Spring Break: conquering culinary capitals

Spring Break is a time for college students to take a break from the books, and travel to exotic locations filled with friends and sunshine. My spring break experience was a little different however, halted by a lack of cash and an overload of parental apprehension. Working for a specialty food market, I’ve always been interested in discovering the culinary gems of the eastern coast. Therefore, I decided to explore the hidden culinary treasures of the eastern coast. The challenge? New York to Florida in seven days, $400 dollars.

I began my journey from the hustling streets of Manhattan to the breezy coastline of New Jersey. The Jersey Shore includes a boardwalk, filled with numerous shops dishing out T-Shirts, beautiful sandy beaches, and old-school dining options. Although many places were closed, I managed to visit Hemingway’s Café – an oasis of classic cuisine including juicy burgers and loads of seafood. Priced very reasonably, with piping hot brick oven pizza, topped with huge meatballs and gooey mozzarella cheese for a mere $10. After a few hours filled with seashore walks and making friends over lunch, I was back on the road. After driving through Delaware, I was onto the culinary adventures of Maryland.

Staying close to the coast, I decided to visit Ocean City – land of “the best crab cake.” Coins Pub and Restaurant has been serving their signature dish since 1988, served only with jumbo crab meat. As it was placed on the table, I had no doubt – the crab meat was most certainly incomparable. Ten minutes later, I agreed with the critics, it was the best crab cake I’d ever had, and all for $11. Now that I had conquered the brick oven pizza of the Jersey Shore and the best crab cake in America, I was on to Virginia.

Offering a friendly community and the “best burger” on the east coast, Virginia Beach is pristine. Keagans Irish Pub in Red Mill Commons brought me nothing but laughs and a new group of friends. Having spent around $25, I had to stay on budget if I wanted to make it back to New York. Their burger with layers of meat and cheese was unrivaled. The atmosphere was nothing but welcoming, covered in cherry wood and lined with shamrocks. Leaving with a new history of Virginia Beach, and only spending seven dollars, I was back on the road.

Venturing into the south, I discovered the most delicious cheese steak on the eastern seaboard. Located in Surf City, N.C. nestled off of the beaten path, is Max’s Pizza. After hearing the locals talk about the perfect combination of meat, cheese, and spices – I had to check it out. For seven dollars, I received an immense platter lined with pickles, fries, and coleslaw but centered on the sandwich. The owner of the restaurant was the definition of southern hospitality, and wouldn’t let me leave without trying their famous lemon pie.

Southern cuisine usually includes classics such as crispy fried chicken and warm mashed potatoes. At The Fat Hen in downtown Charleston, S.C. they take southern cuisine to a whole new level. Known for their blue cheese bacon coleslaw and grits, I had to explore the southern haven of hospitality. I started my brunch with coffee, freshly squeezed juice, and ordered the crème brulee French toast served with homemade cream and freshly sliced strawberries. Their BBQ Brisket and Macaroni and Cheese sandwich is renowned, only costing eight dollars, served on their famous potato caraway bread. Other delicacies include shrimp and grits, duck and apple sausage gratin, and their signature country fried steak. A five star atmosphere at a price most college students can afford, this is a must-visit.

Crowned the college mecca, Parker’s Market in Savannah, G.A. is known for their sausage egg and cheese sandwiches. The warm crusty croissant sandwiched with layers of egg and sausage is served with a cup of hot coffee and only costs three dollars. After a few days of intense driving, unending roads, and rolls of film, I reached my destination – the sunny state of Florida.

Miami, one of the culinary capitals of America, was packed with students celebrating Spring Break. I stumbled upon a group from St. John’s and a bunch of New Yorkers before finding my destination at Balans Café. With locations in Europe, New York City, and Miami, only certain dishes are available down south, with items from their menu crowned by various publications. Their lobster club wrap packed with citrus greens and rich lobster meat is delicious. They also offer a jambalaya packed with spicy chorizo sausage, shrimp, clams and calamari. All of their dishes are around $20, and come with reasonable portions. Known for their chic, modern décor, the ambiance is South Beach combined with SOHO. At night, the college students flocked to enjoy the eccentric culinary options Balans had to offer.

After surviving the interstate, managing to stay within my budget, and conquering a lifetime dream all within a week, I realized that it’s about the journey, not the destination. Most college students look back on a week of sunshine. I will forever remember my spring break as the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, exploring the culinary treasures of the eastern shoreline.