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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Different Diner, the Same Daughter, More Deliberations

Athens, Ohio, just off campus of Ohio University

It's a dreadfully humid August day in southeastern Ohio. Spicy Food Guy and Intellectual Eldest Daughter of Spicy Food Guy (IEDOSFG) are visiting the campus of Ohio University, where IEDOSFG will be matriculating as a freshman in the Honors Tutorial College in just a few weeks. We are taking a break from the heat to have lunch at the Court Diner.

The diner is old school; a trailer style New Jersey diner with chrome fixtures that have rounded edges. SFG's booth sags in the middle and is partly held together with duct tape. Right next to SFG's left leg, foam sticks through a fist sized hole in the seat. The Court Diner has clearly fed thousands of OU students at all hours of the day and night through countless sleepless semesters. If the diner was a car, it would be a run-down jeep with 190,000 miles. It would qualify for Cash for Clunkers.

But Spicy Food Guy digresses.

It is a serious conversation, between Dad and Daughter, here in this diner. There are some upperclassmen milling about campus. IEDOSFG is only a couple weeks away from living here.

It's getting real.

IEDOSFG is contemplating her decisions. She wants to love it here, she wants desperately to have a joyful and rich experience. She doesn't say that in so many words, but her eyes scream it.

The waitress is here.

SFG orders the four cheese mac & cheese on penne pasta with breadcrumbs and garlic toast. At $7.49, SFG notes wryly, this is the most expensive item on the menu. IEDOSFG orders a cheeseburger and fries. The food arrives and it is excellent. SFG wolfs down the mac & cheese. IEDOSFG is more tentative with her food, pushing it around her plate; to match her mood, perhaps.

Spicy Food Guy is not really that worried. IEDOSFG is hardwired to enjoy herself wherever she is. This is the kid who had the "best Christmas ever" every Christmas. She will be fine, here in the Honors Tutorial College at OU.

SFG thoughts are more about time and self-reflection. "I was just here," he says a bit incredulously, softly to himself, "Not this campus, not this State, but I was here, here in a place just like this."

"I was young and strong and scared and delirious. And it was like, only a few months ago. My parents should be dropping me off here. Where in the world did almost 30 years (that can't be right!) go?"

Spicy Food Guy supposes he is not much different than the Court Diner. We both sag a bit in the middle. Some foam is starting to poke through the holes. And Spicy Food Guy has some duct tape on his soul.

But Spicy Food Guy stays silent about all that. There is too much promise in the humid air today. Despite her uncertainty, IEDOSFG eyes gleam. She wants challenge. Demands it. She is eager to move in with her roommate, go to class, embrace the experience. Today, SFG is here as a driver, and this trip is all about his passenger. Today, there is a sense of rightness, of scary excitement, a sense of no limits.

Good luck and godspeed, IEDOSFG. Inhale it all. And if Dad has a piece of advice, it is to savor your food. A good mac & cheese can provide a great deal of perspective if you are paying attention. And a good meal with close friends in a romping college restaurant is a treasure. So is lunch with Dad in some old diner. And to paraphrase a good writer named Luke, "wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

I'll miss you.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

SFG Answers the "Red Chile Sauce Versus Green Chile Sauce" Debate

There are debates so fundamental in nature that, when resolved, will unravel those mysteries that represent the very fabric of the universe. These debates are so critical that the fates of living worlds lie in the balance. You know the questions: 1) does string theory represent the key to unlocking grand unification in the field of physics, 2) is the designated hitter an abomination to the game of baseball, and 3) is red chile sauce or green chile sauce the best topping for huevos rancheros?

By the way, the answers are yes, yes, and red chile sauce (but just barely). Is Spicy Food Guy good, or what? He is the Judge Judy of quantum physics and the culinary judicial system. You set 'em up, SFG will knock 'em down.

