Finding the Perfect Meal on the Road

Seasoned traveler Nick Topitzes of PC/Nametag compares Madison to the cities he visits - and reports back on his findings.

Because of the nature of the meetings I attend, attendees are often served spectacular meals. Multi-courses, fine decorations, exceptional service. Companies, convention centers, hotels are all trying to showcase their finest capabilities, and so they go over the top. Mind you, I do get my share of box lunches, pizza, hot dogs, etc., because sometimes it fits a theme — but also because the hosts are also operating under budget crunches in these times.

So where do I eat when I am not at a scheduled meal function?

Many nights I am entertaining clients, being entertained, or going out with a bunch of friends. Instead of always picking a top-shelf restaurant, I often do what I do when I am in Madison: eat what fits my mood. I resist the temptation to go the city’s finest haunt, and instead try to pick out the place that will give me the most pleasure.

Alex Hailey, author of Roots, continued his success after the book was published and the subsequent television blockbuster aired, by going on the speaking tour. He was sitting in "21" in New York along, having a very elegant and very expensive lunch, when he realized that what he really wanted was a juicy hamburger. Likewise, when I’m at home, sometimes it is L’Etoile, Magnus, Eno Vino, Nadia’s cuisine I want, but sometimes it’s a Plazaburger, a cheeseburger from Blue Moon, a steak and a brat from State Street Brats, a pizza from Paisan’s, or a gyro from the Parthenon.

Likewise, when I am on the road, the first thing I do is decide what I really am hungry for. Gourmet or greasy spoon? Chinese, Greek, Indian, Italian or French? A steak or a pizza? What is the city famous for? What kinds of special neighborhoods might I find? Is there a Little Italy, a Latin quarter, a Greektown, or a Little Asia? A black neighborhood with great soul food? What is in season? Is it crab season or harvest time? Food can be an adventurous way of finding out about a city and opening taste buds to new flavors.

If you travel often — for business or for fun, subscribe to the online Zagat and find what restaurant has the cuisine you are up for. This source does a great job of giving you different types of cuisine, price ranges, rankings and ratings. If you don’t feel like subscribing, check with the concierge of your hotel when you check in. Where do they go? Make sure they have personally visited their suggestions.

There is one other choice that I often make when on the road. Room service. Just a quiet night in the hotel where I can catch up on news and do e-mails.

I suggest that you, too, do what makes you happiest. There really isn’t a competition to try and do the highest end of the spectrum. Most important: Enjoy, and bon appetite!

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