50 States, 50 Plates
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Alabama: White BBQ Sauce
I love this stuff. When I think of Alabama, I think of piles of smoky BBQ chicken with deep bowls of Alabama white for dipping.
Alaska: King Crab
Keep your caribou, your moose, your seal and your salmon, for my money the best food on earth is king crab -- in season, pulled live from the icy waters of Alaska and eaten immediately. And don’t let any of it go to waste: steam the knuckles in egg white and rice wine and season with soy sauce; make crab rice with the head and body; fry the legs with ginger and chilies.
Arizona: Sonoran Hot Dogs and Fry Bread (Tie)
Chili meat sandwiches made with local fry bread are as good as eating gets. I have one and then use that as fuel as I drive to Nogales, my favorite Sonoran hotdog stand.
The Hiawassee Squirrel Cook Off takes place every year in Bentonville, AR. Be there or be square.
California: Sea Urchin
From Dungeness crab in the north to Grunion (a fish similar to sardines) in the south, it’s Cali’s coastline that lures me in. No sea urchin is better in the world than the huge, black-spike globes taken off the San Diego coast in season. None.
Colorado: Lamb and Peaches (Tie)
Every spring, Colorado baby lamb (eaten just as it’s transitioning from being fed milk to grass) might be my favorite food in the state … wait, what about those mountain peaches? Hmm … tie game!
Connecticut: New Haven Pizza
New Haven “apizza” -- pronounced A-BEET-ZA -- period, end of discussion. I like to crush my Neopolitan-style pies at Frank Pepe’s or Sally’s.
DC: Half smokes at Ben's Chili Bowl
Sure, they’re junky and not the bespoke dogs so popular elsewhere, but with loads of raw onion they seriously can't be beat.
Sure, the Carolinas claim fish stew known as muddle as their own, but the best version I ever had was on the beach in Delaware served with saltines and piles of corn pudding and cracked crabs.
Florida: Key Lime Pie
Key Lime pie is my favorite and this is my list. End of discussion.
Georgia: Pecan Pie
Sure, I’ll take your peach pie, your ham and biscuits, your boiled peanuts and fried green tomatoes … but for me, Georgia’s pecan pie is the best. They even call it Karo pie after the corn syrup in the recipe. Love.
Hawaii: Ahi Limu Poke
Fresh-cut tuna seasoned with sesame oil, soy, seaweed and, for me, a spritz of citrus and I am all good brah.
Idaho: Baked Potato
Don’t feel bad Idaho, your baked potato comes loaded and stuffed from the fixin’s bar. Oh, and served alongside some of your world-class grilled elk there is no finer food on earth.
Illinois: Chicago-Style Hot Dog
Considering that I am a New Yorker, Chicago pizza is off the table. Luckily, my favorite food is the hot dog and no state on earth has more hot dog eateries per capita than Illinois. I love a great Chicago Dog: Wolfy’s or Superdawg or Franks ‘n Dawgs for the win.
Indiana: Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie
Sugar. Cream. Pie. Done.
Iowa: Eskimo Pie
It might seem like an unlikely choice for Iowa, but did you know the Eskimo Pie was invented by Christian Nelson in Onawa, Iowa who franchised his idea in the Roaring ‘20s after the encouragement of candy god Russell Stover?
Kansas: Kansas City BBQ
Kansas City was the home of great stockyards once, and much of the northern migration of Black America passed through here, so the BBQ scene is like the greatest hits of what the south has to offer. Q39, LC’s, Jacks Stack, Joe’s, BB’s Lawnside -- and that’s just one day of eating for me in Kansas City alone!
Bourbon counts as a food because it’s brown. And brown is the color of flavor. Don’t question me on these issues.
Nothing reflects the history of our country better than gumbo. Nothing. And here in Louisiana it’s cooked better than anywhere else.
Maine: Lobster Roll
Lobster Rolls are in my all-time top 10 foods. I eat 2 a day when I visit my dad every month. From Reds in Wiscasset to Five Islands Lobster Company to Eventide to the shack nearest you, the lobstah’ roll is without peer.
Softies, crab cakes and cracked-steamed blues seasoned with Old Bay. Maryland, I love you.
Massachusetts: Clam Chowder
I wanted to go so many places with this one, but at end of the day the Chowdah capital of the world is Massachusetts. Runner up goes to NECCO wafers, my favorite candy and a Mass original for 150 years.
Michigan: Cherry Pie
Michigan cherry pie -- holy, sweet baby Jesus -- it’s beyond superb.
Minnesota: The Jucy Lucy
The New York Times finally got something wrong with the grape salad debacle, but the Jucy Lucy (a burger with molten cheese in the middle of the patty as well as on top) is all ours.
Mississippi: Natchez-Style Grits
Natchez-style grits, baked and loaded with cheese and served with some real Mississippi barbecue are where it’s at.
Missouri: Gooey Butter Cake
Fried Ravioli was invented here, and local river fish are superb, but Ooey Gooey Butter Cake is the crack cocaine of desserts.
