One of the many (random) things which fascinate me is the food culture found in various communities across the United States. You know what I’m talking about—those foods that are uniquely local and contribute to that area’s reputation. It’s not like you can never find those dishes elsewhere, but to find them with ubiquity and authenticity, you must go to the source. Think beignets and chicory coffee in New Orleans, cheese steak in Philly, crab in Baltimore and Italian beef in Chicago. This topic’s always somewhere on my mind (in fact, one of my many entrepreneurial ideas is to open a restaurant with a menu divided by city/region), and it came to the forefront when I was home in Detroit over the holidays.
For years, Detroit’s been considered less than desirable. (Whether or not it deserves that stereotype is a post for another day.) But despite all of its issues, Detroit has got to be one of the most robust local-product food towns in the country. Probably the most iconic Detroit food item is the Coney Island. Lafayette downtown is one of the originals, but you can throw a rock anywhere in the ‘burbs and hit a Coney Island restaurant. The Coney Island itself – a hot dog smothered in chili, mustard and chopped onions – is made with this chili that comes in frozen blocks that I’ve never seen anywhere but Detroit. Also in Detroit, our bagels are different and we’ve got literally an entire line of retail food products like Towne Club and Faygo pop (soda to a Michigander), Sanders chocolates, Better Made potato chips and Red Pelican mustard that you can’t even buy outside of the area. Last month, I took this photo at Leo’s Coney Island with the express intention of waxing poetic (or at least attempting) on the subject at some point in m.
Calling the weird coincidences department, last week I got a call from Ric Kahn at the Globe who, knowing that we rep a lot of restaurants, was looking to see if I had any insight in debunking a myth about Boston’s affinity for Baked Beans for a piece he was working on. “Are Baked Beans an iconic Boston food?” he asked, “or are they simply a relic of the past, and not really available in Boston as an iconic food should be.” After much discussion with Ric, my colleagues and even a friend or two, we determined that, indeed, Boston isn’t really an iconic food town. Clam chowder and lobsters? Really more New England-regional than Boston. Boston Crème Pie…where else can you find it other than the Omni Parker House? Same goes for Baked Beans and Durgin Park. The conclusion? Maybe Boston has enough history that we don’t have to rely on food to give us a sense of community. At least that’s what we came up with and, now that it’s in print, we’re sticking to it!
posted by Marlo