Sweet Potato Sensations
Sweet potatoes aren't just for casseroles anymore. Our favorite travel and food writers take you on a cross-country tasting fest of this tantalizing vegetable.
By Jane and Michael Stern
Nutritionists hail the sweet potato because it is full of vitamins, potassium and fiber. Passionate eaters like it for many different reasons. The homely tuber makes memorable pies, earthy fries and luxurious chips. Sweet potatoes have long starred as street-cart food in New York City, where they are roasted dark and caramel-sweet, then served sliced in half, ready to eat out of hand as a snack.
Of all the dishes made from this versatile root vegetable, the most familiar is the good old sweet potato casserole. Not all the great ones are topped with melted marshmallows, like the classic sweet potato souffle at the Blue Willow Inn of Social Circle, Georgia. Some are blanketed with chopped pecans, others sweetened with crushed pineapple. At The Cupboard in Memphis, Tennessee, sweet potatoes are streaked with marshmallow, dotted with raisins and sprinkled with melty cheddar. Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House in Lynchburg, Tennessee, serves a dessert named Tipsy Sweet Potato Pudding for its inclusion of Jack Daniel's, the locally distilled whiskey.
We've eaten sweet potato bread and rolls from Maine to California, but for sweet potato biscuits of angelic poise, the place to go is Virginia's eastern shore. At Sting-Ray's in Cape Charles, sweet potato biscuits are too rich to want butter; sandwich one around thin slices of country ham, and the resulting sweet-salty flavor wallop is ecstatic. In Washington, D.C., customers at Ben's Chili Bowl conclude a meal of chili-smothered sausages with moist sweet potato layer cake.
Sweet potatoes for breakfast? Yes indeed! At Zada Jane's Corner Cafe in Charlotte, North Carolina, folks have their omelets with a side of sweet potato browns—like home fries, but with a spicy sweetness. We love Zada Jane's browns with a dollop of apple jam. At Mamies, a breezy indoor-outdoor eatery in the Berkshire foothills of Connecticut, root vegetable hash features chopped sweet potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, onions and Yukon Golds, all under a fragile mantle of perfectly poached eggs. The Highland Bakery in Atlanta complements sweet potato pancakes with brown sugar syrup and toasted pecans. In Nashville's Pancake Pantry, the orange flapjacks, sprinkled with powdered sugar, are served with whipped butter and a pitcher of warm ginger cream syrup.
In Vermont, there is only one kind of syrup to speak of, and that is maple. At the gracious 18th-century Dorset Inn, a pool of syrup holds a small pyramid of sweet potato fritters so hot you must handle them gingerly. It helps to push them through the syrup before biting into them: sweet and crisp, with insides as tender as a cloud. Isn't it grand that a vegetable so nutritionally virtuous tastes so sinfully good?
Sweet Potato Recipes
Sometimes sweet potatoes end up as leftovers. By happy chance, they go well in pancake batter and love to dance on a hot griddle. Topped with caramel sauce, butter and toasted cashews, these Sweet Potato Pancakes with Caramel Sauce look nothing like yesterday's forgotten dish.
—Sheryl Little, Sherwood, Arkansas
Why not give sweet potatoes a starring role for breakfast when made into biscuits? Served with cinnamon-honey butter, these Sweet Potato Biscuits with Honey Butter are downright colorful and festive.
—Cathy Bell, Joplin, Missouri
What is it about sweet potatoes that unnerve some people? For those who firmly state they hate a yam because of the color or texture, the rich addition of coconut, bourbon and spices in these Coconut-Bourbon Sweet Potatoes might just win them over.
—Rebecca Anderson, Driftwood, Texas
More Sweet Potato Recipes >
Take the road less traveled and find yourself in sweet potato heaven:
- Ben's Chili Bowl Washington, D.C., benschilibowl.com
- Blue Willow Inn Social Circle, Georgia, bluewillowinn.com
- The Cupboard Memphis, Tennessee
- Dorset Inn Dorset, Vermont, dorsetinn.com
- Highland Bakery Atlanta, Georgia, highlandbakery.com
- Mamies Roxbury, Connecticut, mamiesrestaurant.com
- Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House Lynchburg, Tennessee,
- Pancake Pantry Nashville, Tennessee, thepancakepantry.com
- Sting-Ray's Cape Charles, Virginia, cape-center.com
- Zada Jane's Corner Cafe Charlotte, North Carolina, zadajanes.com
More RoadFood with Jane and Michael Stern>