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RoadFood.com

Anybody had any luck with the recommendations in Jane & Michael Stern's RoadFood website? I have not found their reviews to be particularly accurate.

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  1. The Sterns seem to love everything. Their reviews are similar to what you'd find in the average travel guide by Frommer's or Fodor's. When I hear them on NPR's Splendid Table they always seem very excited by their "discoveries," but I suspect that in their enthusiasm they sometimes overlook a restaurant's faults.

    1. For CT it's a big yawn and i do not trust them. They seem to like everything. After reading over a dozen reviews on the CT site, the only tnegative remark is against Sally's clam pizza. They called it "second rate." Gimme a break.

      Yes, CT and NJ have great hotdogs but is every one the "best" he ever tasted, could every relish be the "best". They need to have a more honest opinion on stuff and try some things they may not like to give a better sense of truism.

      They tell me the difference between a clam strip and a whole belly clam. They tell me to get fries with a dog. Pleeze.

      Chowhound has much better reviews and honest reviews that road-food

      1. I think that they typically underestimate how much a meal will cost, especially if you get what they recommend. I've gone into sketchy places to wind up with good food, a lot better than I'd have expected, thanks to them. They also don't post about restaurants they don't like. So if they have checked out 12 restaurants, they'll only post about one or two. I think that their premise is not to slam bad restaurants but instead to herald good ones. Hence the permanently optimistic tone. Also in keeping with their optimistic tone, if a place starts slipping in quality, they won't announce it. For one thing, I think they're far too busy to continually check on previous restaurants, and for another I don't think they want the image of negativity to stick to them.

        I say they are a good source, just not an only one.

        1. This is a quote from Roadfood.com about posting reviews:
          What are the requirements for getting a review posted?
          All reviews must be well written and clearly give descriptions about the taste and presentation of the food. Look at other reviews on the site as examples. Once a review is submitted, it needs to be reviewed by our editors to make sure it is appropriate. All reviews for a new restaurant must have an approved photo of the food to be published on the site.

          Of note: "All reviews of a new place must have a photo!"
          It seems the site has evolved a bit. I used to think of it as a place to see what they had to say about Q.
          Is it a prerequisite that every meal "they" review have to be served in styrofoam or on a paper plate? I guess wine with a meal is not allowed? I also don't think anything green is allowed in pictures.
          I guess I have a slight fascination with the premise of the site. Perhaps it's love-hate. I rarely eat a dog and most burgers are disgusting (read latest NYT's article on frozen hamburger patties).
          Around here, in New England, I check out pigtrip.net for Q places. I'm not sure if I want just positive, upbeat reviews that don't update old haunts that have slid. That seems to be a knock on roadtrip and a plus for Chowhound since anyone can revive an old thread or start a new one.

          1. When Roadfood was first publish in the late '70's it was my bible when traveling. So I really wanted to love the site.

            I'll look at it when planning a trip, but on the whole do not find it useful enough to count on. I do find their info to be much more valuable/useful for the less visited/populated areas.

            1. I think I found out about Roadfood probably 2 years ago, maybe a little less. And I have to say that personally, it has opened my eyes to little shacks that serve great food that I NEVER would have discovered on my own. I absolutely love the website, especially the trip reports which I find are first rate. They usually have amazing photos, and tend to have no agenda in terms of wanting to give a good review. They are pretty honest when they don't like something.

              I used it recently on a detour to Connecticut and was very pleased to have one of the best burgers I've ever had at Burgers, Shakes, and Fries, Clam Mansion, and Swanky Franks. These are not my usual places that I would have hunted down on my own but after seeing photos and reading reports, made it part of my trip and really glad.

              I have to say that it's one of my top food website to check out when visiting a place.

              1. Checking my area, they rave about a couple of thoroughly second and third rate restaurants.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Naco

                  Where are you from? "The South" is a huge area. I wished you put that info in your profile. You and many others-not to pick on you.Thanks

                  1. re: Scargod

                    Eastern NC. Actually, I'm fairly positive that was on my profile, but checking now, it's not. I shall put it in again.

                2. I agree. But as meatn3 said, it has been useful in certain areas.

                  1. Re-reading this thread it occurred to me that no one (other than Jfood with the Sally's Pizza example) has given any specific examples as to why they think the reviews on there are accurate or not or useful or not.

