30 minute game of “what are we going to eat” when we are both tired and hungry. Our current favorite is Whataburger. If we are doing sit down, we like LoneStar or Applebees. In all of these places, I know what I am going to order before I walk in the restaurant. Its safe. Its easy.
Mom and Pops – Hedging Our Bet
We have been trying to check out locally owned restaurants when possible, but haven't had great luck even with recommendations from locals. Sometimes it seems that just because a restaurant is the only one in town, it gets all the referrals. Even Yelp and Google ratings have been misleading on more than one occasion. There's nothing more disappointing than hearing about a fabulous restaurant and dropping $100 on adequate (at best) food – especially when its supposed to be a special treat.
Our approach has become to not go all in – we typically order and appetizer and then split an entree. With portions as large as they are in most places, we don't need all the calories, don't have a ton of room for leftovers and if the food isn't that great, we minimize the hit to our wallet and don't feel so bad.
With the variety of farmer's markets and specialty stores we now have access to, we are also trying to make the most of cooking our own meals. I am not an awesome cook, but with Google and good ingredients, I can definitely hold my own and am also steadily growing my culinary skillset.
We found a small meat market in Conroe, Texas that had the best steak I have ever had. Ever. Shrimp in Des Moines is much different than shrimp off the dock in Biloxi or fresh Oysters from Louisiana. We don't love everything we try – we found an authentic Mexican bakery in San Antonio that had awesome looking fare, but was disappointing flavor. We found a bakery in La Grange, Texas that specializes in many flavors of kolaches (similar to pigs in a blanket with many different fillings) – interesting, but not our favorite find. The important thing is that you have to seek these types of stores out and take the time to stop when you find one. It has been so worth it for us!
They Sneak in Different Stuff
I have mentioned in other blogs that we shop at Walmart for most of our staples, but we also try to check out the local food stores when possible. I have been very pleased to find vegetables in season in the south that would have been cost prohibitive to purchase during the winter in Iowa.
Even Walmart and other national grocery chains carry different items and brands in different parts of the country. Don't be afraid to try something new. Pimento cheese – we are not a fan, but Sun Drop is pretty good. Also, don't be surprised if you can't find something you love on the road (mango Mountain Dew or salmon cream cheese), so if its important, stock up or find it on Amazon so you can get it when you need it!