A Hidden Cove
There are magical phrases in life that conjure up imaginative and picturesque images for some of us, like home-style cooking and road-house. The first one has been severely beaten to death by diners across this nation who seem to think placing it under their signs makes the food taste better, somehow.
The second one, to me, says pirates, so you know where my heart lays with these two.
Steak never impressed me much until after I married. My mother’s version of home-style cooking could have, for certain entrees of hers, gotten the woman flogged and thrown in a dungeon had she decided to go public with her stove. This was a person who bragged that when she backed her car, she hit the brakes only at the sound of breaking glass, and when standing in front of her hot stove, she cooked about the same way.
Pork chops came to our table as thin, golden-brown and shoe-leather-tough curls of meat. She alone invented deep-dish pizza, to my way of thinking, but till this day I have never tasted, nor has anyone outside the borders of my immediate family, anything to match it, nor do I ever want to, nor should anyone else; friends or even foes.
She made a version of chop suey that was literally to die from.
I always cringe now in supermarkets when I pass by today’s modern selection of bottled juices, especially if I see colors like light green or pale orange, because the woman bought herself a juicer one year, and for one longest, hottest summer, her children were subjected to a gastronomical form of child abuse that has still not come to light on today’s tell-all talk-shows. I don’t think we are ready for that much transparency yet.
But steaks -- I later joined the Marines where I learned they had the best food in the world, until the cooks got hold of it. One of their steaks would cover an entire metal serving tray. You had to hold the edges just so to keep your hands from getting burned or greasy as you walked over to a table to sit down. I ate one steak there and gave up. The world must be crazy, I thought, with all this hoo-ha about steaks, and I guessed maybe mom wasn’t that bad after all when it came to this one particular cut of meat.
But then I got married, and then I ate a steak my bride cooked. And then I fell madly in love.
Not far from the cave here at the edge of the swamp is a road house. The place sets on a small rise out in the middle of the woods. The road curves sharply as you approach the crest, and because of the lay of the land and the thick forest on either side, a driver is apt to miss the small, Tudor-style building.
It’s also a geographically unappealing spot for another reason, for the large population of our native deer chose this stretch of road as their favorite place to cross, and signs of failures can be seen along the wayside much too often.
But the man or woman who decides to stop here is in for a treat. Inside the road house is a well-stocked bar. The old couple that run the place have managed to survive a long marriage by him sitting on a barstool and entertaining guest with ribald stories, and her either waiting tables or broiling the steaks. In between her double duties, she stands and snarls in his direction a lot.
A proper road house requires only a few heavy, dark-stained wooden booths, separated by similar partitions. It needs to serve basic foods, such as meat and potatoes, and of course it must have a well-stocked bar. The old pirate and his first mate have supplied them all, and I would be willing to give out the most accurate directions to this tucked-away spot if I were not afraid of being turned away someday by a long wait outside their door, so I won’t disturb either my reader with such boring details, or the crusty owners.
So what does any of this have to do with anything?
I wanted to take the wife out Monday to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, so I said let’s go get a steak. Her eyes lit up at the idea. But who would think that the road house in the forest paid attention to customs around here? Truth being a strange one, the place is always shut on Mondays, so we waited until tonight to have our fun.
I managed to drive there without hitting anything, and I also was able to pull off the road at the juncture of hill-and-curve without being struck myself, but only then did we discover a dark building and an empty lot. The old buccaneer had left a note saying he took his booty to Florida for a month, and so there we sat, hungry and forlorn.
What to do, what to do?
How about the place over by (and here I whispered the name), I asked her. My sweet lovely agreed, so we drove a few more miles to a modern version of a steak house.
It turned out okay, although I missed the bawdy stories terribly.
But as the wife mentioned later, “At least your mom wasn’t cooking.”