Far From Home? These Regional Comfort Foods Can Be Shipped to Your Door

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a surge in nationwide shipments of specialities from legendary restaurants

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Pat's King of Steaks cheesesteaks (left to right): pizza cheesesteak, steak with provolone and onions, steak with cheez whiz and onions and the steak with mushrooms, onions and cheez whiz topped with hot peppers. Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

As a South Jersey native who grew up just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia and now lives in San Francisco, I've found myself really missing the foods of my childhood these past several weeks. Figure-eight-shaped Philly soft pretzels, dense and doughy and served straight from the oven in take-home paper bags. Hoagies piled high with deli-sliced salami and capicola meats. And, of course, cheesesteaks, topped with grilled onions and plenty of melted cheese. But apparently, I'm not alone in my longings.

Over the past month, business for Goldbelly—an online platform and virtual marketplace that, for a small cut of the order, helps small food makers with nationwide shipping, logistics and customer support—has skyrocketed. The company works with approximately 500 mom-and-pop businesses and locally well-known brands across the country; many of them, like Pat's King of Steaks in South Philly and Philippe The Original in Downtown Los Angeles, are legendary. According to founder and CEO Joe Ariel, the number of businesses applying to work with Goldbelly have quadrupled over the last month alone, and company sales are up approximately 200 percent since the pandemic took hold, with classic comfort foods like New York bagels, Chicago pizza, Philly cheesesteaks and Texas BBQ being some of the most shipped items from coast-to-coast.

“There's a definite comfort in the familiar,” says Lauren Myerscough, cofounder and CEO of New Orleans-based Cocktail & Sons, which ships its all-natural and handcrafted cocktail mixing syrups nationwide through its website. “Even when your favorite bars and restaurants are closed, there's a little slice of normality in being able to still enjoy those dishes or recreate those cocktails you love at home.”

Regional foods also tap into our sense of nostalgia, especially when, as Myerscough says, “there's upheaval in our normal routines.” For example, Cocktail & Sons sells a mixing syrup called Fassionala, and one of its ingredients is strawberries from Johndales Strawberry Farm in Ponchatoula, Louisiana. “[These strawberries] really come through in the finished product,” says Myerscough, “and we receive a lot of notes from people telling us how they love our Fassionola because it reminds them of moments like celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans, or growing up in the city and eating strawberries from the produce vendors by City Park.”

Far From Home? These Regional Comfort Foods Can Be Shipped to Your Door
For businesses like the New York City-based Russ & Daughters, it's these orders from beyond their traditional delivery area that are helping them stay afloat during uncertain times. Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Many consumers placing orders are using the opportunity to support their most beloved establishments from afar. For businesses like the New York City-based Russ & Daughters, which employs Goldbelly to ship such foods as potato latkes, smoked salmon and bagels nationwide, it's these orders from beyond their traditional delivery area that are helping them stay afloat during uncertain times. (While Goldbelly is the go-to shipping marketplace for most nationwide restaurant sales, some businesses—such as Cocktail & Sons; Straub’s, a more than century-old St. Louis grocery that sends out “Show Me St. Louis” gourmet gift baskets; and San Francisco-based Gourmet Walks, which offers “Chocolate Tours in a Box”—do their shipping directly.) Founded in 1914, Russ & Daughters runs a handful of establishments—including two eateries—within Manhattan and Brooklyn, the bulk of which are now closed to walk-in customers indefinitely. “Our overall business is down about 50 percent,” says Josh Russ Tupper, one of Russ & Daughters' two fourth-generation co-owners, “but our shipping has quadrupled. We're a 106-year-old business, and I think we provide a beacon of hope that the world's still out there, and there's going to be a light at the end of this.”

But delivery of such foods is not one shipping-style fits all. Some items, like the cheesesteaks from Donkey's Place in Camden, New Jersey, are delivered as a DIY kit (most of Goldbelly shippings are done in bulk, such as “four cheesesteaks” or “four thin-crust pizzas”) with each ingredient packaged separately. Upon arrival, you just heat up the steak and browned onions on your stove-top, place them atop two slices of American cheese and a poppyseed Kaiser roll (all which is included), and you're good to go. Other meals are made-to-order and then placed on dry ice or are flash-frozen for delivery, and simply need a little reheating. Still others, like the muffuletta sandwich from Central Grocery & Deli in New Orleans, are shipped exactly as is. “All you have to do is to reach your hand in the box and eat it,” says Ariel. “The shipping allows time for the sandwich's olive salad to soak into its Sicilian sesame loaf bread, so that it tastes even better once it arrives.”

While several spots, such as Pat's King of Steaks, which is shipping out upwards of 900 steaks per week, are already back-ordered a month, others like Boston's Bayshore Chowders, can send you containers of their award-winning lobster bisque within the next several days.

