Pair puts taste to the test

The Road Bros are in town for a 'Best of the Road' visit focusing on best small-town food.

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Rand McNally judges Mike Shubic and Brian Cox for the Best of Road small town food town, talks with people at Chocolate Wine tasting room.

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A video camera operator tapes the festivities at the Chocolate Wines tasting room for the Rand McNally Best of the Road small food town.

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Mike Shubic talks with Walla Walla tourism director Michelle Liberty.

WALLA WALLA -- Spending all day eating may sound like a fantasy, but for Brian Cox and Mike Shubic, it's another day on the job.

For Cox and Shubic, who call themselves the "Road Bros," Walla Walla is the last stop on a cross-country road trip to taste the best small town food in America. They are one of five teams taking part in a month-long road trip across the country to judge Rand McNally's "Best of the Road" competition.

Walla Walla won the "Friendliest Small Town in America" award in last year's competition. The other towns in the running for this year's "Best for Food" award are Bloomington, Ind.; Burnsville, Minn.; Charlottesville, Va.; Lewiston, N.Y., and Santa Fe, N.M.

Shubic and Cox are both rofessional travel video bloggers who decided to pool their efforts and form team Road Bros. Cox, who is based in Barcelona, runs "The Travel Vlogger," and Shubic runs "Mike's Road Trip."

"It's like blogging, kind of on steroids," Cox said.

In addition to all of the tasting and other activities they do throughout their trip, Cox and Shubic are also producing their own videos, and they are being taped for a Travel Channel special.

While taking a trip around the country to sample the best food from small towns may seem like a dream job, Cox and Shubic have to be careful to ration their stomach space.

"We have a pretty simple rule," Cox said. "Everything gets at least one bite, if it's good, it'll get a second bite, if it's great, it'll get a third, and if it's really good, we're fighting over it."

The two judges will spend today and tomorrow in Walla Walla to experience the food, wine and culture of the Walla Walla Valley.

"I think that what we've put together is a pretty special package for these guys," said Andrae Bopp, owner of Andrae's Kitchen and one of the organizers for the judges' stay.

Restaurateur Tom Maccarone, another organizer and designated chaperone for the Road Bros, said he approached the challenge of showing them around Walla Walla like he would approach any other visit.

"It's no different than if I had friends coming in from Seattle or Portland for the weekend that had never been here," Maccarone said. "I want them to experience what we live here every day. We have a good life here."

In addition to sampling local food and wine, Cox and Shubic will be dining with a variety of figures from the local food and wine scene, including local farmers. Maccarone, who owns Olive Marketplace and T. Maccarone's, said he thought that was an important aspect of Walla Walla's food culture.

"We can always talk farm to table, and that's what a lot of people do, but I'm actually bringing the farmer to have dinner with these people and talk about their product," Maccarone said. "I think that's unique and different."

Asked about his hopes for the visit, Maccarone said he wanted the pair to enjoy the whole experience that Walla Walla has to offer.

"I want them to walk away thinking, 'That was amazing. The food was great, the wine was great, the experience was great, and the people were great,'" Maccarone said. "I want it all."

If everything goes according to plan, Maccarone and Bopp both said they thought Walla Walla had a good shot at taking the grand prize.

For their part, the Road Bros have been enjoying their time,

"It has definitely been a month of indulgence," Shubic said.

Cox agreed, but said he's looking forward to a break from the non-stop production schedule.

"We're definitely going to need to take a vacation from this vacation," he said. "But we're professional vacationers, so it shouldn't be a problem."

For more information on Team Road Bros., go to blog.bestoftheroad.com/road-bros/ and @roadbros on Twitter.

Mike Shubic can be found online at mikesroadtrip.com and @mikesroadtrip. Brian Cox can be found at thetravelvlogger.com and @travelvlogger.

Blair Hanley Frank can be reached at blairfrank@wwub.com or 526-8363.

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