It started on my birthday. I received, on the same day in April, a package of ribs from the Memphis Central BBQ restaurant, owned by my brothers and sisters, and a box of North Carolina barbecues and puppies from Kings BBQ Restaurant, by the way of my parents .
That’s when I found a way to re-create what was once one of the best parts of my job – and when I tried to make life in the confinement of this house a little brighter. My life as a political reporter for the New York Times has changed drastically with a coronavirus outbreak. After covering Michigan’s primary in early March, I had to leave a campaign trail for my home in northern Virginia. And for a while that meant leaving without one of the privileges to cover the presidential election: taste, and taste even more, local delicacies.
Many of us are redesigning the way we work. That’s a little easier in jobs where the main tool of someone’s craft is the telephone. But I have concluded that my days of sitting with friends and colleagues on a pork tenderloin sandwich in Iowa or the black raspberry cone from Graeter’s in Ohio has been placed on ice.
I don’t know what my conclusion really is.
Thanks to the power of dry ice and a 7-year-old company called Goldbelly, I have enjoyed wings and pizza from Buffalo, New York, bagels from Manhattan, cheese steaks from Philadelphia, brisket from Kansas City and ribs and puppy silence for almost a month.
How it works
* You can shop by restaurant, region or type of food in Goldbelly.com. Chattanooga is not included among the cities of Tennessee that are represented, but you can nominate “dish desires” to be considered by the company to be added to the list. Restaurants and food artisans also apply to sell at Goldbelly.
No, that’s not what I eat – my Louisiana-born wife, Betsy, is a talented cook. But after being impressed with how good the wet ribs from Memphis and the vinegar-infested barbecue from Kinston, North Carolina, were stuck on the way, I checked the Goldbelly website, which my brothers and parents used to send me things.
Betsy and I have experimented with food orders in the mail, but let’s just say with a few exceptions, it often doesn’t arrive in optimal conditions.
Because of the speed between preparation and arrival, usually around two days, Goldbelly is different. The New York City-based service has effectively enabled almost all local restaurants in the United States to ship their food, frozen, anywhere in the country. And some businesses today need more help than independent restaurants.
Restaurants prepare, package and deliver food directly through the Postal Service or package company and pay Goldbelly undisclosed costs for taking orders, processing payments and other services. (You will pay a little more if you live in Alaska or Hawaii; you cannot receive packages in the post office box; and the company has not sent food overseas.)
So, after the birthday bacchanal, I became a little crazy. I started a telephone conversation with sources by asking if they had tried long distance food delivery. While browsing the map of country-by-country restaurants on the Goldbelly website, I enjoyed memories of the past, and ordered dishes from places that I had planned to visit. A few days later, there were two boxes, piled three, outside our door.
For the most part, dishes have already been prepared; This is not a gastronome version of Ikea, with assembly required. You can melt the ice, heat it up and eat it immediately – or throw it in the freezer.
Some dishes hold better than others.
All the bagels from Ess-a-Bagel in Midtown Manhattan are amazing, the chive cream cheese they send is even better, and both remain delicious even after a few weeks. The wings of the Bill Tavern Bar, outside Buffalo, are still nice and crispy, even after being frozen. (Use an oven, not a microwave, to reheat it.)
Cheese steak from Jim’s Steaks in Philadelphia? Pretty good on the day they arrived, but it turns out Cheez Whiz is not as old as Camembert.
Goldbelly is also not cheap. Want eight chicken biscuits from the great Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill, North Carolina? That will get you $ 109 (including shipping and shipping).
And eating lobster roll sent from Eventide, in Portland, Maine, is not the same if you are not within sniffing distance from the sea. Then there is the fact that you give a part of your money to the middleman instead of handing it all to a restaurant in need (although some mothers and children will not make money from orders by mail at all because they cannot do without assistance).
Worst of all, while Goldbelly can send you any local food – even a cheese steak, “Whiz wit,” as they say in Philly – they can’t send your friends. The best part of a food-trail campaign (other than sheer gluttony) is the people who join you.
The feeling of nostalgia for past noshes triggers memories of who I am with when I bend my elbows, say, roast pork and broccoli at Tommy DiNic in Philadelphia, or a bowl of clams on the Neptune Oyster in Boston.
Thinking about friends and colleagues, I began to wonder how much they missed the taste of the road, or their hometown. So back to Goldbelly I left. And once again, I was carried away: lime pie, gumbo, pimento cheese, and a few more black raspberry ice cream from Ohio. (Really, you should try it.)
However, this time, the gift sent surprises to the people I missed.
This is not the same as putting some bratwurst and beer with them.
But it brings back some happy memories and makes the social distance a little less distant.