Besides being a surfer’s paradise, Oahu also offers many unexpected tasty treats. Here’s our food lover’s guide to Oahu with some of our favorites.

Click here for Food Tours of Oahu.

Garlic Shrimp Food Trucks of Oahu

Giovanni's shrimp truck oahu hawaii hot dog


The north coast of Oahu is festooned with trucks serving a local favorite: garlic shrimp. Visitors driving along the Kamehameha Highway to watch a surfing competition on the pounding waves of the North Shore will be hard-pressed not to stop once the heady aroma of sauteed garlic fills their car.

The shrimp are sauteed in a lemon/olive oil/butter/garlic sauce with chunks of caramelized garlic and are quite simply, outstanding. Success breeds competition and there now several other shrimp trucks in the area, several of which we also tried, but we enjoyed Giovanni’s Original White Shrimp Truck the most. If you’re not in the mood for shrimp try their hot dogs, which may be the best we’ve ever tasted. Or read our full review of Giovanni’s hot dogs.

Madre Chocolate

Foodie Hawaii madre chocolate

Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. where cacao beans thrive. Nat Bletter is a co-founder and “Chocolate Flavormeister” of Madre Chocolate, Oahu’s first bean-to-bar chocolate maker. He says, “We’re trying to turn the windward coast of Oahu into the Napa Valley of chocolate.”

In the historic Chinatown section of Honolulu, Madre offers classes and chocolate tastings that would be right at home in any popular winery. The comparison is apt; the first thing a visitor notices upon stepping into the shop is the musty, vinegary aroma of cacao beans permeating the air, similar to that encountered in wine caves.

Nat teaches how to extract raw chocolate’s unique qualities. We sipped raw cacao pulp, which was milky and tangy, evocative of crushed lychees. During the one-hour class visitors savor beans from various regions and follow their evolution from a fruit to the beloved superfood that it’s become today.

Take a Chocolate making class in Oahu.

Butter Mochi

Foods of Hawaii Oahu butter mochi

Butter mochi is baked custard with a twist that is a popular dessert in Hawaii. Checking out the ingredients–Mochiko sweet rice flour, sugar, coconut milk, Carnation cream, vanilla butter and eggs–it’s easy to see why.

Leonard’s Bakery Malasadas, Honolulu

Leonards Malasadas Honolulu Hawaii

Hawaii boasts two spots that made our list of best dozen donuts in America for the Huffington Post. Perhaps we should move there. Malasadas are fried balls of dough that originate from Portugal, just like the original owners of Leonard’s Bakery in Honolulu. Here they fill them with your choice of custard, chocolate or coconut cream then coat them with sugar, cinnamon sugar or li hing, a sweet and sour dried plum powder. You’ll wait about 10 minutes for your donuts since they are made to order. The wait is most definitely worth it.

Spam Musubi (Spam sushi)

Spam Musubi Hawaii
Spam Musubi Hawaii

Well, we couldn’t write about foods of Hawaii without mentioning Spam, could we? The popular canned meat was introduced to Hawaii during World War II and has never left. One of Barrack Obama’s favorite treats from growing up in Hawaii is Spam musubi. (Proof alone that he’s from there.) Take a slice of Spam, place a chunk of seasoned rice on it wrap it all up with a noir seaweed bow and there you have it. It’s irresistibly salty and fatty, the two prerequisites for any popular snack food.

Dole Pineapple Whip

Dole Plantation Oahu Hawaii

Yeah it’s touristy, but when driving back from the North Shore of Oahu with all that garlic shrimp flavor rolling around your taste buds it’s hard to resist the siren call of the Dole Plantation signs for its favorite treat, Dole Whip. It’s basically a cone of soft-serve “ice cream” with pineapple sherbet but hits the spot on a hot day.

Interested in booking your own food tour? Check out these Oahu Food Tours with Viator!

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Exploring the local food culture on Oahu, Hawaii; from bakeries in Honolulu to shrimp trucks on the north shore

We stayed at the VIVE Hotel at Waikiki in Honolulu.

Here’s our story on foods on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Changes in Longitude Larissa & Michael Milne at Arctic Circle

We’re Larissa and Michael, your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our travel newsletter here.

Memphis, Tennessee is justly known for its dry-rubbed barbecue ribs. But that’s all right, after driving 500 miles to get to the birthplace of rock-and-roll I was there to see Elvis stuff so I thought, “What would Elvis eat?” Among other things, Elvis loved his banana pudding but he also had a sandwich named after him.

“The Elvis” is a griddle-fried concoction of peanut butter and sliced banana on white bread. Sometimes he would surrender to temptation and add bacon to it. In his mind it sure beat a hot dog, or a hound dog too for that matter.

If you ask me, the best place to try an “Elvis” is at Rockabilly’s Diner right across Elvis Presley Boulevard from Graceland. Despite the crowds I was first in line when I placed my order. I asked if they could add just a little bit of bacon but alas, the “Elvis” at Graceland is served baconless.

The sandwich was pretty good, the warmed peanut butter melting into the creamy banana. It even got my taste buds all shook up. Any day now I imagine a chain of Elvis-themed restaurants will open up and start serving it.

Suspicious minds might have noticed that there are 12 Elvis song titles in this post. Can you spot them? It’s now or never.

Elvis Presley rocky statue

Here are the top Elvis items on Amazon.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

A museum dedicated to the Man in Black opened in Nashville, Tennessee. The Johnny Cash Museum, a block off the fabled Broadway music district, almost brings the man back to life through artful displays of recordings, artifacts and memories.

The first display is a series of pylons devoted to each decade of Johnny Cash’s musical career; an imbedded iPad allows visitors to select four different music videos for each decade, allowing one to watch Cash’s career progression from up-and-coming star to American legend.

johnny cash museum nashville interior

One poignant video in his last decade highlights one of his last performances with his wife, June Carter Cash. It’s clear that they both are ailing, but once the music starts they each start swaying to the beat and belting out the song, revealing their decades of professionalism.

