Serious eaters who have been around awhile, like me, know that the idea of driving across America in search of the best regional food originated with Roadfood authors Jane and Michael Stern, not Guy Fieri: They published their first edition of the guide in 1977—one of 30 books they've written to date, including 10 editions of Roadfood—decades before Guy started tooling around in his convertible on TV. Along with Calvin Trillin, the Sterns have been my greatest inspirations, so I jumped at the chance to interview them on Special Sauce.
Michael grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, with a mother he calls "the Michelangelo of Jell-O. She made a seven-layer Jell-O mold made with just about every kind of crappy food known to man." His traveling-salesman dad, however, took him on road trips, where he got to experience Green Bay chili and Iowa pork tenderloin sandwiches. How did Michael and Jane start their Roadfood adventures together? They were both students at Yale who started going out, according to Jane, because Michael had a car and a little bit of money thanks to a fellowship. Inspired by Jack Kerouac, they set out, armed with a bunch of phone books, to eat at every cheap restaurant in America.
Though they didn't get very far on their first trip, they persisted over the years, and the result is an impressive number of books and magazine articles, as well as the new and improved Roadfood.com, which allows them to constantly update their expansive database of the best places to eat in America. (Full disclosure: Serious Eats and Roadfood are both owned by Fexy Media.) You'll hear about the bumps they've experienced along the way, like the time they drove 2,500 miles to a place in Idaho called The Spud Bowl, only to discover it was a bowling alley and not a restaurant. The Sterns are smart, funny, and unpretentious writers who happen to cover stuff that serious eaters really care about. And, when you listen to this episode of Special Sauce, you'll realize that after 39 years, they still approach each road trip with gusto and joy.
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Want to chat with me and Kenji? We're accepting questions for Special Sauce call-in episodes now. Do you have a long-standing argument with your spouse about the best pasta-cooking methods? Have you been refining your pizza-making technique for the past five years, but can't quite make it work? Does your brother make the worst steak, and you want to figure out how to give him tips? We want to get to know you and solve all your food-related problems. Send us the whole story at [email protected].