Now that food trucks are a staple in pretty much every metropolis, people have to get really creative to think about how to serve food in an edgy manner. But from fries in a vending machine to sparkling water in a public fountain, there are plenty of places around the world that will make sure that you have an unforgettable eating experience.
1. Coin-operated Belgian Fries
If you want a cornet of classic Belgian fries, look no further than a vending machine. A coin-operated machine in Brussels has been specifically developed to produce fries made with beef fat. And yes they do come with an option of ketchup or mayonnaise.
2. Ice cream from a monster truck
You’ve seen food trucks, but have you ever seen a monster food truck? Czech carmaker Skoda turned a 5.5 ton van into an ice cream truck, deeming it the “world’s largest ice cream truck.” It has five-foot tall tires after all. You’ll find it touring around the UK.3. Vending machine champagne
In Berlin you can get your bubbles from a vending machine. The gourmet food vending machine at delicatessen Floris Feinkost not only has pint-sized bottles of champagne available for sale, but also Dutch stroopwaffels and flavored salts. That’s what you call one stop shopping.
4. Sparkling water from a fountain
It would seem that only in Paris would you be able to get sparkling water from a fountain (which you can do at three different parks in the city) but earlier this year even Australia tried one out, with the city of Perth using a sparkling water fountain on a three-month trial.
5. Carry-out bacon bar
A restaurant isn’t such an odd or intriguing thing, but a carry-out bacon bar is. In Chicago you now know exactly where to order your bacon when you’re having that random craving thanks to Burke’s Bacon Bar which offers up mini sandwiches stuffed with bacon. As chef Rick Gresh said, “Bacon could be the one legal drug, because once you taste it you’re hooked.”
6. The in-car rice maker
Want food on the go? For those looking for a little more homecooked of a meal while they’re traveling, you might want the new Japanese in-car rice cooker. That’s right, you can now prep your sushi rice while you drive. Could be useful when you’re running late on dish prep for a dinner party.
It’s Thursday night in Fries, a lonely little, old mill town in Southwest Virginia with a population of 484 souls. I’m with my wife and two boys at the old Fries (pronounced FREEZE) Theater listening to a jam session with a room half full of senior citizens. Admission is free, donations are accepted and hot dogs go for a buck and a quarter at a makeshift concession stand in the corner of the room.
There are 15 musicians sitting on plastic chairs in a circle under harsh fluorescent lighting, most of them senior citizens, and as they tear into their first tune – a catchy little instrumental number powerful enough to wake the whole slumbering town – I realize that there is nowhere in the world I’d rather be than right here in this old theater listening to a room full of soulful country folk playing the music that’s in their blood.
Fries is our first stop on The Crooked Road, Southwest Virginia’s 253-mile music heritage trail, where old-time Appalachian music and Southern hospitality are alive and well. My boys join the seniors on the makeshift dance floor and before I know it, we’re part of the gang, tapping our feet to haunting renditions of tunes like “Ashokan Farewell,” made famous by Ken Burns and his series on the Civil War, and “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow.”
I’ve paid big bucks in various corners of the globe to see famous musicians whose entourages are bigger than this whole room, but I can’t recall ever enjoying an evening of music the way I’m savoring every melodic moment of this one. My sons introduce us to Ray Vaughan, a 76-year-old house painter wearing a mesh John Deere hat who is showing them how to dance. Vaughan tells us that Fries is the birthplace of Henry Whitter, the first musician to record a country song on a 78 record. His grandson still lives in town.
Vaughan tells us that people in Fries live, breath, eat and sleep music. He’s one of 11 children and each played an instrument.
“The young kids around here mostly go for other types of music,” he admits when I ask why there aren’t any young people in the room. “They’ll pick it up as they get older though. This music here won’t ever die ’cause the songs are just about livin’ the way life is in this area.”
We chat with some of the musicians and learn why they sound so good: they jam here every Thursday night and look forward to it all week long. I ask a few of them, all in their 70s, why they do it and each has essentially the same answer: it keeps us young and it’s who we are.
