An American Food Tour

This weekend, the author began a four-month-long road trip to sample America's most impressive food.

View An American Food Tour in a larger map

On an icy day this past January, my wife and I loaded the accumulated materials of our lives into a sixteen by eight aluminum container. We had decided to take a bit of our retirement early, to spend a year or so simply living, and living simply.

We spent the first half of 2009 abroad, devouring steaks in Argentina, drinking Txakoli at tapas bars in Basque Country, and visiting the grill of a star butcher in Italy.

During those months away, I stayed up as best I could with what was happening in the food world back home. The Obamas had come to the White House, bringing their gardening tools with them. Street carts were popping up across the country; craft brewers were using whiskey barrels to make beer that tasted like scotch; breakfast was starting to show up on dessert menus in fascinating ways, like "cereal milk panna cotta."

I started keeping track of all the places I was reading about or had long wanted to experience, like Zingerman's deli in Ann Arbor and Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix.

Hidden restaurants, innovative farmers, culinary craftsmen--our nation's love affair with food was continuing to grow and evolve, in spite of a financial crisis thinning the country's pockets and a food system that seems determined to exchange quality and safety for efficiency and profit.

One day, I started keeping track of all the places I was reading about or had long wanted to experience, like Zingerman's deli in Ann Arbor and Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. I started an interactive map to keep track of all these destinations, and before long I had amassed a list of over a hundred places.

I looked at the digital pinheads on the map and saw a perfect route forming, starting at our home base in Washington, heading north for a loop through Montreal, Quebec, Portland, Boston, New York and Philadelphia, and then heading West. "I have to eat there--and there, and there!" I thought. I need to try Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal, and I don't see how I could pass up the chance to sip a cold Oskar Blues from its home in Colorado.

It only made sense to end our time abroad and embark on a tour of the greatest foods and drinks of the U.S. and Canada. So on this Fourth of July weekend, we headed out to experience firsthand the country's ongoing culinary renaissance.

This is a eating trip on a bit of a budget, however, and not a tour of the "best restaurants" in the country, which already have enough attention and are out of the reach of many. At the same time, we're hoping to take a different tack than other food-trippers and looking beyond roadside diners and greasy spoons for the innovative and artisanal.

But we need help.

Above is a map we've created with many of those places I have been following from afar, a preliminary map of our food tour. You'll not only be able to follow along, but also help us decide where to go.

Before each stop, we'll be soliciting advice on "must-eats" and conducting polls where you can vote on which place we'll visit. It's not limited to restaurants--we want to find amazing cheeses, innovative farmers, great distilleries, inspiring markets and forward-looking brewers. With your help, my ambition is to spend the next few months enjoying (and reporting on) the many culinary delights out there.

So watch this space. And, more importantly, dive into the map and help us find the best the country has to offer on our American Food Tour.

Our first stop is Montreal. Click here to vote on the city's best bagels--and help us decide where else to go.