'Chowdown Countdown' Is Travel Channel's Must-Eat TV
Network fans scoffed at Scripps' buyout, but the parent company's doing something right
By Kenny Herzog Jan 19, 2010 10:08AM
Maybe it's the nation's recession-driven psychological depression. Or a tiring of major urban metropolis' turning regional comfort food into fashionable haute cuisine. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive.) But as of late, Americans have re-connected with greasy-spoon dining favorites in a big way. For evidence, look no further than the success of best-selling grub atlases like "Road Food" and soulful competitive-eating programs like Travel Channel's sudden phenomenon "Man V. Food," in which host Adam Richman hits the nation's best mom-and-pop gastro hubs and tackles their most intimidating concoctions.
But Travel Channel has outdone itself with the "Chowdown Countdown," which has rounded up the country's 101 best under-the-radar belly-busting destinations for a several-week event (installments 40-21 airs this coming Sunday at 10 p.m.).
It should be stated that not everyone is frothing at the mouth. Many Travel Channel loyalists were dissapointed when Food Network parent company Scripps purcased TC late in 2009, fearing they'd get less exotic programming and have to digest more drive-in-culture content. Well, their fears weren't entirely unfounded.
Fortunately, the "Chowdown Countdown" is more than some timely peaen to deep friers and brick ovens. It's a thoughtful and life-affirming (and weirdly, impartially patriotic) journey through a version of America that's getting lost amidst urban renewal, crippled domestic industriousness and consumer complacency. Each of the show's entries takes its time to juxtapose lip-smacking montages of old-fashioned, bare-handed kitchen technique and charmingly comforted customers with a narrated history of the restaurant's local- and family-origins.
And it's consistently enlightening, whether discovering the absurd mythology that has led to so many prideful territorial traditions, or that regional variations of commonplace menu items are still often reliant on the local resources available—witout it needing to be a socially conscious movement.
When it comes down to it though, something like the "Countdown"—or a higher-minded eating-adventure program like Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations"—sticks to viewers' ribs because, really, what greater motivation is there to ever get off the couch than the promise of a next great meal?