It’s hard to argue about it: summer is the best time of year when it comes to food. With fruit that tastes like candy, crisp, nourishing greens, and farm-fresh vegetables at your fingertips, it’s easy to pass as a gourmet chef by throwing something fabulous together.
My favorite summer food is watermelon. I was born in August and my mom always said she inhaled watermelon in the summer heat before she had me. Maybe there’s some connection; I don’t know. And while I love the seedless varieties, there’s something about those big black seeds that takes me back to days when my friends and I would stick them on our foreheads to see which one would last the longest.
Context is everything when it comes to food. So many of my travel memories are linked to great food, like street daal at Ravi in Dubai or spaghetti pomodoro at Hotel Cipriani in Venice. But summer always brings me back to my childhood, and to America.
Here are ten food-place combos that keep me coming back no matter where I am:
1. Lobster Rolls: “What would be your last meal?” Whenever this question comes up, my answer is always the same: A lobster roll from Luke’s Lobster in New York City. Okay, I’d settle for a meal where it all began: at the original Lobster Roll in Amagansett. There are many variations, but my favorite rolls always have fresh chunks of lobster with a light coating of mayo, a toasted hot dog bun, lemon juice, and spices. In L.A., a lobster roll worth fighting traffic for is the mini roll with celery and lemon aioli at Son of a Gun.
2. Ice Cream: So many of my best summer memories involve drippy ice cream cones. Today, I love sent-from-heaven Fresco Gelateria in the East Village. Chekmark Eats Founder Alexandra Reichek, one of my go-to sources for food advice, recommends Sweet Rose Creamery in L.A. (try the salted caramel ice cream, she says) and prizes Ample Hill Creamery in Brooklyn for its eclectic flavors and toppings. She recently stumbled upon simple-but-delectable flavors at Picco (“a pizza shop with a sign for homemade ice cream”) in Boston.
3. Peaches: California, South Carolina, and Georgia may be the top peach-producing states in the U.S., but in the Hill Country of Texas, the juicy delectables are a source of pride. At Swift’s Attic in Austin, look for summer special of grilled Texas peaches topped with crème fraîche and local honey.
4. Tomatoes: Peak-season tomatoes are as close to perfect as it gets and require almost nothing before serving — a sprinkling of sea salt and maybe a splash of balsamic or olive oil. The best I’ve had are at Sang Lee Farms on the North Fork of Long Island, which grows over 40 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. This is what all tomatoes should taste like.
5. Hamburgers: If you ever pass through Dallas, the original Burger House in Highland Park is the place to go for consistently delicious no-frills burgers. While there has been a meteoric rise in fancy hamburgers, you won’t find any brioche buns or clever French cheeses here. The crispy fries, sprinkled with seasoned salt, are also a huge local favorite.
6. Strawberries: I pick strawberries every summer in Connecticut and use them often, but especially love them mixed with salad greens. Two of the most memorable strawberry salads I’ve ever had come from the Southwest. At tiny Love Apple, a former chapel in Taos, New Mexico, the strawberry, pecan, and warm goat cheese salad is the perfect summer starter. And nothing can top the strawberry chicken salad at Scottsdale’s Arcadia Farms in my home state of Arizona.
7. Corn on the Cob: In Iowa, corn is practically a religion. My friend Katy Kelley is a proud Iowan and spent many a summer shucking corn (a “brutal, dusty, long-houred job” in her words). Some of the best corn in Iowa can be found at Rebel Farms just outside of Solon, off Highway 1. “They’re well-known in the area, so during peak season there’s usually a 15-minute wait of people along their driveway,” Katy told me.
8. Cherries: Washington state exports more cherries than anywhere else in the U.S. If Washington is part of your plans, you must enjoy a bowl of fresh-picked cherries, and try both the bing (red) and Rainier (yellow and red, and named after Mount Rainier) varieties. If you’re a cherry enthusiast, the overwhelming variety at Pike Place Market in Seattle is reason enough to visit the Emerald City.
9. Hot Dogs: The most addicting hot dog I’ve ever had was at Flo’s in Cape Neddick, Maine. The Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown grew up nearby and has been going to Flo’s for 30 years. “I was even served by the late great Flo herself, who opened this small stand in 1959,” she told me. “The dogs and buns are steamed and served with a home-made relish that can only be described as a sort of molasses onion chutney. The whole thing melts in your mouth and is properly washed down with a can of Moxie.”
10. Watermelon: Last but not least! Though my favorite way to enjoy watermelon is straight from the rind, I love seeing all the innovative ways people are using it. At the Neapolitan (in the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas), you can cool down by the pool with the Watermelon Patch “adult” popsicle (Think watermelon-flavored margarita on a stick!). And Corkbuzz Wine Studio in New York tosses cubes of watermelon with salty pork belly and scallion dressing for an Asian-flavored summer treat that you’ll write home about.
What memory does your favorite summer food evoke — and where can we try it? Share your insight with the Intelligent Travel community in the comments section below: