In Defense of Midwestern Road Food


Yesterday, a commenter named "East Coast Doug" took a moment to savage my short endorsement of the Target Bluff German Haus. He offered no indication of having been to the restaurant, and, in essence, said my views were invalid because I had kind things to say about Culver's and the Norske Nook. He then offered the opinion that Midwestern highway restaurants weren't worth patronizing.

This kind of crap gets my blood up. The arrogance — pure, unmitigated, ignorant arrogance — of trying to dismiss an entire region's cuisine based on a couple of bad experiences is absolutely mind-blowing.

And while I could choose to chuckle quietly to myself about the experiences this guy and his fellow-travelers will miss because of the blinders they're wearing, I'd rather deal with it head on.

Like the judging at a state fair, you need to be able to assess things within their class. Culver's doesn't compare to Gramercy Tavern or Chez Panisse, it's true. But within the class of "fast food" it does exceptionally well, in my opinion — the average quality of food and service at Culver's is far and away better than the national chains, and stacks up well against even foodie-worshipped chains like In-n-Out. (Allowed to choose between the two on a regular basis, I'd probably switch off; Culver's for the frozen custard, In-n-Out for the burgers.)

It's true that on the East Coast you're going to find some great, ancient, world-class pizzerias. Go far enough north, and you'll get places that'll serve lobster rolls that'll knock your socks off. Far enough south, and you'll find places that will do fantastic crab. Etc., etc., and let's not forget New York City bagels. I certainly can't.

So when I say the farmstead sausages, master-made cheeses, Friday fish fries, draft beers and homemade pies of the Midwest stack up, I don't say it lightly. If you love food, you can be happy out East, and you can be happy here. It's just a matter of knowing the terrain and understanding what to expect.

I guess, in retrospect, I'm not actually angry with "East Coast Doug" and the other miserable East Coast exiles who suffer every day because they can't find a decent meal out here; I feel kind of sorry for them. There's an art to finding a good meal, and if you practice it diligently, you'll be surprised at just how many are available, regardless of what part of the country you're in.