James Beard Foundation Celebrates Classic American Restaurants

Today, the James Beard Foundation announced the five honorees for the 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards America’s Classics category. The America’s Classics award is given to restaurants with "timeless appeal and that are beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community," the Foundation said in a release. This year’s five America’s Classics honorees will be celebrated at the annual James Beard Foundation Awards in an awards ceremony taking place on Monday, May 7 at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York City.
 
The 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards America’s Classics award honorees are:
 
The Fry Bread House (4140 N. 7th Avenue, Phoenix, Owner: Cecelia Miller)
No trip to Phoenix is complete without a visit to the Fry Bread House, a trim paneled room on a modest, sun-baked residential street, founded in 1992.  The sign outside says “Native American Food.” At the counter inside, guests can order red and green chile stews that are a "primal blast of the Southwest." Owner Cecelia Miller comes from the Sonoran desert Tohono O’odham Nation, and her all-native staff is drawn from assorted Arizona tribes. Their specialty is hand-stretched fry bread in both savory and sweet versions. On the savory side: Indian tacos, layered with refried beans and beefy red chili, green chili, or chorizo, garnished with crisp chopped iceberg, shredded cheese, and tart red salsa.  For dessert: fry bread baptized with butter and local honey or homemade chocolate.
 
Nora’s Fish Creek Inn (5600 W. Highway 22, Wilson, WY, Owners: Nora Tygum, Trace Tygum, and Kathryn Tygum Taylor)
Seven miles from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in Wilson, population 250, Fish Creek Inn draws locals and tourists alike. When Nora Tygum opened the doors in 1982, she served sandwiches built on bread she baked herself. Locals and tourists alike come here for huevos rancheros, pancakes nearly as big as the plate, and, of course, pan-fried local trout with eggs. The future of the restaurant, now entering its fourth decade, is secure: Nora’s son, Trace, and daughter, Kathryn, manage the business. Best of all, Kathryn is the resident pie and cobbler maker.
 
St. Elmo Steak House (127 S. Illinois St., Indianapolis, Owners: Stephen Huse and Craig Huse)
Open since 1902, St. Elmo is an Indianapolis institution, with its bone-in filets and a shrimp cocktail served in a silver-rimmed, ice-lined bowl. If there’s a celebrity in town, this is the place to spot him or her, and the restaurant’s walls are filled with photos of the stars: Colts quarterback Peyton Manning reviewed his first contract in St. Elmo’s dining room. A recent million-dollar makeover added private dining rooms, a wine cellar, and an open kitchen.
 
Jones Bar-B-Q Diner (219 W. Louisiana St., Marianna, AR, Owners: James and Betty Jones)
Some incarnation of Jones Bar-B-Q Diner has been open since at least the 1910s, and the restaurant is one of the oldest African-American–owned eateries in America. James Jones tends the pits. His cooking apparatus is still elemental. And the pork shoulder, hacked into savory bits and served on white bread with a spritz of vinegary sauce, is as smoky as ever.
 
Shady Glen (840 East Middle Turnpike, Manchester, CT, Owners: William and Annette Hoch)
In addition to great ice cream and house-mixed sodas, Shady Glen serves a singular cheeseburger. Here’s how they do it: three or four squares of American cheese are laid on the griddle, overlapping the custom-ground patty. The protruding edges, grilled to Le Corbusier curls, soar outside the bun. Diners either break off the crisped pieces, or take off the bun top and fold them over the burger.
 
To qualify for the America’s Classics award, establishments must have been in existence at least ten years and they must be locally owned. The honorees are selected each year by the James Beard Foundation’s Restaurant Committee, which is composed of 17 people throughout the country, many of whom are notable food critics and culinary writers. The Foundation also holds a public call for entries, allowing the public the opportunity to offer suggestions for which restaurants they think should win.
 
On Monday, March 19, the James Beard Foundation will announce the final nominees for all award categories. On Monday, May 7, the James Beard Foundation Awards Ceremony and Gala Reception will take place at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, during which the Restaurant and Chef and the Restaurant Design and Graphics awards will be handed out, along with a number of special achievement awards, including Humanitarian of the Year, Lifetime Achievement, and Who’s Who honorees, as well as the five America’s Classics inductees. Visit jamesbeard.org for more information.

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