The Night Before

Note from CHOW managing editor Davina Baum: Many of you know that Jim Leff is on the road, traveling the country in search of “edible treasure.” Here’s his first post—not quite from the road, but pre-road.

We’ll be building a bigger CHOWTour area shortly, so check back for more action. Take a look at the CHOWTour board and get the discussion going. Now, on to Jim …

I’m sitting in my living room in Queens, New York, gnawing celery sticks and sipping diet soda in anticipation of the gastronomic punishment to come.

Here’s the plan: Armed with a camera, a recorder, a notebook, and endless joie de manger, I will spend two months on the road, following my intuition and putting years of chowhounding experience to the test. My goal is to find edible treasure cooked with heart and soul, prepared by the holdouts, kooks, and geniuses who aim for much more than maximal profit from minimal effort.

As a dedicated chowhound, I have an insatiable desire to soak up experiences outside the slick bubble. I refuse to be distracted by the shiny bauble of hype. Even in this plastic era of pandemic soul-stifling chains, there are still compellingly unique destinations. It’s just a matter of drilling down to find the local gems. I will Photoshop out the Applebee’s and Denny’s from my chowscape.

There’s no cheating allowed. I won’t call local food critics for tips, I’ll carry no guidebooks, and I won’t even scour through the Chowhound message boards (reliable though they are for excavating under-radar deliciousness).

There are risks, of course, in dropping in to strange places and expecting to eat superbly. That’s why the crashes might be the most interesting parts. There may be stretches where I fail to score, perhaps even resorting—in moments of extreme deprivation—to victuals that are merely adequate. But don’t bet against me. You see, I’m on quite a streak. (I’ll podcast about that shortly … keep following along!)

The trip won’t all be pure chowhounding. There are people to meet—I can’t wait to introduce you to my friend Rob, a Navy SEAL commander/wine expert who gushes in floridly poetical terms on food and drink—and there are some specific events and venues I plan to check out. But mostly, I’ll aim to get lost.

Right now, though, I’ve got gear to pack and about two thousand sit-ups to do.