Eating Americana

As the comfort-food boom continues, regional specialties make their mark on NYC menus.

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  • Juicy lucy

  • Nashville hot chicken

  • Tri-tip

  • Italian hot dog

  • Tipsy Parson

  • Fried bologna sandwich

  • Pittsburgh sandwich at Rye House

  • Juicy lucy in 3-D!

  • Tri-tip in 3-D!

  • Italian hot dog in 3-D!

  • Cheese curds at Char No. 4

Juicy lucy

Click #8-11 for 3-D images (3-D glasses required).

We’re feeling particularly patriotic these days, and we think it has something to do with what’s on our plates. Around town, regional American dishes—many of which have long been ignored in Gotham—are showing up at new restaurants. Though less examined than the farm-to-plate journeys charted by locavores, the routes these dishes follow to reach our menus reflect a similar yearning for authentic, heartfelt food with a sense of provenance. From road-food classics to Southern throwbacks, check out these cross-country treats that you can eat now in New York City.

Juicy Lucy

Iconic in its home of South Minneapolis, the Juicy Lucy is a burger cooked with cheese inside the patty rather than on top. Rivals Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club both lay claim to its invention, and loyalties to each run deep. The former credits a customer who, in 1954, ordered two burger patties with cheese in the middle. Upon biting into the gooey core, he’s said to have exclaimed, “That’s one juicy Lucy!”
Eat it here: Just-opened Whitmans (406 E 9th St between First Ave and Ave A, 212-228-8011) has crafted a locavore spin on the Juicy Lucy ($8).The burger boasts prime ingredients, like a proprietary Pat LaFrieda rib blend, a Blue Ribbon bun and McClure’s pickles, along with an added Southern twang: a bubbling pocket of pimento cheese inside the medium-rare patty.

Nashville hot chicken

Fiery, cayenne-laced fried chicken—usually served with pickles over white bread—is eaten throughout Music City, but its spiritual home is Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. Lore traces the recipe to current owner Andre Jeffries’s great-uncle Thornton Prince. When a spurned lover fed him extra-spicy chicken out of vengeance, he liked it so much that he began cooking it at his restaurant.
Eat it here: Restaurateur Craig Samuel serves a super-crispy version ($12) at Peaches HotHouse (415 Tompkins Ave at Hancock St, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn; 718-483-9111). In addition to seasoning the free-range poultry with garlic, onion powder and cayenne, Samuel uses a secret spice mix that he says contains the “two hottest peppers in the world.”

Tri-tip

Sometimes called “the Santa Maria steak” after the California town that considers it a local speciality, tri-tip is the triangular cut of beef from the bottom sirloin, where three muscle groups converge to create a evenly marbleized yet lean hunk of meat.
Eat it here: Dave Kassling, owner of Tri Tip Grill (30 Rockefeller Center at 50th St, concourse level; 212-664-1003), teamed up with the Bay Area tri-tip specialist Buckhorn Grill to showcase the cut in Gotham. “No one knew what it was,” he recalls. Sample it in the satisfying Big Buck sandwich ($7.99). Thin, tightly packed slices allow the rub to mix in with the medium-rare center (an effect tri-tip aficionados call “pink and dirty”), and a chewy hoagie roll soaks up the juices.

Italian hot dog

Deep-fried hot dogs are common throughout New Jersey, but “Italian hot dogs”—sometimes referred to simply as “Newark-style hot dogs”—are very specific to the northeastern part of the state (found at cult haunts like Dickie Dee’s and Jimmy Buff’s). To make one, pizza bread is halved or quartered, then overstuffed with oil-dredged wieners, red peppers, potato rounds, and fried or sauted onions.
Eat it here: Co-owner Joe Carroll pays homage to his native Garden State with several junk-food staples (look out for the Trenton Pork Roll and onion-laced sliders, inspired by Hackensack diner White Manna) at St. Anselm (355 Metropolitan Ave between Havemeyer and Roebling Sts, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-384-5054). For his own Newark Dog ($12), Carroll uses a crusty ciabatta-like bread from Napoli Bakery to stand up to the grease-slicked filling, which includes battered onions and peppers, and knockout fries.

