Underrated Food Cities in America

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What makes a great food city isn’t necessarily Michelin stars or food trucks per capita. While NYC, LA, and Chicago have always shined brightest, and upstarts like Austin and Portland might be the kings of meals on wheels, there are a ton of cities out there where tradition and innovation mix into unique melting pots… full of melting food.

So, to shine light on some of our country’s more shrouded food scenes, we asked seven experts to give us the deets on why their cities are considered underrated, and what spots you should be sure to try when you visit.

 

ASHEVILLE:  “Even if there’s some debate as to whether it’s overrated or underrated, most people seem to agree that Asheville has a surprising amount of quality restaurants for a city of 85,000 people.

“Part of the credit for that goes to Asheville’s abundant area farms and food producers, as well as an active chef community. It’s pretty easy to commit to buying local when that means loading up on plenty of stellar beer, cider, sake, meat, trout, moonshine, cheese, and produce.

“Even leaving aside the sudden restaurant explosion of West Asheville and the burgeoning River Arts District — where New Belgium will soon build its second brewery — there are still plenty of options on Biltmore Avenue alone: must-try restaurants include Rhubarb by longtime Blackberry Farm chef John Fleer. A block away is Cúrate tapas bar, run by El Bulli alums Katie Button and Felix Meana. Farther down the road is Seven Sows Bourbon & Larder with modern Southern fare. Just beyond that is Wicked Weed Brewing with its ridiculous barrel-aged beer program. On the outskirts of downtown Asheville, the newly opened King James Public House is swiftly becoming one of the best places in the city to grab a late-night bite. For cocktails, don’t miss Nightbell (from the Cúrate crew), The Imperial Life, and MG Road.”

CLEVELAND:  “Cleveland has been punching very far above its weight in the food and craft beer scene in recent years. Having traveled all over the world and been a food and beer tourist on most continents, I am still thrilled when the plane touches down here in Cleveland, and I’m back in this Mecca of local food and local beer.

“Cleveland is a post-industrial frontier town with affordable real estate and a culture of collaboration between chefs and brewers alike. Being surrounded by some of the best farmland in the country, there is little distance between farm and table, and thus farmer and chef. In my Ohio City neighborhood alone, I can walk out my door and, within a 15min walk, find 50+ chef-driven restaurants and bars. With two openings slated for this Spring, we’ll also have six brewpubs all within the surrounding blocks.

“Forbes magazine just wrote a piece about Cleveland being the new Brooklyn. And while they meant it as a compliment, we’re actually much more a new Cleveland with our own authentic and edgy flavor.”

DETROIT:  “Being in Detroit puts you in ridiculously close proximity to some of the most authentic, best-tasting food you’d normally need a passport to enjoy. With the proper research/guidance, it’s totally possible to travel the culinary world in 20mi, leaving you with a TON of leftover cash to blow on the important things… like even more food.

“Despite the expanse of cuisines, Detroit’s a pretty close-knit food community. Everyone tends to know one another, which leads to a good mix of collaboration and friendly competition. Overall, we’re a pretty welcoming bunch. Just don’t come on a Monday. Seriously. Everything’s closed on Mondays.”

Don’t miss: El Salvadoran pupusas from Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño, Korean BBQ from Chung Ki Wa, and City Wing Thing from Supino Pizza

HOUSTON:  “The thing I love about Houston’s food scene is the opportunities. Most importantly, for the dining guest there’s the opportunity to experience one of the most exciting times in Houston’s food scene. The second part of that is the opportunities young up-and-coming chefs, beverage professionals, and restaurateurs have.

“And I love hearing that someone has never heard of our restaurant. It sounds crazy to say something like that, but, for me, it means that there are a lot of great places out there that I probably haven’t even heard of that I need to check out. There are so many new, burgeoning neighborhoods that you can spend weeks exploring, and others that haven’t changed in forever and are still putting out delicious food and drink. Whether it’s grabbing a taco at our favorite truck conveniently located across the street from our favorite ice house and then catching an in-store performance at Cactus Music, or ordering the entire menu at our go-to Korean BBQ.”

Don’t miss: Pork ribs and brisket at Gatlin’s BBQ, lengua taco at Tacos Tierra Caliente, lamb barbacoa at Hugo’s, and mole-infused Jamaican Storm at Anvil Bar & Refuge

LOUISVILLE:  “Louisville may be a recent discovery on the national scene, but it has been a regional hot spot as far back as the Civil War days, when locally famous joints like Mazzoni’s would rush fresh oysters North from the Gulf in boxcars filled with ice on the old Louisville & Nashville Railroad. Some mistake us for “Southern” because of the influence of the Appalachian diaspora here and migration from rural farms, but Louisville is actually an urban industrial city first populated by German, Irish, and Italian immigrants from the Northeast (akin to Cincinnati, St Louis, and Milwaukee).

“As it was then, so it is now: Louisvillians love to eat, drink, dine, dance, and gamble, offering a tempting getaway to the more dour Scotch-Irish who came over the Cumberland Gap to populate Kentucky’s rural counties. In modern times, an established foodie community has stood ready to rapidly embrace modern trends from bistros in the ‘70s to regional Chinese in the ‘80s; with the ‘90s came brewpubs and microbreweries and waves of immigrants and refugees drawn by our long tradition of welcoming new arrivals, and they brought with them a remarkable array of international fare.

“In the past decade, aggressive efforts to reinvent downtown and inner-city neighborhoods have gifted us with hot new restaurant zones like NuLu (East of downtown), making creative use of 19th-century buildings with impressive gastropubs and farm-to-table eateries that have drawn national attention. So has our close connection to bourbon whiskey, including the city’s much publicized “Urban Bourbon Trail” that connects fine eateries that also graciously serve Kentucky’s adult nectar.”

Don’t miss: Tuna “old fashioned” bourbon ceviche at Seviche, the spicy sorghum, bourbon Blood Money cocktail at RYE, Yucatec salbutes at Mayan Cafe,  and Kentucky/Asian-fusion brisket at MilkWood

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL:  “Minneapolis is underrated because everywhere in the Midwest is underrated! Oklahoma City, Omaha, Madison… We’re underrated because the coasts have all the people and all the media outlets, but we have all the farms. Duh.

“We are the Lyons of the USA, the breadbasket (Patisserie 46 – led by John Kraus, USA captain of our team competing in Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie — is the best bakery in the country), the egg basket, the pork basket. Enjoy importing charcuterie from Italy and France, New York City? We make our own Mangalitsa Lardo, and we eat it so fast we don’t export it.  We are the dairy basket too! We put grass-pastured, single-farm milk in our lattés as a matter of course — you coast dwellers with your homogenized, tasteless milk are leading degraded lives, and you don’t even know it.

“We drink beer so good you would die, like America’s only real farmhouse ale, Olvalde. What does farmhouse ale mean? It means we can grow and malt barley here, on black-dirt-rich land, just like Europeans did 200yrs ago. Here’s why Minneapolis and St. Paul are the most underrated American food cities: we have the good stuff, we enjoy and support it so much we don’t let our artisans export it, so you don’t even know about it… and we have the time to kick back and relish it.”

Don’t miss: Mangalitsa lardo from Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market, house-brewed sake from moto-i Ramen & Sake House, crab curry from Hmongtown Marketplace, and the ancient Auroch’s Horn ale from Olvalde Brewing

SAN ANTONIO:  “San Antonio is a really interesting mix of very traditional food experiences — traditional Northern Mexican and South Texas cuisine, Southern food, more formal experiences at some of the old-fashioned dining and social clubs, and this really vibrant scene of emerging new chefs that are riffing off some traditions and forging into entirely new territories. We have amazing access to growers and producers in the Hill Country, as well as this really vibrant world of wild game.

“The San Antonio food scene is very collaborative and supportive. It allows for a lot of experimentation and for entrepreneurship because there is a lot of cool, fairly affordable space available. We feel like we’re just starting to poke our heads up on the national scene, but as soon as people come here they are blown away by what’s happening with our chefs, markets, and producers.”

