Sometimes you get a yen–no one can explain why. The other night, for me, it was fried chicken. And I wanted to eat it, not make it. And coming from farm stock on both sides, KFC would not do, nor would nuggets, or strips or Buffalo wings. Chicken pieces, on the bone, fried. Somehow, in the slow drift of years, this has become a scarce commodity. Once a staple of every diner and mom-and-pop restaurant in the North Country, it’s now the ivory-billed woodpecker of American cuisine. I couldn’t even find it on anyone’s occasional specials menu. Not in reasonable dine-out distance. What happened?
Well, the obvious of course. Fast food franchises and convenience stores have cut the family restaurant off at the knees. And the surviving independent restaurants have mostly moved up the food chain. Plenty of Mediterranean pesto chicken–no summer childhood chicken.
Don’t get me wrong–I love the new diversity in dining–I’m happy as a clam with everything from Thai to Tibetan, Ethiopian to Ecuadoran. But I also want the comfort food I grew up with from time to time. There should still be a place for it on the collective dining menu. So I ask, where do I go to find these one-time commonplaces?…
- Apple pie, made on the premises, from fruit, not tin, served a la mode or (bonus points) with sharp cheddar cheese
- Hot meatloaf sandwich with fries (from fresh potatoes) and gravy
- A less than bucket-sized cup of coffee in a thick-walled china mug
- Macaroni and cheese–no, I mean actual cheese
- Homemade baked beans
- Chocolate cake that didn’t arrive via freezer truck
- A long formica counter with a couple of old gasbags permanently ensconced at one end, and a mouthy waitress behind
- An honest milkshake, assembled before your eyes and buzzed up in a stainless steel mixer cup
- And did I mention fried chicken?
I could go on, but it’s making me really hungry. Not too long ago, you could settle all (or almost all) of the above hankerings at any wide spot in the road. No more.
Add your own contributions to the most-mourned list, and more importantly, your suggestions of where to go to find the dwindling remnants of great diner fare in the North Country, in a comment below. We are making a map of your recommendations (see below).