Emily Heller Loves Fried Cheese

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Emily Heller has been in the stand-up game for over seven years, and has since then lived and performed in San Francisco, New York, and finally Los Angeles. In the last few years, she’s appeared as a cast member of the TV show Ground Floor, worked as a staff writer on Surviving Jack, and performed on Conan. She recently finished her first national stand-up tour, going from Austin to Denver, Madison to Charleston, and lots of cities in between. She was nice enough to sit down with Paste to talk about her eating experiences on the road, and even provided a few snapshots.

Paste: I heard you’re a vegetarian. Was that hard to deal with on your tour?
Emily Heller: I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 13. I grew up in the Bay Area, so it’s never been a difficult choice for me. The only time I really notice it is when I’m traveling, but the options are so much better now for vegetarians. People are eating healthier everywhere, and that used to just be a coastal, metropolitan thing. It’s a big shift since 10 or 15 years ago.

Paste: Do you ever eat at comedy clubs?
EH: It depends on if I’ve been traveling that day, and I usually try and check the menu of the club before I plan on eating there. But a lot of times, especially if you’re headlining, clubs will have menus for nearby restaurants and they’ll go get you stuff if you want them to, even if they have food. Everyone that works at a club thinks the food is terrible, because they’ve been eating it so much. It’s universal to all clubs, everyone is like “You really don’t have to eat the food here. We totally get it, here’s some nice Thai places nearby.”

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Emily Heller

Paste: Was it easy to find good places nearby the venues?
EH: On this tour, I didn’t end up working at too many venues that were far away from other places to go eat, so I had good options. I’m not a super adventurous eater, but I’ll work to try and find the places that I should be eating at. Food is definitely my biggest splurge. Food and Amazon is where my money goes.

Paste: So, for you, food is something worth spending money on?
EH: Food has such a big effect on whether you have a good show, whether you have fun on the road, what kind of mood you’re in, what kind of energy you have. It’s also a way to feel like you’re not wasting your time in a new city. You don’t get to do a bunch of fun things, so food is your way in. It makes me feel like I’m experiencing something new.

Paste: Do you not get to do any fun touristy stuff?
EH: Usually when you go to places, people are like “You’ve got to go to the museum” or “You’ve got to go do this thing and do that thing.” But it’s just unrealistic as a comedian. I’m not going to go walk around a museum for a couple of hours and then stand on stage for two hours at two different shows. It’s not going to happen. And also I don’t care. I was an art history major, and I still don’t go to museums on tour. Don’t expect any other comedians to do it.

Paste: How do you figure out where to eat?
EH: Yelp has made it a lot easier to find stuff nearby. I should leave more Yelp reviews, I feel guilty. I benefit so greatly from them. But I did read a Yelp review of a restaurant where someone gave one star because they ordered a party platter, and they didn’t pick it up. They just completely forgot. And they gave the restaurant a one star review because they said they should have called them to remind them. So you have to investigate a little further beyond what the star rating is.

Paste: What were some of your favorite food stops on the tour?
EH: When I went to the South, my boyfriend went with me and we drove from Nashville to Atlanta, and Atlanta to Charleston, and then flew to New Orleans. Because there was someone else with me, it became kind of an adventure to find places to eat. Easily the best food item I ate on the tour and possibly my entire life was from Hominy Grill in Charleston, SC.

Paste: I’ve eaten there!
EH: You have? Did you have the chocolate pudding?

Paste: No, I didn’t.
EH: You fucked up so bad. You fucked up so bad! It was unbelievable. We were scared to say it was the best dessert we’ve ever had, but we did say it was the best chocolate dessert we’ve ever had.

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Emily Heller

Paste: Wow. What else was good?
EH: We got lucky on a few of our meals where Yelp came in handy and we just happened to order something amazing. There were these fried oyster mushrooms that we ate from a place in New Orleans called The Franklin. They tasted like fried chicken but they were mushrooms.

I’m not sure how much weight I gained on this tour, but I think ten pounds. So by the time I got to Madison towards the end of the tour, I wasn’t sure I had it in me to eat that many cheese curds, but that’s what everyone was telling me to eat. I had them maybe twice while I was there, which is crazy for a normal week but not crazy for a week in Madison. They’re everywhere and they’re so good. They’re like mozzarella sticks but with more surface area for frying and better cheese. I’ve said before that if mozzarella sticks are on a menu, I feel obligated to order them because of how much I like them. And my friend [comedian] Sean Donnelly said to me one time “You know, sometimes if they’re not on the menu, they’ll still make them for you.” And I was like “Don’t tell me that! That’s not information I need!” How much of a fat ass am I going to sound like saying “So I know they’re not on the menu, but would you make me some fried cheese please?”

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“Cheese curds I bought at the Madison airport, then had to eat the entire bag because my flight was cancelled and the hotel they put me up in didn’t have a fridge.”

Paste: Any quick tips for LA eating?
EH: I love Astroburger. Astroburger on Melrose has an amazing vegetarian ham sandwich. They have Morningstar Farms vegetarian bacon, and they have breakfast pitas that have veggie sausage in them that’s really good. I’ll plan my LAX [airport] route to stop at Astroburger on the way. Vegetarians of Los Angeles, Astroburger is your friend. But only the one of Melrose! They have the vegetarian ham.

Laurel Randolph is a food and lifestyle writer hailing from Tennessee and living in Los Angeles. She enjoys cooking, baking and candlestick making. Tweet at her face: @laurelrandy.

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