On the Road Eats: Holiday Dishes Across the Country
Celebrate the season with these Food Network-approved restaurant dishes that will guarantee you a happy holiday road trip. We've got the top festive spots to find eggnog, gingerbread and yule logs galore, stretching all the way from the East Coast to snowy Alaska, for one well-rounded holiday on the road.
Ronnybrook Farm — Ancramdale, N.Y.
Sugarplums may be the traditional dancing vision this time of year, but Alex Guarnaschelli always dreams of eggnog in their place. Her favorite hails from Ronnybrook Farm, where the rich holiday classic is made with a mixture of whole milk and heavy cream straight from the farm's happy cows. The eggnog is spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, and it carries a hint of amaretto that makes it "the perfect holiday drink." Alex suggests adding a splash of bourbon to the intensely creamy sip and advises that you seek it out as soon as the weather turns cold, as this decadent drink is available only during the holidays.
Magnolia Café — Austin
Lured to this popular Tex-Mex joint by the "smell of gingerbread cookies," Guy Fieri couldn't resist ordering up a stack of Magnolia's famous gingerbread pancakes on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The café's owners claim they're open "24/8" and feed a packed house of regulars 'round-the-clock breakfast every day of the year. The gingerbread pancakes are a best-seller with an almost savory quality, as they're made with a combination of coffee, buttermilk and a bevy of spices like ginger and nutmeg. Best of all, this seasonally flavored specialty is available year-round for whenever you're craving a taste of the holidays. Do as the locals do, and work your way through the massive menu one dish at a time, starting with the pancake section, of course.
Pierre's — Bridgehampton, N.Y.
For a Christmas cake that "feels just right at a holiday gathering," Rocco DiSpirito always heads to Pierre's to order a classic buche de Noel. On The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Rocco explains why Pierre's version is best, with its moist and airy sponge cake that's dusted with cocoa powder, smothered in chocolate ganache and molded into the traditional log shape. It's painstakingly decorated with a fine comb, then covered in tiny meringue mushrooms and a flurry of powdered sugar for a final snowy flourish. The experience of each rich chocolate slice is "melt-in-your-mouth indulgent," and the log's party-ready presentation makes it the ideal gift to bring to a holiday bash.
Mindy's Hot Chocolate Restaurant and Dessert Bar — Chicago
On Crave, Troy Johnson visited this hot chocolate haven to sample sippable treats from one of the nation's best pastry chefs. Mindy Segal uses only the finest-quality cacao beans in her kitchen, and she serves seven different kinds of hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows year-round. Her hot chocolate varieties range from silky 72 percent dark chocolate to Mexican, mint and chai-spiced versions, which are served with fluffy seasonally inspired marshmallows as the perfect sidekick. Motivated by local ingredients and contemporary cuisine, the chef continues to churn out inventive spins on the classic cold-weather drink. She even offers her special hot chocolate blends for sale online for those who can't make the trip to Chi-Town's most unique dessert destination during the holiday season.
Collin Street Bakery — Corsicana, Texas
The next time you're cruising through the Lone Star state, keep an eye out for the largest fruitcake bakery in the world. Collin Street makes about one million fruitcakes every year and ships the classic holiday treats far and wide. While you might associate the red and green fruit-festooned cake with the worst of holiday dishes, Marc Murphy vouched for the quality of Collin Street's product on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, saying that its fantastic fresh ingredients "will make you want to try fruitcake again." The Deluxe Fruitcake is made up of local pecans and features pineapples from Costa Rica, raisins from California and cherries from Washington State to achieve the most flavorful cake possible. Molded in the shape of a Christmas wreath, it's both tender and crunchy (unlike the stereotypical fruitcake), and it's filled with colorful, freshly candied fruit. Thanks to Collin Street, fruitcake has regained its good name, so it's finally acceptable to gift this fruit-studded treat to your food-loving family.
Society Bakery — Dallas
This Dallas-based bakery is well-known for its selection of cakes, cookies and cupcakes, but Duff Goldman traveled there on Sugar High specifically to test out the peppermint red velvet whoopie pies. These fluffy cake-and-cookie hybrids blend three different types of cake batter (chocolate buttermilk, strawberry and peppermint vanilla) to create the ultimate festive treat. The vanilla cake is spiked with peppermint extract and crushed peppermints to up the holiday ante, and the three batters are then swirled together and baked into puffy rounds. Whipped cream cheese and butter thicken the rich filling that's sweetened with vanilla and crushed peppermints before being sandwiched between the freshly baked cake rounds. The end result is a perfectly balanced holiday-ready pastry that is most definitely kid- and Duff-approved.
The Dillard House Restaurant — Dillard, Ga.
The fried country ham at this Southern spot is so addictive that Alton insisted it would be his last meal of choice on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Dillard House has been preparing its hams the same way since 1917, preserving them solely with salt and hanging them to dry in the traditional fashion. Alton sings the praises of the "intensely salty" resulting ham that's fried in bacon grease and brown sugar before being served with a cup of strong coffee. He describes the flavor as both buttery and nutty, with a hint of fruit and a primal sweetness that "makes you glad you're a carnivore." To enjoy the experience as he does, sidle up to the family-style table at Dillard House, order the famous fried ham, and soak up the cozy atmosphere and Southern sense of hospitality as you dig into this meaty holiday fare.