“You might not be able to go to New Orleans for Jazz Fest or Mardi Gras or whatever it may be,” says Ariel, “but you can get authentic po' boy sandwiches and beignets delivered directly to your door, and that's comforting.”

If you're feeling hungry for your own nostalgic eats, here are eight more for which shipping nationally has become a prime part of sales in the last couple of months.

Terry Black's Barbecue, Austin, Texas

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Get ready to enjoy some authentic Texas barbecue and handmade sausages straight from this family of fourth-generation pitmasters, who honed their “low-and-slow” smoking techniques at Black’s BBQ (no professional affiliation), which their grandfather started back in Lockhart, Texas, in 1932. The whole Texas smoked brisket is especially revered at this market-style restaurant along Barton Springs Road in South Austin, though the jalapeno and cheddar sausages smoked over slow-burning post oak wood are well-worth waiting a day or two for too. All food is pre-cooked upon arrival—only a quick reheating is necessary.

Topsail Steamer, Surf City, North Carolina

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Channeling summertime seafood boils is easy with a bay-bucket steam pot from the North Carolina coast. “Steamers” are a popular way of cooking shellfish along the U.S. East Coast, but are often pretty messy. However, Topsail found a way to cut down on disposal when it began offering steam pots to-go upon opening in 2017. Each bucket doubles as a portable cooking utensil (simply add beer or water and use your stove-top for steaming), and kits come complete with a paper tablecloth that you just wrap up all the shells in when finished. Deliverable options include the Low Country Shrimp Steamer Pot, filled with jumbo shrimp, sweet corn, sausage, potatoes and homemade seasoning, as well as steamer pots that add little neck clams, snow crab legs and large sea scallops to the mix.

Bartolini's, Chicago, Illinois

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Brothers Christopher and Dominic Bartolini started this Italian family eatery in the Chicago suburb of Midlothian back in 1995. The joint is best known for its meatballs (some of the best in America, according to The Daily Meal), as well as its Travel Channel-featured 10-pound meatball sandwich. Any amateur sub eater who can consume the sandwich in less than the current six-minute and 51-second record wins $2,500. Although this enormous dish isn’t available for shipping, Bartolini's Meatball Lovers four-pack pizza combo (thin-crust and deep dish) is. Just warm each pie in the oven, and then sit back and savor a true taste of Chicago straight from your kitchen.

Betty's Pies, Two Harbors, Minnesota

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A popular pit stop for those heading to retreats on the North Shore of Lake Superior, Betty's has been serving customers since 1956 who come for the eatery's signature 5 Layer Chocolate Cream Pie and flavors like French cherry cream, coconut cream and Great Lakes Crunch, a pie filled with five distinct ingredients (apple, blueberry, strawberry, raspberry and rhubarb) that represent the five Great Lakes. Each 9-inch pie serves approximately six to eight people and are shipped frozen (just thaw and eat) either solo or in pairs.

White House Subs, Atlantic City, New Jersey

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First opened on the Jersey Shore in 1946, White House and its iconic submarine sandwiches—including the White House Special, brimming with extra salami, cheese and two kinds of ham—have attracted the likes of Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio and Oprah Winfrey. Each sub arrives ready to consume, as though you were ordering it right at the counter. They come in orders of four or eight, and are shipped in a day or two upon order, or you can specify an exact delivery date.

Hancock Gourmet Lobster Co., Topsham, Maine

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Combining sweet chunks of Maine lobster with creamy mascarpone-cheddar sauce, bread crumbs and pasta, Hancock Gourmet's Famous Lobster Mac & Cheese is the ultimate comfort cuisine. The dish can be stored in the freezer and saved for a particularly cold night, or baked and eaten immediately. Other deliverable dishes from this landmark lobster eatery, founded in 2000, include lobster pot pies, lobster roll, whoopie pie 12-packs, and even a Maine Shore Dinner for Two, packed with lobster tails, shrimp, mussels and sea scallops, as well as two ears of corn.

It's It Ice Cream, Burlingame, California

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A San Francisco Bay Area favorite for nearly a century, It's It is best known for its delectable ice cream sandwiches, which come in flavors such as vanilla, chocolate and mint sandwiched between two old-fashioned oatmeal cookies and then covered in dark chocolate. Order their Create Your Own 48-pack for the ultimate ice cream indulgence.

Joe's Pizza, Manhattan, New York

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Owner and Naples immigrant Joe Pozzuoli has been baking up classic New York pizzas at his Greenwich Village location since 1975, and both the man and his pies are seen as a perennial slice of village life to both tourists and local residents alike. Choose among cheese and pepperoni thin-crust pizzas in packs of two or four, each handmade-to-order and then shipped frozen, so that you can channel Big Apple memories at your leisure.

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