July 14, 2024

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The 11 Next Great Food Cities Across the US

The 11 Next Great Food Cities Across the US

It’s an exciting time for food in America. The culinary landscape in cities big and small around the country has matured exponentially in the past two decades, a shift that has been thrilling to experience and to taste. The immense challenges of the last two years in particular have seen many chefs, restaurateurs, and makers leave bigger urban centers and return to their smaller home cities. This returning talent, plus a new generation of entrepreneurs, are spurring a burst of creativity, innovation and deliciousness in under-the-radar destinations all over the country. It is these destinations that make up Food & Wine’s inaugural list of the next great food cities: the seven most exciting big cities, plus four smaller towns with populations less than 60,000 that have big food scenes. Each city profile highlights local chefs, restaurants, producers, pop-ups, retailers, food halls, markets, distillers, brewers, incubators, and more that make up the dynamic and diverse food culture of each place. Here are the 11 food cities worth traveling for in 2022.—Melanie Hansche

The next generation of chefs and makers is driving a culinary renaissance in the queen city.

There is something very special about a weekend morning in Cincinnati’s Findlay Market, a historic quarter centered around a mid-1800s hall brimming with fresh-picked produce and the energy of thousands of hungry locals. They come here because they’ve been coming here their whole lives, in good times and bad, because it’s tradition—which, in Cincinnati, is just about a religion; think New Orleans, but a day’s drive to the north.

Love of food is nothing new around here. Some of us are old enough to remember when Jean-Robert de Cavel’s Maisonette was one of the finest French restaurants in the country. (And don’t get the locals started on their quirky regional dishes, like that famous cinnamon-laced chili typically served over spaghetti, with roots in restaurants owned by Macedonian immigrants.)

These days, however, a new generation of chefs and makers, some of them native sons and daughters returning from stints in cities as far away as San Francisco and New York, can be found turning all that tradition on its head. This is how you end up with Zuni Café–influenced, hyper-seasonal cooking at Tony and Austin Ferrari’s Fausto; modern Lebanese cooking (Kentucky lamb kofta) and baking (cardamom apple pine nut tarts) at Dominique Khoury’s pop-up favorite Looqma; little omakase thrills at Hideki and Yuko Harada’s Kiki; and cocktails in a salon-like environment at the lush Anjou. Even an ultra-mod food hall, Oakley Kitchen, made its splashy debut back in the early summer of 2021.

Add in a few seriously committed chefs, like Jose Salazar of SalazarMita’s, and now Goose & Elder, and restaurateurs like Ashley and Austin Heidt at Dear Restaurant & Butchery, where you can take your charcuterie plate to go, and it all starts to get the tiniest bit overwhelming. Mull over your choice of chic Japanese-inspired pastries at Cafe Mochiko or perfect cappuccinos at the Ferrari brothers’ Mom ‘n ’em Coffee & Wine. The latter is one of the Midwest’s essential cafés—so popular, they’re building another across town. —David Landsel

This new culinary capital can hold its own against northwest food hubs like Seattle and Portland.

Over the past few years, Boise has quietly been accumulating all the trappings of a great food town: craft breweries, third-wave coffee roasters, fancy doughnut shops, food trucks, and immigrant-run restaurants such as Kibrom’s Ethiopian and Eritrean Cuisine and Ansots Basque Chorizos—the latter a testament to the region’s vast Basque community. The James Beard Awards have put a national spotlight on a handful of the city’s talent, such as chef Kris Komori and baker Moshit Mizrachi-Gabbitas. But now, new projects from both new-to-town talent and veterans of the region have truly made Boise a culinary capital that can hold its own against Northwest food hubs like Seattle and Portland.

In 2013, Komori raised Boise’s level of cooking with his ahead-of-its-time fine-dining spot, State & Lemp. While that restaurant has since closed, his newest restaurant, Kin, hosts equally ambitious five-course Saturday suppers featuring unexpected flavor combinations like olive consommé with shrimp wonton, blue cheese, and jasmine. When the pandemic postponed the opening, Komori started offering haute picnics (think tiffins filled with smoked beets and shrimp succotash) on the restaurant lawn paired with live ballet and opera performances to support the local arts community. He’s also emerged as a voice of change, tackling issues like food insecurity and racial equity.