Cookie Jar Restaurant — Fairbanks, Alaska
Guy journeyed far up north to the land of the midnight sun to seek out this mom-and-daughter baking empire where they're churning out traditional holiday treats on a grand scale. The Cookie Jar is known for its wintertime cookie selections from snickerdoodles to gingersnaps to snow balls as well as its famous cinnamon rolls that are "the size of a manhole cover." This time of year, those rolls get a holiday upgrade when they're shaped into massive cinnamon roll Christmas wreaths. The dough uses potato flakes for a tender and spongy texture and requires a "king-kong sized rolling pin" to tame each giant batch. A hefty coating of cinnamon and brown sugar covers every inch of the dough before it's formed into a wreath, baked and slathered with a thick vanilla glaze. Guy had only one response after tasting the warm and gooey local favorite: "Holy moly."
Valerie Confections — Los Angeles
For a holiday gift that tastes as good as it looks, head to Valerie Confections and ask for the rose petal petit fours. These cheerful tiny cakes feature multiple layers, including a dense vanilla bean cake and a rose petal ganache made with white chocolate, passion fruit puree and dried rose petals. The creamy bites are doused in a thick white chocolate glaze and crowned with a candied rose petal as the finishing touch. On The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Sunny Anderson described these sweets as "perfect for mailing and perfect for eating," and she said there are as many ways to eat them as there are layers. Like Sunny, you might want to order an extra box of these treats for yourself so you don't devour your friends' Christmas gifts before you can mail them.
Sift Cupcake & Dessert Bar — Napa, Calif.
The owners of this cupcake-centric dessert bar boast a three-time winning record on Cupcake Wars, having defeated opponents with their creative cakes in multiple themed challenges. Their most merry creation, a gingerbread-zinfandel cupcake, can now be found on the shop's menu and brings to mind the flavor of holiday gingerbread cookies. This treat combines a wealth of warm spices like ginger and cloves with dark molasses for a moist and aromatic cake base. The cupcake is then capped with a zinfandel buttercream frosting that adds a hint of cherry as a sweet complement to the spicy gingerbread. Be sure to scoop up a box of these Christmas goodies on your next visit to wine country, and experience some of the very best cupcakes on the West Coast.
Francois Payard Bakery — New York
In the ultimate holiday Throwdown, Bobby Flay challenged world-famous pastry chef Francois Payard to a buche de Noel bake-off. The classic French cake is rolled in the shape of a yule log and served at Christmastime as a traditional dessert. Bobby couldn't have picked a tougher opponent in this Throwdown, as Chef Payard is known as "the king of buche de Noel," a specialty he serves at his own bakery for only five days of the year during the Christmas season. Chef Payard's elegant buche de Noel begins with chocolate mousse and hazelnut dacquoise (similar to a sponge cake but made with meringue), which is layered with hazelnut cream and crispy wafers, then coated in a rich, shiny dark chocolate glaze. The master baker raises the buche bar even further by decorating his with gold leaf and French macarons for a modern presentation that complements the velvety layer cake within. Plan ahead and order Chef Payard's holiday masterpiece well in advance to ensure that your Christmas table is set with the best buche de Noel available this side of France.
The Lucky Cupcake Company — Pipersville, Pa.
A Cupcake Wars veteran, this company is known for its experimental flavors that take on the spirit of the season. Lucky Cupcake specializes in filled cupcakes and offers three different sizes to accommodate any sweet tooth. Inspired by seasonal spices, the fall and winter menu features pumpkin spice, apple pie, gingerbread and eggnog cupcakes. The eggnog cupcake captures the rich and silky quality of the holiday drink with vanilla cake that's soaked in eggnog and topped with fluffy vanilla meringue. The shop also encourages cupcake customization, allowing each customer to create the perfect flavor combination or turn a favorite seasonal flavor into a full-size cake for sharing.
Fran's Chocolates — Seattle
When searching for the perfect holiday gift, Bobby Flay always turns to the Coconut Gold Bars at Fran's Chocolates. As he said on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, "if it tastes good, it's a good gift," and he covets these gold bars so much that he's been known to finish an entire box himself. Fran is one of the best-known artisanal chocolatiers in the country and took inspiration from her favorite childhood candy bar when she created this treat. Though small in size, her bars make a big impact with a rich coconut ganache that's spiked with sugarcane rum and studded with plumped coconut. Almonds line the top of each bar that's then enrobed in a special house blend of dark chocolate. Bobby says they're "dangerously addictive," and he looks forward to the arrival of a "box of golden deliciousness" every year when the holidays roll around.
The Aerie Restaurant and Lounge — Snowbird, Utah
After a long day on the slopes, head to this mountainside lounge to thaw out with specialty après ski drinks. Bobby Flay ordered the Hot Raspberry Kiss cocktail during his wintry visit on Food Nation; the drink combines homemade hot chocolate with vodka and raspberry liqueur. Topped with a snowcap of whipped cream, it's a deeply warming cup of comfort that takes the chill off after a day outdoors. Just a short drive from Salt Lake City, the ski resort is close enough for a day trip, and, lucky for winter visitors, the resort serves its most popular hot cocktail all throughout the season.
For more FN-approved destinations, check out Food Network On the Road.