Tipsy parson

This culinary relic from the Old South dates to the late 18th century, but versions of the dessert still appear in the region today. Traditionally, people would make a trifle with the week’s leftover eggs and bread—plus whatever fruit was in season—for postchurch potlucks. Alcohol (usually wine, sherry or brandy) served to mask the staleness of the ingredients, but the name refers to the boozy dessert’s tendency to knock priests off the wagon.
Eat it here: At Tipsy Parson (156 Ninth Ave between 19th and 20th Sts; 212-620-4545), the namesake dish ($8)—an indulgent, tiramisu-like blend of brandy-soaked almond cake, seasonal berries, rich pastry cream and toasted almonds—reflects the Dixieland nostalgia that inspired owners Tasha Gibson and Julie Wallach to open their homey tavern. “There’s something sweet about the tradition behind the dish,” explains Gibson. “It conveys a sort of community and hospitality that appeals to us.”

Cheese curds

All cheese-making begins with curds being separated from whey—most of these bits of rubbery young cheese are put into molds and aged, but eating them on their own is a common practice in parts of the country where dairy is produced (particularly Midwestern states like Wisconsin, where they’re often fried as a greasy fairground snack).
Eat it here: Cheddar curds aren’t eaten in Dixieland, but when Char No. 4 (196 Smith St between Baltic and Warren Sts, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn; 718-643-2106, charno4.com) owner Sean Joseph decided he wanted to serve pimento cheese at his barbecue-and-bourbon joint, his chef came up with the idea of pairing the spicy cheese of the South with the mild chewiness of fried curds. Their bar-snack version ($7) uses cheddar curds from Wisconsin, lightly battered with egg, flour and Panko bread crumbs, then served with a pimento aioli for dipping.

Cincinnati chili

You can’t visit the Queen City without stopping at a Skyline Chili, the local chain that has become synonymous with Cincinnati-style chili since opening in 1949. Unlike the heartier Texas-style, this thin stew is almost always used as a topping for hot dogs or spaghetti (much like a bolognese), rather than being eaten straight-up. At Skyline, you can get order it 3-ways (with spaghetti, chili and cheese), 4-ways (add beans or diced onions), 5-ways (the works), or on a cheese coney (a hot dog smothered in chili, mustard, onions and cheese).
Eat it here: Tribeca brasserie Edward’s (136 West Broadway between Duane and Thomas Sts; 212-233-6436, edwardsnyc.com) generally draws a casual neighborhood crowd, but once a month it’s packed to the gills for “Cincinnati Night.” As a nod to his hometown, owner Edward Youkilis serves four Cincy staples—Skyline Chili, Graeter’s Ice Cream, Montgomery Inn ribs and LaRosa pizza—to the homesick and the curious. While New Yorkers might turn their noses up at an out-of-towner pizza (especially one that’s been frozen), Skyline Chili is tangy, smooth and unlike anything else (chocolate is rumored to be the game-changing secret ingredient). Order it 5-ways and you’ll soon be petitioning for the beloved Midwestern chain to open up in Gotham.

Fried bologna sandwich

The fried bologna sandwich evokes childhood memories for people throughout the Midwest and South. But like many humble American snacks, it’s got plenty of regional variations, ranging from the white-bread version found at Appalachian lunch counters to the cheese, onion and green pepper--smothered style popular in Buffalo. The most common formula is about as American as it gets: Untoasted Wonder Bread, pan-fried Oscar Meyer bologna, Miracle Whip and a bit of mustard.
Eat it here: Arkansas native Robert Newton channels his mom’s cooking in several dishes at Seersucker (329 Smith St between Carroll and President Sts, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; 718-422-0444, seersuckerbrooklyn.com), which eschews barbecue-driven southern fare in favor of home cooking from the “southeastern corridor—Mississippi to North Carolina, the Virginas and Florida.” His dressed-up fried bologna sandwich—sold as a bar snack for $5—swaps out the Wonder Bread for a sturdy English muffin and deploys a spicy dose of Dijon to balance the porkiness of buttery sauted bologna.

Pittsburgh sandwich

Pittsburgh landmark Primanti Brothers’ signature sandwich was born in the warehouse-dotted Strip District in 1933 as sustenance for truckers, who needed an all-in-one meal they could eat on the road after late-night deliveries. The combination of meat, sweet cole slaw, tomato and French fries all crammed between two slices of Italian bread, seemed to have done the trick. The original location of the Steel City chain still exists (now it serves as many post-club partiers as blue-collar workers), and the city has adopted the mammoth two-hander as its trademark foodstuff.
Eat it here: Purists might balk at the prim, nearly unrecognizable New Yorkified version ($12) served at Rye House (11 W 17th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves; 212-255-7260, ryehousenyc.com). But while it’s not as sloppily decadent as its predecessor, the smoky andouille sausage is a natural mate for provolone and caraway seed-flecked slaw. And sacreligious as it seems, the crispy, well-salted fries may be an improvement over Primanti’s.

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