Drawing on a lifetime of touring the country producing programming for public television, Burt Wolf's Real American Food provides a culinary snapshot of the country's major food cities. Wolf, who has produced the television series Travels and Traditions and What We Eat, has also written or edited more than 60 books so he knows his genre. The stylish Real American Food takes on the distinctive contributions to America's culinary footprint by focusing on 10 cities: New York, Boston, San Francisco, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, Miami and Richmond, Virginia.
More an armchair read than a cookbook (although there are more than 70 recipes), the book traces the origins of Italian and Jewish food in New York, upscale Southern cooking in Richmond, organic Nouvelle Cuisine in San Francisco and Eastern European-influenced meals in Chicago. A wealth of boxes and sidebars provide quirky culinary history, as well as lists of What to Taste and Where to Taste It, such as where to try Japanese fusion in L.A. and where to find a traditional Cuban meal in Miami.
Foodies might quibble with some of Wolf's choices (Where's the heartland's hot dish classics? Or the Deep South's barbecue and icebox pies?), and most of Wolf's suggestions are of the right-on-the-beaten path variety, rather than inside tips. But this broad survey gives nice perspective on the complex profile of what we call American food.
Lisa Waddle is a food writer and runner based in Nashville.