Meanwhile, two newcomers are helping Komori elevate the dining scene. After earning accolades at Rye in NYC, chef Cal Elliott, a Boise native, has returned to serve dazzling cioppino, ceviche, and oysters at Little Pearl Oyster Bar. At the glamorous The Lively, chef Edward Higgins gets playful with local ingredients, giving Idaho ruby trout a Rockefeller twist with a vermouth butter crust. The bar program matches his culinary ingenuity with cocktails such as the cognac-and-chamomile-tea-based Pharaoh’s Gold.

On the cool-yet-casual side, pandemic creativity gave rise to two new downtown food truck parks—Green Acres and The Switchback—each with yard games, live music, and alfresco workout classes. And later this year, the city will welcome its first food hall, The Warehouse, a 29,000-square-foot space with more than 20 vendors hawking everything from fancy waffles to artisan cocktails.

The state is still better known for its potatoes than its grapes, but with 1,300 acres of vineyards, the wine scene is one of the Pacific Northwest’s best kept secrets. And women are leading the charge, like Idaho natives Leslie Preston and Melanie Krause, who cut their teeth in Napa Valley and Woodinville, Washington, respectively, before returning home to open two of the region’s most exciting wineries, Coiled and Cinder. Both have tasting rooms along the Greenbelt, Boise’s 25-mile riverfront path, and the vineyards of the Snake River Valley AVA—worthy of attention for their Rieslings and Viogniers—are a 40-minute drive from downtown. Last summer’s opening of The Vino Camp (from $229, vinocampatsawtooth.com), a glamping retreat nestled between the vines of the Ste. Chapelle and Sawtooth wineries, finally gives visitors a hip base from which to tour the 17-some-odd wineries along the Sunnyslope Wine Trail. —Jen Murphy

Storied steakhouses have been joined by a new wave of restaurants—and the best ice cream for miles around.

Nearly everyone is familiar with the Reuben—the sandwich of pumpernickel or rye bread slathered in butter; stuffed with corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing; pressed; and grilled. But far fewer people know where it comes from. The longtime diner staple has more than a few origin stories, some of which sound like rather tall tales. But the most convincing one comes out of Omaha, Nebraska, where it’s said a bunch of local merchants who played poker after hours at the Blackstone Hotel preferred the sandwich as their midnight snack.

For the longest time, you couldn’t go to the Blackstone for a Reuben, seeing as the building was converted to offices back in the early 1980s. But Omaha didn’t forget. Today, the Blackstone is a hotel once more, the Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel (rooms from $161, thecottonwoodhotel.com), and Reubens are once more on order, now at the elegant Committee Chophouse, where the famed sandwich is made with nutty Gruyère cheese and a hit of spicy mustard.

This revival of a legend—the hotel and the sandwich—didn’t happen in a vacuum; their reemergence is just the latest bit of good fortune for the stretch of Farnam Street that has come to be known as The Blackstone District, a focal point for Omaha’s most avid eaters and drinkers. You can eat everything here, or so it seems, from patacones, sandwiches made with thick slices of fried green plantain, at El Arepón Venezuelan Food inside The Switch beer and food hall to Nepalese dumplings doused in a sauce of peanuts, soybeans, and tomatoes from Kathmandu Momo Station inside Scriptown Brewing Company. There are Reuben sandwiches, including a very good one at Crescent Moon, a popular beer bar. For dessert, line up for some of the finest ice cream for miles—don’t miss the blueberry-basil sherbet—at the chef-driven Coneflower Creamery, followed by espressos at Archetype Coffee, Nebraska’s top roaster. 

All this goodness is concentrated in just a few blocks, but Omaha seems to go on forever. Not far away is one of the more famous restaurants in the city, Modern Love. The vegan comfort-cooking spot has roots in Brooklyn but an owner (cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz) with roots in Omaha. There are also fancy prix fixe dinners, like the simple yet elegant European cooking at Anthony Caniglia’s Au Courant. And what is Omaha without the runza, that beloved regional interpretation of the bierock, a humble hand pie brought over from the Old World? Don’t miss Kate Anderson’s take on the Nebraska specialty at Carter & Rye, where the classic ground beef and cabbage filling comes wrapped in pretty puff pastry. —David Landsel

A new guard of food entrepreneurs is striving to make indy a city where everyone can eat well.

