Summer is upon us, which means it’s time to start planning your travel!
Whether you plan your trips around your culinary bucket list (we’re in this camp) or are just curious about the delicious foods you should try in the destinations you’re already planning to visit, this guide will help you navigate the country’s ultimate food destinations of the summer. Pack your bags and make room in your stomach—this is going to be a cross-country culinary adventure!
Maine: Lobster Roll
Like all of the great culinary wars (creamy vs. crunchy, ketchup vs. mustard) the battle between those who love Maine vs. Connecticut-style lobster rolls is a fierce one. Most people have a preferred preparation style—but if we’re being honest, we’d take a lobster roll any day of the year, no matter how it’s prepared.
Maine style lobster rolls feature cold lobster meat mixed with mayonnaise and served on a center-split hot dog bun, in more of a lobster salad preparation. Meanwhile, Connecticut style means the lobster meat is served warm with butter (and sometimes spices like paprika) on a toasted New England bun, whose sides are made of bread, rather than crust, as in a traditional hot dog bun.
One great lobster roll is at Red’s Eats along Route 1 near Brunswick—don’t let the ever-present long line deter you—it’s worth the wait. Red’s has been a culinary establishment and destination in the region for over 80 years.
And if you want to try your hand at making your very own lobster roll at home, this Maine-style recipe won’t disappoint.
Next up on your summer food tour: Maryland, otherwise known as the home of the blue crab (we’re big seafood fans here if you couldn’t tell). Blue crab is part of the Chesapeake Bay area’s culinary heritage and has a cult following among crab lovers for its dynamic flavor and delicate texture.
Maryland natives love to prepare the shellfish in myriad, delicious ways. If you’re a soft shell lover, we highly recommend Harris Crab House on the shore—they serve their delicious soft shell crabs sandwiched, stuffed, and solo.
If you prefer to eat your crab in patty form, Faidley Seafood near Baltimore is known for its crab cakes, and it’s always where we stop before heading out to the beach on the Eastern shore.
Vermont: Maple Creemee
Though Vermont is the home of ice cream empire Ben & Jerry’s, true Vermonters opt for a fresh swirled creemee when the weather turns warm. Creemees are basically Vermont-speak for soft-serve ice cream, and they’re immensely popular in the state—most small towns and big cities alike have creemee stands sprinkled (pun intended) along the major roads and town centers.
While most soft serve stands around the country offer the classic options of chocolate, vanilla, and twist, in Vermont, there’s another classic flavor on the roster: maple. Maple creemees unite two staples of Vermont life—maple syrup and…well, the cold!
One of our favorite creemee stands in the Burlington area—Broadacres Creemee Stand in Colchester, VT (around 15 minutes outside of Burlington)—makes the best maple-vanilla swirl around.
Washington State: Oysters
Sure, you can get delicious oysters in New England, but West Coast oysters are so different from their Eastern seaboard counterparts that it’s worth the trip for oyster lovers, just to experience something new.
Where East Coast oysters are often smaller and brinier, West Coast oysters tend to be plumper, sweeter, and more buttery in their flavor and texture. Comparing them is like comparing apples to oranges—and you have to try them from the source to believe it.
Our favorite West Coast oysters are kumamotos, native Japanese oysters that are harvested primarily near Seattle. These sweet, almost fruity bivalves are so mild that you really don’t need much in the way of condiments—unless you can’t get enough of that mignonette sauce.
Of course, you don’t have to go to the Pacific Northwest to try these oysters (they’re available along most of the West Coast and in some cases, around the country) but we take any excuse we can to embark on a food-centric vacation.
Rhode Island: Coffee Milk
Once the temperature spikes, we love getting creative with iced coffee flavors. So, naturally, we were delighted to hear about the Rhode Island culinary tradition of coffee milk, which essentially takes the premise of chocolate or strawberry milk and makes it more cold-brew-esque.
Coffee milk is made by combining a distilled coffee syrup (made from mixing coffee extract with corn syrup) with milk and serving it chilled, often over ice. It’s a sweet, creamy drink that’s more coffee in flavor than in caffeination—as if you let a few scoops of coffee ice cream melt in a glass and then drank it through a straw (yum).
While most Rhode Islanders keep a bottle of coffee syrup in their pantry so they can make their own coffee milk on a whim, many cafes throughout the state serve coffee milk on their menus alongside other caffeinated beverages. Dave’s Coffee in Providence not only has coffee milk on the menu, but they also sell their very own version of bottled coffee syrup at the store, so you can take a little piece of the coffee milk craze home with you.
Santa Fe: Red & Green Chile
If you’re someone who puts red chili flakes and Sriracha on everything you eat, you’ve got to get yourself to New Mexico, where the chile pepper is the official state vegetable.
Joining the list of our favorite hot sauces from around the world are Santa Fe’s famed chile pepper sauces, which come in two varieties: red and green. Both start from the same pepper, but the red chiles are left to harvest a bit longer, allowing them to develop a sharper, more robust flavor. Both chile sauces can range from mildly spicy to excruciatingly hot, depending on the harvest and farmer.
Most New Mexican restaurants will ask you whether you want red or green when you order a burrito, enchilada, nachos, or pretty much any dish off the menu. If you can’t decide which to try, you can also opt for “Christmas,” which is what the locals call it if you get both red and green chile sauces on your dish. We advise getting some sour cream for the table, in case things get really hot!
We’re huge fans of The Shed in downtown Santa Fe. The wait can get pretty long at peak mealtime hours, but it’s worth it—make use of their comfortable waiting area and try one of their delicious house margaritas while you wait.
New Orleans: Po’Boy
While many people flock to New Orleans for Mardi Gras (we’ve got a culinary bucket list for that, too!) and Jazz Fest each year, we prefer to go when the city is a bit less crowded and chaotic—less people means less competition for getting into all of our favorite restaurants!
While the beignets and gumbo receive most of the foodie hype, when we’re in town, we head straight for the po’boys— big, stuffed, saucey sandwiches filled with fried seafood, crunchy pickles, and creamy mayo on a fresh French baguette. We love the po’boy at Domilise’s Po-Boy & Bar, but there are countless other spots in the city that serve up their own variation on this classic Louisiana sandwich.
Charleston: Shrimp & Grits
Shrimp and grits are a staple of Lowcountry cuisine, the culinary style traditionally associated with the South Carolina and Georgia coasts.
Lowcountry cooking has many similarities to Cajun and Louisiana cuisine, which is why you’ll find many parallels in the food scenes in Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans. What sets the Lowcountry apart, however, is its rich source of seafood from the coastal estuaries that feed into the major cities like Charleston, providing an abundance of shrimp, oysters, crabs, and fish.
Meanwhile, the grits draw their heritage from the Native Americans’ use of hominy (nixtamalized corn) as a primary food source and trading currency. The Native Americans taught the American settlers how to transform this corn-based staple into a range of culinary uses—including stone-grinding them into grits.
While grits (with or without the shrimp) were traditionally consumed as a breakfast meal, today shrimp & grits is on menus around the region for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as locals and tourists alike can’t get enough of the creamy, flavorful dish. One of our favorite preparations in Charleston is the one at Poogan’s Porch in the French Quarter, which includes andouille sausage and Tasso Ham gravy, in addition to the classic ingredients.
If you can’t make it to Charleston or Savannah but are dying for a taste of this Lowcountry dish, our spin on summertime shrimp and grits will give you the flavors of the South in your own kitchen.
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