Lest you think Spicy Food Guy did not apply critical analysis to the red chile sauce versus green chile sauce debate, consider the picture above. SFG prepared a plate of rancheros: flour tortilla topped with refried beans, two fried eggs (over easy), jalapeno peppers, and white cheddar and monterey jack cheese. He topped half of this delectable dish with New Mexican Red Chile Sauce, and half with New Mexican Green Chile Sauce. Spicy Food Guy is also the modern day Solomon of culinary justice; split it in half and the truth will come forth. But does the end result look like the best breakfast ever, or what?

The contest was, in racing terms, a photo finish. The green chile sauce had a tad more authenticity and the better texture. The red chile sauce had a more pleasing and complex flavor; some sweetness and smokiness with a lick of garlic and onions -- with the right amount of heat. And the red color made a more arresting visual presentation, for you uptight foodie types that care about that sort of thing.

The debate is over, the question is answered. Red chile sauce by a nose. So says Spicy Food Guy.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Arthur's Tavern is a Carnivore's Dream

For reason's best left unknown to the American public, Spicy Food Guy recently found himself hungry and thirsty in Morris Plains, New Jersey. The motto of Morris Plains is "A Community of Caring". It should be "A Community Where Meat Eaters Gather to Gorge Themselves". But Spicy Food Guy digresses.

Fortunately, Spicy Food Guy was accompanied by Fun Meat Loving Friends of Spicy Food Guy (FMLFOSFG), and we had reservations at Arthur's Tavern. Arthur's is a meat lover's place, with a menu filled with steaks, ribs, pork chops, and burgers. The decor is western tavern with red and white checkered tablecloths. And best of all, the draft beer comes in 34oz "mugs" reminiscent of Bavarian beer steins. There is zero chance Spicy Food Guy or FMLFOSFG are going to leave with available space in their bellies.

Spicy Food Guy ordered the full rack of ribs, and the FMLFOSFG immediately across from SFG ordered the 24 oz ribeye. And for the hell of it, SFG and three other conspirators ordered the award winning cheeseburger, get this, as a side.

So Spicy Food Guy ate the ribs (which were succulent), a portion of his neighbor's award winning ribeye (medium rare, flavorful and juicy), and part of the famous cheeseburger (to die for), all of which was washed down with a really big beer. SFG then waddled home, happy and ready to hibernate.

Arthur's Tavern is not where you take your vegan girlfriend (who you should probably break up with anyway). It's a place you go to pig out. On meat. So says Spicy Food Guy.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Crab Cakes and Eggs at Richmond's River City Diner

As my two regular readers will attest, Spicy Food Guy usually does not disclose the purposes behind SFG's travel. SFG is elusive that way.

But it is the height of summer. The car is hot, the kids are irritable. Great time for a family vacation. The road beckons. Specifically, the road says "Come down to the Outer Banks and gorge on warm Duck Donuts", but that is the subject of another post.

So we have a family of five packed into Spicy Food Guy's Lincoln Navigator. There would have been six, but Intellectual Eldest Daughter of Spicy Food Guy (IEDOSFG) wisely opts out of what is shaping up to be an eight day Survivor game of out-whine, out-cry, and out-pout the other family members.

The ride down and it is dinner time in Richmond Virginia. The Family of Spicy Food Guy decides to try the River City Diner in the north part of the city. The diner is brightly lit in a 50's style car motif. Friendly staff, great menus, hard place not to smile.

And the food is hearty, delicious, and filling. Spicy Food Guy orders the Crab Cake and Eggs on the grounds that he likes crab cakes, likes eggs, but has never thought to combine the two. The combination works in that odd kind of "I never would have thought of this" kind of way. Added bonus: SFG gets to eat in relative silence because kids and step-kids of Spicy Food Guy cannot speak with their mouths gorged with eggs, bacon, grits, and other southern comfort foods. All in all, a big hit. The kids order thick, frosty milkshakes to go.

Some seven days later, the Spicy Food Guy family would hit the River City Diner again on the way home. That's extra bases in the world of dining, and that's a baseball metaphor in a summer story. Spicy Food Guy is just clever that way.
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