I am reminiscing this morning about all the wonderful places my husband and I have shared a meal together. Eating out has been something we’ve always enjoyed. Our first date was at Applegate’s Landing, a Midwestern version of an Italian restaurant in our little college town. Then there was Sal’s in Delano, California, our family gathering place for delicious, authentic Mexican food. Once while en route to California on a road trip with the kids, we ventured out in New Mexico for a dinner for two for some of the best Mexican fare I’ve ever eaten, and true to form, I can’t remember the name of the place. We had so few date nights in those days, everything about that meal from the chips and salsa to the honey we drizzled on our dessert tortillas, was special. Santa Fe’s Cafe Pascual’s and El Encanto in Scottsdale are two restaurants that we will make reservations for every time we are in proximity. El Encanto’s tamales, with their sweet masa, are unforgettable.
There was that Italian restaurant we were taken to on a job interview, “Papa or Mama–something.” This was the dinner where the 2-year-old son accompanied us. He was so well-behaved I think it actually worked in my husband’s favor because they offered him the job on the spot. While my husband conversed with his possible future employers, I scarfed down lasagna like only a woman in her third trimester can do.
Our week in Ireland several years ago provided us some of our most memorable eating experiences. In Sligo, we became chummy with our taxi driver (we had the same one for almost a week and on our favorite driver’s day off, his uncle came to pick us up). He even delivered our laundry to and from the laundry service place while we hiked Knocknarea, and as he transported us from place to place, we conversed about poetry and food. His mother was an amazing cook, and we were very close to securing an invitation to eat at her house. I think he wanted his family to experience listening to us butcher the pronunciations of all the local landmarks. At any rate, his suggestion for the best local food in Sligo was Lyon’s Cafe. We ate there several times for lunches–it was that good AND it was not pub food. I had remarked to Taxi-Driver-Friend that dark, damp, over-greasy fish and chips was not my thing. At the time, I did not appreciate Guinness the way I do now. I must go back. While in Sligo, we also ate at an amazing cafe on the coast with seafood chowder that tasted like a book taken at face value for a “beach read” that ends up a part of your inner life forever. The name escapes me (I should keep a food diary) but I remember the exterior clapboards were painted deep blue and there was a statue of Yeats nearby (not helpful in Sligo as a landmark…Yeats is everywhere). There was also a sign on the shoreline that read “For Yeats’ sake, pick up your rubbish!” While in Northern Ireland, Magherafelt in County Londonderry to be more exact, all we had to do for one of the best “fancy food” experiences of our lives was walk across the street from our Seamus Heaney B&B to Church Street Restaurant. We ate several suppers there and everything we consumed from the wine to appetizers to soups and salads to seafood, steak, chicken was delectable. My mouth waters as I remember. This was a place locals obviously loved but it also felt like a restaurant where important celebrations were taking place around us. It was humbly elegant.
The best pizza we’ve found in Chicago is Lou Malnati’s. Best French Fries–possibly Boise Fry Company, Boise, Idaho. The accompanying burgers were not bad either. As for barbecue, I’ve lived in Texas and Oklahoma and I’ve tried North Carolina’s smoked offerings. Of this I am most certain: KC Joe’s. The sauce. In a pinch, Hickory Hut in Salina works for us. Best meal while in Hawaii is a hole-in-the-wall Teriyaki place –Mark’s– that made us so happy, my husband put the name of the place in his phone so we can head there straight from the airport next time we are on the island of Kauai.
Prague was the site of two of the most expensive and formal dinners we have ever had the pleasure of partaking in. One took place in the famous “Fred and Ginger” building, compliments of Glen’s company, and the other was one of those 12-course delights where the Chef brings out two tablespoons of food with a wine pairing over and over until it ends up costing you hundreds of dollars per person, and like the Emperor in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” you find yourself, not naked, but starving (so “naked” in the metaphorical and gastronomical sense). The company of our friends made this memorable and fun and the room-service hamburger filled our growling stomachs at around midnight when the dinner finally ended.
The best meals are those that check all the boxes–ambiance, occasion, and ingredients. My favorite food memory shared with my husband took place at our 25th anniversary dinner in Asheville, NC, at the Grove Inn. I ordered a baked chicken with a delicious sauce that included sweetness, a bit of a kick and pecans. We dined outdoors with a stunning view of the Smoky Mountains. Our waitress was perfect–attentive but not intrusive–and, not only were we celebrating our anniversary, but earlier in the day our son had called us to tell us he was engaged to be married to his high school sweetheart.
While in Scotland on a company trip, we were served a feast fit for Mary Queen of Scots at Stirling Castle, one of the castles she lived in as a child. I have seldom tried a food I didn’t like, but on this evening, I couldn’t bring myself to try the haggis. Since traveling there, I have learned through 23-and-Me that my genetic profile is predominately Scottish, Irish, and Native American. In fact, some of the ancestors who immigrated to this country from Ireland, were also Scottish along with the the Scottish Scots. So in a sense, I’ve probably tasted haggis.
I’ve made several trips to Oregon in recent years to visit my daughter, son-in-law and grandson and I have to say that every bite of food from start to finish in this state has been delightful. Even the Portland Airport serves fresh, delicious food. The best French dip sandwich was eaten at my daughter’s butcher shop (also a lunch spot) in North Plains. We love Tom’s Fish and Chips at Cannon Beach, as well as the lovely breakfasts at my favorite hotel–The Stephanie Inn. The best news is foodies tend to begat foodies so when in Oregon, we have family to embark upon eating adventures with.
Once, with another daughter, I attended the Madison Food Festival, in Madison, WI. It will forever be a life-highlight. Macaroni and Cheese Pizza from Ian’s, Cheese-curds from everywhere, the best ice cream ever…everywhere. We would leave our hotel room, walk across the road and eat bread and cheese concoctions until we were so full we would hobble back to the hotel room and crash on the bed for a few hours. Then repeat. For three days. It felt both sinful and holy at the same time to do so. Mimosas and Brunch at the Old Fashioned topped off our long weekend. You think when you give birth to your daughters that you will have this long stretch of time for making memories, but life moves so quickly and there is always so much to do. I will never forget this time of laughter and eating and dream-sharing with my daughter. Also, I gained ten pounds in three days. I think it was my heart, not my stomach.