Cigar Aficionado

Dining in the Heartland

New Yorkers are parochial. We know it. We don’t simply believe that our restaurants are as good as any in the world or in the United States, we know it. It is true that you can eat as well in the five boroughs as you can just about anywhere. But if you travel, and love good food, you also know that today you can be surprised by a great restaurant in almost any city, big or small, across the entire country. America’s food revolution is real.

Case in point. I was a small city of about 26,000 people last month in Ohio about 50 miles south of Cleveland in the middle of a rural farming area. It didn’t take long perusing the yellow pages to figure out that after the Longhorn Steakhouse, which I had eaten at in April, there wasn’t much choice beyond the all too familiar chain eateries that you can find in any shopping strip from California to Maine. But there in the restaurants section was a listing for the South Market Bistro, which the address showed was in the heart of downtown, a classic center of a quaint small American town.

The hostess apologized when I called at 7 p.m. asking for table for three, saying that she didn’t have anything until 8:15. I didn’t tell her in New York they would have laughed at me asking for a table at that hour, especially on a Friday night. Perfect, I said, because it would give us enough time to wash off the 10-hour drive from New York. We walked in at 8:10, and she said the table was being set, which we could see happening. We were seated almost immediately, and handed menus including a wine list. The wines were modest and the list short, but I ordered a half-bottle of a 2005 red Burgundy—yes, you all know by now that’s my favorite—and we began to size up the menu. Trust me. The choices could have been off one of New York’s hottest "in" bistros.

The salad greens and heirloom tomatoes came from local gardens and tasted as if they had started the day in the ground. My pasta with vegetables and a fresh pesto was brilliant. My daughter’s stuffed chicken breast with vegetables and a dusting of white truffle oil was to die for. And my wife’s pork dish was succulent and perfectly prepared. The peach blueberry cobbler that my wife and I shared for dessert held up against the warm chocolate cake that my daughter had.

Ohio’s smoking laws are as tough as any in the country, so there was no cigar to be had following the meal. But at that moment, I didn’t protest. We dined as well as we could have in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago. And, without an advance reservation! On a Friday night!

"So very true. I live in Sonoma tourist-wine tasting area, and it is known for good, and also pricey food. But some of the best food is in Los Angeles, particularly ethnic cooking, which people here hate to admit, since it is L.A. Used to eat regularly in Oakland,CA, at an unpretentious luncheon diner, inside an otherwise empty warehouse, with all the tables clustered together. Best food around." —November 12, 2007 13:49 PM