The Best Road Food - From Rhode Island to Tennessee
Rhode Island Road Food
Both of this state’s road foods date back to its colonial beginnings, when farming was essential to success. What did they eat back then? Well, with the rockiest soil in New England, it was hard to plant much other than corn. A little Yankee ingenuity led to Johnny Cakes, fried cornbread cakes cooked on the griddle like pancakes.
Just eating Johnny Cakes could get a little old, but lucky for them, the shoreline’s sand was loaded with clams, so clams were thrown into the mix as well. Things haven’t changed much on the menu – the perfect foods for your road trip through this state are still Johnny Cakes and clams any which way you like them.
The best place to get it: For the best Johnny Cakes in Rhode Island, stop at The Liberty Elm Diner in Providence. These thick small corn-cakes are made with local white cornmeal, fried up to perfection, and served with butter and real maple syrup. If you order it with a side, it's a great meal (or order two if you want a lot, they serve only three cakes with one order). The entire diner experience at the renowned Liberty Elm is a great one,a typical "greasy spoon" with a fun and friendly atmosphere. Road-trippers everywhere agree that this place is worth a major detour.
For some drool-worthy clam cakes (the big favorite) and clam chowder (get the clear "Rhode Island-style" kind), go to Aunt Carrie’s Restaurant
in Narragansett. Not only do locals love this great seafood restaurant on the water, many families make it their yearly summertime mission to go to Aunt Carrie’s at least once. After your seafood dinner or lunch, don’t forget to have dessert – both the rhubarb pie and the Indian pudding a la mode are rave-worthy.
South Carolina Road Food
Depending on where your road trip takes you, you can also go two different directions with this state’s road food. One direction is into the "lowcountry" which is near the shore and where Gullah cooking (Africa is the main influence of this cuisine, dating back to the times of slavery) or lowcountry cooking is served. Improvisation is what created this style of cooking – take what you have and make it great! In coastal South Carolina, that means shrimp, crab, oysters, fish, and rice. The flavors are strong and exotic, and every recipe is a little different. If you want a comparison, it’s a lot like Creole cooking.
The other direction in cuisine is to go for traditional Southern cooking and have a big heaping plate of fried chicken, fried cheese grits, collard greens, biscuits and fried green tomatoes. Grits of any kind are a must-have road food while passing through this state. Before I tried them, I assumed that I wouldn’t like them – the word "grits" just didn’t appeal to me. Could I have been more wrong? I was a wild woman, gobbling down that plate of grits!
The best place to get it: With a name like Gullah Cuisine, you don’t have to wonder what this restaurant in Mt. Pleasant is serving. It’s not a glamorous place, but it more than makes up for it with the wonderful lowcountry Gullah food served here. The two top must-gets are the She-Crab Soup (creamy and loaded with crab) and the Gullah Rice (Gullah version of dirty rice). The buffet is great as you’ll get a wide variety, but make sure to order the other two items from the menu as they don’t come with the buffet.
There are so many great Southern dishes offered at Hominy Grill in Charleston, you’re head will spin! You name a Southern dish, and they’ve got it. Unbelievable fried cheese grits? Yup! Luscious fried green tomatoes? You betcha! How about some Country Captain? Do you need to ask? Whatever you choose, you can count on this meal being one of your road trip’s best.
South Dakota Road Food
This state’s road food is more about a place than a type of food. If there’s a stop you must make on your road trip through South Dakota, it’s Wall Drug Store in Wall. This drug store is much more than that – it’s a huge Western emporium selling everything cowboy and boasts an enormous and well-loved restaurant.
How did Wall Drug Store get so famous? It all started during the Great Depression, when the owner decided to advertise free ice water using signs along the nearby highway. "Free" was a big word back then, and it started the river of people flowing into this store and restaurant. Today, you can still get your free ice water as well as a true South Dakota road food: the buffalo burger. People rave about the doughnuts, too, so don’t forget to stock up on this road food as well.
You know the best place to get it!
Tennessee Road Food
Which road food I recommend you eat in this state depends on which city you’re planning on visiting. If you’re going to Memphis, then the hands-down winner is (pork) barbecue, and the two types are pulled pork and ribs (with sauce or without). If you’re passing through Nashville on your road trip, you’ve got to have "meat and three" – any meat entrée along with three sides as well as corn bread and biscuits.
The best place to get it: If you’re going to Memphis, everyone agrees that there aren’t any bad barbeques in town! And there are tons of them! However, after some careful polling, the best of the best prize goes to Central BBQ for their wet and dry ribs that are so incredibly meaty, smoky and tangy, even the locals line up for them.
Passing through Nashville? Get your meat-and-three at Arnold’s Country Kitchen, where country music stars rub elbows with locals to get this sublime grub. The place doesn’t look like much and the food is served cafeteria style, but once you start eating, you’ll swear you’re dining in a 5-star restaurant. People have actually used the word "pass out" to describe how delicious this country-style food is! Most people agree that one the best parts of your meal will be the "3" sides you can choose – from the mac-n-cheese to the squash casserole to the black-eyed peas, you’ll swear it’s the best you’ve ever had.
Return to Road Food Across the Nation
Return to Road Trip Planning Home