10 Regional Foods You Should Try

Something called a Garbage Plate may not sound like the most appetizing thing to the uninitiated, but namedrop the delicacy in front of someone who’s spent time in Western New York and you’ll likely make their mouth water. That’s how it works with the most niche offerings of American cuisine. Region-by-region, state-by-state, and city-by-city, every local has his or her favorite, and every specialty menu item says something particular about those serving it up and scarfing it down. So we rounded up ten of the wildest, wondrous, only-in-[insert town here] food dishes in these great United States. If they don’t make your stomach growl, well, you just might not be from around here.

1. Reindeer Hotdog // Alaska

Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of resources: What does Alaska have that the rest of the United States doesn’t? A sizeable population of caribou, of course. And thus, the reindeer hot dog—like your normal frankfurter, but instead of beef or pork, it’s made of the creatures pulling Santa’s sleigh and topped with glazed onions. Locals and national foodies in the know point to M.A.’s Gourmet Dogs in Anchorage as the quintessential reindeer dog stand, and two Alaskan companies provide the niche meat. The specialty dog is slowly making its way to the lower 48 states, but if you want to avoid a folly, you’ll have to trek up north for this wholly Alaskan treat. So Alaskan, in fact, these dogs even get served at the Iditarod.

2. Frybread Tacos // Western U.S.

jeffreyw, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Perhaps known better by the less politically correct moniker "Indian tacos," these southwestern favorites are steeped in Native American history. The usual taco ingredients are the same—beef, cheese, lettuce, etc.—but the shell is what sets this dish apart. The traditional frybread is said to come from what’s known as The Long Walk, the forced relocation of Native Americans in the western U.S. to New Mexico in the mid-19th century, when the only rations available, including flour, sugar, and lard, became the makings for frybread. As such, it remains a hallmark of Native American culture today—and a delicious, if unhealthy, taco shell.

3. Food Drunk // New Orleans

The frosted, prize-bearing king cake itself is not a New Orleans original, even if it is a Mardi Gras staple. But you know what is? The king cake burger, courtesy of one ingenious food truck that had a stroke of entrepreneurial spirit in the lead-up to Mardi Gras 2014. In the true tradition of Mardi Gras, the individuals behind Food Drunk NOLA didn’t settle for selling boring old cheeseburgers—they sold cheeseburgers on a king cake bun. The idea for this sweet-meets-savory masterpiece allegedly came to the Food Drunk staff after a couple of drinks, and what’s more Mardi Gras than parading around New Orleans selling an idea you came up with while a few drinks deep?

4. Heady Topper Beer // Vermont

How about a beer so rare—and tasty—it inspires pilgrimages and black markets? Meet Heady Topper, a double India Pale Ale from Vermont family-run brewery The Alchemist. One of the state’s many breweries (Vermont’s 6.2 breweries per 100,000 adults was second in the U.S. in 2013), The Alchemist is perhaps the best of the bunch, but only produces a certain amount of Heady Topper each year, and limits customers to one case per purchase. And yet, with inspired hop flavors like grapefruit and pine, it’s considered by many in the know to be the best beer in the world. No wonder it’s developed a cult-like following, and contributes to the nearly $200 million craft beer industry that pumps barrels of cash into Vermont’s economy each year.

5. Rocky Mountain Oysters // Western U.S.

jankgo, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Farmers of the western U.S. are resourceful down to the very last bit. Some are so frugal, even, they can’t even bear to throw out the leftover testicles after bull castration, a common practice on cattle farms. What doesn’t get fed to the dogs on the farm is sliced up and deep-fried, becoming a favorite regional snack. According to a 2013 Modern Farmer profile of the “tasty testes,” some even believe the “Montana Tendergroins” (one of the dish’s many colorful names) give men a Viagra-like boost.

6. Hot Beef Sundae // Iowa

With millions of cattle generating billions of dollars for the state’s economy, beef in Iowa is serious business. Not so serious is this dessert imposter and state fair favorite. The hot beef sundae consists of a dollop (or two) of mashed potatoes drowned in beef tips and gravy, sprinkled with shredded cheese, all with a cherry tomato on top, in imitation of a hot fudge sundae. The hot beef sundae is a Midwest far-from-frozen delight—so much so that the Iowa Beef Industry Council offers a recommended recipe on its website.

