The New Yorker's Calvin Trillin loves food while despising the tres haut Francophile gourmet -- the kind who can produce a dissertation on the proper consistency of sauce Bearnaise. Trillin knows that the search for good food requires constant vigilance particularly when outside the Big Apple. Not that Cincinnati and Houston and Kansas City (his hometown) lack magnificent places to eat -- if one can resist the importunities of those well meaning ignoramuses who insist on hauling you off to La Maison de la Casa House, the pride of local epicures too dumb to realize that the noblest culinary creations of the American heartland are barbecued ribs, fried chicken, hash browns and hamburgers. Trillin is ready to do battle for K.C.'s Winstead's as the home of the greatest burger in the USA. Generally, he advises, you will do fine if you avoid ""any restaurant the executive secretary of the chamber of commerce is particularly proud of."" Also, any restaurant with (ply)wood paneling and ""atmosphere,"" where the food is likely to taste ""something like a medium-rare sponge."" This then is not a celebration of multi-star ""restaurants"" but of diners, roadhouses, eateries -- the kind that serve food on wax paper or plastic plates and to hell with Craig Claiborne. With tongue in stuffed cheek Trillin gives the finger to the food snobs, confessing his secret vices with fiendish glee and high good humor.

American Fried