Few cities can claim to have a real diversity of cuisines; an abundance of affordable, quality dining options; and a vibrant mix of personalities championing food access for all. Indianapolis is one of them. Thanks to its exceptional ability to welcome a new wave of entrepreneurs while supporting those who paved the way, the Circle City has emerged from the past few challenging years as a destination where everyone can eat well. 

Baked goods, in particular, have taken off. At downtown’s Gallery Pastry Bar, Ben Hardy and Youssef Boudarine craft elaborate sweets like Brûlée Trillium (a croissant stuffed with berry compote, pecans, and brûléed Trillium, a decadent local triple-cream cheese) in an open-air kitchen and a dining room decorated with Moroccan lights and an Anthony Bourdain painting by Egyptian artist Salma Taman. And at the second outpost of Amelia’s Bread—the sister business of city institution Bluebeard by acclaimed chef Abbi Merriss—guests have even more room to dig into the bakery’s fudgy salted chocolate buckwheat cookies and croissant cinnamon rolls. 

Whether you want to perk up or wind down, there’s plenty of good stuff to drink, too. Coffee fiends will flip for Fletcher Place’s Amberson Coffee & Grocer, where owner Hugo Cano pours vanilla-laced date lattes into glass jars (to eliminate single-use plastic). Hidden away behind an unmarked door in the historic Fountain Square Theatre is The Commodore, a speakeasy shaking things up with refreshingly zero pretense. For a completely unexpected wine pairing, visit The Lume at the Indianapolis Museum of Art to roam through an immersive, multisensory exhibit while sipping wines curated by sommelier Joshua Ratliff. 

Quality casual is easy to come by in Indy, too. What once was the world’s largest Coca-Cola bottling plant is now the Bottleworks District, an adaptive reuse project featuring The Garage Food Hall, where you’ll discover Hard Truth Distilling Co., purveyor of toasted coconut rum, peanut butter whiskey, and other Indiana-made spirits, as well as the swanky, Art Deco Bottleworks Hotel (rooms from $209, bottleworkshotel.com). 

The AMP, another food hall, is helping minority-owned concepts with low rents and creative freedom. One to watch is Melon Kitchens, a virtual restaurant incubator for seven projects by Black chefs, ranging from elevated grilled cheese to ramen. Because eating is a basic right and not a privilege, two women are taking charge to reduce food insecurity: Beloved restaurateur and activist Martha Hoover of Café Patachou and Bar One Fourteen is addressing child hunger with PataSchool, a visionary program that empowers schools to create better meals in their cafeterias. And since day one at her walk-up counter The Trap in the Eastside, a food desert where most residents lack access to affordable, nutritious food, chef Oya Woodruff has been giving out trays of boiled seafood smothered in her signature Trap Buttah (an irresistibly garlicky and herbaceous sauce) to those in need, showing she’s committed to feeding everyone, no matter the cost. —Katie Chang

New York City’s secret “sixth borough” is packed with vibrant food businesses and tastes.

When most people look for an exciting food city booming with options in the Northeast, they tend to think of New York City. However, mere minutes away by train is NYC’s secret “sixth borough”: Jersey City. Packed with vibrant food businesses, Jersey City isn’t just a spot to drink in the breathtaking view of the skyline across the river—though it certainly is that, too—it’s a food city where culture and community keep diners coming back. 

Jersey City’s huge Asian and Indian population makes up a quarter of its residents (one of the highest percentages in the country), and the food scene showcases a medley of delicious cuisines. First-generation Filipino American families go grocery shopping for bags of warm, fluffy pandesal—a common bread roll in the Philippines—or mocha-flavored cake layered with caramel from the Philippine Bread House and stock up on ensaymada, a rich brioche pastry layered with cheese and butter, at Red Ribbon Bakeshop. The hub of the South Asian community, Newark Avenue, is dotted with Indian and Pakistani restaurants. You can’t go wrong here, but one local favorite is Rasoi, a 25-year-old restaurant known for its rich and spicy Punjabi fare. Also on this eat street is the Freetown Road Project, a restaurant from hometown hero chef Claude Lewis. The Chopped champion ties his Antiguan and West Indian roots to his hometown through dishes that range from curry chicken, a luscious stew served with hot, fresh, flaky roti, to dense slabs of mango bread drizzled with mango jam that comes with whipped cayenne cream cheese for spreading. 

