Critic’s Special: Raising Cane’s

Oilman-turned-fisherman-turned-restaurant owner Todd Graves did more that open a restaurant when he created Raising Cane’s. This chain has attracted a cult following and wherever it goes, people get crazy. This week its first location opens in Dayton, Ohio, and opening day was met with lines out the door and a drive through that has a constant security detail, with traffic headed around the block.

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Edley’s BBQ

Now with three locations around Nashville, Edley’s brings the classic barbecue counter a little bit of new dimension with a modern bar and a nice selection of drinks for evening groups. But the main reason people come to this place remains the same: the barbecue! This spot has that classic, sticky and smoky meats cooked top-notch. I like the spot for that nice, welcoming feeling and a very convenient system that prioritizes good food over everything.

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Designer Dogs

As the product of a lawyer-turned restaurateur, Designer Dogs offers gourmet hot dog options for the diners of the Mall at Fairfield Commons. A food court is a simple place to start something great, and this little stand definitely delivers something really fun on the front end. Gourmet hot dogs are a tricky thing to pull of and be worth the money, but this place does them in a very memorable way, I have to say I am impressed by what I have tried.

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Rudy’s Smokehouse

A home-grown barbecue joint serving Springfield, Ohio, Rudy’s Smokehouse barbecues just about anything you like. Set up as a walk up spot where you pick up barbecue at a counter and take it to-go or enjoy it on a bench in the dining area. The spot generally does its barbecue “Low and slow,” which is to say it’s all made in Hickory pit smokers. The result is a great and very tasty barbecue that definitely has acquired a local following.

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Donutland Express

It’s a little highway stop off the beaten path in rural Florida, and Charlie’s Donuts does not in any way stand on ceremony. Step into the unassuming little stop near the border town of Bonifay and you’ll find a simple menu, a friendly group of local folk running the place and altogether an interesting experience in how small-town dining works in the south. Whether you want donuts, which the spots makes its own daily, or barbecue, for which it offers specials, you’ll find something to fill your belly at Charlies.

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Derk’s Filet & Vine

While Montgomery, Alabama is the state Capitol, it’s really not that large of a city. And so the best restaurants in town get passed around quickly until they become locally well known. Derk’s Filet and Vine, a deli and winery concept, is one of these hidden gems, ticked in the shadow of downtown as a lunch spot popular with locals and downtown workers. The food options are varied and you can get quite a few groceries here while you’re dining. But like much of Montgomery, this spot has an under-appreciated charm.

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City Barbecue

One motto on City Barbecue’s website really embodies what this business is all about: “Other restaurants serve barbecue, we’re a barbecue restaurant.”

Since its inception in 1999, this Dublin-based chain of 20 restaurants has exploded all over the state and into neighboring Indiana. City Barbecue really goes for a classic community smokehouse feel; exposed skeletal walls filled with paraphernalia of local high school sports, dominated by an oversized counter where the line of hungry customers watch as red meat is slathered with sweet Midwestern Barbecue sauce. It’s a shame that few barbecue chains tend to do well, but City Barbecue seems to be bucking the trend, and deservedly so.

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Mel-O-Dee Restaurant

A small down diner for a small-town crowd, Mel-O-Dee Restaurant is a little ways off of the Interstate 70/Interstate 675 interchange in New Carlisle, a distant north suburb of Dayton. The little establishment has all the makings of an old-fashioned little guy: from handwritten menu specials to a big honking neon sign advertising colorful welcomes to all the groups that come through the town. In a town like Dayton, you find countless chains and manufactured food with an air of impersonal coldness about them. But just up the road, places like this are hiding, waiting to be discovered.

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Cherokee Steak House

Along the banks of central Tennessee’s Old Hickory Lake, and adjacent to a home owned by country music star Gretchen Wilson, Cherokee Steak House and Marina prides itself as “The steak house of the middle south.” The very southern feel of the locale lends very much to that concept. Since 1958, the Steak House has served “beef from the heart of the corn belt,” giving patrons a scenic view of one of Tennessee’s more beautiful vistas.

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