                    The other very important thing to distinguish are the trip reports from users vs. the official recommendations from the owner's of the site. I believe they are two very different things. In fact I consider the trip reports from users to be very much like Chowhound but better because they almost always have photos!

                    At the end of the day, I'm not sure if these owners the Sterns have any agendas in terms of eating for free when they travel, thus not talking negatively about anyone, or if they are truly roadfooders and enjoy these spots and have over the years, honed their palates, so to speak.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Restaurant Dish

                      jfood tried to post on roadfood and was turned away because he very much treis to keep his privacy. After several exchanges with Stern, jfood was told to take it or leave it. Jfood will say that roadfood does have great pictures. It is their site to do as they please but STern came across as a real yutz.

                      1. re: Restaurant Dish

                        I didn't want to bore anyone, but here goes...

                        They rate Shaw's Barbecue in Williamston, NC as "worth planning a day around". I've eaten at just about every eastern NC bbq joint a few times, and Shaw's is one of the absolute worst. I grew up in Williamston, and a lot of people there won't even touch it and drive to nearby towns for barbecue. The fact that it's cooked on gas is the major red flag. It's possible to make decent barbecue with gas, but gas-cooked bbq joints are a dime a dozen, and there isn't a single one that's worth planning a day around, because they pretty much all taste alike.

                        Roadfood also gave a similar review to Parker's Barbecue in Wilson, and most of the above applies to it, with the caveat that Parker's *used* to be good. Several decades ago, from what I've heard.

                        Then there's the Cypress Grill in Jamesville. Roadfood says that this is the last of the Roanoke River herring shacks, despite the fact that there is another "herring shack" adjacent to the Cypress Grill. It also makes it out like the herring are still caught locally, which is impossible because the herring fishery in North Carolina has been closed for several years and was closed at the time of the Roadfood review of Cypress Grill.

                      2. I never really used the site sponsored reviews but would read ones from users.

                        I used to use the site quite a bit but found after a while that it had a real clique feel to it.

                        DT

                        1. I go back to what I said earlier: Do they ever review a place where they don't eat junk food off paper plates and not drink out Dixie cups? Do you ever see or hear of a salad? I can't swear they don't, but Ive missed seeing them. And fried foods! Good Lord! Pass the Lipitor!

                          Doesn't this kind of site have a very limited audience? Beyond Q, I'm just not the kind of guy to be seeking out just hot dogs and fries when I'm on vacation...

                          14 Replies
                          1. re: Scargod

                            Yes, they glorify the burger and the hotdog. But you will find plenty of places that serve on china, and even serve salads. I'm thinking of some glorious steakhouses (which may be so dated as to still serve iceberg lettuce) and plenty of places in the trendier northwest.

                            The Sterns started their career glorifying food that they saw was beginning to disappear: mom and pop places or tiny chains, and regional foods of America. They took the radical step at the time to praise common food when the gourmet revolution was churning its way towards arugula, and franchises looked like they were paving their way from sea to shining sea. So talking about Q, homemade pie, Polynesian Chinese (the relic from the 50’s) and even the finer points of hot dogs went against the grain. It became their schtick.

                            They have dedication to a specific (if large) subsection of the food industry, and I’ll grant that it isn’t often good for you. They will recommend certain types of business: older businesses, particularly ones that look like a time warp; businesses that create food specific to their locale. They probably won’t promote fish fries in Utah or green chile cheeseburgers in Vermont. They won’t rave about the Pho shop that just opened up either even if it’s great because it’s off-topic for them: trendy and new.

                            And they tackle the whole United States. Granted, I wish they’d cover Rhode Island more (we are neighbors, since they’re from Connecticut) and the Midwest and far West more. They acknowledged that they focus on areas where they can hit 8-10 locations in a day as they drive through, and they are fascinated with the South. Their reviews are not prepared NY Times-style, where each place is visited 3-4 times.

                            If I ask Chowhound for advice on a town, there won’t be too much overlap with Roadfood. First I’ll get the spendy and trendy (and yummy) recommendations, that I can’t quite afford. Then I’ll get the ones for food from “Ethnia” which I probably can. I won’t get without prompting, the ones for the diner serving homemade pie. Mostly, I look for the latter two options.

                            For what it’s worth. I like Roadfood as A source, but not THE source.

