We have finally reached the top 10 in “My Favorite Things I Ate in 2018!” We’ve traveled around the country (okay, half the country) and Canada (well, Toronto) sampling deliciously different cuisines, like Taiwanese noodle soup in New York City, cupcakes in Waco, fried pickles in Memphis, poutine in Toronto, and gelato in St. Louis.
If you missed the first 15 items, start here.
Hope you’re hungry! If not, I’m sure you will be very soon.
10. Grilled Petite Filet at Eleven Eleven Mississippi in St. Louis, Missouri
When you’re married with three young kids, you don’t go out for a nice steak dinner very often. It’s maybe once a year, if you’re lucky.
And when you only get to go out for a nice steak dinner once a year, you want to make sure it’s going to be amazing. Steak is tricky. A good steak is not cheap, and it is easy to mess it up. You can’t cover it up with other flavors; you want the steak to be the star. It has to be tender, juicy, not too fatty, not too lean, not gristley, properly seasoned (not too much), and not overcooked.
One of the most disappointing food experiences is paying for a less than ideal steak.
One of the most satisfying food experiences is enjoying an ideal steak.
And that is why, when Shelly and I actually do go out for a nice steak dinner, we almost always travel into the city to enjoy the steak at Eleven Eleven Mississippi in St. Louis. (Their name is also their address.)
Keep in mind that Eleven Eleven Mississippi is not a steakhouse; it’s “rustic Tuscan cuisine with a new world twist.” Menu items include Wild Boar Ravioli, Grilled Veal Chop with acorn squash gratin, and Pan-Seared Swordfish with swiss chard-saffron couscous.
Everything on the menu sounds and looks amazing. However, none of that matters to Shelly. We are going there for one reason: the steak.
I, on the other hand, always peruse the menu and listen to the specials—mostly to see if they have another spectacular steak option. Either way, Shelly and I are both ordering steak.
The steak on the dinner menu at Eleven Eleven Mississippi is a Grilled Petite Filet served with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, bacon braised Swiss Chard, and Sangiovese demi-glace. It’s steak and potatoes….taken to another level.
Like I said, we don’t get over that way very often, but when we do, we always enjoy a perfect steak every single time. The meat is incredibly tender—you wouldn’t struggle to cut through it with a plastic knife. The seasoning is just enough to let the flavor of the meat shine through. As soon as it hits your tongue, you are taken on a sensory journey of taste and texture, preceded by the aroma of perfectly seared beef.
The steak is amazing on its own, but then Eleven Eleven Mississippi pairs it with the best mashed potatoes ever (besides my mom’s)! Creamy and savory, with an added flavor boost from the steak’s juices.
Eleven Eleven Mississippi is one of our favorite places for a wonderful date night in St. Louis. They have an awesome antipasti board, and the Hearts of Romaine salad with the Parmigiano-Reggiano crisp is fantastic. My advice for date night at Eleven Eleven: one of you order steak, and one of you order any of the other incredible dishes on the menu. You won’t be disappointed!
9. Double ShackBurger at Shake Shack in Chicago, Illinois
I wouldn’t normally include something from a chain restaurant in a list like this, but…Shake Shack does it right.
I definitely have a thing for seared meats, especially ones covered in melty cheese and a delicious sauce. Slap that on a potato roll with fresh lettuce, tomato, and onion, and you have yourself the makings of a perfect cheeseburger.
It’s not fancy; there’s no truffle aioli, garlic confit, or sauteed foie gras. One bite of a ShackBurger, and you will be reminded what a cheeseburger is supposed to taste like.
It has many of the same elements that make for an ideal steak (as mentioned before): perfectly seared beef, juicy and tender, and the right amount of seasoning—just enough to bring out the beefiness of the burger.
Thankfully, ShakeShack is expanding. (There is finally one in St. Louis!) So, you don’t just have to live in a major metropolis to enjoy burger bliss. Order a ShackBurger, fries, and shake (made with frozen custard!) Find a ShakeShack near you, and be reminded what a burger is supposed to be.
8. Cannoli and Boston Cream Pie from Mike’s Pastry in Boston, Massachusetts
When people found out we were going to Boston last summer, I had so many friends tell me I had to go to Mike’s Pastry. I have to admit, it wasn’t a real high priority for me.
As I have mentioned before, I am not a big dessert eater. Whenever I am traveling to a city, I always do my research and compile a list of places I want to eat, but you will almost never find a dessert place on those lists.
But when I keep hearing from different people that I need to try a certain place—no matter what kind of food they serve—I take notice.
Since Mike’s Pastry is right off the Freedom Trail (a 2.5 mile path that takes you to some of the most important sites in early American history), it was really convenient to pop in. And I am so glad I did.
I was just one of about a hundred others who decided to “pop in” to this bakery that’s smaller than your average Starbucks. Apparently, everyone but me already knew about this place. It was hectic, but the amazing staff at Mike’s easily kept up with the chaos.
I was told I had to get the cannoli, but we were in Boston, so I also had to get some Boston Cream Pie, right? They quickly placed my two cannoli and slice of Cream Pie in a white box tied up with blue string. I’m pretty sure the box weighed 10 pounds, but it only cost me $10.