7. Garbage Plate // Western New York

If you’re unfamiliar with the crown jewel of Rochester, NY cuisine, just ask anyone who went to college in Western New York. The dish that made original purveyor Nick Tahou a household name in the region is a late-night, post-bar staple. The Garbage Plate consists of your choice of meat (traditionally: cheeseburgers, Texas hot dogs, or the region’s own pork white hots) piled on top of a pair of sides (pick two: home fries, French fries, baked beans, macaroni salad), all smothered with mustard, onions, and enough hot sauce to melt even the heaviest lake effect snow.

8. Hoagie Dip // Philadelphia

What you call it—hoagie, grinder, sub, hero—depends on where you call home, but while the sandwich is ubiquitous, Philadelphia has figured out a way to take the hoagie back: turning it into a dip. The city that birthed America isn’t constrained by simple-minded white bread notions of what a sandwich should be. All the ingredients of the perfect hoagie are there (ham, turkey, the saltiest of cold cuts, provolone cheese, peppers, onions) chopped up and drenched in mayonnaise and olive oil, served in a hollowed-out loaf of bread. That, my fellow freedom lovers, is how Independence Hall does a hoagie.

9. Hemp Milk Latte // Washington

As one of four states with legal recreational marijuana use and home to the national-headline-making Hempfest, it’s no secret that Washington loves the cannabis plant. But not all of that has to do with pot, as the kids call it. The state eyes all sorts of uses for hemp—a potential cash crop—and the plant’s seeds produce a fine dairy milk substitute. Perfect for, say, another Washington staple: your morning latte, from Starbucks or not. Yep, coffee and hemp milk—toss in some rain and you have Washington in a nutshell.

10. Hawaii Regional Cuisine // Hawaii

The 50th state isn’t concerned with just one of its dishes—it takes pride in all of its unique island offerings, from ahi and mahi-mahi to macadamia nut spreads that are slathered on everything. Which is why more than two decades ago, a group of Hawaiian chefs formed Hawaii Regional Cuisine, a “culinary movement” dedicated to preserving the state’s particular style of food culture, ensuring every dish has that Hawaiian spirit you can’t get anywhere else.

10 Delicious Facts About McDonald's Shamrock Shake

McDonald's
McDonald's

Many people overdo it with the drinking on St. Patrick's Day, but it's not always Guinness or Jameson that gets them into trouble. Sometimes it's the Shamrock Shake, McDonald's uniquely green and often elusive seasonal treat. Here’s the skinny on the 660-calorie indulgence.

1. The Shamrock Shake wasn't originally known as The Shamrock Shake.

The original name of the cult classic milkshake was slightly less alliterative. It was called the St. Patrick’s Day Green Milkshake. Catchy, no?

2. The Shamrock Shake is a charitable endeavor.

What does the Shamrock Shake have to do with the Ronald McDonald House and the Philadelphia Eagles? Everything, according to the fast food giant. When Eagles tight end Fred Hill’s daughter was being treated for leukemia in 1974, Fred and his wife spent a lot of time in waiting rooms and noticed many other emotionally depleted families doing the same. He thought it would be healthier for families if they had a place to call home while their children were being treated, so he used his football connections to get in touch with a local advertising agency that did work for Mickey D’s. They agreed to give profits from the Shamrock Shake toward a home near the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, which ended up becoming the first-ever Ronald McDonald House.

3. Uncle O'Grimacey used to be the Shamrock Shake's ambassador.

Back in the early ‘80s, a fairly offensive character named Uncle O’Grimacey was used to promote the seasonal shake.

4. No McDonald's restaurant is required to offer the Shamrock Shake.

In 2012, it was announced that, for the first time, the Shamrock Shake would be available in all McDonald's nationwide—but not all restaurants have to carry them. Regional managers decide whether their stores will carry the shakes each year.

