Foodie Underground: Local Specialties to Make You Cringe

ColumnTrashy classics are the trendiest.

Last week in Santa Fe I walked into a brewpub situated in the Railyard, an urban community of galleries, cafes and businesses blending into the gritty architecture of the railroad tracks. A chalkboard welcomed diners, highlighting all of the local meat and produce that was being served. Sunflower sprouts from a local garden, grass fed beef and a multitude of other options that would satisfy even the pickiest of locavores. And yet when I sat down it wasn’t the happy cows that were being recommended.

“On special tonight we have Frito Pie.”

Ummm… Excuse me?

I turned to my mother’s friend, whose house we were staying at, and raised my eyebrows quizzically.

“Oh yes, Frito Pie, it’s a local specialty,” she said matter of factly.

She proceeded to explain the art of a good Frito Pie, which apparently is a layer of Frito chips, chili and then an assortment of lettuce, tomatoes and cheese, almost always served at any local sporting event. According to my sources, the best Frito Pie isn’t even served in a bowl, the chili should just be poured straight into a bag of Fritos.

I heard the words “Frito Pie” mentioned numerous times over the next few days, from unassuming tourists to in-the-know chefs. Frito Pie wasn’t just a meal, it seemed to be an attitude, a loving affection for a local delicacy, simplicity maybe being its finest attribute.

Every region has their local junk food specialty, but it seems that we’ve taken trashy classics and given them a newfound reverence, putting them right next to the list of organic, local grown produce and artisan cheeses. We might talk a lot about the connection between foodies and snobbery, but when it comes down to it, there are plenty of food trends that have nothing to do with good (or pretentiously named) food at all.

Because sometimes being a foodie has absolutely nothing to do with eating local, sustainable or healthy, it’s simply all about the taste. Sure, there might be vegan fast food drive thrus, but when we start to think about it, what hole-in-the-wall locales do well? The ones that cater to your cravings; sweet, salty and fried. Junk foodie-ism as I like to call it.

These regional specialties – or should I say, horrors? – do it best, coming in as their city or state’s claim to fame, no matter what’s in them or where it came from.

Gooey Butter Cake

First introduced to me by a friend in college who hailed from St. Louis, Gooey Butter Cake isn’t much more than what its name indicates. But you can buy mixes, make The New York Times version and even order wedding cakes.

Fried Bologna Sandwich

The sound of it makes me cringe, but there is no shortage of mentions of Fried Bologna Sandwiches across the internet. It’s as simple as it sounds, and if you find yourself at smaller regional restaurants across the Midwest and in the South, you just might be able to order one.

BBQ Bologna

The processed meat (if you can call it meat), is a local delicacy from Rossford, Ohio to Memphis, Tennessee in some places weighing in at a 1/2 pound.

Shoofly Pie

Considered traditional in amongst the Pennsylvania Amish and Mennonites and the Pennsylvania Dutch, Shoofly Pie is sticky sweet with plenty of molasses. Make it for yourself with this recipe from The Splendid Table.

Sonoran Hot Dog

Grab a hot dog, wrap it in bacon, then proceed to slather it in pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, onions, jalapeno sauce, cheese, mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard, and you’ve got yourself the Southwestern specialty.

Frito Pie

Couldn’t let this go without a recipe, so for your own Frito Pie rendition, adhere to the following:

-Bag of Frito’s

-Finely chopped onions

-Finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese

-Canned chili (no beans)

-Jalapeno peppers or Slim Jim’s for fancy garnishes

IMPORTANT TIP: Always serve a Frito Pie immediately after pouring on the hot Chili.

Remember, NEVER allow the Frito’s to get soggy, as they turn into an inedible mush.

I won’t make any assessments of how our addiction to crazy regional specialties like these just might be an indicator of why our nation does so poorly when it comes to health issues. After all that, I think I’m off to make a salad. No Fritos or bologna, please.

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s weekly column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground, discovering what’s new and different in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to the culinary avant garde.

Images: MattHurstSweet Treats and More, Central BBQ, supafly, Accidental Hedonistwve


Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.