Italian cuisine also has deep roots here, and the city’s new generation of pizza and pasta restaurants alone are worth a special visit. There’s Dan Richer, a New Jersey native and James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef semifinalist, who skipped his college graduation to travel to Italy to learn how to make better pizza. At his restaurant, Razza, he tops crisp, fermented rounds of dough with fresh toppings sourced from local farms—the Garden State Margherita, for example, is sauced with crushed New Jersey heirloom tomatoes and oozes with fresh, milky buffalo mozzarella from Sussex County. For some of the best pasta this side of Liguria, make a reservation at Pasta dal Cuore , a pasta shop owned by Elena Cartagena, who makes fresh pasta every morning. 

This city does a great job of satisfying sweet tooths, too. You can get a box of mixed cookies in flavors like cinnamon whiskey crackle from the excellent Bang Cookies or a rich banana pudding from Filipino-owned dessert shop Baonanas. Chase either with a coffee from Clo Coffee Co., a pandemic-born business that is trying to change the conversation around quality, sustainable coffee. When you’re ready for cocktail hour, grab a seat at the bar at Frankie, an Australian-inspired spot, to sip on one of their house cocktails or a pour from their selection of natural wines from Europe and Australia. And when it’s time to go home, grab a souvenir bottle of whiskey or gin from local favorite Corgi Spirits. —Lauren Musni

There are many delicious reasons Tucson was designated a UNESCO city of gastronomy in 2015. 

Arizona’s second-largest city is the land of flour tortillas, and to do a visit justice, you should optimize your trip for maximum tortilla consumption, fitting in as many of the fresh, piping hot disks as you can in between visits to Tucson’s quirky and charming museums (there’s one dedicated entirely to miniatures) and hikes through the Saguaro National Park.

In 2015, Tucson was designated a City of Gastronomy by UNESCO, and many guidebooks will point you to tourist-oriented spots like the 100-year-old El Charro Café. El Charro’s history alone makes it worth visiting for a quick snack, like the carne seca cheese crisp, a giant open-faced quesadilla topped with gooey cheese and piles of desert air–dried beef. However, the restaurants that really make the city great are not necessarily found in guidebooks, such as La Indita, which serves all the classics of a sit-down Mexican restaurant but also offers dishes like gently fried Tarascan tacos that honor founder Maria Garcia’s Tohono O’odham heritage. 

But back to tortillas. Make your first stop one of the three locations of La Estrella Bakery for the best doughnuts in the state and a package of tortillas so fresh that you can eat them plain from the bag while driving over to Anita’s Street Market. The tiny neighborhood shop has a charming backyard that is perfect for consuming their egg-and-cheese-stuffed breakfast burrito. Follow that up with another bag of tortillas for good measure from St. Mary’s Mexican Food, which also makes the best beans and rice in town. Tacos Apson is next for a solid bean-and-cheese burrito (or burros, in the local parlance), and finish the day at Taqueria Pico De Gallo (2618 S. Sixth Ave.) for a quesadilla that arrives to your table rippling with bubbles and oozing with stretchy, salty cheese­.

It’s easy to fill up on tortillas and beans, but to come to Tucson and leave without eating at least one Sonoran dog would be a mistake. The Sonoran dog typically arrives on a soft bolillo roll and is loaded up with pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, onions, mayonnaise, mustard, and salsa verde—a combination that, as one fellow visitor observed, makes Chicago dogs look “extremely boring.” You can find the best versions at El Güero CaneloBK Tacos, which even offers a version made with a vegetarian hot dog; and Ruiz Hot Dogs Los Chipilones (1140 S. Sixth Ave.), which separates itself by serving its version on a toasted bun. 

All those tacos, tortillas, and hot dogs are best washed down with a glass or two of wine from Arizona winery Sand-Reckoner, which cellars its wine and offers tastings in the sandstone basement of the recently opened “wine hotel” The Citizen Hotel. Tucson is also a great coffee town, thanks in part to the presence of the University of Arizona, with spots like Exo Roast Co.don’t skip the mole dulce latte) and Presta, which makes the most refreshing espresso tonic in the city. 

