My mom and I were having a conversation last night and we got on to the subject of places you cherish from your past – especially from childhood. I found this to be an interesting conversation because I realized that I didn’t have many PLACES that I remembered growing up going to religiously. As a child, my mom and I moved around a lot. My mom sacrificed a lot for me that I couldn’t fully appreciate until I was older and a parent myself. She moved us around so that I could be in a school district that had a better curriculum or where the job market wasn’t as depressing during the partisanly touted “Reagan Revolution” of the 80’s. What I realized, was that my childhood memories center around FOOD, not places.
One of my earliest memories was living in Houston at the time, and going back to New York City to stay with my Aunt for the summer. Every other week or so, we’d head over to a deli on 106th street and order a couple of pounds of Genoa Salami. My mouth would water as she’d take a couple of slices of Wonder Bread (R.I.P.), layer it with some Miracle Whip and Goulden’s Spicy Brown mustard, some Swiss cheese and layers of succulent salami. It was a little bit of heaven on Earth. Later, she’d take me to the bodega on 1st Avenue and buy what I considered at the time to be the food of Gods – Marino’s Italian Ice. I seriously overdosed on this stuff all summer and every single year I stayed at my Aunt’s apartment.
My mom once took me to a Chinese food restaurant and ordered me a dish that I haven’t stopped eating in probably over 30 years. It literally set the course of my love affair with Asian food and (to my wife’s chagrin) the only take-out food I would eat for the first 14 years of our relationship – Shrimp Egg Foo Young. I don’t know what it is. It’s not the most pleasurable looking dish. It’s basically a fried omelette of vegetables and shrimp, slathered in brown gravy – but LAAAAAWD it’s good.
Up until my wife pretty much made me a believer and convert with her dish, the ONLY fried catfish I’d eat was at this little shop that my mom would drive two hours to called, King Fish. It was WORTH every single second of the trek out to this little hole-in-the-wall shop. My mom would buy dozens of strips and we’d munch incessantly all the way home. To this day, I don’t eat fried catfish that either my wife has prepared or hasn’t come from this shop somewhere in the boonies of Texas.
Lastly, one of the highlights of my childhood was riding down the nearest Fudruckers and getting one of those large, juicy hamburgers with steak fries. Now, Fudruckers has declined CONSIDERABLY in quality since I was a kid. It was an event for me as a kid to go this restaurant. As you entered the establishment and got in line, there would be a glass enclosed area where you could see the rows of side of beef hanging in the meat locker. As you approached the order station, there would be little signs that would explain the sizes of beef patties and the various ways they could be cooked. Once you got your order, you could dip any style of melted cheese out black cauldrons and layer your sandwich with any numerous types of makings and condiments. As a kid, that sandwich felt like it was the width of a frisbee and thicker than my mouth could manage – but I always did, and ate every. single. bit. To top it off, at the cash register near the exit, we’d order a dozen chocolate chip or macadamia nut cookies for the trip home. That was a great memory. I don’t know if the company just decided to scale it down or if it’s just the ones I go to, but it’s basically another burger shop with decent sandwiches, but much less of the magic than it had in the past.
Regardless, this trip down memory lane has made me hungry.