Interesting tidbits of Cash’s life are shared. Among them, in the 1950s he was a radio operator monitoring Soviet military traffic for the United States Air Force while stationed in Germany, and was the first Westerner to relay the news of Stalin’s death.

Cash’s deeply religious feelings are on display including a copy of his personal Bible and a documentary film he recorded in Israel. Snippets of this film are shown in a 20-seat theater along with clips from his brief movie career.

johnny cash museum nashville guitar

The museum accesses a treasure trove of Cash’s personal memorabilia, including outfits he wore on stage, guitars and notes from his songwriting. He is the only person to be enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame and Songwriting Hall of Fame.

On September 12, 2013 Johnny Cash will have been gone for ten years; but at the Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville, the Man in Black still looms larger than life.

Visiting the Johnny Cash Museum

Address: 119 Third Avenue South, Nashville, Tennessee 37201

Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Website: For further information go to the Johnny Cash Museum.

Time to allow: About an hour.

Who should go? Lovers of country music, roots music, rock and roll and Americana.

Is it worth it? At $17 for most adults it’s not cheap, but that’s the going rate for attractions in Nashville. However, the museum is thorough in its storytelling and offers a depth of personal memorabilia related to June Carter and Johnny Cash that won’t be found elsewhere.

What’s your favorite Johnny Cash song?

To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Los Angeles is the focus of a sprawling metropolitan area with widespread places like Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Pasadena, all connected by the infamous freeways. But walking around downtown Los Angeles, no car required, is a fun way to spend a day in this auto-centric city. Read more

The north coast of Oahu is festooned with trucks serving a local favorite: garlic shrimp. Visitors driving along the Kamehameha Highway to watch a surfing competition among the pounding waves of the North Shore will be hard-pressed not to stop once the heady aroma of sauteed garlic fills their car. Read more

Commerce, Oklahoma was the hometown of baseball legend Mickey Mantle, whose boyhood home appears pretty much unchanged since his youth. Baseball’s greatest power hitting switch-hitter learned to hit in the side yard, his father and grandfather would take turns pitching to him. Since one pitched righty and the other lefty, the young Mantle practiced hitting from both sides of the plate, hence his switch-hitting prowess.

mcikey mantle boyhood home commerce oklahoma

Oh lordy I was quite the porker a few years ago. Kids, this is what happens when you let a donut fetish get out of control. Look and learn.

As a child growing up in New York in the 1960s, Mickey Mantle was my favorite player, and not just because we shared the same initials. My mom even got an iron-on #7 to put on a t-shirt so I could pretend I was wearing his jersey.

The funny thing is, as I was motoring along Route 66 I didn’t even know Mantle’s home was nearby. I just happened to stop at a Dairy King in a converted gas station that had a sign out front advertising “Route 66 cookies.” One look at me in the picture above and you’ll realize I stopped for signs like that back then. (Ok, truth be told, I still do.)

Dairy King Route 66 Commerce Oklahoma

Charles in front of the Dairy King he operates with his mother. The store used to be a Marathon station.

As I was chatting up Charles the shop owner, between bites of cookies shaped like the Route 66 road sign, he happened to mention that Mantle’s home was only a few block away.  He called his mother to watch the store and drove me over to the house. (Another great reason for taking road trips on back roads, these serendipitous moments don’t happen on the Interstate.)


The house, at 319 South Quincy Street, is just a few hundred yards off Route 66. The tin-sided barn you can see in the background of the picture at the top of this post even bears baseball dents from the “Commerce Comet’s” early batting power.  If you’ve made it this far, drop by the ball field at Commerce High School to see the 9-foot tall statue of the Mick that was dedicated in 2010.

When I visited the Mantle home a few years ago it was closed but you could walk right up onto the porch and peer in the windows. A neighbor told me there was talk of turning it into a museum but I’m not sure if that’s happened yet. It seems a shame to let the sight go to waste, a view of the empty storefronts of downtown Commerce belies the town’s name, it could sure use some visitors.

commerce oklahoma route 66 old gas station

An old gas station straddling Route 66 in Commerce, Oklahoma.


Further information: Mickey Mantle’s father worked at the lead and zinc mines in nearby Picher, Oklahoma. Read how the mines turned Picher into a modern American ghost town.

You may be interested in seeing a tribute to one of Mantle’s teammates at the Roger Maris Museum in Fargo, North Dakota.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

The windswept plains of Amarillo, Texas are world renowned for being the home of Cadillac Ranch, a series of tail-finned Cadillacs set into the earth like they crashed from outer space. But there are several more car sculptures of Texas nearby that can be easily visited in a two hour loop.

Visiting Cadillac Ranch and the outdoor car sculptures of Texas

Cadillac Ranch

The granddaddy of them all, this is the outdoor car sculpture that inspired all the others. It was installed in 1974 by a San Francisco-based art group called Ant Farm. Ten Cadillacs from a 1949 Club Sedan through a 1963 Sedan de Ville are tilted into the ground just so, creating an irresistible lure for budding graffiti artists.

Amarillo Cadillac Ranch total

Periodically the cars are whitewashed and then the spray painting starts all over again. Located on the southern side of I-40 on the western outskirts of Amarillo, Texas. Note: If you do plan on spray painting the cars, please take the leftover paint cans with you. Many people just use them and toss them on the ground creating a mess in the open field.

Amarillo Cadillac Ranch paint cans

Amarillo West RV Park

Just 3/4 of a mile east of Cadillac Ranch is this RV park which has taken on the ranch’s theme. Three vintage Cadillacs are angled on ramps out front but don’t try to spray paint these babies. They are in pristine condition. They’re also guarded by a giant “2nd Amendment Cowboy,” this is Texas after all.

Amarillo Cadillac Ranch rv Park

Combine City

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Cadillac Ranch can claim several admirers in the area. Started in 2002 by the wonderfully named Orville Ladehoff, Combine City is a series of 14 heavy combines planted in the ground as a tribute to the West Texas farmer.

