7 things that make America Culinarily Significant

I started off today wanting to bitch about a specific topic. But as I looked in the mirror, I stopped and thought, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can find the worst in things, but have you ever stopped to think about the things we should be proud of?” After chastising myself for thinking ungrammatically, I conceded that I should take a moment to give us Americans a pat on the back for the food items that make me smile.

And then I turned away, missed the doorway, and literally smacked my nose into the door frame. It’s not often a person can’t guide themselves into an egress that’s four feet across by seven feet high, but I managed somehow. This list is my penance for swearing like Rahm Emmanuel.

  1. Breakfasts: What happens when you take the fried eggs of England, the pancakes of the Netherlands, sausages from Germany, frittatas from Italy, and omelettes from France, and put them all on a menu along with local delicacies such as Chicken Fried Steak and Biscuits and Gravy? You get your standard American breakfast menu. No where in my travels have I seen such options available for eating in the morning than what one can get at respectable places in nearly every town in America.
  2. Beer: Craft brewers are doing things in America today that the traditional beer strongholds of Europe could only dream of accomplishing. Not only can I walk into a microbrew here in the United States and get a freshly made porter along side a freshly made Belgian style ale, but new recipes are being created on a yearly basis, daily, if you count home brewers looking to establish themselves. While great beers can certainly be had throughout different regions of Europe, as of this moment, craft brewers are doing more with less, and intentionally eschewing traditions that defined brewing as recently as twenty years ago.
  3. Pizza: Yes, there are bad pizzas out there, and yes, there are many towns in America that are served by the mediocrity that is the triumvirate of Pizza Hut/Domino’s/Papa John’s. But for the areas where pizza is taken seriously, we provide a variety of options that would make any resident of Naples head explode. From Deep Dish, to Chicago-style, to thin crust, what we have in the United States are options. Any country that makes taco pizza is a place worth visiting.
  4. Barbeque: Granted, there are parts of the country that wouldn’t recognize good barbecue if it hit them in the nose. Hell, there are places in the United States that believe that throwing a hot dog on a charcoal grill is “barbecuing”. But those places in the United States that take slow smoking seriously more than make up for the rest of us heathens. In all honesty, there’s no one regions approach that is better than any others. All are worth the time to look up.
  5. Our Privately-held Restaurants*: A mere generation or two ago, eating out at a four-star restaurant meant mostly eating French cuisine. A lot of this had to do with the impression Delmonico’s left upon our landscape, and their subsequent imitators. That it took so long to recognize other approaches available to restaurateurs is a testament to their influence. But once restaurant-goes tired of French food, they’d discovered a whole swath of unexplored cuisine ripe for the menu. And we haven’t looked back since. Think of our superstar chefs today, and try to place their cuisine specialty. Yes, a few cut their teeth in the French tradition, but Mario Batali cur his teeth in the Italian school, Bobby Flay came from Southwest cuisine, and Alice Waters essentially created her own genre. We are all bette for this, and makes our dinner time options that much more diverse.

    (*Let’s differentiate the privately held restaurants from the franchised ones, because the differences are so, so stark).

  6. Sandwiches:I truly believe that America is, at heart, a sandwich nation. We love putting things on bread and seeing what comes of it. From corned beef to cubanos to bahn mi’s, we have embraced our inner lunch freak. We love sandwiches so much that we’ve exalted one to such a high status that it often gets it’s own place on the menu, separate from the other, lesser sandwiches. I speak, of course, of the hamburger, which we Americans have perfected.
  7. New York City: Some people believe Paris is the food capital of the world. Others think Tokyo. My belief, based purely off of anecdotal evidence, is that New York City is the center of the food universe. It’s not simply that it is home for many four-star restaurants (which it is). It’s that in addition to these places, comes with it a plethora of ethnic restaurants that give a diverse selection of food to most classes of individuals. Talk to any New Yorker, and they can tell you of a great meal that can be had for $20, $10, or even $5 in the right circumstance. Can Paris or Tokyo make the same claim? Possibly. But the fact that New York is in the conversation at all makes it worth boasting about.

I know I’ve missed many, so feel free to add your own. And on Friday, I’ll speak to our culinary sins (hint, there are many).