I tried both Amtrak's new food service and its traditional dining car, and now I understand why people were so upset about the change
Graham Rapier / Business Insider
- I recently set off on a four-day journey from coast to coast via Amtrak.
- The food, for the most part, was way better than I had ever expected.
- I stepped off the train a few pounds heavier - and much happier - than I thought possible.
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Surf and turf was far from what I expected to eat on my first cross-country Amtrak trip.I had previously reported on a massive backlash to some dining-car changes on shorter routes, where custom-cooked food is going by the wayside, but the promise of gourmet eats on a moving train in the middle of North Dakota seemed far-fetched to say the least.Advertisement
Determined to figure out for myself what was behind the hype, I set off on Amtrak's Empire Builder in Chicago last week. Over three days - and five meals - we crossed through wide expanses of the American heartland, through towns large and small, and past beautiful snow-capped peaks.
But after Chicago, things improved massively. Here's what we ate:
Dinner requires reservations, which immediately signals "fancy" to me.
Despite the reservation, you still have to wait to be called to the dining car.Advertisement
Next is where things get bizarre. Each passenger has to fill out this slip, which looks not unlike a Scantron answer sheet from school.
The menu had way more choices than I expected. And with only two dinners, I wanted to make the most of it.Advertisement
I eventually settled on the "land and sea combo," because, let's face it, I'm never going to pass up a steak.
After waking up in Snowy North Dakota, I needed a hearty breakfast, and pancakes did the trick.Advertisement
With all the calorie burning I got from sitting around the train all day reading and listening to podcasts, a hearty lunch was in store. I went with the cheeseburger (bacon added, of course).
I chose the latest reservation slot again for my second, and final, dinner. This time I went with the salmon.Advertisement
The next morning, I overslept and missed the pancakes before they sold out. Instead, I went with an omelette of green onions and bell peppers, with grits and a croissant on the side.
Since things were quiet, and service had finished for the trip, I popped my head into the small service area to see the dumbwaiters that carry food up from the kitchen below.Advertisement