Amarillo Combine City sculpture

It’s located just southeast of Amarillo on the northern side of Claude Highway/FM 1151/Business Loop 40 near the intersection of South Whitaker Road in Canyon, Texas. Don’t bring your itchy spray paint trigger fingers to this one, the combines are set up behind barbed wire. www.CombineCity.com

Amarillo Texas Combine City

Note: Combine City can be tough to find so here’s a handy map with directions from Cadillac Ranch.

VW Slug Bug Ranch

The automotive tributes continue with this array of Volkswagen Beetles stuck in the ground. To say the colorfully painted cars are mere shells of their former selves is an understatement, with some of them barely intact.

Texas Bug Ranch car sculpture

There’s also an abandoned service station adjacent to it which lends to the desolate Texas Panhandle atmosphere. It’s just south of I-40 at Exit 96 for Conway, Texas which is 30 miles east of Amarillo.

Texas Bug Racnh car scupture VW

Here are directions from Combine City to the VW Slug Bug Ranch:

 Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum

This museum is an outgrowth of Jack Sisemore Traveland, a large dealer of recreational vehicles in the Texas Panhandle and the oldest Winnebago dealer in the state of Texas. Sisemore started out in the early 1960s with a service station purchased with money borrowed from his grandmother.

Jack Sisemore RV museum sign

When he started taking trips in RVs he realized he should get into the business in which he’s been phenomenally successful. As a hobby he began collecting vintage RVs which he showcases in the free museum along with an impressive collection of motorcycles.

Jack Sisemore RV Museum Texas interior

The museum is well curated by Jack and his son Trent with the vintage campers set up in tableaux with period furnishings, games and food containers.  Visitors can step inside the campers and really feel what it was like to set out on a mid-century adventure. The oldest vehicle is a 1936 Alma Trailer with a wooden interior. Also check out the period avocado and harvest gold interior in the 1972 Winnebago along with avocado colored appliances that bring back childhood memories of watching The Brady Bunch.  Film buffs will recognize the 1948 Flxible Clipper Bus that was driven by Jeff Daniels in the Robin Williams movie RV.

Jack Sisemore RV Museum owner

Jack Sisemore is also a legend on the Grand National dirt-track racing circuit so there’s a fine collection of motorcycles stacked among the RVs. He is one of the coolest gentlemen we’ve met in our world travels. How often do you show up at a museum where the owner offers to take you to dinner?  Location: 4341 Canyon Drive, Amarillo, TX 79110. It’s only 5 miles south of where the old Route 66 runs right through downtown Amarillo.

The Texas Panhandle is definitely the place for car buffs and Amarillo is the heart of it all. If auto attractions get your motor running, then you should read our story about visiting Carhenge in Nebraska.


Like it? Share it . . . Pin it!The quirky car sculpture is a must-see stop for anyone taking a road trip along historic Route 66 through Texas

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive quarterly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the death of blues rock guitar great Stevie Ray Vaughan. On August 26th, 1990, he had just finished a monster show at the Alpine Valley ski resort in Wisconsin. Other players on the bill included his brother Jimmie, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Robert Cray. The concert ended with all the performers on stage for a rousing rendition of Sweet Home Chicago. That would be Stevie Ray’s last song.

After the show the performers boarded helicopters to fly back to Chicago. They were going to meet up and play a gig at Buddy Guy’s club. Stevie, his pilot and two others never made it. Flying through unfamiliar terrain on a foggy night, the pilot crashed into the ski slope. Stevie Ray Vaughan was 35.

stevie ray vaughan crash site alpine valley

The ski slope that wasn’t seen in the fog.

In a strange turn of events, his death is what got me into taking up the guitar. As so often happens after the death of a musician, radio stations play their music more frequently. I guess hearing them somehow softens the blow. Listening to his music I became attracted to his Texas attitude to blues and rock. No one before or since sounds quite like him.

On August 27th, 1995, the 5th anniversary of Stevie’s death, I saw his older brother Jimmie perform in concert. The prior year he had released his first album since the accident. It contained a tribute song called Six Strings Down, the story of a guitar slinger called up to heaven too early, and meeting other blues icons such as Jimi Hendrix and Albert Collins. As Jimmie sang that song on a sweltering summer night on the Camden waterfront, the emotions were still raw. Tears and sweat merged to form a river of pain. It was the most emotional performance I’ve ever seen at a concert.

On a recent road trip I stopped in at Alpine Valley to see the place where Stevie Ray last performed. The concert stage looked like dozens of others that welcome summer touring shows. But this one felt different. It hosted the last live performance of a music legend. The gloomy sky, laden with gray storm clouds, mirrored how I felt as I stood in the empty arena.

alpine valley srv final concert

The concert stage at Alpine Valley.

As I got into my car and drove away, the sky finally opened up and the rains came pouring down. I flipped on the wipers and slid in a CD I had brought along for the trip; the opening notes of The Sky Is Crying filled the car as Stevie once again wailed away on his battered old Fender Stratocaster.

Last year  I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. It surprised me that Stevie Ray Vaughan is still not enshrined there. Rolling Stone magazine has already selected him as the 7th greatest guitarist of all time. Not bad for a scruffy kid from Oak Cliff, Texas. Maybe the anniversary of his early death will shine a new light on Stevie Ray’s brilliant career.

UPDATE 2015:

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.

SRV Stevie Ray Vaughan statue Austin texas

The Stevie Ray Vaughan statue in Austin, Texas.

Related Post: Bruce Springsteen – A holy relic in denim and sweat

What are some of your memories of Stevie Ray?

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

We’ve been crisscrossing  the United States for the last three years and visited all 50 states to seek out the best donuts in America. Here’s our ranking of the best dozen donuts of the many, many, way too many, that we tasted, with a bonus added to make it a baker’s dozen. And just to be clear, there are no bacon donuts on this list. As old-school donut hounds, we’re patiently waiting for that trend to end.