                            1. re: thinks too much

                              You make some good points.

                              The Sterns did start their reviews at a time when place which reflected local food traditions were dying off rapidly. They have stayed true to concentrating on these types of places. Many of my old favorites, which I learned of from the Sterns, have closed. (Melton's, Shirley's, for example)

                              Your next to the last paragraph is a situation I have found to happen with increasing frequency on CH. It is harder to get suggestions for places which reflect food traditions - perhaps it is that these places continue to grow few and far between. Perhaps this genre is of less interest to many current chowhounds.

                              I'm an equal opportunity eater - as long as it is delicious I'm game! I love food and I particularly love the chance to experience a meal that reflects the cultural lineage of place. Roadfood is a good tool in that regard. Many of the posters on CH no longer
                              seem interested in good food which is served up in often fading surroundings. Makes me wonder where that fine line lays between out of date and retro...

                              But the digging and shifting is a large part of what makes a new-to-you find so exciting!

                              1. re: meatn3

                                "It is harder to get suggestions for places which reflect food traditions - perhaps it is that these places continue to grow few and far between. Perhaps this genre is of less interest to many current chowhounds."

                                Yeah, that's definitely the case. I have noticed on here that it seems to be a dedicated minority who actually go out and try new places sight unseen. Add to that the fact that most posters will tend to come from larger cities, while your archetypal "roadfood" place tends to be in a more rural area, and you can get pretty spotty coverage. Is Roadfood really any better, though? The Stern reviews didn't impress me at all(see above), and the forum layout is really confusing. It's organized by food type and lacks any geographical basis.

                                1. re: Naco

                                  I find CH more useful. Plus I spend enough time on here where I "know" a number of the posters as far as whether our tastes mesh. (Your posts keep me exploring east more than any of the other directions!)

                                  Roadfood does have an option to look up by state. I use it once in a while if I haven't already garnered enough options from CH when planning a trip. I do like the larger number of photographs on RF.

                                  1. re: meatn3

                                    Yeah, the photos are nice. I've been wanting to start doing some on here, but I tend to focus on places where I worry that it won't be cool to be a big gringo skulking around with a camera, so I've been holding off, hoping to get to know the owners a little better through repeat visits.

                                    1. re: Naco

                                      I feel the same (minus the big aspect)!

                                      I'm usually so into whatever my activity is that I seldom think to take photos. Most restaurant situations I would feel intrusive doing it...

                                      1. re: Naco

                                        Have a pocket camera, like my Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W220 Point & Shoot. Very discreet! Shoots great pics at low light with 12.1 mp.
                                        Create a distraction: have wife, SO or friend yell "eek, a rat" from the back area, have an accident or make a loud noise. An air horn would work great or a firecracker in the bathroom.
                                        Take your picture without flash. Easy!

                                        1. re: Scargod

                                          "eek, a rat!"

                                          Hope we don't get sidetracked into people thinking I'm trying to get comped...

                                          ;-D

                                          I knew I should have made a bigger purchase at the fireworks stands on the 4th!

                                          The photographing aspect made me think about that activity a bit, so I started this:

                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/658020

                                2. re: thinks too much

                                  Honestly, I have been on Roadfood under ten times. They don't seem to do breakfast placesvery much. THAT would interest me. I came from Texas and have been to a lot of small towns for breakfast. I adore small town cafes.Tulsa is not that small, but you can find the big breakfasts there and at the Mecca in Dallas.
                                  My point is that Passadumkeg and I went over 3,600 miles this spring and didn't eat a hot dog or hamburger. We did eat "road food", meaning that about a third of the time we pulled into a place that looked good and ate there . We did choose to eat Q, Mexican, local food and seafood a lot. So the term roadfood (for their site), is a misnomer in my view.
                                  We ate Q twice on paper.; that's it!
                                  Sure they are focusing on a segment of the food industry. I like to focus on the little places that have chicken fried steaks, mashed potatoes, collard greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread. That's just as valid for rural archetypes. Perhaps more so. These are fairly rare on Roadfood.

                                  1. re: Scargod

                                    Everyone has distinct experiences. If I had the experience with Roadfood that you are describing, I would probably share your opinion, but I haven’t. I came to Roadfood first through the Stern’s guides, so I look at the website through that lens. I haven’t hung out on their forum since I found chowhound. Like others, I find the company of chowhound more convivial and matches more of my desires (though not always my opinions :-D).

