I'll admit it. We didn't go out this past Saturday night, so I found myself watching the Bon Appétit Best American Restaurants special hosted by Alton Brown on the Food Network. The show itself was reasonably entertaining, though no one would call it suspenseful. Brown is perhaps my favorite Food Network personality, but he looked totally bored and disengaged on this particular show. Andrew Knowlton and Barbara Fairchild of Bon Appétit were knowledgeable and credible as the magazine's on-camera experts, but they kept talking about passion without exhibiting very much themselves.
Peter Luger was declared the nation's best steakhouse, beating out Cut and Doe's Eat Place, and though I wouldn't argue with the choice, all three nominees are completely different, rendering comparisons difficult. Why wasn't Bern's in Tampa, Florida, considered?
Pizzeria Bianco won the best pizzeria award, beating out Di Fara and Mozza. Chris Bianco's place is my choice as well, but Chris appeared fairly tame and low-key in his interview on the show, and, as someone who's spent a fair amount of time with Chris, I assure you he is not tame nor low-key. Bianco is the most passionate pizza practitioner I have ever met.
In the fried chicken contest, Willie Mae's Scotch House in New Orleans, the sentimental favorite (her restaurant recently reopened after being destroyed by Katrina, and Willie Mae herself is 91), beat out Price's Chicken Coop in Charlotte, North Carolina, and The Inn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee. No quarrels with this pick, as Wiilie Mae Seatons's fried chicken is absolutely killer. Why Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken in Mason and Memphis, Tennessee, and Prince's in Nashville weren't nominated I'll never know.
In the ribs category, 17th Street Bar and Grill, featuring pitmaster Mike Mills, beat out Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous Room in Memphis and Jasper's in Plano, Texas. The Rendezvous Room had no business being on the list. One thing they didn't mention on the show is that only baby back ribs were considered in the category, which really limits the field. A pit master I trust and respect said it was a travesty that the baby backs at the Whole Hog Cafe weren't considered.
Taco Taco Cafe in San Antonio, Texas, beat out Atlanta's Taqueria del Sol and the South Beach Bar & Grille in Ocean Beach, California, in the taco category. The most interesting thing revealed about Taco Taco Cafe is that it's owned by a Greek woman.
The Bobcat Bite won for for best burger, beating out The Meers Store and Taylor's Refresher. Taylor's Refresher makes a perfectly fine burger, but it does not rise to the level of a top-three burger.
I love thinking about stuff like this, and I genuinely enjoyed watching the show. If they do it again next year maybe they'll get a host who appears to give a damn. If passion is a big part of why these foods and these places and people were chosen, I'd like to see some on the screen next year.
One more thing: I've outlined above and in previous posts the places I think should have been considered in each category. What about you? What are your favorites in each category?