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After leaving Virginia, Mrs. Selfish and I headed north through New Jersey, Pittsburgh, and Chicago, heading west for South Dakota. While admittedly not the most direct route to San Francisco, it did take us through the Badlands and the Big Sky Country in the north.

Along the way we ate plenty of Subway and granola bar breakfasts, but we also met up with friends and family. Here’s some of the better meals we enjoyed on our way west.

Jersey-Style Cheese steaks: Gaetano’s

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The less popular cousin of the Philadelphia cheese steak, the Jersey-style cheese steak doesn’t get much love. This is unfortunate, since it is the objectively superior cheese steak – and doesn’t get much better than it does at Gaetano’s (224 Penny Packer Drive) in Willingboro, New Jersey.

The bread is fresh. The steak is tender, and best of all they use real cheese. It’s also quite a bargain at $14 for an 18” large – which is enough food for dinner for two!

While I normally order the plain cheese steak, this time Mrs. Selfish and I decided to splurge with the Mr. Gee’s Cheese Steak”, which is a cheese steak with mushrooms, peppers, and pepperoni. Amazing.

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None of that cheese whiz crap here!

Pit stop in Cleveland: Hot Sauce Williams

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Our next stop was Hot Sauce Williams (7815 Carnegie Ave), a soul food restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio. We found Hot Sauce Williams using the Food Network’s map of featured restaurants, driving an hour out of our way to get there. Had I known how good the food was, I probably would have driven 3 hours.

The restaurant is laid out in typical cafeteria style, with a humble interior that belies just how amazing the food is.

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After reading rave reviews on yelp, Mrs. Selfish and I decided to split the Polish Boy ($6.25) and the Fried Chicken ($6.99), in their original hot sauce.

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The Polish boy is an interesting choice: a polish sausage on a roll buried under a mountain of coleslaw and fries, and smothered under Hot Sauce William’s secret hot sauce. It’s whacky and more than a little weird, but it works. Delicious!

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The real show stopper, however, is the fried chicken. After eating so much fried chicken in Korea and Japan, I was firmly in the camp that the best fried chicken was outside of the country, but Hot Sauce Williams proved me wrong.

The chicken is perfectly moist, while the breading gives the outside a nice crunch – and it’s the crunch that’s important, since the best way to eat this sucker is drenched in hot sauce. It’s tangy, crunchy, savory and just a little spicy all at once. It’s so delicious, that you won’t care how messy it is to eat this thing.

Deep Dishin’ in Chicago: Pequod’s Pizza

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Having grown up in New York for much of my developing years I feel a tad treacherous admitting it, but the perfect deep dish blows NY style pizza out of the water every day of the week. It’s crunchy, sweet, cheesy, and full of savory umame satisfaction. Chicago has exported most of its successful chains, so we decided we’d try a restaurant that we couldn’t find outside of Chi-town.

Enter Pequod’s Pizza (2207 N. Clybourn Ave). Unlike many Chicago deep dish restaurants, Pequod’s has a decidedly home town feeling.

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Mrs. Selfish and I ordered the Pequod’s Salad ($8.95) and a small pan pizza with sausage and pepperoncini ($14.45).

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The Pequod’s Salad is a hearty salad, loaded with romaine, cheese, pepperoni, pepperoncini, black olives, green peppers, carrots, tomatoes, and onions. It’s somewhat similar to an antipasta, and is utterly delicious.

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The pan pizza on the other hand, is spectacular. The bottom is thick, and slightly sweet, while the top of the pizza is coated in an amazing tomato sauce and loaded with cheese. The real icing on the cake, however, is the crust – which is cooked until it is crispy and slightly caramelized. So good.

Chasing it down at Goose Island Brewing Company

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After finishing dinner we headed to the Good Island Brewing Company (1800 N Clybourn Ave), one of Chicago’s local breweries. Goose Island brews up dozens of beers with average prices going for about $5 a pint.

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Mrs. Selfish and I ordered a flight of beers to split ($10), which was a sampler of 4 5oz glasses. While I found their IPAs to be a little too hoppy for our taste, I loved their stouts, which were malty and just a little sweet. Tasty!

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Tastier still is the fact that Chicago apparently doesn’t have any taxes on alcohol, so our flight came to $10 even. Score!

Time for Desayuno: Nellie’s Puerto Rican Breakfast

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For our last meal in Chicago, Mrs. Selfish and I ate at Nellie’s (2458 West Division Street), a Puerto Rican breakfast and lunch restaurant.

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We ordered Nellie’s Breakfast Special ($9.50) and the egg and cheese sandwich ($3.95).

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Nellie’s Breakfast Special is an omelet seasoned with sofrito, onions, plantains, tomatoes, peppers, cheese, and sausage and served with 3 slices of buttered garlic bread. Having never had plantains in an omelet, I was surprised at the balance the meal achieved – with the saltiness of the omelet and sausages playing nicely with the sweetness of the plantains.

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The breakfast special also came with a side order of Puerto Rican oatmeal, which is a coconut-flavored oatmeal with a dash of cinnamon. So good.

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I ordered the egg and cheese sandwich almost as an after thought after looking at the breakfast special, but it was surprisingly delicious. The bread was slightly toasted and slathered with garlic and butter – which supported the flavor of the eggs and cheese without overwhelming them. So amazing.

That’s it for cross-country food. Tomorrow we’ll be talking about some of South Dakota’s kitchier attractions.

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