And when you can’t eat a single tortilla ever again, a new slate of Tucson restaurants offers you a reprieve: spicy and garlicky hand-pulled noodles at Noodleholics, game-changing loaves at Barrio Bread, ambitious baked goods from 5 Points Market & Restaurant, pillowy pizzas and market vegetables from Anello, and silky-smooth chocolates made with local ingredients from Monsoon Chocolate. Maybe pack an extra suitcase: The tortillas, bread, and chocolate all travel incredibly well. —Khushbu Shah

Charlotte, North Carolina

The city and surrounding region are filled with ingenuity and forward-looking food projects.

Charlotte has always been fertile ground for culinary creativity, with rural roots just beneath the surface. Last year, that rich terrain inspired Subrina and Greg Collier (a 2022 James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef: Southeast), the couple at the helm of Leah & Louise—famous for their smoked catfish stew with rice grits, field peas, and candied peppers and their iconic “river chips” (crispy chicken skins)—to launch the BayHaven Food & Wine Festival, a three-day event that honors Black chefs and foodways in the Southeast.

Other forward-looking food projects abound around town: A former textile mill is reborn as Optimist Hall, cultivating a collection of artisans like Zhang Qian, aka The Dumpling Lady; Meherwan Irani of Botiwalla, a counter-service restaurant serving Indian street food; and Fonta Flora Brewery, which makes hyperlocal microbrews. More established, but no less innovative, The Market at 7th Street, a nonprofit food hall, has nurtured emerging food entrepreneurs for 10 years. Its tenants include Orrman’s Cheese Shop, where Rachel Klebaur and her husband, José Espinosa, sell artisan cheeses and offer raclette nights, grown-up grilled cheese, and wine pairings; and Momo Station, a food truck–turned–fixture where owner AJ Dhital makes Nepalese dumplings according to a family recipe, as well as Asian-inspired tacos, rice bowls, lo mein, and kathi rolls.

Since 2004, the Johnson & Wales University Charlotte campus has been a fruitful contributor to the local food scene; in 2021, alums Jamie Barnes and Greg Williams opened What the Fries in South Charlotte, serving tasty loaded fries and burgers at a restaurant that’s the latest expansion of their catering business of the same name. Chefs have also come from outside the region to plant the seeds for new concepts. It’s been about a decade since Rocco Whalen, a Wolfgang Puck protégé, opened Fahrenheit, a contemporary rooftop restaurant in the Second Ward neighborhood. Cloud Bar by David Burke and Red Salt by David Burke inside Uptown’s Le Méridien hotel are the newest, most visible examples of the value that chefs from all over see in the metro. Top Chef alum Jamie Lynch, who moved to town in the wake of 9/11, opened Church and Union Charlotte, formerly 5Church, and French-style brasserie La Belle Helene to critical acclaim.

Charlotte’s reach extends past the city limits to include the five surrounding counties and dips into South Carolina. At the northern outskirts of the metropolitan area are Davidson and Cornelius, where James Beard–nominated Joe and Katy Kindred of Kindred and Hello, Sailor reside, feeding guests legendary milk bread and fish-camp-style plates. Anothercouple, Kevin Sr. and Denise Jonas (yes, those Jonases), have managed their sons’ careers since they started in the entertainment industry but returned to Belmont to open Nellie’s Southern Kitchen in honor of Kevin’s grandmother.—Nikki Miller-KA

Small Cities with Big Food Scenes

Bozeman has long been better known for its natural wonders than its restaurants. But when the pandemic hit, those mountain panoramas became extra magnetic, and urban transplants flocked to the college town. One result? Its culinary scene exploded with global flavors. In the past year, more than a dozen restaurants dedicated to a singular obsession have opened in Bozeman, be it sushi at Izakaya Three Fish or barbecue at Bourbon. You can now find heirloom blue corn tortillas filled with seven-hour-braised prime chuck roast at Last Call Modern Mexican, baguettes and viennoiseries from a Paris-born and -trained pastry chef at Aurore Bakery, and vegan ramen and adventurous omakase at Tanoshii, the newest spot from longtime Bozeman chef Daniel Wendell. Recent transplants are making their mark, too, like James Beard Award winner and longtime Commander’s Palace chef Tory McPhail, who left New Orleans last year to join Aaron Parker’s restaurant group as culinary director, along with his sommelier wife, Britt, who is advising on the sake list at Dave’s Sushi. And the 2020 opening of the Kimpton Armory Hotel (rooms from $229, armoryhotelbzn.comfinally gave Bozeman its first boutique stay, complete with the town’s only rooftop bar, a whiskey lounge, and a farm-to-table restaurant. —Jen Murphy

