Hometown Chow Travels Cross Country

You can't go home again, but you can have a little bit of it mailed to you.

At least that's the theory behind the burgeoning market that has hungry, homesick transplants fulfilling their cravings for Philly cheesesteak, Chicago stuffed pizza, Texas barbecue and New Mexican chile peppers.

Thanks to advances in shipping technology and the Internet, hometown delicacies can be enjoyed far from home.

Kristy Walker, a 29-year-old stockbroker often had a yen for Chicago-style pizza and she even celebrated her engagement at Giordano's, a Chicago chain that specializes in the multilayered concoction.

"The first time I had it, I was addicted to it," she said. "I could eat it every day!"

But once she moved to New York, eating it every day was out of the question until she discovered that Giordano's delivers anywhere in the country. Now, for about $50, she gets two pies packed in dry ice delivered every three months.

Giordano's district manager Leo Theodoro said the firm has been mailing more and more of its famous pies since it started the mail-order business about eight years ago. They send out between 50 to 100 pizzas a week.

Why would someone spend $50 for one of the most common foods in America?

Because, said Theodoro, when pizzerias in other states say they have Chicago-style pizza, "It's not the same."

"It's a unique product, similar to lobster from Maine," he said.

Regional pride is scarcely endemic to Chicago. It's a way of life in Texas, where edible ego-boosting comes in the form of beef barbecue.

"We only use the Mercedes-Benz of steaks," boasted Scott Roberts, owner of the Salt Lick Barbecue Restaurant in Driftwood, Texas. "A guy in New Jersey orders $1,000 of brisket, ribs and barbecue sauce every three or four months."

Roberts began delivering barbecue three years ago. That first year, he took in $50,000 from mail-order. Last year, it brought in about $600,000.

"They try it, they like it, they send it to their friends," Roberts said. "We shipped it to a woman in San Francisco, and she was upset because her kids are now addicted to it."

It's a similar story at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y., birthplace of buffalo chicken wings. It sends out 50 to 60 buckets of wings every week, with that number multiplying crazily during football season.

"People try to copy the taste of the Anchor Bar, but they fail," owner Ivano Toscani said.

And folks far from Cincinnati can get their French-pot Graeter's ice cream as dessert, while those who've wandered from Washington can make Snoqualmie Falls pancakes for breakfast.

Delicious hometown deliveries began early in Philadelphia. Richard Della Barber's company, A Taste of Philadelphia, has been providing displaced Philadelphians with care packages of cheesesteaks, hoagies, Philadelphia soft pretzels and scrapple for 23 years.

"You know how you go home and your mom gives you something to take home? That's how we started," Della Barber said. "You can't go to Hawaii to get a cheesesteak they're horrible. Order a cheesesteak in Florida and you get like a London broil steak on a roll. You can't get a decent hoagie roll in Florida or California."

Virginia Beach, Va.-based Hometown Favorites has been doing similar work for the last six years, finding local items like upstate New York's Grandma Brown's Baked Beans to Maine canned fiddleheads (fern sprouts), and mailing them to those yearning for their old comfort foods.

"It's a little over $1 million a year selling a single can of product at a time," president Mike Julian said. "That's a lot of cans of products."

It's no small matter for exiled gourmands like New Mexico native Nathan Wade. He can't tackle New Mexican recipes without fresh or frozen green chilies, which he can't find in his new hometown of Indianapolis. Instead, he orders from www.buenofoods.com and www.chiletraditions.com.

"I don't know how New Mexicans could leave the state before the Internet and next-day shipping," Wade said.

Despite the huffing and puffing over which state has the best barbecue or brownies, the market's largely driven by nostalgia, said Don Page, president of Anna's Gourmet Products, which is based in Thorp, Wash., and produces and sells Snoqualmie Falls foods.

"It isn't the mystery formula or recipe so much as that it's something that's from where I used to be," he said. "The product's good and everything, but, I'm being frank about it, it's because it's something from home."