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On the Road

On the Road with Cook’s Country: Staff Photographer Steve Klise’s Ultimate Road Trip

Even when he's off the clock, he's on the hunt for the perfect bite and the best shot.
By Published July 29, 2018

At Cook's Country, we're big fans of road trips. For the last decade, our team has traveled all around the country in search of the very best traditional and down-home fare. We've visited small towns and big cities, home kitchens and busy restaurants, truck stops and taco trucks. Why? To bring recipes that have flown under the national radar back to the test kitchen and then to Cook’s Country magazine, so anyone can recreate the best in American fare at home—no matter where they live.

Since we love stories—and food—from the road, I reached out to our Cook’s Country team to ask them about their ultimate, no-limitations road trip.

Today’s dream trip comes from Steve Klise, whose food photos help Cook’s Country magazine readers eat with their eyes. Here’s where he would go, what he would listen to, and most importantly, what he would eat.

What are your top 5 must-visit destinations and what are you eating when you get there?

I would be remiss as a person from Maryland if I didn’t mention heading down the Eastern Shore for blue crabs and a drive across the Chesapeake Bay. When I get to a good spot by the harbor, I’ll post up at whatever grimy looking seafood shack I can find. Then, I’ll spread some newspapers on the table, get a big bucket of crabs, a couple of Natty Bohs (shorthand for National Bohemian, the lawnmower beer of choice around the greater Baltimore area) and get waist deep in those crabs . . . preferably while looking at some water. If I have some time to spare while I’m in my home state, I’m stopping at Jimmie & Sook’s Raw Bar and Grill in Cambridge, Maryland. It’s one of those classic Eastern Shore seafood spots that can’t be beat. I think that’s the best way to do it.

A good Polish lunch buffet is one of the most comforting, amazing, and wonderful things you could ever ask for.

I don’t know what it is about getting really involved with crustaceans, but I’m heading to Lafayette, Louisiana next. They have a very, very strong crawfish game there. I would like to revisit Crawfish Town. Bryan Roof and I made a stop here in 2017 for dinner after spending majority of the day looking for cracklins, boudin, and all things Cajun for Cook’s Country recipe research.  They serve personal two- and five-pound crawfish platters . . . it’s definitely a place where you have to bring your eating game.

After I’ve had my share of seafood, I’ll drive to Lockhart, Texas, for barbecue. There’s really nothing going on in that town except for three of the most legendary barbecue spots in all of Texas: Black’s BBQ, Smitty’s Market, and Kreuz Market Texas BBQ. These restaurants will always be worth the two-hour drive from Houston.

I’ve got to go to Los Angeles, California, for tacos from Guisados. If you’re ever in L.A. I recommend you stop at one of their five locations. (The original location for Guisados is located in Boyle Heights.) I’d say either there or any food truck on the street will do. Getting the real thing out there is everything but short of amazing.

My last stop—Cleveland, Ohio— is underrated but has some great Polish food. People don’t really think about this city as a culinary destination worth traveling for but there is a huge Eastern European community in Cleveland. A good Polish lunch buffet is one of the most comforting, amazing, and wonderful things you could ever ask for.  

Who are you bringing along?

My brother Matt. He is one of the world’s best car trip companions. He is a thorough and ridiculous individual who brings crazy snacks on every road trip. You’ve got to respect someone that plans a road trip based around what they’re going to eat in the car.

Steve Klise and Matt Klise
Steve (right) putting up with one of his brother Matt's (left) playful jokes.

What will you be jamming to while on the road?

Usually I’m catching up on news podcasts, so I like anything and everything that Crooked Media produces. But if I’m doing music, I go with classic road trip stuff. We’re talking Going Up the Country by Canned Heat, Born To Be Wild by Steppenwolf . . . songs like that. Once we’re off an exit, nearing close to our destination, and need to get hyped up a little, I’ll throw on some long Bruce Springsteen albums.

Any car snacks?

When I’m in the south, I’m a big fan of grabbing boiled peanuts, but if I’m anywhere else in America, homemade pork rinds hit the spot. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care where your family is from, I don’t care about whatever else you’re cooking . . . everybody’s got pork rinds, or so I’ve learned on these recipe-research road trips. Whether you’re in Pittsburgh or L.A. you’ll likely find a version of pork rinds.

Other than that, peanut M&Ms. I think in the hierarchy of M&M’s they are by far the most spirited, without question.

Any car games?

There is one game I enjoy playing on the road. You have to work from A to Z, looking for each letter on signs that display the name of the town or brands of cars, things like that. (License plates don’t count because they’re just a jumble of letters and numbers, which makes it easy for anyone.) Over time, you learn that there are a couple of big hang-up letters. Anyone can find S, but tell me when you find Q.

What should someone know if they’re getting in a car with you?

If I have my photography gear with me, it is impossible for me to drive anywhere without feeling the urge to pull over every ten miles to shoot a landscape shot out the side of the car. If you can find a second to pop out and look left or right once in a while while you’re on the highway, you’re going to see some crazy, amazing scenery.

Cook's Country Takes America

The Cook's Country team is inspired by the home cooks and regional dishes in every region of the country—and we're determined to get to know them all. View this article to read about where we've been, what we've eaten, and how you can recreate our favorite regional dishes at home.
Read Article

Don’t forget to check out our other team member’s ultimate road trips below.