by Keith Sisson
Originally published in Y'all Magazine, July/August 2008
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band plays for passengers in New Orleans at the opening of the Cross Country Café
Amtrak's City of New Orleans travels over 900 miles daily each way connecting the great American cities of New Orleans, La., and Chicago, Ill. This route by the passenger train is special—more storied and mythical than any other passenger train. Perhaps the ambiance of being on the City of New Orleans is due to the popularity of a legendary song that bears the same name. Arlo Guthrie, Willie Nelson, John Denver and Johnny Cash all made hits out of the Steve Goodman song. The song not only touts places and landmarks up and down the line, but also speaks poetically about the experience of traveling by rail.
Adding to the mystique of the train are the cities that it serves. Though 900 miles apart and stretched from the mouth of the Mississippi to the Great Lakes, these cities top to bottom share a great deal of similarities. Arguably, the two main similarities are music and food. From blues music in Chicago, Memphis and the Mississippi Delta to the original sounds of New Orleans Jazz, each city is connected to the roots of American music. As far as food goes, two of the country's most celebrated cities for eats are Chicago and New Orleans. Throw in some Memphis barbecue and Mississippi Delta tamales and catfish, and you have 900 miles of some of the best food America has to offer.
In recognizing the dishes that people come to expect while visiting these great American cities, Amtrak has completely altered the dining car menu on the City of New Orleans (and altered the dining car itself, too).
The Cross Country Café is a new food service car on the City of New Orleans. Menu items include entrees that have a regional flair as represented by different communities along the route. Items like a New Orleans-style shrimp cocktail, a Memphis-style barbecue pizza and chicken & sausage jambalaya have found a home on the new menu. Other options include a Flat Iron steak & baked potato, and a daily chef's selection that is comprised of fresh, seasonal options. No meal is complete without dessert. The Crème Brulee cheesecake and bread pudding pie are best-sellers on the train.
While the dinner menu is served only in the evenings, appetizers, burgers, salads and snacks are served from lunchtime ‘til 11 p.m. Popular selections include a vegetarian lasagna, chicken wings and the build-your-own burger.
The City of New Orleans Cross Country Café.
The Cross Country Café is a great new reason to get onboard Amtrak for both leisure and business travel. Not only does it offer the opportunity to enjoy a delicious meal, but also an opportunity to dine in an enjoyable, comfortable dining room where the view always changes. At one time Amtrak had a slogan associated with eating in a dining car: "It makes the idea of a revolving restaurant seem silly… real silly." That slogan still holds true. Couple that everchanging scenery with a delightful new dining car and regionally-inspired menu options, and Amtrak's City of New Orleans becomes a delicious way to travel.