Game Changers: Moments that cause a significant shift in the way you currently think about something.
When it comes to food, we’ve probably all experienced a few game changers — meals that have changed the way we previously thought about certain dishes. Through our adventures with SORTEDfood over the last eight years, exploring dishes from all around the world both through our global community online and in real person, we’ve definitely experienced a few!
But is it all about the food? Does it also matter where you are? Who you’re with? What you’re doing? Plus, can you plan a “game changer?” Or does part of the experience rely on spontaneity?
Obviously, these are all great questions, and it’s easy to ask them, but much harder to answer them.
So when Visit The USA got in touch a few months ago, asking if we wanted to find out how great the Midwest of the U.S. is we thought it would be good to put it to the test.
It turns out that when us Brits go on holiday to the U.S., we only tend to stick to the East Coast (think New York and Florida) or the West Coast (Los Angeles and San Francisco, California). The majority of us miss out the middle bit, and Visit The USA says we’re really missing a trick, so we were asked us if we’d like to head to a couple of cities in the Midwest and see what we could find.
Chicago, Illinois, and Kansas City, Missouri, were chosen as prime targets, at which point we asked our online audience what we should be seeing, experiencing and, most importantly, eating whilst we were there. The response was overwhelming, and seeing as we only had 48 hours in each city, we prepped our bodies for long days and LOTS of food!
Our first stop was Chicago. We dived straight into exploring hot dogs, pizzas and Italian beef sandwiches. From commercial outfits to little hole-in-the-wall places, the passion for great food was exceptional. Here are my two favourite moments:
Italian Beef Sandwiches at Tony’s Beef
This family business is about 20 minutes from the city centre and is well worth the trip. It’s been running since 1975 and has an incredibly loyal local customer base. We met people who had been going in for five, 10, 20 and even 35 years to get their favourite sandwiches. Some had moved out of the area but still drove an hour, three times a week for lunch! Tony is an incredibly charming guy who seems to know everyone who came in the door. And if he didn’t, he talked to you like he’d known you for years! The sandwiches were outstanding — the beef was superbly flavoured and so juicy and tender. We were even joined by a couple of local cops for their lunch, which must mean it’s good! I couldn’t recommend it highly enough!
This was a real game changer for me. In the middle of downtown is Millennium Park, which houses an outdoor performing centre that puts on random showings of films as well as musical performances. On the night we were there, the park happened to be showing “Blues Brothers,” a classic Chicago-based film. We decided to go and when we turned up, there were thousands of people sat there with picnics watching, laughing and singing along with the film. We sat at the back of the park, eating a Chicago-style hot dog, as the sun set over the sensational Chicago skyline. It’s something I will never forget!
They say time waits for no man, and very quickly we found ourselves arriving into Kansas City, one of the spiritual homes of barbecue in the U.S. Again, there were probably two moments here that will stay with me for a very long time:
BB’s Lawnside BBQ
We were welcomed into a proper old school barbecue joint as if we were already part of the family, being introduced to every member of staff and long-term customer inside. We ate some of the best barbecue we’ve ever had, from ribs and burnt ends to battered fries and smoked catfish. To top it off, a band struck up next to us, playing jazz standards from the last 70 years, all sung by the lady who just welcomed us in! It was phenomenal and should be on any list when visiting KC.
OK, so this was a bit out there, but as we had 48 hours to explore the best barbecue in Kansas City, how could we turn up the opportunity to attend a pro-barbecue competition? The cook-off gave us an insight into a whole world we didn’t really know existed — competitors rock up with their (frankly amazing) barbecue “rigs” and are given a time limit to turn in a number of dishes, from baked beans, to chicken, ribs, brisket, pork butt and even a dessert. We managed to sneak into where the judging was taking place and were overwhelmed with how seriously it was all taken. It was an incredible sight! We even got to taste some of the chicken and rib entries, and were absolutely blown away by the quality. If you ever get the chance to go to a barbecue festival or competition, do it. It’s some seriously next level stuff!
So at the end of our trip, had we managed to find some game changers? Absolutely. We presumed it might be harder to go out and try to find them, but honestly, the welcome we had from people and the passion they displayed for their area, local produce and dishes was sensational. It all felt incredibly real, no one was trying too hard. It was enough to celebrate it for what it was.
If you’re planning a trip to the U.S., I would definitely consider a stop off in the Midwest. Get stuck in and find out where the locals go. You’re guaranteed to have the best time.