Jane & Michael Stern

Jane & Michael Stern

Past Event: Tuesday, January 12, 2010

At Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

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While graduate students studying art at Yale, Michael and Jane Stern fell in love over a fresh clam pizza at Pepe’s pizzeria in New Haven, Connecticut. Some combination of those delectable clams, the good company, and the fact that they couldn’t find work in the art world fueled a plan: they would hit the road in a green Chevrolet Suburban and eat at every restaurant in America.

For the first three years, obsessed with the subculture of long-distance truckers, they ate at truck stops and slept in the backs of rigs. For a Manhattan girl who’d grown up eating at Lutèce, one could say it was territory seen with “fresh eyes.” It was also territory previously dismissed in food circles. The more they traveled—and the more they ate—the more their fascination with regional food and culture grew. They began to worry that regional American cuisine was not long for this world in the face of franchise chains, so spent the next two years keeping careful track of what was worth eating where. They called the collection Roadfood (1977). With six updated editions, the books are so tried and true that one reviewer has suggested they ought to be “in the glove compartment of every motorized vehicle registered in these fifty states.”

Years later, the Sterns are happy their predication was wrong. “To most people, food represents something almost as dear as religion,” Michael says. “It represents where they’re from, who their ancestors were, how they were raised, how their family gathered around the table. And I think that there’s still such a strong feeling for that that these restaurants are just never going to go away. Because people need them.” Further, there is the idea that American food—in all its cake-mix-Coca-Cola-and-can-of-mushroom-soup glory—is unique and good and worth celebrating. Jell-O molds that a decade ago would have been socially devastating contributions to a dinner party? They’ve had a resurgence of…cool. And if you never asked your grandmother for that recipe, the Sterns have it covered.

Alongside their regular contributions to CBS This Morning, Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Public Radio program The Splendid Table, and Gourmet magazine, the Sterns have published more than thirty books since the first Roadfood. One edition is specifically for sandwiches; cookbooks feature various roadside house specialties; and a travel-food memoir chronicles their gustatory adventures. Their rigorous research routine involves 12 meals a day, with Jane stuffing leftovers into an oversize purse, and their writing easily makes a reader think of taking up the very same schedule. Among their suggestions: Don’t eat anywhere with a photographic, laminated menu. Stop at any place that has a statue of a cow on the roof. Old ladies with hairnets in the kitchen are a good sign. If the cakes and pies in the display case don’t look homemade, “the rest of the meal is not likely to be good either.”

So what do the Sterns say to eat in Seattle? Fourteen Carrot Café’s tahini french toast and omelets; Bakeman’s turkey sandwich; Coastal Kitchen’s Asilah Cod, Settat Soup and Salad, and Larache Lamb Burger; Emmett Watson’s Oyster Bar’s oysters, fish & chips, and chowder; Lowell’s calamari; Mae’s Phinney Ridge Café’s spud feast and tofu breakfast; Mike’s Chili Parlor’s chili dog; a blue cheese burger and onion rings at Red Mill; crumpets at The Crumpet Shop; and everything, apparently, at Top Pot Doughnuts.

Excerpt from “A Social Experiment in Havana” – Gourmet magazine, July 1997
At 6:30 in the morning, when the dining room is getting crowded and the air swirls with the wake-up smells of brewing coffee and sizzling breakfast meats, Doris Gulsvig totes a pan of oven-hot caramel rolls out of the kitchen and sets them down to cool, then stops to write the dinner special on the blackboard. As is always the case, there is one prix-fixe hot meal—today’s is pot roast with dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, corn, coleslaw, and lemon pie (for $4.50)—as well as a small assortment of soups, sandwiches, and hamburgers.

This is what I call a gravy-and-potato café,” declares Harvey Peterson, whose wife, Gloria, is known for the raisin sauce she makes for ham. Mr. Peterson, who has farmed the land for more than 50 years, is a regular who, amazingly, drinks no coffee. One summer morning, at a table with his wife and some other cooks and his grandson, he spoke of the days long, long ago, when Havana had four flourishing grocery stores, two department stores, and a 20-piece band for promenade concerts in the warmer months. He recalled how empty the town seemed when the Havana Café closed. “Now look at what we have,” he said with a measure of pride, gesturing to a dining room crowded with Havanans.

“The Farmers’ Inn holds our community together,” Mr. Peterson concluded.

“It’s like going to church on Sunday,” one of the cooks added. “Except you don’t have to be a Lutheran to have your coffee here.”

“Maybe we did save this café,” another added thoughtfully. “But the way I see it, this café saved us.”

Selected Work
Two for the Road: Our Love Affair With American Food (2006)
Blue Plate Specials and Blue Ribbon Chefs: The Heart and Soul of America’s Great Roadside Restaurants (2001)
Chili Nation (1999)
Eat Your Way Across the USA (1997)
Jane and Michael Stern’s Encyclopedia of Pop Culture (1992)
American Gourmet (1991)
Square Meals (1985; cookbook)
Roadfood (1977; 7th edition 2008)

Salon.com: Roadfoodies
“To Taste Everything”: Nora Ephron reviews Two for the Road

Event Details

Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101

View directions.

Transportation & Parking

This event will be held in the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, the largest event space at Benaroya Hall. 

Benaroya Hall is located at 200 University Street, directly across Second Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum. The public entrance to Benaroya Hall is along Third Avenue.

  • From Southbound I-5
    Take the Union Street exit (#165B). Continue onto Union Street and proceed approximately five blocks to Second Avenue. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5
    Exit left onto Seneca Street (exit #165). Proceed two blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Seneca Street exit and move into the left lane. Turn left onto First Avenue and proceed one block. Take the next right (at the Hammering Man sculpture) onto University Street. Continue up the hill two blocks to Third Avenue. Turn left onto Third Avenue. Continue to the next block and turn left onto Union Street. Make the next left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Southbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Denny Way/Downtown exit. Keep right and cross over Denny Way onto Wall Street. Proceed approximately five blocks and turn left onto Second Avenue. Continue south on Second Avenue approximately eight blocks. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.

By Bus
Benaroya Hall is served by numerous bus routes. Digital reader boards along Third Avenue display real-time bus arrival information. For details and trip planning tools, call Metro Rider Information at 206.553.3000 (voice) or 206.684.1739 (TDD), or visit Metro online. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, served by bus and light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).

The 430-car underground garage at Benaroya Hall provides direct access from the enclosed parking area into the Hall via elevators leading to The Boeing Company Gallery. Enter the garage on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street. Maximum vehicle height is 6’8″. Blink charging stations are available for electric vehicles. The event rate is $16.

Parking is also available at:

  • The Cobb Building (enter on University Street between Third and Fourth avenues).
  • The Russell Investments Center (enter on Union Street between First and Second avenues).
  • There are many other garages within a one-block radius of Benaroya Hall, along with numerous on-street parking options.


SAL is for everyone. We want all audience members to be able to experience our lectures and readings regardless of accessibility concerns. Accessibility services at our venues are provided at no cost to ticket holders. If you find you need to sit closer to the stage to accommodate your needs but find the cost of a Patron ticket prohibitive, then please contact us—we will seat you where you need to be, regardless of cost.

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For any further questions or requests, or to offer Seattle Arts & Lectures feedback on how we can be more accessible and inclusive, please reach out to our Patron Services Manager at boxoffice@lectures.org or 206.621.2230×10.