The California Bucket List: Your daily guide to the best adventures and experiences in the Golden State

Ribs and lobster on standby

Times Staff Writer

Of the dozen and a half "airport foods" I had shipped to me, these were first-class. All can be bought in the airport in their hometowns. And most would make excellent gifts.

Smoked out of Austin: The Salt Lick's barbecue is exceptional, truly Texan even when packed to travel, with deeply smoky flavor and seriously tender meat. The "family-style dinner" comprises a rack of pork ribs, a slab of juicy beef brisket, a generous hunk of spicy smoked sausage and a jar of sauce for $94.95 plus shipping from Reheating instructions are spot-on; it all tastes fresh from the smoker. (888) 725-8542.

Logan, the raw and the cooked: Lobsters from Legal Sea Foods in Boston can be shipped live or steamed; I opted for the latter and was rewarded with two that were far better than I have ever had closer to home: very fresh, very meaty and cooked to succulence rather than rubber. Oyster crackers, a plastic bib, metal crackers, a lemon and one inadequate Wet-Nap come along for the ride. Two weighing about 1 1/4 pounds each are $73.95 plus overnight shipping from (800) EAT-FISH.

Baltimore home runs: Obrycki's Maryland-style crab cakes are little softballs of mostly crab with very little filler, and they reheat beautifully. Because they arrive frozen, though, they need a sauce to moisten them. Six are $69.95 plus overnight shipping from (410) 732-6399.

Portland harvest: Columbia Empire Farms' huckleberry syrup ($9.95) and marionberry all-fruit fruit spread from Oregon ($5.95) have clean, assertive fruit flavors and are just sweet enough. The jam is excellent on whole-grain toast, and the syrup will make you wish for a waffle maker if you don't own one. It would also be good sweetening a summer cocktail. (888) 252-0699.

O'Hare sweet: Eli's cheesecake, the legacy of a legendary Chicago steakhouse that closed after 39 years, is a model of heartland richness, creamy and smooth with just enough crumbly crust. I ordered the combination, with slices of plain, strawberry, chocolate and "candy bar," but plain was simply the best. $28 plus overnight shipping from (800) ELI-CAKE.

Sea-Tac sensations: Dish D'Lish bottles condiments you won't taste just anywhere. The cranberry vinaigrette is tangy and full-flavored enough to make you overlook the peculiar pink color, and the blueberry-lavender chutney is lively, with excellent fruit flavor. Each is $6.99 plus shipping from (206) 789-8121.

Memphis meaty: Jim Neely's Interstate Barbecue is renowned for its ribs and pulled pork, but I was most taken with the barbecue baked beans — they were packed with flecks of smoky meat and were not teeth-aching sweet. The ribs almost melted off the bone when reheated, but they were not as astonishing as Salt Lick's. A gift pack of the three plus a bottle of sauce is $65 plus shipping from (888) 227-2793.

Cincinnati heat: Skyline Chili comes in a can, but if you have never had the real deal it is worth trying it to understand how the local addition of cinnamon in the seasoning makes it distinctive rather than weird. The beef is not ground but is in small chunks, and it is less greasy than the Gold Star brand I also tried. I ordered from an airport gift shop ([859]767-5722) and paid $4.99 plus $7 shipping for a 15-ounce can, but sells it in large quantities. (877) 246-2999.

Retro in Florida: Friends who are addicted to "corny" regional treats raved about the coconut patties sold in most Florida airports, and they are worth the cavities. Thick slabs of soft coconut candy are coated on one side with dark chocolate, like hatless Mounds bars. Coco Rhumbies, a new version made with cocoa and rum, are less sweet but still irresistible. Each package weighs 8 ounces; the originals in a retro tin are $4.50 and the Rhumbies in a cool box are $3.75, plus shipping, from (407) 816-9944 or (800) 329-7100.

Louisville winner: Derby-Pie, the semiofficial dessert of Kentucky, is the one commercial pie I would order over and over. Essentially a pecan pie made with walnuts plus semisweet chocolate, it is as rich and gooey as candy and has a perfect short crust. All it needs is a run through the oven to warm it up. It's $13.99 plus shipping from (800) 444-0552.

Logan liftoff: Risking a diabetic coma, I also ordered Legal Sea Foods' version of Boston cream pie, which is a less-traditional version with more custard and chocolate than cake. I ate it cold, but it can be heated so that the chocolate melts into total overkill. Two — enough to feed four — are $10.95 plus overnight shipping from (800) EAT-FISH.

Sky Harbor shelling: Arizona pistachios are big, fat and meaty, but the packaging turned out to be half the appeal. I bought 2 pounds in a tall glass jar with a Hohokum motif — an evocative souvenir of my home state without a flight through Phoenix. $17.99 plus shipping from (800) 333-8575.

— Regina Schrambling

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