Fresh & Local
The All-Time Favorite Meals
Column #56, Published Oct 12th, 2012
Being in the food business, Terry and I spend a lot of time talking about food. One recent discussion turned to the subject of our all-time favorite meals. That brought back a flood of memories.
When I was growing up, my family did not eat out at restaurants very often. When we did, it was always at Howard Johnson’s.
I realize that anyone born after 1980 may not remember Howard Johnson’s restaurants, but throughout the 1960s and 1970s, it was the largest restaurant chain in the U.S., with over 1,000 restaurants. Howard Johnson’s restaurants, with their iconic orange roofs, were everywhere.
I actually really enjoyed eating out at Howard Johnson’s because they had something no one else had: fried clams. Apparently, the fried clams were a specialty of the house and featured at the first Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Quincy, Massachusetts in the 1920s. The clams were a real treat and every time we ate at Howard Johnson’s, there was never any doubt about what I was going to order.
The one time I remember most clearly, my dad took us out to dinner to celebrate receiving a pay raise.
Back then, clams were unusual. I don’t ever remember seeing them in a grocery store, and I’m sure we never had them for dinner at home. Years later, I would also discover clams casino and linguini with clam sauce. But HoJos had them first.
The runner-up for my favorite meal happened when Terry and I were dating. Her parents had a neighbor who owned a restaurant in D.C. This neighbor invited us to come to dinner at their restaurant and they would do some special cooking for us. So we went, and it was terrific. I especially remember the crispy fried fish.
What is strange about this one is that Terry insists that she doesn’t remember the neighbor, the restaurant, or this night. In fact, she accused me of imagining the entire event. Fortunately, my 84-year old mother-in-law does remember this, and she backed up my story. Memories are funny things sometimes.
But my favorite meal came compliments of my father-in-law. Terry’s family owns an Italian grocery store in D.C. and back in the day the store had a big wholesale delivery business to D.C. area restaurants. Terry’s dad knew the owners of many of the restaurants, and when we went to visit Terry’s parents, her dad would often take us out to dinner at one of these restaurants.
Terry’s dad was good friends with Ermanno Tonizzo who owned The Alpine Restaurant in Arlington. Once when we went for a visit, he took everyone out to dinner there.
I remember that the waiter was a rotund man wearing a tuxedo with a red jacket and a black cummerbund. There was no need for menus. The waiter and Terry’s dad had an animated conversation – in Italian, of course – and then they started bringing the food. It was a formal Italian meal served in courses: antipasto, primi, secondi, contorni, dolce. It was truly an evening to remember.
These memories serve as a reminder that food is more than just fuel for the body. A good meal is a celebration of life and an opportunity to socialize with the people who are most important to us. Favorite meals are always interwoven with the memories of those people.
When my own kids come for a visit, we do some serious cooking. As my daughter told me, “That’s certainly one of the reasons we're sometimes overwhelmed with the urge to come home.”
Bryant Osborn and his wife Terry own Corvallis Farms in Culpeper County. His column on fresh and locally grown food runs every Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org