The best donuts in America

Jelly Donut, Frangelli’s Bakery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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The donuts at Frangelli’s look plain until you realize those are just the shells. When you order your donut they slide it onto a nozzle attached to a Rube Goldberg type contraption and pump it full of jelly. They you have your choice of rolling it in powdered or crystal sugar. Heaven in a donut.

Squared Donut a la Mode, Marie’s Do-Nut Shop, Sacramento, California

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Marie’s opens at 11 p.m. and closes at 4 p.m. so it’s perfect for night owls, and isn’t after midnight the best time to eat a donut anyway? They’ll fill any donut with whipped topping (it’s not cream but still very good). Our fave is the square donut with its flaky layers filled with creme. It tastes like apple pie a la mode.

Dirty Wu, Pip’s Original Donuts, Portland, Oregon

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Picking the best donut in Portland is always controversial. While there is a much more famous place with lines of tourists snaking down the street, we prefer Pip’s for its fried-to-order addictive donuts. The Dirty Wu is covered with cinnamon, locally-made honey, pink Himalayan sea salt and then drizzled with Nutella. They are small, so don’t worry about polishing off a dozen or so. One suggestion to Pip’s, get a web site already so we can drool over these lovelies.

Glazed Old Fashioned, The Kobuk, Anchorage, Alaska

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It’s easy to walk by this gift shop in downtown Alaska without noticing the small sign that states “Coffee and Donuts.” Follow your nose to the back of the shop where the crew is frying up small batches of old-fashioned donuts then lovingly glazing them. Well at least it seemed lovingly to me. Even the polar bear on the back wall couldn’t resist.

The Fat Elvis, Pink Box Doughnuts, Las Vegas, Nevada

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In tribute to the King’s favorite sandwich, Pink Box offers a peanut butter filled donut, topped with chocolate icing and a caramelized banana chip for that southern flair. We’re finding Fat Elvis donuts taking off across America, but Las Vegas seems the perfect place to try one.

Buttermilk, Sputnik Rolf’s, Hilo, Hawaii

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It takes a real expert to make a crispy donut in Hilo, one of the wettest cities in America. But at Rolf’s they turn our perfectly crisp buttermilk donuts with just the right amount of sweet glaze for the climate. A sign on the window refers to omiyage, a Japanese term for souvenirs from your travels. We doubt any of these would last the flight home before getting devoured.

Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Bull’s Eye Frosting, Rise Biscuits and Donuts, Durham, North Carolina

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The owners of Rise crisscrossed the country visiting top donut shops before opening. Evidence of their journey is the collection of t-shirts hanging from the walls. Their in-season strawberry frosting is sublime.

Devil’s Food, Bill’s Donut Shop, Centerville, Ohio

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The dense Devil’s food donut at Bill’s is just begging to be dunked in chocolate.

Raspberry Cheesecake, Bay Country Bakery, Cambridge, Maryland

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Is it a slice of cheesecake or is it a donut? How about both at this popular spot on the way to the beach.

Chocolate Glazed, Mrs. Murphy’s, Southwick, Massachusetts

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Mrs. Murphy sure knows her chocolate donuts. And since this as close as we get to Boston on this list you may as well try the excellent Boston Cream Donuts while you’re here.

Valrhona Chocolate, Doughnut Plant, New York, New York

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Opened in 1994, for better or worse (we’re looking at you bacon donuts) the Doughnut Plant was behind America’s donut renaissance of the last two decades. However, they upped the quality level of the humble donut while staying true to their core mission.

Glazed, Round Rock Donuts, Round Rock, Texas

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Being an avowed cake donut person, Michael was skeptical at first of all the acclaim earned by Round Rock. But one bite of their famous glazed “Round Rock” donut made him a believer. If you want a yeasty glazed donut with some bite to it, this is the one to judge them by.

Baker’s dozen bonus pick:

Malasada, Leonard’s Malasadas, Honolulu, Hawaii

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For such a small state Hawaii manages to take up two places on this list. Malasadas are fried balls of dough that originate from Portugal, just like the owners of this bakery. At Leonard’s they are filled with your choice of custard, chocolate or coconut cream then coated with sugar, cinnamon sugar or li hing, a sweet and sour dried plum powder. You’ll wait about 10 minutes for your donuts since they are made to order. The wait is most definitely worth it.

Let’s face it, we can’t write about donuts without creating some controversy. So which ones do you agree with and what favorites did we leave out in your area?
 

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

A funny thing happened on the way to Niagara Falls: We got distracted – for a week – by Buffalo.

Hoping to avoid a few of the 12 million annual visitors who flock to see that famous tumbling water, we chose the city 20 miles down the road, perched at the edge of Lake Erie, as home base for our trip to the Niagara region. To our delight, we found Buffalo to be rich in history, with world-class architecture and parks, a stunning waterfront, and a diverse and funky culture that flies higher than chicken wings.

PI Buffalo view from City Hall Milne (800x608)

Thanks to the Erie Canal, the superhighway of the 19th century, Buffalo was well-positioned at the confluence of the Great Lakes to move goods down to New York Harbor. It rode this wave to become a center of commerce and, by the 1920s, had more millionaires per capita than any other American city.

Its waterfront, boasting row upon row of concrete grain elevators and silos, was the transit point for shiploads of wheat and corn making their way across the Great Lakes from the Midwest breadbasket. At its peak, Buffalo was the largest grain port in the world; even baguettes in Paris were made with flour whose wheat passed though the city on the lake.

 buffalo new york city hall

Buffalo was leading-edge in the early 20th century in that many prominent architects designed buildings that still line the downtown streets. Louis Sullivan, Eero Saarinen, H.H. Richardson, and others created an urban landscape that the New York Times called “a textbook for a course in modern American buildings.”

