My husband Gregg doesn’t fly. That means when we go on trips, I usually drive one way with him and fly the other (I’ll support his neuroses only so much). We recently had to head to Chicago for a family event and he has two new books out (short stories, “How to Whistle” and poetry, “Fifty Degrees” — shameless promotion) so he arranged a couple of readings in bookstores along the way. Of course, what kind of foodie would I be if I didn’t explore the dining scene-even if I am in town only overnight?

Our first stop was Atlanta. Now you think that I would check out some classic southern dishes, but no, we hit Thai 5 in the trendy neighborhood of Little Five Points (picture Williamsburg Brooklyn, circa 2002-you know lots of hipsters and white folks with dreadlocks). You enter this charming place through a long hallway with strings of lights and Asian parasols hanging from the ceiling. After you ascend a flight of stairs you enter a cavernous room, which would be very cold were it not decorated with so many kitschy objects including a tiki stand! The menu is evenly divided between Thai and Japanese fare with a vast sushi menu. The place was packed and that may have been because on Monday and Tuesday nights there’s a special menu featuring sushi for $1 and maki rolls for $2, along with many other specials (shrimp tempura for $2!). I ordered a bento box featuring my choice of two out of eight appetizer options, one of a dozen or so entrees, miso and rice – all for only $16.95! The portions were abundant and very well prepared. My husband ordered his staple dish, pad thai, and said it was one of the best he’s had. There was easily enough for two to share, and reasonably priced at less than $11. A glass of a very good New Zealand sauvignon blanc was only $6. Thai 5, 1148 Euclid Ave. NE, 404-521-3555, thai5atlanta.com

Driving west from Atlanta, we hit Metropolis, Illinois, which has made an industry out of having the same name as Superman’s city. Everywhere you look there are references to the comic book character and his cohorts. If only the cuisine were as super! A search for restaurants in the town brought up the typical chains. We opted for one of the three places, the aptly named Fat Edd's Roadhouse. In true Midwest tradition, nearly everything here is deep-fried, from the jack cheese bites, to the chicken wings and pickles. Sure you can get a salad or some peel and eat shrimp, but otherwise grease is the word. Not that that’s a bad thing. Unless you have three hours to drive in the car! Fat Edd's Roadhouse, 323 Ferry St., 618-524-5525, fateddsroadhouse.com

The book store where Gregg was reading in St. Louis is located right on Delmar, one of the trendiest streets in St. Louis. Delmar has a walk of stars to rival Hollywood (except that it’s famous folks from St. Louis) and will soon have a cute little streetcar running down it. (Okay queens get up there and do your best Judy Garland, “Clang! Clang! Clang!”). We grabbed a bite after the reading at the Peacock Diner, a 24-hour funky diner which also has a full-service bar. At Peacock they put a new twist of diner classics and also offer plenty of vegetarian and vegan and gluten free options. We started with an order of hush puppies with rooster dipping sauce and Vidalia onion rings. Most of the appetizers are less than $5, as a hoot we tried a special app, pimento cheese on a Triscuit topped with a green olive-they were 50¢ each! If you order the popcorn shrimp nachos, be prepared the serving is about as big as your head! It features wonton chips topped with cheese sauce, shredded lettuce, salsa, sour cream sriracha and tons of popcorn shrimp. Priced at less than $10 this dish is a steal, although it could have used a bit more heat – perhaps some jalapenos. The tasty black bean burger and a yummy Monte Cristo both came with an order of fries and are reasonably price at $5.50 and $7.50, respectively. Peacock Loop Diner, 6261 Delmar Blvd., 314-721-5555, peacockloopdiner.com

When we hit Chicago the first place we headed was Native Foods (nativefoods.com). This West Coast-based chain has a few locations in Chicago and specializes in vegan fast food. It’s all the favorites you’d want - “chicken” wings, “gyros,” “burgers,” tacos and a Reuben; all made with meat substitutes. I am most certainly NOT a vegan and even I love this place. I don’t care what the substitutes are, as long as the food is as delicious as it is at Native Foods. Everything is so yummy, I don’t mind that it’s good for me (and the planet)! My hubby and I send the headquarters an email about once a month requesting it to open a location in Fort Lauderdale.

The rest of the weekend was tied up with family events, but we did sneak away the night before we left to sample what I believe to be the best pizza in the world at Lou Malnati’s (loumalnatis.com). Ask any two Chicagoans their favorite pizza place and you’ll probably start a fight, but the majority will usually name Lou’s (we all drop the last name).

Lou Malnati originated the deep-dish pizza synonymous with Chicago. He was working for the famous Uno’s Pizza in the 1930s when he came up with the recipe. By the 1940's he ventured out on his own. Lou’s recipe provides a dense, yet crisp crust tons of cheese and absolutely no tomato sauce. Instead the pizza is studded with chunks of stewed tomatoes that have been squeezed dry. The lack of that excess moisture is what makes the crust so unusual, tender crisp and flaky and just strong enough to support the abundance of toppings. One slice is all you need, but you’ll usually have two with no regrets.


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