On Friday, we venture an hour further southwest to Floyd, a delightful small town with country flair and an artsy vibe and make our way to the Floyd Country Store to check out their famous Friday Night Jamboree. The place is, as its name suggests, an old general store with ice cream, food, music and other products for sale. But the place is full with an eclectic mix of locals and travelers, some from as far away as Scandinavia and Australia, to listen to old time music and dance to their heart’s content.
After a gospel outfit completes a pleasant, hour-long warm-up set, a band called Roscoe P and Coal Train takes the stage and electrifies the crowd, which packs the compact dance floor. Everyone wants their photo with Leo Weddle, a regular who wears bib overalls and has but three teeth left.
“I’m pretty much famous,” he tells us. “I’ve danced with people from all over the world. You can’t imagine how many people have taken my picture.”
Weddle tells us that his wife died of cancer four years ago, and he had a rock removed from his gall bladder in 2009. The worst part of the debacle was that he wasn’t able to make it to the jamboree for a good six months. He says that he now has to get kidney dialysis three times a week, but he never misses a Friday night at Floyd’s Country Store.
“Old Time music is in my body,” he says. “I was raised up with it. It’s in my bones. We’re born that way.”
The music is so infectious that we join the crowds on the dance floor and even my little boys practice their flat-footing with a little help from the locals. I wonder why the band we’re listening to isn’t famous and why it costs just $5 to get in. But maybe that’s exactly why the scene and the night are so unforgettable. If I had just one night left on earth, this is exactly where I’d want to be.
On Saturday, we head west on the appropriately crooked Rt. 58 west through a delightfully pastoral landscape to Hiltons, a tiny little country settlement just a stones throw from the Tennessee state line for a concert at The Carter Family Fold. The Carter Family is more or less royalty in the world of country music and the Fold was established next to the old family homestead in 1979.
As we step into the Fold and pay our $7 cover charge, I gravitate to a snack bar that’s manned by a pair of blue-haired volunteers. For $1.50, they serve me the best slice of coconut cake imaginable, and the night only gets better when The Whitewater Bluegrass Company, a terrific five-piece from Asheville takes the stage. The crowd at the Fold is a bit more local than in Floyd and a few of the seniors in the audience have blankets draped over their laps to ward off the autumn chill.
Children flood the dance floor and one woman does a waltz with her dog Opie. She tells us that he was found at the Fold nearly dead and has become something of a mascot in the place.
“He loves music,” she said. “He’s here every Saturday night.”
I can’t help but conclude that Opie is indeed a very lucky dog.
IF YOU GO: I would start a Crooked Road music tour in Fries, on a Thursday night at the Old Fries Theater, then hit the Floyd Country Store on Friday and on Saturday, I’d check out the Fold or I might look for some live music in Galax, a great little town that hosts the world famous Old Fiddlers Convention every August, right in the heart of the Crooked Road. I also recommend a stop at Heartwood, a great place to eat, drink, listen to live music and pick up souvenirs made by local artisans. It’s right off of I-81 in Abingdon.
There’s also a live show every Friday night at the Rex Theater in Galax, but if you go there, you miss the Friday Night Jamboree in Floyd. The Hotel Floyd is a great base if you can get a room there; if not the Hampton Inn in Galax is also a good option.
One of the best parts of traveling is indulging in a few vices. The “hey, I’m on vacation!” attitude enables you to order dessert, have a glass of wine with lunch, and not worry about the calories you’re taking in, especially as you figure you’ll burn them off walking around museums or hiking the countryside. This photo by Flickr user eolone in Serbia shows some of the best travel food groups: the sausage group, the fried group, even the “hey, I’m in Europe!” tobacco group. Just switch out the water for a beer and you’d have the perfect guilt-free (for now) vacation meal.
I recently took a trip up to Cape Cod for a friend’s wedding. It was my first time in the area and, as I’m wont to do, I intended to eat my way through the seaside towns, stopping at roadside shacks for lobster rolls and fried seafood goodness. So I pulled into the first restaurant I saw: Marc Anthony’s in Onset. It was midday and the checkered table cloth-clad joint was awash in Red Sox cap-wearing locals. I ordered a lobster roll, which the cashier yelled out for the grill-slaving cooks behind him and then a side of French fries.
