10 great regional dishes recommended by Taylor Hicks

Larry Bleiberg
Special for USA TODAY

Not only does Taylor Hicks know how to carry a tune, he’s also pretty good with a fork. The platinum-selling musician and former American Idol winner has been traveling the country to spotlight some of his favorite dishes for State Plate, a food-travel show on the INSP television network. He says he’s been doing this his entire career. “I obviously caught a big music break, but I caught a big food break as well. As I toured nationally and internationally I got to tour food.” He shares some of his discoveries with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

Toasted ravioli, Mama’s on The Hill
St. Louis

Hicks calls this crunchy St. Louis appetizer the greatest ravioli dish on the planet. Mama’s claims to have invented the meat-filled snack in the 1940s, and stills serves them with homemade marinara sauce. “I’m a stickler for Italian food, and being from Alabama, having it deep-fried is kind of utopia,” he says. mamasonthehill.com

Shoofly Pie, Bird in Hand Bakery
Bird-In-Hand, Pa.

The Pennsylvania Dutch are credited for creating this velvety smooth molasses, brown sugar pie, and after one taste Hicks was a believer. He particularly likes this bakery’s gooey, wet-bottom version. “It’s really, really sweet, and the crumb crust is perfect. It’s a very Americana, nostalgic dessert.” bird-in-hand.com/bakery

Italian beef sandwich, D’amato’s Bakery

This Windy City bakery is celebrated for its bread, baked in a coal-burning brick oven. But it also serves a famous Chicago dish, a thin-cut beef sandwich, available with sweet or Italian peppers, or both. “The beef has been soaked in au jus. It’s like a French dip on Italian steroids,” Hicks says. damatosbakerychicago.com

Mae’s Filé Gumbo, Mother’s Restaurant
New Orleans

There’s no shortage of great food in New Orleans, but Hicks singles out the gumbo at this restaurant, which celebrates its 80th anniversary next year. It starts with a deceptively simple roux, a combination of flour and fat, and includes vegetables, chicken and sausage, along with spicy filé powder. “If you want gumbo, this is the place to find it. The atmosphere and food is like a big, old Creole hug from mama,” he says. mothersrestaurant.net

Cheesecake, Eileen’s Special Cheesecake
New York

Hicks may be a Southerner but he spent a lot of time in New York during a stint on Broadway. One of his favorite city treats is this cheesecake, which manages to be appropriately rich, but still light and fluffy. “This is the best cheesecake I’ve ever eaten,” he says. “And I definitely have a sweet tooth.” eileenscheesecake.com

Cioppino, Phil’s Fish Market
Moss Landing, Calif.

This filling stew includes an ocean of seafood, typically clams, mussels, white fish, calamari, Dungeness crab, prawns and scallops. But Hicks says the secret ingredient is the broth, made with three different types of California-grown tomatoes. “It tastes really light, savory and unique.” philsfishmarket.com

Apple pie, Red Fox Inn
Bondville, Vt.

There may be nothing more American than apple pie, but Hicks says this version, by the inn’s Ma Bean’s Vermont Pies, is now his favorite. It’s made with local Macintosh apples, baked in a flaky crust and finished with a butter crumb top. “Apple pie can be on the heavy side, but with the airy crust, this is the lightest one I’ve ever tasted,” he says. redfoxinn.com

Fried green tomatoes, Irondale Café
Irondale, Ala.

If you’re going to try this fried Southern staple, you might as well go the source. This trackside eatery was fictionalized in the book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, and appeared in the movie version. The tomatoes are dipped in seasoned batter and served hot, crunchy and tart. irondalecafe.com

Dungeness crab, Kelly Brighton’s Marina
Rockaway Beach, Ore.

You know your meal is fresh at this marina, because you’ve caught it yourself. The owner will show visitors how to bait a trap, and then let them try it themselves from the marina or a rented boat. Afterwards, you can cook your catch dockside. “The crab is as fresh as you can possibly get. It’s sea-to-table like no other,” Hicks says. kellysbrightonmarina.com

Texas sheet cake, That’s The Cake Bakery
Arlington, Texas

A sheet cake might not sound like a big deal, but Hicks begs to differ. The brownie-like cake’s topped with toasted Texas pecans and a thick layer of butter chocolate icing. “The icing takes the cake, pun intended,” he says. thatsthecake.com