I can't remember which of my five brothers introduced me to black and white blood pudding, or whether it was my mother or father who showed me how to make a scrambled egg, but I do remember the first time Uncle Richie handed down one of the most valuable food lessons I've learned. A passionate and calculated wanderer, Uncle Richie took my brothers and I on trips to every corner of the United States, and from Cooperstown to the Sonoran Desert, he made sure every meal was an adventure. Our trips always began with a review of Uncle Richie's Commandments of Travel:
- Thou shall not look for cheap gas when the tank is empty.
- Thou shall not ask too many dumb questions.
- Thou shall not eat in any restaurant that begins with "Mc".
That's the one – number three. For travelers of all ages, it's easy and comfortable to find cheap, familiar food. Still, pulling just off the path to settle on a chain restaurant can instantly remove a significant chunk of authenticity from any trip. Uncle Richie's point was simple: eat at McDonald's or any other one of America's jillion chain restaurants when you're at home. Out on the road, seek out the mom and pop places tucked away somewhere off the "blue highway" and roll the dice on something new.
Following this simple commandment was the key to enjoying a genuine adventure and learning to appreciate the art of dining out in places with stories worth telling. I'm not knocking Subway, but a Subway in Texas probably has the same point of origin as one in New York City – a rigorously structured franchise opportunity comes along and is taken.
When you're on the road, pick a place you've never heard of that doesn't show up on Yelp and take a chance. You might find yourself on the right end of a fantastic chowder, or you might end up with iceberg lettuce and only one choice of dressing. Either way, you'll add beef to your travel tales. When you're tired and tempted to hit the drive-thru window just off the highway, stick to Uncle Richie's Third Commandment like Rita's homemade chili sticks to your ribs. Eat at Burger King or Jeff's Pirates Cove in Ipan Talofofo, Guam? Third commandment. Take a gondola over Niagara Falls for escargot or have a cheeseburger from Wendy's? Third commandment. Eat alligator in a railroad car in Orlando, Florida, or fried chicken from Bob's Big Boy? Third commandment.
I'm proud to say that I've visited 49 of the 50 states, and I've even been to Guam twice. The travel bug Uncle Richie instilled was my compass, but his third commandment was my personal concierge. It has never failed me and I'm certain it won't fail you.
If you're traveling nearby, as either a local in search of something new or a visitor hoping to experience a memorable meal worth bragging about back home, here are my picks for ten of Long Island's tastiest spots in Queens and the East End.
- Donovan's Pub in Woodside is the place to find New York City's best burger, according locals and Time Out New York readers alike. Have a pint and a few laughs at the bar with Jimmy Jacs. Woodside is filled with characters and Jimmy knows them all.
- Peking BBQ in Woodside has been serving up the best chicken for as long as I can remember. The lines can be long, but the first bite (and second, and third…) is worth an even longer wait. Show up with $10 when they open at 11:45 a.m. and they'll fill you up.
- Rico Pan finishes out the Woodside triumvirate. It's a Columbian bakery next to Peking BBQ with sweets and savory treats. I love their beef empanadas and salsa.
- Dirty Pierre's in Forest Hills rocks. It's a tiny place with big flavors and a big beer selection to match. They have the best mussels in Queens and you shouldn't pass them up. They've also been voted Best Burger in Queens, so you should take the LIRR to this historic neighborhood and see how they stack up to Donovan's.
- Sage General Store in Long Island City sits in the shadow of Queens' tallest building. It's an oasis in the big city for those seeking from-scratch comfort food. Come by for fried chicken and homemade macaroni and cheese.
- Canal Cafe in Hampton Bays is the little restaurant you can't find. They're also the restaurant with the best lobster roll on the East End. It's right on the Shinnecock Canal and the owners and staff are very cool. Tell Tammy at the bar that Craig sent you.
- La Parmigiana in Southampton is no secret to anyone, and it's for good reason. Back in my Southampton College days, Big Jim and I did some serious damage to pizzas on some cold February days. I have since fallen in love with their linguine with white clam sauce; easily my favorite on the East End.
- Montauk Lighthouse is an essential two-for-one. Have a clam chowder, and on a clear day, you can see Block Island from the patio.
- Sam's in East Hampton has some if the coldest bottles of beer on Long Island. I always felt so comfortable, especially on cold winter nights when my special lady and I would have East Hampton to ourselves. Great pizzas, but I love their veal Milanese.
- O'Murphy's in Montauk is a great place to sit on a weekend afternoon and just get down to relaxing and eating. By relaxing, I mean having a pint of Guinness, of course. I had the freshest and lightest flounder sandwich there. Ahh, it's just great when someone nails the simple dishes, and not everyone can. O'Murphy's does.
This is just a small list, so get out there, find your own places, and build some stories.