Over the last couple of days, the 2013 travel plans have started to fall into place. Next month's Seattle plans are really firming up, with a couple of other trips in the offing that, well, it might be tempting fate to discuss. Regardless, the planning and discussions have prompted two things. First of all, I've joined a gym in a desperate and long overdue attempt to undo past / balance current excesses. Secondly, I've been skipping back through photos of last year's travels, reminiscing on, well, the sorts of excesses I'm trying to undo.
Many of the best memories came from a trip I did for MSN with the assistance of Motel 6, the US budget motel chain. A couple of US friends had terrified me by describing them as "kind of like your Travelodges... only not as good." Really? Assuming they have a roof and four walls, how is that even possible?
As it happens, while slightly different to the usual standard of hotels I (happily) get to stay in, they're perfectly acceptable: clean, comfortable, cheap, with free wifi, lots of accessible power points (something some more expensive hotels could do with) and TVs. There's also a lot of them across the US, and the point of the trip was to show them as a good base for food trips. Point proven, I think...
Anyway, that journey took me hundreds of miles from Brooklyn to Bangor and back to Boston via many memorable meals, some great people and the Maine Lobster Festival. A lot of the trip was inspired, somewhat inevitably by Adam Richman and Guy Fieri via their TV programmes - many episodes of which are on the PVR at any given time - and, particularly, the truly excellent TV Food Maps. If you're planning a trip to the US and have even the slightest interest in great local eating, I don't think there's a better source of information out there. The app is also fantastic.
The trip took me from New York through Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, briefly into New Hampshire and up through Maine. There was a lot of seafood, a lot of local specials... just a lot of eating, frankly. Incredibly, looking back now, scanning notes and photos, I can't remember a single duff dish. There were things I wouldn't rush back for - a couple of burgers at small chains, a slice of cheesecake that wasn't as good as mine - but nothing terrible, for which I take my hat off to Messrs Richman, Fieri and TV Food Maps and to everyone who suggested places on the pre-trip post. Cheers.
Some stand outs though... In Brooklyn I caught up with the lovely Libby, plus her friend Jordan for a fine graze from Pok Pok to The Meatball Shop via Paulie Gee's for some great Thai, a predictably good meatball slider and, perhaps best of all, a Hell Boy pizza drizzled with chilli-infused, Brooklyn-made Mike's Hot Honey. Purists will no doubt shudder but my predilection for spicy is now thoroughly documented and sweet, heat and meat sounds like a good mantra for life. It's certainly bloody tasty in this cheesy, wood-fired case.
I could happily bore you with all the week's eating - I've got around a thousand photos from the week - but for now I'm going to stick to a few highlights from the first full day because, actually, looking at the pics, there are a few things that deserve proper mentions and posts of their own. So, for now, here's Brooklyn's Bedford Baking Studio, who provided the caffeine and cake hit that fuelled my lengthy grazing day. Great coffee, amazing baking - that little coconut macaroon pictured at the top of the post was spectacular - and owner / baker Tolga Eyidemir was just hanging out on the sofa and happy to explain his philosophy, Turkish heritage and the rather charming little sign on the counter.
Then there are the tacos at La Superior, and the lovely waitress who brought me the two I'd ordered - the camaron al chipotle and the superb rajas - plus an extra (and free) cochinita pibil because "hey you're a food lover and we like those here."
There's also the superb ice cream at Blue Marble which made up for some oddly but appropriately cold service. And, just to prove it's not all little independents (you know, in the standard smug foodie way), here's one of the reasons I'm very excited that Five Guys is coming to London this year...