My mother was the best cook I’ve ever known. We grew up on a farm eating home-grown, home cooked meals. What restaurant can compete with that? I don’t think I even realized our hometown had restaurants until I was about 10 years old. Mom once took us into a small diner partway through a shopping day, just to get us all something to drink, and my sister and I were awestruck. We started nudging each other and whispering that it was just like what people did on tv! Then I imagine mom felt sorry for her poor ignorant and deprived offspring and went all out and ordered us something to eat as well. I have no memory now of what we ate, but I know we talked about the experience for days.
When I was in highschool we used to walk downtown to the Lido Cafe, a Chinese restaurant where it took all of our cafeteria lunch money to get one egg roll with plum sauce. But the whole point was to get away from the school, maybe consider skipping a class or two, and see how many cigarettes we could smoke in half an hour. The food was hardly a consideration.
Eating out has always been more about the people I’m with, the ambiance and the atmosphere, the service and the presentation. Plus I like just about anything at all that somebody else prepares, so it’s hard to nail down a favourite.
When I was a teenager, there was a concession stand at the beach though, that made the absolute best french fries I’ve ever eaten. They were made with fresh potatoes, peeled and chopped right there behind the counter. Some one told me they had three different fryers with oil at various temperatures, and every batch had to go through each carefully timed stage. The wait was worth it.
The fries were hot and crisp and salty and the oil and vinegar soaked through the paper cone on our way back across the sand. Before we were even plunked back down on our beach blanket the gulls would be circling, screeching, ready to dive bomb and scoop up whatever was dropped.
But do I really remember how they tasted? Or were they that good because the sun was hot on our sun lotioned skin, the breeze from the lake was warm and fresh, the sand felt soft between our toes? Was it because there were always guys with a football or a frisbee showing off while they waited for us to join their game? And later when we were hot and out of breath, the water would feel amazing?
The company, the atmosphere, and the presentation – that little concession stand on the beach had it all. I’ve had excellent seafood meals in posh places with exemplary service and fabulous wine. But the sun and the sand were missing. There were no screaming seagulls. The fries were tasty, but without that subtle hint of Coppertone, they’re just not the same.