All those millionaires had to live somewhere. Buffalo’s residential neighborhoods boast several homes designed by a then-young upstart named Frank Lloyd Wright, while Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (best known as co-designers of New York’s Central Park) created the nation’s first coordinated system of parks and green corridors. That landscape legacy lives on in roundabouts and boulevards stretching for miles and providing several scenic walks in this surprisingly lush city.

Wright devotees also can see what is perhaps his most intriguing design: A faithful-to-the-plan construction of a gas station – one that was never built – graces the main display hall of the Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum.

PI Pierce Arrow Milne 2 (800x577)

A gas station seems plebeian for an eminent architect, but at the time, motoring was still an event that merited high-end design. While being dazzled by rows of locally built antique Pierce-Arrow automobiles (in its day, the car of choice for kings and presidents), visitors get a notion of how Wright would have preferred to fill up his tank. His design included a second-floor observation deck, complete with fireplace, where motorists could lounge as they watched their cars being serviced.

Buffalo embraces its past as it adapts to changing times. The junction of Lake Erie, the Buffalo River, and the Erie Canal forms the center of waterfront activity for the city. Many mammoth grain silos of “Elevator Alley” left over from Buffalo’s shipping heyday loom beside yacht basins and a new park. Rather than allow these silos to become vacant eyesores, Buffalo has incorporated them into the fabric of the new recreational waterfront. Art exhibits, concert venues, even climbing walls now occupy converted silos, while kayaks and paddle boarders glide by on the adjacent river.

PI Buffalo grain silo waterfront Milne (800x570)

Creativity abounds on the Buffalo cultural scene. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery has been the city’s premier art museum for 150 years. It specializes in modern and contemporary artists such as Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns. Try to spot the match Pollock accidentally dropped amid the polychromatic paint swirls in his wall-size Convergence. Rotating exhibits highlight the next generation of creative talent.

PI Albright Knox Gallery exterior Buffalo Milne (800x580)

In contrast to the scions of industry, Buffalo’s busy port and factories attracted immigrants seeking jobs. Polish, Italian, and Irish enclaves built up around the city. At one time, the First Ward neighborhood, in the shadow of the grain elevators, boasted more than a dozen Polish bakeries serving Old World-style doughnuts, babkas, and poppy logs.

mazureks bakery buffalo food

Today, only Mazurek’s Bakery, founded in 1933, remains. The last of the Mazureks retired in 2012, but young new owners Ty Reynolds and Rick Smith carry on the Polish bakery tradition. A steady stream of customers, many of whom have moved to the suburbs, return for the treats of their youth, including Mazurek’s signature seeded New York rye bread, its crust baked to a perfect chewy crisp in the original brick oven.

mazureks rye bread

Although the neighborhood has seen better days, it is within walking distance of the waterfront, and speculators have started to gobble up nearby properties.

mazuerks balery buffalo jelly doughnuts

Yes, that’s Larissa serving up the jelly donuts at Mazurek’s. To learn why she was behind the counter read about our day at the bakery.

Just north of downtown, the funky Five Points and Elmwood Village neighborhoods bridge past and present with boutiques, pubs, and Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe concert venue. Eateries such as Five Points Bakery & Toast Café put a modern spin on the bakery tradition; the locally sourced, organic bakery offers up toast concoctions worthy of a restaurant review. Our favorite was their take on Buffalo chicken wings: chunky cheddar bread served with bleu cheese, hot sauce, sour cream, and pickles.

five points bakery buffalo

The grain heritage of Buffalo is omnipresent in another sense. Downtown bears the unmistakable aroma of toasted cereal, thanks to the massive General Mills facility on the Buffalo River. It still produces all the Cheerios consumed east of the Mississippi. Buffalonians proudly wear T-shirts proclaiming, “My city smells like Cheerios.”

After a breakfast of said cereal, funky toast, or perhaps a Mazurek’s jelly doughnut, begin exploring Buffalo with a free tour of the Buffalo City Hall, considered one of the finest Art Deco buildings in the country. From the 28th-floor observation deck, you’ll get your first glimpse of the many sights that will keep you entertained for several days.

Way in the distance, you can even see the mist of Niagara Falls. I guess we should check it out.

Note: We originally wrote this story for the Philadelphia Inquirer where it appeared May 31, 2015.

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Alaska is a popular spot for cruise vacations. However most of the visitors who take an Alaska cruise only skirt the shoreline of America’s largest state.  Visitors preparing to board or disembark from a cruise nearby should realize there are many reasons to visit Anchorage and immerse themselves in the unique Alaskan culture.

Reasons to visit Anchorage Alaska

We used Anchorage as a base for a flightseeing expedition to a glacier. As we climbed gingerly down onto the narrow float of the seaplane which we had just ridden in for a soft landing on Lake George, it was hard to believe we were only 45 miles northeast of downtown Anchorage. Just off to our right was the soaring Colony Glacier, its craggy azure surface providing a launch pad for polar winds blowing out to greet us.

reasons to visit anchorage Lake George by Colony Glacier (900x687)

As we balanced on the float the sound of gunshots echoed throughout the valley. At least that’s what we thought they were, until we watched Humvee-sized blocks of ice calving off the glacier and landing spectacularly in the lake, launching giant plumes of water into the air. It was just another day in Alaska, the vaunted “Last Frontier” which more than lives up to, and exceeds, its reputation for pristine rugged beauty.

Glacier from above 2 (800x563)

Endless summer in the city

Summertime in Alaska is particularly enchanting. Long hours of daylight give plenty of time to explore and all that solar warmth encourages flowers to bloom in colorful profusion. In a sharp contrast to winter, Anchorage overflows with flower beds and planters in a rainbow of hues while hemlock trees are festooned with thumb-sized deep purple pine cones, as if they had been decorated for an early Christmas.

