Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On the Road Again...

As I sit at home on Columbus Day recovering from another red-eye flight from the West Coast, I can't help but reflect on America's favorite lost explorer. While J and I seem to rack up enough miles to make any gold and fame-seeking sailor proud, we've come to depend on a little more than a sextant and the stars. I'm not talking about the GPS unit in our car. Rather, I'm talking about the newspapers, magazines, and TV shows that help us locate the hidden gems along the way.

Now that we've been writing about our adventures - culinary and otherwise - for 8 months, it has become routine to take pictures of our food. (Documenting what we do isn't so out of the ordinary, but doing so at fine restaurants took some getting used to). Traveling outside of DC presents short reprieves from our photographic duties (afterall, the blog is not called Two World), but that doesn't mean that we stop seeking out interesting, diverse, and quality meals and activities unique to our location.

The question remains, "Where to begin?" Surely, each town has far more than a day or two worth of gems. This not only makes it hard to choose, but it also increases the pressure to choose wisely, for fear of missing something. In the last few months, weddings and the need to get away, have taken us to cities like Portland, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Here's how we chose where to go and what to do:

The Express. I can't stress this enough: this newspaper is the perfect length (30 minutes to read it cover to cover) and the perfect price (free). It's available at Metro stops every weekday and is comprehensive. Sure, it is a little lacking in detail, but that's not the point. It is there to give an overview that allows the reader to pick and choose what they want to further investigate. For us, we are often exploring the restaurants and random cool things featured in the local sections. No matter if it is by land, sea, or air, you'll find it in The Express.

Not long ago, The Express ran its (annual?) Baltimore feature that detailed cool neighborhoods and sweet desserts. Want a little cardio with your history and your pie? We did. Try walking throughout the Mount Vernon and Federal Hill neighborhoods, climbing the original Washington Monument, and finishing it off with a trip to Dangerously Delicious Pies, which are so good they deserve their own post.

Magazines. Another way we've stumbled across delicious treasures is through Bon Appetit magazine. You don't have to be a culinary master to enjoy this rag... you just need to enjoy food (and its no secret that we do!).

We've talked about several of DC's food carts (see here and here), but Portland is king. Whereas some cities have a few diamonds amid the rough (read: hot dog carts on every corner throughout downtown), Portland features unique, diverse, cheap, and colorful carts that fill entire city blocks. J and I were able to have a memorably delicious breakfast burrito at La Jarochita
La Jarochita on Urbanspoon
and an equally mind-blowing Czech sandwich at Tabor just paces away from each other. This is not to mention the 20+ other options we had to pass up...
Tábor on Urbanspoon

TV. J here to report on my favorite way to find new restaurants in different cities: TV shows! We're big fans of Adam Richman and his "Man v. Food" show on the Travel Channel. In each episode he travels to a new city and competes in some sort of extreme food challenge. While we're not extreme eaters, we like that he highlights two or three other local restaurants on each show with great enthusiasm. Recently we found ourselves in Philadelphia following Adam's footprints through the City of Brotherly Love.

A stop at the historic Reading Terminal Market was a feast for the tummy and the eyes. Everywhere you looked there were vendors selling all sorts of tasty treats. We took Adam's advice and stopped in for a sandwich at Tommy DiNic's . They are famous for their roast pork sandwich topped with garlic broccoli rabe. While perhaps not the best sandwich on the planet, the broccoli rabe made this one of the most unique. Also, the stools at the counter in the heart of the bustling market are fantastic for people watching.
DiNic's Roast Pork and Beef on Urbanspoon

After polishing off the massive sandwich, we indulged in the best soft pretzel ever (this is no small feat since I am a soft pretzel connoisseur) at Miller's Twist. Total. Food. Bliss.

Man v. Food also led us to the quirkiest doughnut shop ever: Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon . If you'd like a side of goth culture with your voodoo doll doughnut, this place is for you. They even do weddings so grab your black wedding gown and go!
Voodoo Doughnut on Urbanspoon

Just down I-95 in Baltimore, we were treated to more culinary delights thanks to two TV shows. The Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" and "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" both pointed us in the direction of Chaps Pit Beef in a gritty industrial section of Baltimore (by gritty I mean flanked by a strip club on one side and across the street from a porn shop). Baltimore resident and cake master Duff Goldman and lord of the greasy spoon Guy Fieri recommended this monument to meat so we figured we couldn't go wrong. I kept it simple and ordered the ribs (a great deal at $7.50 for a pound) with a side of mac n' cheese. B followed the wisdom of the food sages and ordered Guy's Triple D sub sandwich piled high with beef, corned beef, and sausage. This thing would make a vegetarian run screaming in the other direction, but if you're a dedicated carnivore, this is your sandwich.
Chaps Pit Beef on Urbanspoon

Internet. It may seem obvious nowadays but don't overlook the power of the internet to guide you when you're out of town. We googled our way to a really unique tourist destination in Philadelphia that I never would have known about without Trip Advisor and Yelp. The Eastern State Penitentiary may sound like an odd choice for a tour, but that's exactly why we loved it. It was unique, fascinating, and a photographer's dream come true. The natural light spilling through the cracks in this 180-year-old (now shuttered) prison makes for fantastic photos. Grab your audio tour headset and get lost in the history.

I Spy. With all this said, keep your eyes open and your plans flexible because you never know when you'll stumble across a person or a sign that might point you in the right direction. In our most recent case, this came in the form of a printed-out review of Bassetts Ice Cream that was posted near the bathroom in Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market. As J described, we were stuffed, but after reading the review that claimed it was some of the best ice cream ever - and dated to the beginning of the Civil War (1861) - we found room. (J claims she has a stomach just for ice cream). Call it addiction, call it tasting history, call it whatever you want: Gadzooks Blanc ice cream is heavenly.
Bassett's Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Where will we go next? We'd love to hear your suggestions for our next road trip!

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