                                    I just checked on the 6 reviews posted most recently on the site. It’s just a one day snapshot. Of the 6, we have 2 places that serve in Styrofoam/paper: one is a tiny soul food restaurant in South Carolina, and the other is a grocery store that makes it’s own boudin as well as prepared takeout (red beans and rice and the like). Of the other 4, one boasts most about breakfast, one is a sit-down restaurant (boasting old-style gentleman’s lunches), one is an upscale California Diner, and one serves low-country food on china (from the picture). No burgers or dogs today, and one place that serves breakfast. I don’t pay money to the site, so I have no idea what the insider reviews are like.

                                    It’s because of the Sterns guidebooks that I began to get interested in regional food. I’ve gone on to read more and eat more. I don’t consider them a be-all and end all, but by being enthusiastic and not overly knowledgeable, they are more approachable than the expert who says that only 3 smokehouses in the country produce real brisket due to the following reasons…

                                    I find your point of view odd because one of my perceived drawbacks to Roadfood is that they do too many breakfasts, a meal that I rarely pay to eat out. If I am on the road, I’d rather eat bread, cheese and fruit in my car. And their restaurants often lean towards places that close before 6 PM. Since I rarely think of eating before 7:30, I am not always served by what they offer. It does offer me a reminder that I don’t eat on the schedule of much of America, so if I want to eat their food, I need to eat at their times.

                                    And, btw, jfood, I admire that you looked at their website, looked at their rules, and decided that they were not for you. Pretty straightforward.

                                    1. re: thinks too much

                                      Why odd? I did a search of two areas I know: Texas and Connecticut. There weren't many breakfast places listed versus all the greasy spoon/cheeseburger/hot dog places they list. If you search use "cheeseburger". They don't usually skimp.
                                      Like others I might consult Roadfood if I had a big gap in places to eat at on the road. I usually don't find that's the case.
                                      I don't like to eat in my car. Cars are for driving.

                                      1. re: Scargod

                                        I think that we may have arrived at our difference! I use it as a reading source, and you are using it as a search engine. I'll agree with you that the search tool is greatly lacking. I can't always find anyplace they list within 60 miles of where I am driving (like Nebraska). But as for armchair traveling, or filing some information away for future reference I'll keep Roadfood and you can leave it.

                                        As for what I use my car for, sometimes the scenery is best viewed sitting on my tailgate and sometimes the finest lodging is also in my car as well when I am roadtripping.

                                        BTW, passadumkeg, I don't know what the $20 gets you on Roadfood, but they haven't seen a dime from me and I use it.

                                    2. re: Scargod

                                      Uh, Scar that was 4300 mi for me and 4000 for you. I kinda wish we had Road Food w/ us. I looked into it once and remembered that they charged $20 / year membership. That's too much for a poor Pollack like me who uses Catholic Roullette for birth control. I feel it augments Chowhound and is what it says it is, Road Food. They list Shady Grove in Austin, where we took our kids to eat and you and I enjoyed the Jalapeno catfish and local draft beers. They also list the Holy 3 of BBQ in Lockhart and The City Cafe in Elgin, Tx, where ever that is. With so damn many kids it's hard hard for a poor Pollack school teacher like me to eat ate at all Ho Cusine haunts of rich Texas entrepeneurs or New England Real Estate barons. Fine dining is a treat for special occasions for most working class folk to enjoyed a few times a year, not weekly (or daily).
                                      Road food is a treat to me when I travel. Where can I find perogies and scrapple in Pa, Kielbasa in Ct., soft shell crab sandwich in NJ and cheap chow near Fenway Park? The New Mexico list sounds pretty good. The review for The Allentown, Pa, Farmer's Market, one of my old weekly treats in college, gave Johnson a stir. (Check it out.)
                                      Road Food is obviously not inclusive or will please everyone, but It sure fills a niche. Sure as hell beats the Golden Arches. You're startin' to sound like one of them thar Foodies, pard. Time to go eat som Q and Shiner Bock for you. You got taco trucks in New Have that I'd die for and you've never even been to. Road Food is not for you, but it is good.
                                      HollyEats is my Patron Saint!
                                      Shenkewya.
                                      Passa Dumbkegsky

                                  2. re: Scargod

                                    No I don't think, Road Food is a limited audience, just not an affluent one. Brown bag your wine and bring the proper wine glasses.