Culturally Anchorage ranks up there with metropolises boasting larger populations. A good place to start is at the Anchorage Museum, which displays over 600 indigenous artifacts in the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center. It’s remarkable how many delicate pieces have survived including intricately beaded satchels, carved walrus ivory bows and the ahead-of-its-time pearly white imarnin or “gut” parkas. These translucent gems were sewn by members of the Yup’ik tribe from sea mammal intestines to provide a clever form of waterproof protection.

Anchorage imarnin gut parka (800x703)

Given its remote location, Alaskans were locavores before that concept became the latest foodie trend. In addition to local Alaskan favorites such as king crab, salmon and reindeer sausage, the city is home to a growing international foodie scene. Anchorage is also tapping into a burgeoning microbrewery movement. For true local flavors–of both the culinary and people- watching variety–try Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse for live music, the state’s largest selection of local beers on tap and an Original Crab Roll (Alaska’s answer to New England’s lobster roll).

Sorry Rudolph, we try the best reindeer dogs in Anchorage

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If you’re still hungry head over a few blocks to Town Square Park on West 5th Avenue. Follow the smoky aromas where three food carts duke it out for reindeer sausage supremacy. Each has their own secret sauce and methods to prepare these local delicacies. Husky Dogs sautés their onions in Coca-Cola to give them a sweet, spicy flavor. The sausage and onions are delicious and don’t worry, if you’re traveling with children who can’t stand the thought of eating Rudolph’s brethren, the vendors will refer to it as caribou sausage. Around 10 p.m., with the summer sun still casting its amber glow across the park, is the perfect time for a taste.

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Anchorage is an outdoors town year-round, but in summer it really shines. An easy way to experience its relationship with nature is via the 11 mile long Tony Knowles Coastal Trail that runs from the train depot downtown out beyond the airport.  Don’t worry about the length, it’s all flat and paved. You can just take on part of it or even rent bikes at bike rental outfits along the way. If you’re practicing your inner Greg LeMond watch out for the occasional moose strutting across the path. It’s also not unusual to spot a few bald eagles.

Back on Lake George we climbed carefully into the plane. After battening down the hatches and making sure we were all accounted for, our pilot Scott from Rust’s Flying Service serpentined his way through the icebergs drifting by and gently lifted off.

Glacier from above 1 (800x533)

On the way back to Anchorage we flirted with the Chugach Mountains for an aerial wild game safari. On the steep rocky hillsides, snow white Dall sheep sporting prominent curved horns stood out against the summer vegetation, while down below moose cavorted in the boreal forest. In less than a half hour we were back in Anchorage, splashing down at the Lake Hood Seaplane Base, which is the busiest in the world. It’s also a convenient starting point for flightseeing trips to Mount McKinley and Denali National Park.

Lake Hood Seaplane Base Anchorage (800x600)

When Anchorage started out in 1915 as a construction camp for the new railroad it was just a tent city. A century later it’s a metropolis of 300,000 hardy souls with a thriving cultural life set amidst some of the world’s most spectacular scenery. There are so many reasons to visit Anchorage, it’s definitely worth more time than a transit point on a cruise.

For more reasons to visit Anchorage go to Visit Anchorage.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Cincinnati chili is one of those things you either get it or you don’t. Among national food critics it’s developed a love it or hate it reputation that brings out the snark. As with many regional food favorites, it helps to have grown up there. But I didn’t and I still like it, if I eat it at the right place. Whenever we visit family there I ask my brother-in-law John, where is the best Cincinnati chili?

Camp Washington CHili interior (800x544)

Cincinnati chili is redolent with spices not normally found in what most people think of as chili. That’s thanks to its inventors, Tom and John Kiradjieff who, starting in 1922, sprinkled it with cinnamon, cloves, allspice, cumin and chocolate. Not a typical batch of chili. The other thing that makes Cincinnati unique is that it’s served over spaghetti. This being the Midwest it’s not quite the al dente pasta of my Italian-American upbringing in New York but it seems to work.

skyline chili hat (257x350)With regional chili chains like Skyline, Gold Star and Empress ladled all over the Queen City and environs, it’s easy to find a bowl of the hometown brew in ordinary strip shopping centers. (And surprisingly enough, you can also find it on the west coast of Florida, where many Cincinnatians retire.) If you want to start a heated debate, just ask a local which is their favorite chili parlor. The man to the left doesn’t just wear his love for Skyline Chili on his sleeve, he also wears it on his hat.

camp washington chili mural (210x350)When you’re in Cincinnati you should trek a bit farther into the heart of the city and grab a booth at Camp Washington Chili. It’s easy to find right below a building-sized mural of the peripatetic George Washington dressed, for some reason unknown to me, as a courtesan. I’m guessing he once camped here, bestowing his name on the humble neighborhood that has become a foodie destination.

With its homemade quality, the chili served at Camp Washington is several notches above the chains. To do it right get a 5 Way, which is chili, spaghetti, beans, onions and cheese. If you’re watching your carbs, or just really want more meat, you can skip the spaghetti and have them ladle it over hot dogs; these are called Coneys. Named after Coney Island but definitely something you won’t find at its namesake neighborhood in Brooklyn.

camp washington chili coneys (800x600)

Somewhere under all that cheese and chili you’ll find a few hot dogs.

Visitor information

Location: 3005 Colerain Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45225

Phone: (513) 541-0061

Hours: 24/6, closed Sundays

Web site: www.CampWashingtonChili.com

Side trip to Toledo

Rudys hot dog chili cheeseburger Toledo Ohio (800x653)

Ohioans must love chili. We made it to Rudy’s hot dogs in Toledo (a family tradition since 1920) to try their famous chili. The outstanding chili was different than in Cincinnati with more traditional spices. I tried it on the Rudy Burger (cheap at $2.20) which I have to admit, is a tremendous amount of meat for one sandwich. Since the chili was so good I think next time I stop in I’ll order the chili on its own. For more information go to: Rudy’s Hot Dogs.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

The capital city of Texas is famous for the motto “Keep Austin Weird.” Not only is it the self-proclaimed live music capital of America, it also provides the best setting (other than a cave) to see the bats of Austin, a nightly event with millions of bats flying around that they bill as “the world’s largest urban bat observatory.” I guess I’ll take their word on that claim.