“And an order of Freedom fries,” he yelled out. Just then a needle scratched across a record from somewhere in the heavens above. Huh? Freedom Fries?
Remember those? If not, here’s a brief refresher: the anti anti-war politicians (and those who loved them) spent the lead-up to Iraq war by trumpeting this name change in 2003 because of the French government’s refusal to go along with the Bush Administration’s plan to invade Iraq. Two of those legislators, congressmen Bob Ney (R-OH) and Walter Jones (R-NC), had the House cafeteria officially change the name of French fries to freedom fries seven years ago last week. They weren’t the first to do this, but the press coverage of the event inspired many restaurateurs to jump on this jingoistic bandwagon. In my old Brooklyn neighborhood, a diner suddenly began serving “Freedom onion soup.” On a trip to California, I saw “Freedom toast” on a breakfast menu.
Two years later, Walter Jones admitted he was wrong for backing the justifications for the war and put the French back in fry in his workplace cafeteria. And so, much like the reasons given for the war, this ridiculous burst of anti-Gallic liberty-spewing re-monikering quietly went away. At least I thought it did.
Apparently not everyone got the notice. In fact, once I started searching for freedom fries, they weren’t hard to find. I even found Congressman Bob Ney who now has a talk radio show. I requested an interview with the congressman and he responded with another question: could we do it on the air? I agreed. And so later that day, I asked Mr. Ney on his radio show if he had any regrets.
“Would I do it again? Yes, I would,” he told me and then said something that kind of surprised me coming from the man who helped give us freedom fries. “Would I change my vote if I knew what I know now about weapons of mass destruction? I would not have given full authority to President Bush to do what he did.” Ney went on to say he really became the face of freedom fries for the troops, not really for the war.
So with this edible anachronism still around, it’s possible to go on a freedom food tour of the country. If you want to party like it’s 2003, your first stop should be Cubbies in Greenville, NC, the supposed first restaurant in the country to serve up these calorically terrific fried potatoes with a side of good ol’ American liberty. Geno’s, the famously “English only”-loving Philadelphia cheesesteak spot proudly serves them too. I called to find out if they were still on the menu, and when I asked why they haven’t gone back to the original name, gruff-voiced Geno (or some guy who sounded like his name would be Geno) hung up on me. The outcome was very similar when I called Marc Anthony’s in Onset. Other places where you can still get a dose of your freedom and your, uh, pommes frites in one basket are the mini-chain of Toby Keith-owned restaurants (now there’s a big surprise), I love This Bar & Grill (locations in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Thackersville, OK.
And when Congressman Ney goes out to a restaurant how does he order his fries these days?
“I’ll order French fries,” he said.
Let’s just hope the Italians don’t offend us next. A slice of pepperoni freedom pie or spaghetti with Uncle Sam’s meatballs just doesn’t have a very edible ring to it.
Be sure to check out Episode 5 of Travel Talk TV, which features a Santa Cruz beach adventure; explains why Scottish money is no good; shows how to cook brats the German way; and offers international dating tips!
Thousands of political activists will arrive hungry for change and hungry for dinner. And what better appetizer than the official food of American politics: freedom fries. (But they’re still called French Fries everywhere outside of the Capitol building.)
Denver Westword has just announced its 2008 Best Of Denver awards, including the category for Best French Fries in the city. The winner is Encore Restaurant located at 2550 E. Colfax Avenue. Encore’s eclectic menu features mid- to high-end American fare, including the townspeople’s favorite fries: “perfectly cooked, heavily salted shoestrings that are unbelievably addictive – particularly hit with a drizzle of spicy mustard that’s just one step (heat-wise) below that stuff you get in Chinese restaurants and about ten times more delicious than a squirt of French’s could ever be,” according to Westword.
For more dining favorites in Denver, view the entire list of Best Of winners here, or check out the DNC’s dining guide here.