                                  3. On a positive note, the mods at Roadfood would probably not allow a thread that bashed Chowhound for being food-snobs.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: grampart

                                      I don't know if there have been any recently but there certainly have been threads in the past about competing discussion forums and the comments have not all been positive. I can remember when CH changed ownership and installed the new software there were a lot of comments about how CH was going to the dogs and the new owners had destroyed all that was good about it.

                                      On the other hand, there are many areas of the country besides Houston which are very poorly or completely unrepresented by local posters. When questions about those come up there are always some know-it-alls who have visited once or twice and think they know everything or people who lived there decades ago who will post but it's not uncommon on Roadfood to see links to CH discussions in those instances! You almost never see a reference to eG, however.

                                    2. I have not found their reviews of places I’m familiar with to be any more reliable than any other experts, which is to say I concur less than 50% of the time. The site is worthless for my part of the country, unless you want to read raves about everything in the Austin/Central Texas area, which is typical of people from the East Coast. There are only 5 restaurants mentioned (4 reviewed) in the Houston area, the 4th largest city, 56 in the whole state, whereas there are 56 in Chicago alone, the 3rd largest city. Michael Stern is from Chicago. Enough said.

                                      One of the restaurants in Houston has no review, just a blurb from another source or perhaps the website. I wanted to submit a review but warned them in advance it would be less than positive. I was told the first review on any restaurant has to be positive. In other words, no one from the editorial staff of Roadfood has ever eaten there but the restaurant is listed as approved and the first review has to back that up. Overall there is a huge geographical bias in favor of the Northeast,

                                      You can post negative comments in the forums but those are dominated by a very small group of posters, 4 or 5 dozen really, some of whom tend to be bullies and very negative toward newbies and spend almost all of their time in the Off Topic forum. Some of them just hang there all day every day to chat with other regulars about everything except Roadfood and regard newbies as nuisances and have stated so. Places reviewed and approved by the editors in the Reviews section may be dropped from time to time if there is a big hue and cry about declining quality but there is a very strong element of favoring ‘heritage’ places in the Roadfood ideology.

                                      There are lots of restaurant professionals who post, many retired, and many have worked in fast food or short order restaurants, not many in upscale places. Their restaurant professionals forum has been totally dominated by hot dog cart operators for a couple of years and there have been a lot of complaints by members about that. It has been stated that they hope that section will become an independent site in the future.

                                      Also a lot of people who may seem to know a lot are really just following recommendations of the Sterns in earlier books and parroting what they’ve said so I don’t follow the trip reports that much. Not everything that’s ever been reviewed by the Sterns over the years is listed on the site. There are people who’ve been saving those books for years and never eat anywhere else.

                                      For the record the site is not owned by the Sterns but by Stephen Rushmore. The Sterns editorialize, provide features and post comments on the boards from time to time and of course are the guiding light. The editor of the Reviews section is Bruce Bilmes, not Michael or Jane Stern.

                                      There has been a real effort to expand the definition of Roadfood so that it includes a more diverse table. I’m told that has to do at least in part with a desire to drive up page views for advertising revenue purposes. There are some pretty upscale places approved and have been for years.

                                      I really wanted to like the site because I enjoyed reading the Stern’s syndicated columns, mostly about old fashioned diners, but it gets pretty boring after a while. There are only a limited number of reviews of approved places and they keep getting recycled over and over.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: dexmat

                                        They just did a trip, with a bunch of people, to my hometown (Buffalo/Rochester area) and they definitely hit the high spots for Buffalo style food, including a couple of my favorite hole in the wall joints. So their 'street cred' is up in my book right now.

                                          1. re: jeanmarieok

                                            I am not a roadfood.com regular but I did go on the Buffalo/Rochester tour. Never met a nicer bunch of people, or ate more in two days (almost all of it excellent stuff). '

                                            About the $20 fee that some upstream folks have been balking at: it has nothing to do with access to the restaurant reviews. The Roadfood Insider stuff includes maps and GPS downloads of Roadfood-reviewed places, as well as a smartphone-friendly version of the roadfood.com site.

                                            I agree it is annoying that they seem to rotate reviews into and out of archives.