Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Seven argument foods: North Bay edition

A while back, Mark Evanier offered the observation that there are seven foods that immediately engender impassioned argument whenever gourmands debate the question, "Where can you get the best...?"
  1. Hamburgers
  2. Pizza
  3. Chinese food
  4. Barbecue
  5. Philly cheesesteaks
  6. Hot dogs
  7. Clam chowder
I've been pondering Mark's list for the past several days. Now, I'm prepared to take a stab at starting a food fight.

Hamburgers. I'm not a serious burger connoisseur. In fact, I'd never order one in a restaurant unless it was the only item on the menu. But if I had a sudden craving for a steaming slab of ground cow, I'd go to Mike's at the Crossroads in Cotati. Mike's serves ginormous, sloppy gutbusters made from Harris Ranch beef, with a sumptuous array of fixings. For years, Mike's gimmick was that they didn't serve French fries. ("Mike don't like 'em," went the tagline.) Now that original owner Mike Condrin has sold the joint, you can get fries one day each week, I'm told.

Pizza. Around here, there's only one contender: Mary's Pizza Shack, a local chain that makes truly awesome pizza. The problem with Mary's pizza is that it doesn't travel well. The thin crust gets soggy quickly, so it's a poor choice for takeout. (We usually opt for Round Table, the big West Coast chain, if we're taking pizza home.) But if you're going to hang out in a pizza joint and eat off plates with a knife and fork, Mary's your girl.

Chinese food. Like most places in California, we have Chinese restaurants on practically every corner. The best in the area, however, isn't in town — it's twenty miles down the freeway in Novato. Jennie Low's, located in the Vintage Oaks shopping center on U.S. 101 in north Marin, serves some of the most sublime Chinese food I've eaten. And I've eaten a small planet in Chinese. Jennie opened a second location in Petaluma last year, but I haven't yet tried that one.

Barbecue. For whatever reason, great barbecue joints don't last long in this foodie mecca. Three excellent places — Richardson's Ribs, Pack Jack BBQ, and Terry's — have all gone the way of the passenger pigeon in recent years. The best of what's left is Porter Street Barbeque (yeah, that's how they spell it) in Cotati. Porter Street does a very nice job with ribs and tri-tip, though I've noticed the quality isn't quite as consistent since their cook passed away suddenly a few years back.

Philly cheesesteaks. Outside of the big chain sandwich shops like Quizno's, I don't know of any place around here that specializes in cheesesteaks, other than a vendor at the Sonoma County Fair that offers a decent version for two weeks every summer. If I were dying for authentic cheesesteak, I'd drive down to the East Bay and sniff out an outlet of a local chain called The Cheesesteak Shop. I've eaten on several occasions at their Pleasanton location, and it's the real deal.

Hot dogs. For me, there's only one place to eat a hot dog, and that's at a baseball game. The concession stands at AT&T Park in San Francisco serve as good a frankfurter as one could ask. Usually, though, I opt for either the Polish sausage or the Louisiana hot links. Both are outstanding. If you insist on sticking with the traditional, you can't go wrong with the standard Giants Dog.

Clam chowder. When you live less than an hour's drive (in non-commute traffic) from San Francisco, the West Coast capital of clam chowder, this one's a tough call. I guess I'll have to vote for Lucas Wharf in Bodega Bay. It's been quite a while since we've eaten there, but I recall the clam chowder with particular fondness.

Them's my choices. Let the chow-slinging begin!

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2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous Tom Galloway offered these pearls of wisdom...

Pretty much all of my top choices for these are non-local and based on places I've lived or visited:

1. Hamburgers: Bartley's Burger Cottage in Harvard Square. It's a classic university dive (sans bar) that's been doing great hamburgers for almost 50 years. Large variety of toppings, and these days about the only place I know of to get a lime rickey.

2. Pizza: Classic style goes to either Pepe's or Sally's in New Haven. The usual suspects in Chicago for Chicago-style, although Zachary's in the East Bay is up to their standards.

3. Chinese food: There are various favorite dishes at various places, and I've eaten in Hong Kong although not at the very top rung there. And while it may not be the best food, I'm still very fond of Mary Chung's in Cambridge due both to Suan la Chou Shou (wonton dumplings and bean sprouts in a spicy peppery sauce) and its general atmosphere as an MIT hangout.

4. Barbecue: North Carolina, Eastern style pulled pork please. The usual suspects around Lexington and the like, but, due to location, I've probably patronized Allen & Son near Chapel Hill the most.

5. Philly cheesesteaks: In Philly, of course. I was fond of Abner's on Chestnut and 38th near UPenn, and Jim's Steaks on South St. and 4th. For some reason, I never made it to Pat's or Geno's.

6. Hot dogs: Chicago, but for a specific place the Chicago Dog House in Ann Arbor was good and provided a variety of toppings. Costco actually does an excellent dog for only a buck fifty to boot.

7. Clam chowder: And we're not talking about tomato soup with clams like some people consider chowder. Pretty much any good seafood place in Boston, such as Legal's, Turner's, Skipjack's, etc. does excellent chowdah.

12:49 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Tom: Thanks for the great tips. Now I know where to eat on my next East Coast swing!

You know, I completely forgot about the Costco dog -- a perfectly respectable lunch option when you're lean on cash.

1:52 PM  

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