5. Jimmy Fallon once depleted a New York City restaurant's entire Shamrock Shake supply.

If you’re a New Yorker and you didn’t get a much-craved Shamrock Shake in 2011, it’s probably Jimmy Fallon’s fault. When he caught wind that a Union Square Mickey D's had the elusive dessert, he totally cleaned them out—purchasing more than 100 shakes for his audience. New Yorkers were not pleased with Fallon.

6. The Shamrock Shake got an ice cream offshoot (that didn't fare so well).

Despite the smashing success of the shake, the Shamrock Sundae was a dismal failure. Introduced in 1980, it was discontinued after just a year. Apparently people prefer their unnaturally green desserts in shake form as opposed to scoop form. Though this year, they're trying again: in honor of the Shamrock Shake's 50th anniversary, McDonald's is also introducing an Oreo Shamrock McFlurry.

7. There have been many super-sized versions of the Shamrock Shake.

For a few years, a giant shake was poured into the Chicago River to help contribute to the green hue it’s dyed every year. A donation was also made to the Ronald McDonald House.

8. The McDonald's app will help you track down a Shamrock Shake.

Are you one of those unfortunate souls who has to hunt the shake down every year? McDonald's official app can help. In 2020, for the first time in three years, the Shamrock Shake will be offered at all McDonald's locations. If you're not sure of the nearest one near you, the McDonald's app has a full directory to help.

9. You can make your own Shamrock Shake at home.

If you still can’t find a shake, you have one other option: make your own.

10. In 2017, McDonald's engineered a special Shamrock Shake straw.

In 2017, McDonald's unveiled an amazing innovation for Shamrock Shake lovers: the STRAW. Short for Suction Tube for Reverse Axial Withdrawal, the STRAW was designed by real engineers at the aerospace and robotics engineering firms JACE and NK Labs—specifically with the Shamrock Shake in mind. What sets the device apart from conventional straws is the sharp bend in its shape and the three, eye-shaped holes in addition to the opening at the bottom end. The extra holes are positioned in a way that allows drinkers to take a sip of a new layered version of the frosty treat that’s equal parts top mint layer and bottom chocolate layer.

Wales Is Home to the Baked Bean Museum of Excellence

Baked Bean Museum of Excellence
Baked Bean Museum of Excellence

If you don't think it's possible to get excited about beans, you've clearly never been to the Baked Bean Museum of Excellence in Port Talbot, Wales. The site is filled with memorabilia celebrating canned baked beans, but the legume-loving "superhero" in charge of it all may be the most intriguing attraction.

Before legally changing his name to "Captain Beany" in 1991, the owner of the Baked Bean Museum was a Welsh man named Barry Kirk, according to Atlas Obscura. He was born in 1954 and spent the early part of his adulthood working in the computer department of a British petroleum plant in South Wales.

But his life took a much different direction in 1986 when he broke the world record for longest time in a baked bean bath at 100 hours. He fully adopted his Captain Beany persona five years later and began painting his face and head orange. He also started dressing in a gold-and-orange superhero costume. Since then, he's raised nearly $130,000 for charity by performing various bean-related stunts like pushing a can of beans along the beach with his nose. His biggest claim to fame, though, is his Baked Bean Museum, which he opened in his two-bedroom council flat in 2009.

Baked Bean Museum of Excellence.
Baked Bean Museum of Excellence

Visit Captain Beany's home and you'll find more baked bean swag than most people see in a lifetime. His lavatory has been transformed into the "Branston Bathroom," with the British product's logo embellishing every surface, and the kitchen is all about Heinz. The museum also features vintage advertisements, collectible cans, and knick-knacks like a pair of baked bean cufflinks. And if you ever start to feel overwhelmed, Captain Beany will be there as your personal guide in one of his tomato-sauce-orange outfits.

Baked Bean Museum of Excellence.
Baked Bean Museum of Excellence

The Baked Bean Museum of Excellence is technically free to enter, but Captain Beany does accept donations that he gives to charity. You can visit the Port Talbot institution from Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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