The proliferation of travel shows on Food Network means the channel is forever showing footage of countless clam shacks, barbecue joints, sandwich shops and hot dog stands.
Actually, someone has counted. Albert Marks' closely-guarded spreadsheet lists 3,116 restaurants that have appeared on Food Network: His intent is to eat at as many of them as he can.
"So far, every place I have been has been amazing, except two, one being mediocre, and another being downright awful," Marks writes on his blog, The Shil-Shul Diaries, which he uses to document his now five-year old project. (The name is a bilingual joke: Shilshul is Hebrew for diarrhea.)
Marks says the 3,116 figure isn't perfectly precise: He's pasted in restaurants lifted from "best of" lists in magazines, and he hasn't eliminated repeat references to the same place. Hominy Grill, for example, merits five mentions.
Hominy was one of five restaurants Marks crossed off his list on a recent visit to Charleston; he and his wife, Rachel, were in town visiting the friends who first suggested Marks blog about his endeavor.
At Hominy, Marks ordered the fried green tomatoes, which he deemed "amazing." While Food Network shows determine Marks' eating itinerary, he doesn't necessarily try the dish featured on TV. He made an exception, though, for the coconut cake at Peninsula Grill, the first of Marks' Charleston stops to produce a blog post.
"Hands down, no questions asked, easily one of the best cakes and desserts I have ever had," he wrote.
The cake nearly redeemed what Marks otherwise considered a fairly mediocre meal: "This place is stuffy; everyone judges you based on who you are or aren't; what you are wearing or should be wearing. As I got through the meal, it tasted more and more like a meal I could have at a wedding." (He had kinder words for the service and oyster stew.)
In general, happy exclamation points are more common than complaints on Marks' blog. "I like to share the great eats of the country and leave the critiques to the professionals," he says. But he can't always help himself in the presence of a white tablecloth: "I tend to be attracted more to the greasy spoons than the amuse bouche of duck confit," he admits.
He was very comfortable at EVO ("The trifecta pizza was the best pizza I have ever had,") and Butcher & Bee ("I cannot begin to explain how much I loved this place.")
According to Marks, there isn't much of a correlation between restaurant quality and Food Network show: Shows including "Man v. Food Nation," "Food Feuds," "Food Wars," "Meat and Potatoes" and "Best Food Ever" - along with the better-known Food Network titles - have all led him to memorable meals he says he wouldn't have discovered otherwise.
At a rate of a few dozen restaurants a year, Marks hasn't made much of a dent in the list, which he continues to update with every new episode. But he has enjoyed a lobster roll at Red's Eats in Maine; a cheeseburger at The White Stop in Charlottesville and meatloaf cupcakes in Chicago.
Likening his spreadsheet to a secret barbecue sauce recipe, Marks defends his decision not to release the list he's compiled as a precaution against someone else taking credit for his hard work. But he adds that he replies to e-mails from prospective travelers interested in particular cities.
"I like telling people where to eat and having them report back about how good it was," he says. "I like knowing that I enhanced a person's travel and gastrointestinal experience."
Marks' blog lives at shilshuldiaries.blogspot.com.