Jane & Michael Stern
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Literary Arts

Jane & Michael Stern

Past Event: Tuesday, January 12, 2010

At Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

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.

By Car

  • 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 I-5 via Westbound I-90
    Take the 2C exit for I-5 North. Follow signs for Madison Street/Convention Place and merge right onto Seventh Avenue. Turn left onto Madison Street. Proceed three blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue four 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.

By Public Transit (Bus & Light Rail)

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 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″. ChargePoint charging stations are available for electric vehicles. Visit the Benaroya Hall website for event pricing.

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.


Open Captioning is an option for people who have hearing loss, where a captioning screen displaying the words that are spoken or sung is placed on stage. This option is present at every event at Benaroya Hall in our 2021/22 Season.

Closed Captioning is an option for people who have hearing loss, where captioning displays the words that are spoken or sung at the bottom of the video during an online event. Captioning is available for all online events; click the “CC” button to view captions during the event.

Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) are devices that people with hearing loss use in conjunction with their hearing device (hearing aids or cochlear implants). Benaroya Hall has an infrared hearing system, which transmits sound by light beams. Headsets are available in The Boeing Company Gallery coat check and the Head Usher stations in both lobbies.

Sign Language Interpretation is available upon request for Deaf, DeafBlind, and hard of hearing individuals for both in-person and online events. To make a request for interpretation, please contact us at boxoffice@lectures.org or 206.621.2230×10, or select “Sign Language Interpretation” from the Accessibility section during your ticket checkout process and we will contact you to confirm details. Please note: we appreciate a two-week advance notice to allow us time to secure interpretation.

Wheelchair Accessible Seating and Accessible Restrooms are available in all sections at our venues, and our venues are fully accessible to ticket holders with physical mobility concerns. Among other features, Benaroya Hall has designated parking spaces adjacent to elevators in their parking garage. Elevators with Braille signage go to all levels within the Hall. To reserve seating for a specific mobility concern, you may select “Wheelchair Accessible or Alternative Seating Options” during ticket checkout, and we will contact you to confirm details. For more details on their accessibility features, click here.

Guide and service dogs are welcome.

Gender neutral restrooms are available.

We are pleased to offer these accessibility services at our venues, and they are provided at no additional cost to ticket holders. Please contact us with any questions and feedback about how we can be more accessible and inclusive. Our Patron Services Manager is available at boxoffice@lectures.org, or Monday-Friday from 10:00am – 5:00pm at 206.621.2230×10.

For more accessibility information, please head to lectures.org/accessibility. If you would like to make accessibility arrangements you do not see listed here, please contact our box office or select “Other Accommodations” from the Accessibility section during your ticket checkout process, and we will contact you to confirm details.