People whose employment requires travel can be divided into two groups: those who eat at whatever is in the hotel or at the Applebee’s across the parking lot (Is there an Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar that’s in an actual neighborhood?) and those on the endless and often frustrating search for a good meal.
Calvin Trillin, on the road reporting for the New Yorker magazine’s “U.S. Journal,” became a food writer too, resulting from his quest for something decent to eat in strange towns. He found that hotel clerks and acquaintances always directed to what they considered the best place in town, what he referred to as the generic “La Maison de la Casa House, Continental Cuisine.”
- Yelp and TripAdvisor are only incidentally helpful; even establishments with a lot of stars also have negative reviews because of small portion sizes or some slight by a server.
- Zagat compiles reviews from those who consider themselves sophisticated diners in major cities.
- AAA Tour Books try, but their restaurant listing stick pretty much to the mainstream and avoid the out of the ordinary
- Michelin Guides cover only limited areas in this country and are directed at gourmands with unlimited funds or unlimited expense accounts.
- Roadfood, the work of intrepid travelers and diners Jane and Michael Stern has been my consistent guide for local, sometimes quirky, places since before the Internet age. (Their newly “upgraded” web site is harder to navigate than its graphics-light predecessor.)
- Santa Rosa’s favorite celebrity, Guy Fieri and his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, will steer you to high-fat, high calorie dining.
Which brings us to Duncan Hines. Yes, Mr. Hines was a real person. From the 1920s through the ‘40s he traveled the country selling office supplies and looking for a clean restaurant with decent food. He carried a notebook to record his experiences.
Hines self-published his first edition of Adventures in Good Eating in 1936. It listed 475 restaurants. Word-of-mouth sales were so good, for the second year’s edition, he raised the price from $1.00 to $1.50. A revised edition was issued annually until he retired in 1954.
While not accepting advertising for his guides, he did lend the Duncan Hines name to food products. Today the Duncan Hines brand is owned by Pinnacle Foods, the folks who also bring us Armour, Tim’s Cascade Chips, Nalley, Wish-Bone, the Mrs. Paul’s and Butterworth’s, Swanson, Birds Eye, Vlasic and on and on.