Don’t miss: Beer can fried-chicken at The Monterey, the mezcal/fernet Midnight in Mexico at The Esquire Tavern, lamb osso bucco at Paesanos, and anything from Taco Taco Cafe

Best Seat in the Restaurant? It’s the Bar

e2-restaurant-bar_600Restaurant bars are becoming dining destinations in their own right. The trend comes as establishments expand and upgrade their bar areas. And consumers accustomed to craft cocktails are seeking food to accompany their upscale beverages. By giving more thought to the bar, restaurants can also capture business from diners who may not always be looking for a full sit-down meal. The trend follows predictions from the National Restaurant Association for 2014, which found that bar-friendly foods such as charcuterie, ethnic dips and bite-sized foods would be popular this year.

Fake Meats, Finally, Taste Like Chicken

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Last May, Whole Foods recalled two types of curried chicken salad that had been sold in some of its stores in the Northeast.

The retailer’s kitchens had accidentally confused a batch of “chick’n” salad made with a plant protein substitute with one made from real chicken, and reversed the labels.

Consumers buying the version labeled as having been made from actual chicken were instead eating vegetarian chicken salad — and thus inadvertently were exposed to soy and eggs, allergens that must be identified on labels under federal regulations.

“None of the customers apparently noticed the difference,” said Ethan Brown, founder and chief executive of Beyond Meat, which made the substitute in the product that was recalled.

The error demonstrates just how far “fake” meat — producers hate the term but have not come up with a catchy alternative to “plant-based protein” — has come from the days when desiccated and flavorless veggie burgers were virtually the only option for noncarnivores.

Demand for meat alternatives is growing, fueled by trends as varied as increased vegetarianism and concerns over the impact of industrial-scale animal husbandry on the environment. The trend has also attracted a host of unlikely investors, including Biz Stone and Evan Williams of Twitter, Bill Gates and, most recently, Li Ka-shing, the Hong Kong magnate.

“I’ve tasted a few,” Mr. Gates wrote in a multimedia piece on the Beyond Meat investment that was posted to his blog, “and they’re very convincing.”

Mr. Brown said that one of the big agricultural commodities businesses that trades in meat also has a tiny stake in Beyond Meat, though he declined to name it.

Some investors look at the development of viable meat alternatives as a sustainability issue.

“Frankly, we’ve never said we’re interested in food,” said Randy Komisar, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers, a venture capital firm that has backed Google and Facebook — and Beyond Meat. “What we’re interested in is big problems needing solutions, because they represent big potential markets and strong opportunities for building great returns.”

Among the problems he listed that his firm’s investment in Beyond Meat are intended to address are land and water use, stress on global supply chains and the world’s growing population. “These are venture-scale problems with venture-scale returns,” Mr. Komisar said.

Or as Josh Tetrick, a founder of a company that makes “eggs” from plant proteins, said: “We didn’t start Hampton Creek to get into mayo or because we were thinking about making muffins and cookies. More than anything we’re trying to reverse what we see as a problem, which is cheap and convenient food that is always going to win in China, win in India and win with my father, but isn’t good for the body or animals or the environment.”

Andrew Loucks, president of the United States frozen foods business at the Kellogg Company, said in an email that the company, which owns the MorningStar Farms brand of vegetarian products, was seeing growing consumer demand for less fat, cholesterol and calories, which often translates into a desire to eat less meat.

MorningStar offers a variety of products, including veggie dogs, a line of ground meat substitute called Crumbles and burgers made from things like black beans and chickpeas.

“Much of the new growth in the segment is coming from younger consumers who seek foods that fit an overall lifestyle, be it for health reasons or personal ethics,” Mr. Loucks wrote. “They are not just seeking foods that mimic meat. Instead they specifically want vegetarian foods with distinctive flavors and visible, recognizable ingredients.”

