Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ghosts of an Appetite

You’ll never hear me stop complaining about Indianapolis; what a bad place to be a food lover, with it’s tight-assed feel and omnipresent burger chains; but now that we’re back in WNY for the known and unknown future, I can admit it: there are a few places I miss, and some of them are even restaurants.

I miss my frequent mornings at Patachou having the Omelet of the Day with my pal Abby, a big glass of cold tomato juice with a slice of lemon and a giant bowl-sized mug of good coffee to round things out. We’re talking a fluffy 3 egg omelet with several delicious filling ingredients, like spinach, tomato and feta, or swiss, onion and whole grain mustard; along with several slices of fresh, heavily buttered toast and a cup of their perfectly simple fruit salad, for about $7.50. Somehow Patachou could always get decent strawberries, even in February. It’s a big meal, and we couldn’t finish it most times.

I miss my nights of hiking the canal or bar-hopping with Mike that wound up by hitting Paco’s in Broad Ripple at 2 am for a quesadilla. At Paco’s, (long since gone), they’d grill a huge flour tortilla and fill it to bursting with rice, cheese, jalapenos and sometimes olives, then throw in salsa. They had a wall of hot sauce, and I’d always choose 3, a sweet one like the hot banana ketchup Jufran, a very spicy one like Melinda’s, and maybe a vinegary one that reminded me of Frank’s. For $2 flat, it was a meal. Mike usually had two.

Don’t I miss running into Meijer’s grocery store for a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine, or the Georgetown Market where you could by honey, maple syrup, shampoo and natural detergent in bulk as well as nuts, grains, cereals, flours, beans? They had a little café too, and once in a while I’d treat myself to one of their expensive, tasty vegan cookies or tarts.

And let’s not leave out the Cornerstone Café on 54th and College, home of Black Thunder coffee-- a potent, raise-the-dead brew. The service was friendly and deadly slow, but the coffee rocked and the menu was full of fresh and comforting goodies for everyone. It was a funky little student neighborhood hangout sporting mismatched couches and a slow hippie vibe before it’s makeover, when it went all dark wood chic NYC on me. Loved it both ways. However often I stopped going there, because my life and schedule had changed, I always drifted back. My veghead sister and her husband visiting from Amherst adored it too, and we have great memories of the meal we shared in a window seat, sunlight pouring over the edge of the high-set veined glass window down onto our table.

You’ll notice, none of these places I’m swooning over is a 5 star destination restaurant or precious little upscale bistro. Thing is, each of them somehow correlated to a place back here in WNY; to places I felt at home. It’s hard to get that feeling in a different city, different region of the country than you grew up in, and when you find it, even a tiny piece, you hold on. The place becomes your haven, and like Norm on Cheers, you know you belong when you walk in the door.

So Patachou and the Cornerstone may have started out subbing for Amy’s and the Juicery and Preservation Hall & all the Greek diners Indy doesn’t really have, but their particular rhythms and vibes got to me, and I’ve been casting about for replacements. Without the right people, it’s slow. But I lucked out, in moving into a neighborhood with Premier’s adjoined Liquor & Gourmet stores, with myriad Greek diners not to mention Mike’s Subs, and just a cool fifteen minute drive away from Amy’s… and I’ve found new spots to “claim,” like Reid’s and Condrell’s and Star of India, and old spots I’m closer to now-- Kosta’s redo, Frank’s Sunny Italy, Lone Star Fajita Grill, Gramma Mora’s. Just thinking about Lone Star’s guaco taco gives me insane cravings…

There is one old haunt I didn’t mention, a place that was central to my life in Indy for years and years, a place so piled with memory & importance, I don’t know where to begin… guess I’ll leave The Aristocrat Pub for another post.

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