Food-Themed Road Trips

Here are 4 delicious destinations in the US.
By: Nevin Martell
Here’s the golden rule for food-focused road trips: when you go is just as important as where you go. You want to experience a region at the perfect moment -- when its ingredients are in peak season, the scenery is at its most fetching, or you’re least likely to be overwhelmed by hordes of tourists. So pack your GPS, fill up the tank and get ready to let your belt out a few notches. Here are 4 delicious destinations in the US where you can indulge in a variety of classic continental cuisines and beverages.
1. Vermont

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Have your cold-weather gear ready when you head to the Green Mountain State to celebrate maple-syrup season. Generally running from the beginning of March until the middle of April, it’s the perfect time to see sugarhouses in full swing. The 8th-generation maple mavens at Bragg Farm in East Montpelier do everything the old-fashioned way – sap is collected in buckets and transformed into syrup over wood fires.

For sweet treats, head down the road to Montpelier’s Morse Farm, where you can enjoy a maple creemee – syrup-laced soft-serve ice cream – or hot maple sugar drizzled on shaved ice to create a caramelized toffee (bonus: it comes with a fresh-from-the-fryer doughnut!). Adults with a designated driver in tow should tap a tipple of Vermont Gold at Vermont Spirits in Queechee. Distilled from maple sap, the premium vodka goes down well on the rocks or in an autumnally accented craft cocktail. Either way, it’s a great way to toast your tasty trip.
2. Chesapeake Bay

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The summer months are the perfect time to hit the road in the mid-Atlantic region. That’s because it’s blue-crab season. Your first stop should be Mr. Bill’s Terrace Inn in Essex – a no-frills and all-flavor crab house. Order a bucket of Old Bay-seasoned crustaceans, grab a mallet and start smashing. For a more elevated experience, drive into Baltimore for Woodberry Kitchen’s open-faced sandwich showcasing flash-fried soft-shell crab (blue crabs that have just molted). Local-loving chef-owner Spike Gjerde coats the crunchy, paper-thin edible armor with a little bit of cornmeal and seasoned flour – the perfect contrast to the light, sweet meat inside.

Of course, you have to have some crab cakes – go for the primo lump-filled patties at Faidley’s inside Baltimore’s Lexington Market. For dessert, try a slice of 12-layer Smith Island Cake, which alternates levels of yellow cake and cooked chocolate-fudge frosting. The best version is made by Smith Island Baking Company, which requires a ferry ride if you want to enjoy it fresh from the oven.
3. Napa Valley

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Avoid the supersized summertime crowds by heading to the heartland of American wine after Labor Day, but before Thanksgiving. You’ll arrive at a key moment in the vinification process, when grapes are being harvested and crushed. Plan to spend several days visiting some of the more than 450 wineries – from well-established operations like Jarvis Winery and Joseph Phelps Vineyards to up-and-comers like Odette Estate.

Intersperse your enotourism exploration with world-class cuisine. If you can’t get a reservation – or don’t want to max out your credit card – at the French Laundry, there are plenty of other options. Though it has only been open since mid-2012, The Thomas has already established itself as a must-visit restaurant boasting a vibrant garden, a cocktail list that riffs on the classics, and a strong wine list (of course). For a more casual bite, hit up the Jimtown Store for stellar sandwiches (think prosciutto, fig spread and veiny blue cheese from nearby Point Reyes) and a strong selection of cookies. Don’t worry, they also sell wine – so you can have one last glass before you head home.
4. Bourbon Country

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Fall is a beautiful time to visit the birthplace of bourbon (otherwise known as Kentucky). The countryside looks afire as the foliage transitions from verdant greens to ember reds, flaming yellows and burnt oranges. First pad your stomach with a stop at the season-centric Harvest in Louisville, which sources 80 percent of its ingredients from within 100 miles. Plus, there’s a strong selection of bourbon-based cocktails featuring house-made bitters, tinctures and preserves. Another great way to experience Southern cooking is just down the road at Doc Crow’s, which emphasizes seafood and barbecue, as well as 160 whiskeys and more than 100 bourbons.

Then it’s time to explore some of the many distilleries scattered throughout the state. Best bets for a tour and a tasting include some of the oldest bourbon producers – Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, and the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. Finish off your celebration of America’s native spirit with a stop at the Midway School Bakery, which specializes in primo pies, including a decadent chocolate bourbon pecan.

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