Fork in the Road thinks you should get out of town on occasion, since dozens of destinations lie within just a couple of hours of the city. In this Excursions column, we’re covering the best places to eat in popular weekend trip locations. See more Excursions and Summer Fridays ideas in our archives.
When landlords are more ambitious than chefs, old-school restaurants close up shop, and avant-garde chefs opt to challenge palates elsewhere. We saw a lot of that in NYC this year, and we also ate dozens of excellent meals in cities and towns nearby. After scooping spoon bread in a Cincinnati post office and sipping bee pollen lattes in the Bluegrass State, tearing into Mangalitsa lard biscuits and foie gras waffles in the nation’s capital, and being brought to tears by the so-hot Jewish-Asian culinary diaspora sweeping North America’s coolest neighborhood, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best meals worthy of the journey. Looking to travel more in 2015? Consider this a starting point for planning a weekend jaunt, even if that means just crossing the Hudson into Jersey.
10. Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen (110 South Street, Morristown, New Jersey; 973-644-3180)
No one in the barroom of Jockey Hollow, Chris Cannon’s culinary comeback inside Morristown’s Vail Mansion, is debating who first cooked up Marea’s octopus-and-bone marrow fusilli. Instead, they’re kicking back on couches tucked behind the foyer in the estate-sized restaurant, dining like would-be residents. They feast on quality comforts like surf-and-turf platters of sausages and oysters, and a roasted strip loin finished with eggs fried in pan juices.
9. Momofuku Noodle Bar (190 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario; 647-253-6225)
It’s usually the other way around: We wonder how an out-of-town restaurant would play in New York, realizing by dessert that it would lose its local magic once plagued by the brunt of Seamless and Resy, servers more ambitious about their other career, and 100 content-hungry bloggers. But David Chang reverse-engineered the equation, proving a Momofuku restaurant can charm elsewhere without the baggage. He has several concepts stacked Tetris-like into glass boxes, but beneath them all lies the biggest crowd-pleaser. Momofuku’s menu has been tweaked according to local preferences, and that gave way to the untempered heat of Extremely Spicy Noodles, empowered by Sichuan chili and pickled za chai.
8. Colony Grill (172 Myrtle Avenue, Stamford, Connecticut; 203-359-2184)
Located halfway between Paulie Gee’s and Frank Pepe’s, Stamford is home to many major accounting firms — and one bar-pie specialist to feed them all. While the pre-war tavern’s secret-recipe hot-oil pie has its imitators — ahem, Riko’s — only this searing, sausage-studded thin-crust counts, and unless you’re ordering for the whole office, expect to eat in.
7. The Eagle (1342 Vine Street, Cincinnati, Ohio; 513-802-5007)
All the best cooking in Cincinnati right now is fast and cheap, and if you’re overpaying or hungry from a wait, you’re eating wrong. No new spot better exemplifies this than The Eagle, which kept all the best assets of its former post office residence — like a wall of brassy P.O. boxes — but exorcized its demons of bureaucratic inefficiency. The restaurant delivers sticky, sizzling-hot honeyed bird to the table before your beers land to cool your tongue. Serious helpings of sides, like buttery spoon bread and white cheddar grits folded with pickled peppers, go a long way, too, in demonstrating how many routes there are to making savory so hot and sweet.
6. Thoroughbred Food & Drink (304 Richmond Street West, Toronto, Ontario; 416-551-9221)
Another reason Momofuku fits so easily into Toronto’s dining scene is that potent fusions of regional flavors dominate menus all over town. See Thoroughbred Food & Drink’s kung pao cauliflower, which boasts the supple texture of sweetbreads sharing menu space with a quenelle of chicken liver mousse touched with seasonal inspiration uncommon even in modern Jewish cooking, paired with hunks of fried pumpkin bread.
5. Porta (135 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, New Jersey; 201-544-5199)
Porta’s expansion from Asbury Park to Jersey City was eagerly received, even if the downtown dining landscape’s air is already thick with flour. (Three recent alternative entrants located within a half-block have never quite caught on.) This block-deep pizza bar and grill’s 900-degree ovens are now turning out pepper-and-egg carbonara pies, and it’s delivering them to the table quickly. The restaurant’s bigger accomplishment is the fact that after only a month in business, Porta already qualifies as the first bona fide neighborhood hangout since LITM opened across the street. The dining room’s communal tables have been filled with hipsters and politicos carving into sweetly onion-sauced meatballs and fresh mutz since opening night.
4. Volver (300 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 215-670-2303)
In a city notorious for its oversized portions, no meal, no matter how good, has ever left a local wanting more the way Jose Garces’s Volver has. Sure, the early ticketing system left more to be desired, but with logistics resolved, it’s easy to focus on all the Iron Chef does right at the Kimmel Center, manning one of the city’s last restaurants worthy of a jacket and tie. And if there’s one dish worth risking a spot on it, it’s the spot-on KFS, a doll-sized picnic of tender Kentucky fried squab paired with a thumbnail puff of a biscuit, and dolloped with gravy and hot sauce. Bar Volver, meanwhile, offers bigger bites like Wagyu beef tartare and tartines for less than the price of a movie ticket. It’s been dishing out the city’s best bar food since Nathan Volz departed 10 Arts at the Ritz-Carlton up the avenue.
3. Martorano’s (777 Harrah’s Boulevard, Atlantic City, New Jersey; 609-441-5000)
Even when he’s not manning the pans, you should have the same faith in DJ-turned-chef Steve Martorano’s cooking. A towering Virgin Mary lords over the dining room of his red-sauce emporium at Harrah’s in Atlantic City, and the walls are hung with the looping graphic violence of Scorsese and De Palma classics. Eaters, meanwhile, are eager to murder the house veal cutlet smothered with peppers and provolone, and apps like hot sausage orecchiette, which are portioned to feed the roundtable scene in The Untouchables.
2. Eiderdown (983 Goss Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky; 502-290-2390)
The Silver Dollar may get all the national acclaim, but a man can’t live on shredded chicken thighs and hash browns alone, and as last call signals, it’s still a bar with food. Leave behind the honky-tonking singles for a spot where paired-off Louisvillians congregate on their third dates: Eiderdown, a subtle Germanic gastropub on Goss Avenue. Here, couples can hear themselves ordering wholesome, satisfying dishes like fennel-braised pork belly with delicate curry-inflected carrots, and the best vegetarian dish we’ve mopped clean to date: a towel-wrapped skillet pie of brussels sprouts and potatoes swimming in a mustard lager cream, its puff top smeared with sweet carrot mousse.
1. Boss Shepherd’s (513 13th Street NW, Washington, D.C.; 202-347-2677)
If the movies are to be believed, whenever politicos meet for lunch, one’s always too angry to eat. What a shame that would be at Boss Shepherd’s, the months-old basement clubhouse that looks the part for a lifetime of glad-handing between sticky-fingered bureaucrats breaking Mangalitsa biscuits and supping on luscious liquid chicken potpie fritters as prelude to the biggest deal, chef Jeremy Waybright’s salty, loud-crunching lard-fried chicken.
Find Adam Robb on Twitter, @lifevicarious.