See the Austin bats crowd waits (800x601)

Just before sunset every night between March and November, hundreds of people gather around the South Congress Bridge for a truly weird Austin event. (Look for the cool metal bat sculpture that looks like it could have been a prop in the Batman movies to guide you there.)

Austin bats sculpture (800x591)

Over a million Mexican free-tail bats live under the bridge and dusk is their alarm clock to come out, come out wherever they are. Usually one or two start the feeding in search of stray insects, then a few dozen emerge then wham!, a million furry critters are dive-bombing throughout the sky.

Bats Austin Texas CC Flickr deadwords (800x598)

Source: Deadwords on Flickr

It’s difficult to capture on film, the photo above shows just a corner of the sky as it is darkened by all those flapping wings. The people at the bottom of the photo are on a special bat viewing cruise. Notice the one smart person on the boat who is holding an umbrella. Remember, the bats just woke up. What’s the first thing you usually do when you get up in the morning?

If you’re really into seeing the bats in Austin, make sure to visit in late August during the annual Bat Fest. Only in Austin. Keeping it weird.

Visitor information:

Austin Texas bat parking (402x500)

There’s plenty of parking behind the offices of the local newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman. For all things batty and the latest updates on attending the nightly bat viewing go to Bats in Austin. Although the bats eat millions of insects you still may want to bring some bug spray.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

 

When we departed Philadelphia in 2011 we thought we’d explore the world for a year and then figure out what we wanted to do when we grew up. We started writing stories about our journey on this blog and for a new series called “A Year in the World” for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Somehow we branched out to other media outlets and became bona fide travel writers.

But for all the destinations we explored and wrote about on six continents, we didn’t cover the city we knew best, Philadelphia. After seeing so many exotic places when we returned to Philly we approached it with fresh eyes, as if we were discovering it as first time visitors.

Then a funny thing happened. In late January, 2014 Globe Pequot Press, a major regional travel guide publisher in Connecticut, contacted us. They asked us if we’d be interested in writing a book about Philadelphia. They had enjoyed our stories about other places and figured we’d do a good  job writing about our hometown.

You see Boston, which has more sports championships than Philly but in our humble opinion has way less historic sites, has had something called a Freedom Trail for over 50 years. It’s a well-marked guide to Boston’s revolutionary sites. But Philadelphia has nothing similar that connects the sites where America was founded, so we had to create one. Oh, and our deadline was four months. Piece of cake, right?

Philadelphia Liberty Trail-an informative and quirky travel guide to the city's historic districtI turns out a deadline is a good thing for us! Last month Globe Pequot published the result of our efforts: Philadelphia Liberty Trail: Trace the Path of America’s Heritage. This 224-page book takes a fresh approach to the founding of America. It’s part historical narrative and part travel guide that goes beyond Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell to immerse visitors in history right where it happened.

During our research we unearthed little known historical tidbits such as: Benjamin Franklin’s Electric Turkey Experiment; Lydia Darragh, the Quaker woman who saved the American army from destruction; the church that in the 1790s was the precursor to the modern Civil Rights movement; and the home where soda was first introduced to America in 1807, by a doctor no less!

We also talk about unusual events like America’s first dumbest criminal. In 1798 the first bank robbery in America took place at Carpenters’ Hall in Philly. The man behind it, Isaac Davis, was arrested when he started depositing large sums of money in the very same bank he had just robbed. You really can’t make this stuff up.

Philadelphia Liberty Trail-Ben Franklin "Key" statue, funded by school children

The trail we created is about four miles long but we’ve broken it into several segments. Easy-to-follow maps guide the visitor and since this is a book we wrote, there are also Pit Stops to rest weary legs and get a cookie (always important for Michael) or other treat. Complete with lodging, dining, family-friendly options and practical travel information, Philadelphia Liberty Trail is the indispensable guide to exploring America’s most historic square mile.

Here’s how you can buy Philadelphia Liberty Trail on Amazon.

If you get a chance to read the book we really hope you enjoy it. It was a lot of fun to write and discover our hometown once again.

Oh, that guy at the top of the page? He’s Matt O’Connor, the CFO (“chief flag officer”) at Humphry’s Flag Company, right across from–you guessed it–the Betsy Ross House.

Note to Philadelphia area readers: We are speaking at Penn State’s Great Valley campus in Malvern, PA on April 8th. Topics will include the Philadelphia Liberty Trail and travel tips from our 3+ years on the road. Here is the information for this free event: Penn State lecture. We’ll also be signing books at the Visitor Center at Independence National Park on Flag Day, June 14th, 2015 from noon to 4 p.m. Hope to see you there.

It’s no surprise to anyone that central Florida is a vacation destination with attractions galore. But did you know it’s also a great place to see national circuit rodeo? Read more

In Don McLean’s song American Pie, he refers to the death of rock-and-roll star Buddy Holly on February 3, 1959 due to a plane crash in an Iowa cornfield as “the day the music died.” Earlier Holly had played a concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. The gig was part of a chaotic Winter Dance Party tour that included Ritchie Valens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, who also perished in the crash along with their 21-year-old pilot, Roger Peterson. buddy holly stamp (250x202)There were only three seats on the plane, enough for Holly and his bandmates. But Holly’s bass player Waylon Jennings gave up his seat to Richardson who was suffering from the flu. Reportedly the 17-year-old Valens won his place on the plane due to a coin toss. The plane crashed only a few miles from Mason City Airport due to poor weather and pilot error. Surf ballroom stage (800x596)

Today there’s a poignant memorial at the crash site while the Surf Ballroom is still an active concert venue attracting the likes of ZZ Top and the Beach Boys. It’s even been designated a Historic Rock and Roll Landmark by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To pay tribute to Holly and this piece of musical history start out at the Surf Ballroom’s museum.