Think of Biddeford as Portland, Maine’s quiet older sister with great taste—the one you ask for recommendations on nicely curated bottle shops and vintage clothing boutiques. A 30-minute drive south gets you from Portland to Biddeford; check into The Lincoln Hotel, a new 33-room boutique property in a former textile mill opening this summer (rooms from $299, lincolnhotelmaine.com). Visit Magnus on Water for Brunswick clams and a glass of sparkling Chenin Blanc, and carb load at Night Moves Bread, known for breads like anadama, a loaf made here with nixtamalized heirloom flint corn and molasses. For a soul-soothing cardamom bun, you’ll want to head to Jackrabbit Cafe from 2011 F&W Best New Chef Bowman Brown—once you’ve fallen in love with his food, book a table for his nightly tasting menu at Elda, just upstairs. You’d be remiss to skip a pilgrimage to Rabelais, which has one of the country’s largest selections of rare cookbooks, as well as a breakfast stop at vintage comfort food mecca Palace Diner. Oh, and that bottle shop recommendation? It’s Lorne Wine. —Oset Babür-Winter

Charlottesville, Virginia

Charlottesville has emerged as a vibrant dining destination. The city’s first food hall, Dairy Market, brings together some of the area’s brightest talent, like local restaurateur Wilson Richey of South and Central, a steakhouse inspired by the grilling cultures of South and Central America, and Angelic Jenkins of Angelic’s Kitchen, where crispy fried whiting dredged in her signature seafood breading is the specialty. Along the Rivanna River, The Wool Factory, a lovingly preserved historic textile mill, offers three distinct options: ales at Selvedge Brewing, fine dining at Broadcloth, and coffee-wine nook The Workshop. For exceptional pastries like brioche feuilletée and the original Prezzant (a flaky, chewy pretzel-croissant hybrid), drop in to European-inspired bakery MarieBette. Proving that the tiniest restaurants can indeed be the mightiest are the colorful Conmole, where Benos Bustamante prepares moles based on family recipes from growing up in Oaxaca, and Luce, a hole-in-the-wall doling out fresh pastas like the Bolo (pappardelle tossed with pork ragù, mint, and toast crumbs) in paper cups to go. Because the region is the birthplace of American wine, a visit to In Vino Veritas by industry superstar Erin Scala is a must. To all of the above, add last year’s reopening of the renovated Keswick Hall (rooms from $423, keswick.com), and there have never been more compelling reasons to visit. —Katie Chang 

Greenville, South Carolina

Once a sleepy mill town, today Greenville hums with culinary energy. Thanks to the nearby headquarters of BMW and Michelin stimulating the local economy and attracting a culturally diverse workforce, restaurant menus are inventive and constantly evolving. Have dinner at The Anchorage, where returning local chef Greg McPhee (formerly of Husk in Charleston) and his team reinvent the menu every 10 days, or hit up Camp for an eclectic, global roster of shareable small plates. For a more casual vibe, at The Commons food hall, there’s GB&D, where chef Alex George and his crew not only sling “a ridiculous number” of the most golden brown and delicious cheeseburgers (hence the name), but they also join forces to dial up the ever-changing dinner and cocktail menu. The next day, swing by Methodical Coffee in the same hall for coffee with a master’s degree, grab street tacos and chorizo smashburgers at Comal 864, drink craft Belgian beer underground at The Trappe Door, and then perk up at Society Sandwich Bar & Social Club with the Post Balone, starring fried bologna and a drippy fried egg. Grab a loaf of salt-studded stecca bread at Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery, rent a bike, and pedal the Swamp Rabbit Trail out to Travelers Rest for a late breakfast of crêpes at Tandem or an early dinner at the Topsoil Kitchen & Market, helmed by 2020 James Beard Awards semifinalist Adam Cooke. —Josh Miller