I like cannoli, but I fell in love with the cannoli at Mike’s Pastry. The shell was tender and flaky, not overbaked like most of the cannoli I’ve had. I went with the chocolate ricotta filling. It was thick and creamy and filled with sweet chocolate flavor. The chocolate chips on the ends added another punch of chocolate and more textural variance. The whole experience was like enjoying the tastiest chocolate cream pie and being able to hold it in my hand.
Then, there was the Boston Cream Pie, which isn’t actually a pie. It’s a cake. And probably the best cake I’ve ever had.
Mike’s Pastry layers their sponge cake with a generous portion of beautiful pastry cream in between and then tops it with chocolate frosting. Spongey, creamy, and chocolatey. Those are the ingredients for a perfect dessert in my book.
If you’ve never been to Mike’s Pastry, you have to visit, even if you don’t usually care about desserts (like me). Try the cannoli, the cream pie, and any of the other mouth-watering goodies in the display cases.
7. Sicilian Square Pizza at O’Scugnizzo Pizzeria in Utica, New York
We didn’t have specific plans to eat a meal in Utica, New York this summer. We were making our way from New Hampshire toward Niagara Falls when we started getting hungry for dinner as we approached Utica. I checked Yelp for a great place to eat in Utica, and there was O’Scugnizzo Pizzeria. I noticed they had been making pizza since 1914, so we had to give this place a try.
The building is pretty unassuming, we thought a fight might break out inside, and the pizza is quite different than what we are used to. Having said all that, we were so glad we stopped here!
Like I said, the pizza is a little different. The crust is thick and rectangular, and the sauce covers the meat and cheese—and I do mean covers. It actually flows over the sides, making for one of the messiest pizzas I’ve eaten, so napkins are a must!
The crust is bready—a nice crisp on the outside but fluffy inside. The pepperoni was great, but the sauce is actually the star of this dish. It’s a beautiful marriage of sweet and savory with a nice tang. The crust is perfect for the sauce. I used it to sop up all the sauce that didn’t make it into my mouth the first time.
This pie has all the components of a great pizza: crunchy, chewy, saucy, melty, and layers of flavor. Just be sure you don’t wear white.
If you’re anywhere near Utica, stop in at O’Scugnizzo. Order some hot wings and pizza and grab a bunch of napkins.
6. Cheesesteak at Pat’s King of Steaks in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The cheesesteak is one of the great American sandwiches. I fell in love with them in college when I finally got over my childhood phobia of onions and peppers (and subsequently fell in love with onions and peppers). I remember smelling them cook at nearby food cart. I told myself, “I don’t care how badly you hate peppers and onions; you have to get one of those right now because that might be the best thing you’ve ever smelled.”
Nearly 20 years later, and anytime I smell cheesesteaks cooking, my taste buds still tell my brain, “You have to get one of those right now.”
So, as we planned our summer vacation to the Northeast, I knew we would have to get Philadelphia for cheesesteaks (okay, and all the history stuff, too), and I knew exactly where to get them.
According to history, Pat Olivieri (along with brother Harry) invented the steak sandwich in the 1930s when the hot dog vendor decided to grill up some shaved steak and onions for his lunch. As he was about to enjoy his new sandwich, one of his regular customers, allured by the aroma of seared steak and onions, asked Pat to make him one.
The steak sandwich quickly took off, and Pat ditched hot dogs to open up a steak sandwich restaurant. But it wasn’t until 1949 that cheese and steak were married, when one of Pat’s restaurant managers, Joe Lorenza, added provolone cheese to the sandwich. A few years later, Cheez Whiz was invented. It soon became the most popular cheese topping.
Pat’s King of Steaks moved into their permanent location at 1237 E Passyunk in 1940. Right across the street is another beloved cheesesteak institution—Geno’s Steaks, which opened in 1966. This is cheesesteak Mecca.
We parked several blocks away (parking is limited) from what might be the best smelling intersection in America. We ordered two cheesesteaks with onions and peppers—one with Cheese Whiz and one with provolone. (Be aware that they have very specific ordering instructions to keep the line moving and make sure you get what you want.) Then, I went across the street to Geno’s for another cheesesteak with Whiz, peppers, and onions.
These were the best cheesesteaks I have ever eaten, but Pat’s edged out Geno’s in my book. The Italian roll is beautiful on its own, but it was made to hold steak cooked with onions and peppers and slathered with Cheese Whiz. Everything combines to create a sensory explosion.
The aroma of seared meat and sauteed onions and peppers strike you like a heat-seeking missile. The din of street traffic and hungry customers is drowned out by the sizzle of the grill. The warmth of the sandwich emanates through the paper. Unwrap it to reveal golden brown bread stuffed with gorgeous steak and veggies, cheese oozing down the sides. In every glorious bite, you experience chewy bread, tender steak, creamy Cheese Whiz, and the delicate crunch of the cooked onions and peppers. The flavors meld into a burst of savory goodness.
The intersection of Passyunk & 9th Street is a must for any cheesesteak lover. Try both Pat’s and Geno’s and determine for yourself who reigns supreme. At Pat’s, I suggest ordering a Pepper Cheese Steak “wit” onions and “Whiz.” Get ready for your taste buds to blow up…in a good way.
Only five more to go! I will soon be counting down the five best things I ate last year!