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With its tropical themed murals, original maple dance floor, colorful awnings and green vinyl booths, it looks pretty much the same as it did in 1959. Check out the tropical fish details on the wooden booths where the South Seas motif was carried over. On harsh winter nights in northern Iowa thoughts of sun, sand and surf must provide quite an escape. Surf Ballroom museum (800x549)

The former Cypress Room where performers would take a break between sets is now a museum filled with memorabilia related to Holley, Valens, Richardson and the history of the Surf Ballroom. You’ll be surprised at all the famous people who have played here. Afterwards climb up onto the stage where Holly performed. I had my guitar with me and the accommodating ballroom staff even allowed me to strum a few tunes.

surf ballroom green room michael guitar (800x561)

The “Green Room,” where performers wait before their show, was where Valens bet on the fateful coin toss that got him a seat on the plane. The walls are covered with hundreds of signatures of people who’ve played here, along with prominent visitors, giving the room the appearance of a Jackson Pollock painting.

Buddy Holly surf ballroom green room wall (800x613) Buddy Holly phone surf ballroom (176x250)

Since Iowa is such a key state during presidential election years politicos often stop by too. Barack Obama signed the wall in 2008 but we couldn’t find his autograph. Though we did see Kevin Costner who has played here several times with his band. If you’ve seen The Buddy Holly Story you’ll recognize the pay phone on the way out. It’s the original one that was used after the concert by Buddy Holly to call his wife Maria. Buddy Holly crash site glasses memorial (800x617)

After leaving the Surf Ballroom you’ll want to complete your pilgrimage by heading to the Memorial Site that’s about five miles north. (See directions below.) A giant pair of signature black Buddy Holly glasses mark the spot to stop on Gull Avenue. Many people think this is the memorial so they take a few photos of it and leave. But it’s just a marker. The actual crash site with the memorial is about 200 yards into the cornfield on private ground. Fortunately the farmer who owns the property respects the historical significance of the site and leave a swath unplanted to allow pedestrian access.

Buddy Holly crash site memorial (800x646)

Walk along the south side of the fence until you find a metal sculpture of a guitar marked with the names of the three musicians along with three records naming their popular hits: Peggy Sue, Chantilly Lace and Donna. Don’t miss the poignant tribute off to the side, a set of pilots wings emblazoned with the name of the plane’s pilot, Roger Peterson. Visitors still come from all over the world to the site. On our visit there was a bouquet of flowers and note left by a fan from Sweden. It’s really a touching place to visit. After you leave it helps to have some upbeat Buddy Holly tunes to play in the car.

I’m a-gonna tell you how it’s gonna be

You’re gonna give your love to me

A love to last a-more than one day

A love that’s love – not fade away

A well, a-love that’s love – not fade away

~ Buddy Holly, Not Fade Away

Visitor information for Surf Ballroom and Museum

Web site: www.SurfBallroom.com

Location: 460 North Shore Drive, Clear Lake, IA 50428

Hours: Year-round: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Additional summer hours: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission: $5

Directions to Memorial Site: At the Surf Ballroom they hand out directions to the memorial site. That follows a long stretch of gravel road which you might not want to take. Here are alternative directions to the memorial site. GPS coordinates are: N 43° 13′ 12″  W 93° 23′ 0″

Urban legend debunked: According to musical folklore, American Pie was the name of the plane but there’s no truth to this.

Video of the memorial site: [youtube]http://youtu.be/oMySrIHnxlM[/youtube]

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The quaint hamlet of Point Roberts, Washington looks like a piece of Norman Rockwell’s America. Seattle Seahawks flags flap in the breeze while families frolic at the beach. But then something seems out of place: gasoline prices are listed in liters and there’s an awful lot of liquor stores Read more

Anchorage’s Town Square Park on West 5th Avenue is a festive place. Particularly during the summer when the waning orange glow of the sun at 11 pm sort of makes it feel like sunrise. Which got me in the mood for breakfast, or was it the dueling smoke wafting my way from the three reindeer sausage vendors that set up camp on the sidewalk?

trying reindeer sausage in alaska

When I first heard about this local delicacy visions of Rudolph danced in my head. Would Santa put me on his naughty list? As someone who was raised in New York all I knew about reindeer was from Christmas stories. Once I found out (spoiler alert) that Santa Claus wasn’t real (end spoiler alert) I just assumed that reindeer weren’t either. I didn’t find out they actually existed until I saw a National Geographic show about them years ago.

anchorage reindeer sausage

Anna working the Husky Dogs stand.

Trying reindeer sausage in Alaska had not been high on my list of things to do. But as I inspected each of the vendors grilling the sausage, heard the crisp snap of the fat sizzling on the griddle and smelled the unquenchable aroma I just had to try one. I sought out Husky Dogs where the perky and upbeat Anna was cooking up a few links under the big red umbrella. The owner of the stand, Martin Boss, was busy stocking up the supplies. Martin operates the stand during the summer when he is not in Georgia with his other gig: he works as a film editor on the hit TV show The Walking Dead.

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He is proud of his reindeer sausage, emphasizing that it is fresh, never frozen. What really makes his reindeer sausage stand out is the grilled onions placed on top. They are caramelized in Coke every 10-15 minutes and really add a sweet touch. The final piece of the puzzle is their housemade “Boss” sauce, a blend of stone-ground mustard, pepper extract and vinegar. It really packs a zing.

husky dogs reindeer sausage alaska

Martin (left) normally deals with zombies which made it easier to work with Michael.

The result? Delicious. I’m not sure I would know that the sausage was made from reindeer as opposed to some other animal but at that point I didn’t care. I just knew that it was crispy, spicy and full of meaty flavor. At 11 PM on a summer night in Anchorage, reindeer sausage really hit the spot.

I hope Santa will understand.

Here’s our video taste test of reindeer sausage.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.