Dining Onboard Amtrak

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Dining Onboard Amtrak 2013

by Lynne Williams

(Williams' excellent review of dining on the Napa Valley wine train captivated us! During an exchange of e-mails, Williams revealed, "I am a constant solo diner, with all the travel I do."
SoloDining.com thanks Lynne Williams for sharing her "insider information" on dining while riding the rails!)

When I last wrote about dining solo on Amtrak, more than ten years ago, I described how the dining car is set up of booths of four and unless there are four in your group, you will be seated with some soon-to-be new friends. The dining cars on the Amtrak routes remain the same and continue to be a choice for enjoying a good meal and some good conversation.

However, Amtrak has made some big changes foodwise and I thought I would use my return visit to SoloDining to describe some of those changes. The most positive change is an overall one, impacting all of the routes. While the food I wrote about ten years ago was good, sometimes very good, sometimes okay, and sometimes not okay, over the years Amtrak has focused very hard on improving the quality of its food. They have put together a team of prominent and well-respected chefs, restauranteurs and authors to help create the onboard menus. And what is driving the new menu design is a focus on regional flavors and locally produced food.

So, what this means is that on the Downeaster (my beloved Maine train, jewel of the Amtrak crown, ridership up consistently since kickoff day shameless plug!) train travelers can sample refreshments that epitomize the local bounty produced right along the Downeaster route Cap't Eli's Soda, made in Portland, Legal Seafood Chowder, a Boston highlight, Amato's sandwiches, first sold on the docks of Portland in 1902 by Italian immigrant Giovanni Amato, and Cold River Vodka, distilled right in Freeport. The Downeaster takes train travelers from Boston to Brunswick, Maine and points in-between.

Both the City of New Orleans, which travels between Chicago and New Orleans, via Memphis, and the Texas Eagle, traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles, via Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, have created menus reflective of Tex-Mex and Creole cooking, including items such as chipolte black bean and corn veggie burger and griddle-seared tilapia fillet. These trains now also include Cross Country Cafés, which offer an alternative to the dining car. The Cafés focus on regionally inspired cuisine and offer a bistro type experience, with enhanced ambiance, more comfortable seating and adjustable halogen and LED lighting. A nice place to meet and chat with a new friend. And the City of New Orleans often has live jazz performances onboard.

The Coast Starlight, traveling from Los Angeles to Seattle, Washington, has always been a leader in onboard ambience and their menu has been upgraded even further, now offering such dishes as Braised Beef Short-Rib in Ancho Molasses BBQ Sauce. The Sauce was created by Amtrak Culinary Advisory Team Chef Tom Douglas. And this exciting new menu can be enjoyed in the Parlour Car, not just the dining car. The Coast Starlight also offers a daily wine and cheese tasting featuring wines and artisanal cheese produced in California, Oregon and Washington. These events are very social and offer an opportunity for the solo traveler to get involved in the life of the train.

Some of the cheeses included in the tasting include a Marco Polo Black Pepper Cheddar, a Vella Dry Jack and a young Tillamook Smoked Cheddar. A few of the wines poured include a Chateau Ste. Michelle Rielsling, from Washington's Columbia Valley; a J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet from Paso Robles, California; and a Pinot Gris from Oregon's Firesteed winery. And these are just a sample of the eight or nine wines that are poured.

The Empire Builder, which travels from Chicago to Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon, also offers a daily wine and cheese tasting, with wines produced in Washington and cheese produced by artisans in Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. This partnership with small dairy farm operations is very important to maintaining the family farm in the towns along the route of the Empire Builder.

The Empire Builder's wine and cheese tasting offers Lavender Cheddar from Oregon's Rogue Creamery; Jalapeno Pepper Jack from California's Rumiano Cheese Company; and Roth Kase Sharp Cheddar from Wisconsin. Some of the excellent wines poured include a Pacific Rim Gewurztraminer from Washington's Columbia Valley, an Airfield Estates unoaked Chardonnay from the Yakima Valley and a Hudson-Shah Malbec from Rattlesnake Hills, Washington.

In short, the solo diner is unlikely to be at a loss for activities and companionship on these trains, if that is what one is seeking. Yet there always remains a place onboard for the readers and writers and ponderers of the world, so if that's you, take your wine and cheese over to a solo table and enjoy!

Lynne Williams is the Publisher of www.thetraintraveler.net,
tweets @traintraveler2,
is on Facebook at TheTrainTraveler
and can be reached at Lynne@thetraintraveler.net.

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