Mail-ordering local food favorites nurtures a sense of place

Sending food and gifts is an easy way to spread holiday cheer when you’re socially distanced. And ordering hometown favorites from local or regional restaurants adds a dash of nostalgia and a sense of place to your gift.

This year, many local restaurants and food businesses that have not previously offered mail order have pivoted to meet the circumstances. With a little digging and brainstorming, you can find some robust and fun choices, from ice cream to alcohol, barbecue to bagels.

First, think about your local cuisine, the homegrown specialties. Perhaps it’s a food you enjoyed growing up, or something specific to where you live now, that you’d love to share with your mom or your best grade-school friend. Check out the websites of bakeries, coffee shops, jam companies, cheese makers, and see what they have to offer in terms of shopping and shipping. Calling the store and talking with someone never hurts.

Or turn to a site like Goldbelly.com, which features local and artisanal foods throughout the United States.

If you live or grew up in a place with great barbecue, for instance, there’s lots to explore. Family-owned Smoky John’s is a Dallas institution, founded in 1976. Fans can now order their BBQ sauce and BBQ rub to be sent anywhere in the country. From Lillie’s of Charleston, in South Carolina, a minority- and women-owned business, you can order up a batch of Gullah-inspired hot sauce, barbeque sauce and spice mixes.

Or send some actual barbecue (ribs, pulled pork, brisket) from a favorite place like Joe’s Kansas City, or The Rendesvous in Memphis, Tennessee.

Bagels and salmon bring New York City to your doorstep (local favorites include Zucker’s, Zabar’s and H&H Bagels ); cheese recalls Wisconsin; and lobster is the calling card of Maine ( LobsterAnywhere.com, LobstersOnline.com ).

Coffee is another terrific category for mail-order gifting, and many individual places or small chains are in the game: D’Amicos in Brooklyn has diehard fans, as does Tandem in Portland, Maine, and Kusanya Café, a not-for-profit coffee café on the South Side of Chicago.

Sweets, of course. Baked goods, chocolate, other confections. Dandelion Chocolate from San Francisco, or Sol Cacao chocolate bars from the Bronx, in New York City. Baking kits from Buttercream Bakeshop in Washington, D.C., River Street Sweets pralines from Savannah, Georgia, and the salty-sweet, cheddar-caramel corn mix from Garrett Popcorn in Chicago.

Local booze is also a great way to go. Obviously, there are hundreds of small beer, spirit and wine makers, so if you want help sifting through the choices, check out Tavour for craft beers and ciders (from across the U.S.) and Naked Wines for independent winemakers (from around the world).

A shipment of ice cream is another fun and unexpected present, and many people have deep and fond memories of their local ice cream spot. Places like Bassets in Philadelphia, Sugar Hill Creamery in Harlem, New York, and Graeter’s in Cincinnati (their Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip is legendary).

Goldbelly founder and CEO Joe Ariel says his mission from the get-go has been sending comfort through food, something more welcome than ever now. Business is up, he says, with almost double the food makers since last year at this time (700 and counting), and double the orders.

Ariel says that, not surprisingly, classic American comfort foods are leading the pack. Par-baked and frozen pizzas from some of America’s most adored pizza makers are surging, with many different styles represented, such as New York-style ( Joe’s Pizza ), Chicago deep dish ( Lou Malnati’s ) and Detroit-style ( Buddy’s Pizza ).

Fried chicken is also popular, with offerings from places like Hattie B’s Hot Chicken in Nashville, Tennessee, and Marcus Samuelsson ’s Hot Honey Chicken & Cornbread Waffles Kit from Harlem.

Other popular mail-order with a local or regional flavor are sourdough bread bowls with clam chowder from San Francisco; key lime pie from Key West, Florida; philly cheese steaks from (of course) Philadelphia; and biscuits from all over.

Is any of this going to make up for big family meals with everyone at the same table? Of course not. But as we weather this socially distanced holiday season, a little comfort food that evokes a feeling of place can go a long way. And it’s gratifying to support struggling food businesses as we share the food love with our family and friends.

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Katie Workman writes regularly about food for The Associated Press. She has written two cookbooks focused on family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.” She blogs at http://www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman. She can be reached at [email protected]