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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
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
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!
is on Facebook at TheTrainTraveler
and can be reached at Lynne@thetraintraveler.net.
Sooner or later, EVERYONE — business and pleasure travelers, singles, those divorced
or widowed, very-marrieds whose spouses are on the road, harried moms and dads, etc. — faces the challenge of eating
THE How-to Booklet of Solo Dining Tips & Strategies:
The Art and Satisfaction of Dining Alone — REVEALED!
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