Montana: Huckleberry Pie
One night in Montana, I ate a pitchfork bison steak fried in a kettle of lard over an open fire and it blew my mind, but the fresh huckleberry pie afterwards still haunts me at night.
Nebraska: Rocky Mountain Oysters
If you have an adventurous palate and want to give Rocky Mountain oysters, aka bull testicles, a try, Nebraska is the place to go. Round the Bend Steakhouse in Ashland has hosted an annual Testicle Festival since 1993 where they serve up Rocky Mountain oysters and call them "bull fries."
Nevada: Las Vegas Sushi
Nothing says Las Vegas like eating sushi before hitting the gaming tables. Famed Japanese chef Masa Takayama creates a $240 appetizer that some consider a work of art at BarMasa, if that tells you anything about what to expect at this restaurant. Toro, also known as the belly of wild bluefin tuna, is a must.
New Hampshire: Sunday Turkey Dinner
The seafood in New Hampshire is amazing, but their real food heritage lies inland in the traditional Yankee food category. Puritan settlers from England brought their own cooking traditions, like baked beans, baked turkey, and apple pie, and stole some classics from the Native Americans, who used corn meal in skillet cake, all kinds of fish in chowders and clam bakes and boiled maple sap. So let’s give New Hampshire the “Sunday turkey dinner while watching the football game.”
New Jersey: Taylor Ham
Some of the best seafood, tomatoes and corn on the planet comes from the Garden State, but it’s Taylor Ham, the original Jersey pork roll, that I love most.
New Mexico: Hatch Green Chile
Hatch Green Chiles roasted and chopped on anything or turned into green chile salsa.
New York: Smoked Fish and Bagels
This is my list, and for me, NYC is the greatest food town on earth. Smoked fish piled on bagels ranks up there with the classic NYC burger, Chinese food or a slice of pizza on any list of mine. I love you, "New Yawkh."
North Carolina: Whole Hog
North Carolina whole hog served with their classic vinegar slaw and mustardy BBQ sauce is superb.
North Dakota: Sugar Beets
Sorry North Dakota, but lets be honest, your sugar beets are without a peer. We will give you White Bread with Sour Cream-Green Onion salad as a runner up, because I love it every time I see it on the menu.
Ohio: Polish Boy at Seti’s
Cincinnati chili is cinnamon spiked. Pierogies and Friday fish fries are also superb here, but the Polish Boy at Seti’s is all yours; own that thing!!
Oklahoma: Chicken-Fried Steak
The best chicken-fried steak with creamy gravy ever is found all over Sooner Land.
Oregon: Fish-Sauce Wings at Pok Pok
The easy answer here would be oysters, or salmon, or any of a hundred foods that Oregon is famous for such as Prince Puckler’s hot fudge sauce or Voodoo Donuts … but I’m making a list for a new generation and I’m going with Andy Ricker’s fish-sauce wings at Pok Pok.
Pennsylvania: Roast-Pork Sandwich
Cheesesteaks, sure, but I prefer the roast-pork version at John’s in Philly, the greatest sandwich town on earth.
Rhode Island: Coffee Milk
Coffee Milk, even better in a cabinet (or milkshake). Gaggers (weenies) are pretty awesome in Little Rhody, and of course so are all things clam … but I gotta go with my coffee milk.
South Carolina: Shrimp and Grits
Sure, Rodney Scott makes BBQ here, and boiled peanuts and sweet muscadine grapes are without equal, but this land is Shrimp-and-Grits territory for me. Plain and simple. Oh, and Martha Lou’s beans.
South Dakota: Chislic
Chislic is weird, but delicious. This meaty stunner is made by deep-frying cubed red meat, dipping it in garlic salt and serving it with saltines.
Tennessee: Hot Chicken
So much to choose from, but you gotta go with the people’s choice and they have spoken: Nashville HOT CHICKEN baby!
Texas is all about the beef, and real Texas BBQ is all about beef brisket.
Utah: Funeral Potatoes?
Utah, you make this so hard, your official State Snack is Jell-O. But you love to gather at potlucks and funeral potatoes -- a traditional Mormon casserole consisting of hash browns, cheese, onions, cream soup, sour cream and butter, topped with crushed potato chips -- seem like a natural pick here.
Vermont: Ben & Jerry’s
Maple syrup would be an easy answer, but I think Canada owns that one. I’m going with Ben & Jerry’s, the state’s most popular export besides Phish.
Virginia: Country Ham With Biscuits
Need I say more?
Your oysters are the best. Period. I know it’s hard to hear for all the other states, but it’s true.
West Virginia: Pepperoni Rolls
All the hunting and fishing I do in my FAVORITE state makes me want to offer up a hundred of my campfire favorites, from chicken-fried squirrel to whole-roasted venison, but pepperoni and tomato rolled in store-bought bread or croissant dough is the thing here. If someone makes you them homemade. even better.
Wisconsin: Cheese Curds
Cheese curds and brats, double down and eat them at the same time.
The best steak I ever ate was on a dude ranch in Wyoming. It was grass fed, aged 4 months and grilled over dying embers to become a charred, rare piece of beefy intensity. Thank you, Wyoming.