Ever since the coronavirus pandemic grounded leisure travel, Joe Ariel has come to realize something.
"Cheesy carbs," he says, are "bringing the world together right now."
That sentiment is inspired by all the pizza that stuck-at-home customers are ordering from restaurants in New York, Chicago, Detroit and other cities famous for their pies. Not to be left out, non-cheesy carbs (think bagels — loads and loads of bagels) are also having a moment on Goldbelly, the online food marketplace where Ariel is CEO and founder.
Spend a few minutes on the site and see pop-ups that display a country's cravings and frustrated wanderlust: an order from a New Jersey bakery to Montana. New York bagels to California. St. Louis pizza to Maryland.
"That's the thing about food from places that you love," Ariel says. "It's not just about the food, it's about experience and nostalgia. It's like a time machine."
Goldbelly, which works with more than 500 restaurants and shops around the country, saw demand more than double as the virus started to force people to stay home in March. He says the company and its partners are trying to keep up with the surge, which, he says, in some cases is helping restaurants keep workers employed.
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"We're at the intersection of restaurants and travel, and those are two industries that are decimated," he says. "Part of what we talk about is, you can travel with your taste buds when you're ordering that food."
The orders don't come cheap and could even approach the cost of a one-way plane ticket, while arriving much more slowly. A four-pack of pizza from Joe's Pizza in New York City is listed on the site for $129, shipping included. Two 10-inch muffuletta sandwiches from New Orleans will set you back $109.
But for those who want to devote former travel budgets to food purchases from favorite destinations, the options are abundant — whether directly from restaurants, through Goldbelly or via other delivery services. Some prices below include shipping and some do not, so check each site carefully.
Let's put aside the eternal argument about which state produces the best barbecue. For those who don't want to mess with anything but the Texas version, there's AirRibs.com. The site ships frozen ribs, brisket, sausage, combos and sauces from the County Line restaurant chain through the continental United States. Prices for combination packages start at $99.99.
One of the great pleasures of visiting Miami is wandering up to a Cuban restaurant's window — or ventanita, in local parlance — and ordering a cafe con leche and pastelito. The warm pastries are made with guava, cream cheese or both, and now South Florida chain Vicky Bakery is shipping them "ready-to-bake." Pastelitos cost $19.99 a dozen, but the minimum purchase is two dozen.
New York City bagels
In normal times, tourists and locals line up for brunch at Russ & Daughters, which got its start more than a century ago. In this not-so-normal era, the company delivers a New York brunch package through Goldbelly that includes bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon, chocolate babka and coffee for $169.
L.A. breakfast burrito
Sure, cereal can cut it for breakfast on most lazy mornings. But when the day demands more (like meat or veggies, smoky potatoes, scrambled eggs, melted cheese, tortilla chips and salsa), Los Angeles shop Cofax delivers six of its breakfast burritos via Goldbelly. The cost: $99.
Chicago deep-dish pizza
Lou Malnati's has been serving deep-dish in Chicago since 1971, and demand to ship frozen pizzas has "increased significantly" of late, according to marketing manager Natalie Levy. A handful of toppings are available, and pies come in a two-, four- or six-pack for $66.99, $95.99 or $115.99.
New Orleans crawfish bread
Jazz Fest couldn't happen this year, but for those who are craving one of the staples associated with the New Orleans event, Panorama Fine Foods is selling packs of three or four loaves for $90 or $120. Each loaf — described as "a delicious combination of bread, cheese, crawfish, spices, and more" is the equivalent of four Jazz Fest slices, the company says.
Nashville hot chicken
Nashville's live-music and bar scene are tougher to replicate at home, but at least the city's famed hot chicken can make the leap. Big Shake's Nashville Hot Chicken ships a dinner pack including 16 pieces of chicken (at the heat level of the customer's choice), cornbread mix, beans and macaroni and cheese for $79.99.
Skyline Chili is named for the view of Cincinnati's downtown, but the restaurant chain is well-known for its Coneys. The hot dogs in a steamed bun are topped with chili and a pile of shredded cheddar — and all the parts of that somewhat messy whole are available through Cincy Favorites for $59.99 for an eight-pack.
It's impossible to separate the Philly cheesesteak from Philadelphia; the city's name is right there in the sandwich's. But when you can't get to the City of Brotherly Love, any number of local retailers are eager to ship their cheesesteaks around the country. Tony Luke's, which calls itself "the real taste of South Philly," offers four sandwiches for $49.95 — but warns of shipping delays.