For whatever reason, the desire to replace meat proteins with proteins derived from plants is spreading, although the market is still minuscule. Mintel, a market research firm, reports that sales of meat alternatives grew 8 percent from 2010 to 2012, when sales hit $553 million.

“Not that long ago, electrical cars were considered nonperformers, and when Prius came out, a lot of people didn’t think there was a market for it,” said Yves Potvin, founder and chief executive of Gardein Protein International, which makes the Gardein line of meatless products. “Now people are willing to pay $70,000 for a Tesla, and more than one million Prius cars are sold each year.”

MorningStar Farms accounts for more than 60 percent of the market, according to Mintel, while new competitors like Beyond Meat and Hampton Creek have sprung up in the last five years. Gardein, founded a little more than five years ago, is the granddaddy of new companies making meat substitutes. Its products, sold by conventional retailers like H-E-B and Target as well as specialty groceries, include “chicken” wings, “fish” fillets, “beef” tips and breakfast patties.

“The category was stuck between the bun for many years,” Mr. Potvin said. “We came along and developed a new process that creates fibers that are very meaty from a plant base, and now we’re in 20,000 supermarkets and responsible for 75 percent of the category growth year over year.”

CDC Salt Guidelines Too Low for Good Health, Study Suggests

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WEDNESDAY, April 2, 2014 (HealthDay News) — Don’t toss out your salt shaker just yet: A new analysis  from Denmark finds current recommended salt guidelines may be too low.

The new research indicates that Americans consume a healthy amount of salt, even though daily averages exceed recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“For most people, there is no reason to change their dietary habits concerning salt, as most people eat what appears to be the safest amount,” said review  author Dr. Niels Graudal, a senior consultant at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark.

For the study, published April 2 in the American Journal of Hypertension, researchers analyzed 25 prior studies. They found that low levels of salt consumption may be linked with a greater risk of death.

The study actually shows that both too much salt and too little are harmful, said Graudal.

“Salt intake above 12,000 mg [milligrams] is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality,” he said.  In other words, high levels of daily salt intake could shorten a person’s life span and raise their risk for heart disease.

And Graudal noted that the same effect is seen at the other end of the spectrum, when too little salt is taken in each day.

The safest range? Between 2,645 and 4,945 mg of salt a day, the study authors said. And most of the world’s populations consume that amount, according to background information in the study.

The new analysis contradicts current public health policy in the United States, but is unlikely to change it.

The CDC stands by its recommendation for less than 2,300 mg of salt per day for healthy people under 50, and less than 1,500 mg per day for most people over 50, an agency representative said.

“Nearly everyone benefits from reduced sodium consumption,” said Janelle Gunn, a public health analyst in the CDC’s division for heart disease and stroke prevention. “Ninety percent of Americans exceed the general daily recommended sodium intake limit of 2,300 mg, increasing their risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.”

Reducing salt intake to the level currently recommended for the general population would prevent tens of thousands of heart attacks and strokes annually, Gunn said.

High-salt diets can lead to high blood pressure and stroke. Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in the United States.

What is too much salt or too little is a matter of debate, said Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

“However, the salt argument is really all about balance. The reality is few people have any idea how much salt they consume in a day,” Heller said.

“This study highlights the fact that too much or too little salt can affect the physiological functions of the body and increase the risk of death,” she added.

About 80 percent of Americans’ dietary salt comes from processed foods, including bread, cold cuts and pizza as well as restaurant foods and prepared frozen foods, Heller said.

“I like the idea of taking control of how much salt is in the foods we eat by preparing most of our food at home, rather than leaving the salt content up to food companies or restaurants,” Heller said.

The studies Graudal and colleagues reviewed included nearly 275,000 people.

They found a correlation between salt intake and health outcomes. Deaths increased when daily consumption was less than 2,645 mg or above 4,945 mg. So both excessively high and low consumption of salt were associated with reduced survival.

But the researchers found little or no variation in death when people kept their salt intake within that daily range.

The study authors said their findings provide a response to a U.S. Institute of Medicine report issued in 2013 that concluded there is scant evidence on what is too much or too little salt.

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on recommended salt intake.