Even though I’d probably wind up in the poor house and lose all of my killer cooking skills, I would dine out every meal of every day if I could. Clearly, the appeal is getting sauced while someone else cooks your food and not worrying about the dirty dishes piled high in the sink. But it’s more than that. As a kid my family only ate out on “special” occasions (baptisms and graduations), but when we did, it was an extravagant treat. At ten I ate my first microscopic bite of caviar at the Chart House in Fort Myers, Florida. (Sadly, it’s now a Joe’s Crab Shack.) But those salty black pearls at the Chart House is a meal-moment that I recall almost daily and that I try to relive each time I try a new restaurant. Needless to say, I eat out as much as our budget will allow, which is usually once a week, and sometimes we go to the fancy joints with the notion that “everyday is special.” Yet the more I cook, the more I expect the same caliber of food, flavor, and flare when I eat out. This isn’t easy to come by, especially in the age of monotonous, franchise restaurants.
Dedicated to finding quality restaurants I called upon my fellow Connotation Press editors who happily obliged my request for restaurant reviews, which span from California to Maryland to India. Some readers may wonder why assemble an anthology of national and international restaurant reviews. My answer is simple: whenever and wherever I travel my first question is “What’s the best place to eat?” Dare I say I’m not alone?
May this Special Editors’ Issue rouse you to travel close to home—like Editor-in-Chief Ken who visited Smokin’ Jacks in West Virginia where he filmed his culinary experience. Or maybe it will inspire you to visit a family member’s favorite restaurant, such as “A Poetry Congeries” editor John who dined at The Dove Restaurant in Florida. Or think of this issue as a guide if you ever find yourself in Bowling Green, Ohio and in need of a fantastic lunch. My hope is that our collective homage to the restaurants that nurture our appetites tempt you try a new place, compliment the chef in-person, or tip the waitress you love at your old stand-by just a few bucks more.
Happy Badger Café & Tea House by Amanda McGuire
Photographs by Sarah Lenz
Inside a quaint colonial brick house on Main Street in Bowling Green, Ohio, the colorful Happy Badger Café and Tea House welcomes those who hunger for something different from the mainstream. The name pays homage to owner Donna Cohen’s husband Alan whose nickname happens to be Happy Badger. The Café offers a menu, prepared by the Cohen family, of healthy, fresh vegetarian soups ($4.95 bowl/ $3.95 cup) and sandwiches on Zingerman’s bread ($7.95). Yep, that’s Zingerman’s, as in the Ann Arbor, Michigan foodie mecca of breads and pastries. The Cohens believe the best products come from local businesses, hence Zingerman’s breads, dairy products from Calder’s Dairy and Farm, and tofu and cheeses from Rosewood Products, both also from Michigan. Not only are these yummy goodies used as ingredients in Happy Badger’s delectable dishes, but also they are sold as part of The Happy Badger Food Club of Deliciousness.
Happy Badger soups are a perfect starter. The vegetable stew is rich with tomatoes, carrots, zucchinis, and potatoes, but the unique part of the dish is the discovery of a cheddar bacon scone at the bottom of the bowl. The peppered bacon farmhouse croutons turn a good broccoli cheese soup into something exceptional. The smokiness of the bacon compliments the creamy cheddar and stout broccoli flavors. I hardly doubt anyone would be disappointed with any of the soups served daily. The Zingerman’s Savory Strudel is another perfect dish for those seeking something light. The Spicy Indian is a delight of potatoes, peas, and curry wrapped in crispy Phyllo-dough ($7.95). The strudels are awesome, but they pale in comparison to the sandwiches.
Hands-down my favorite sandwich is the BBQ Tofu, which is created with tofu slices marinated in a spicy, syrupy Syrian BBQ glaze, then broiled, slathered with Calder’s Dairy Farm cream cheese, and garnished with tomato, sprouts, and avocado. The delicate balance of heat from the glaze, cool sweetness from the cream cheese, tang from the sprouts and creaminess of the avocado excites my palate into a tizzy. If you prefer something a bit lighter, try the House Made Tuna sandwich. Instead of heavy mayo, the Cohens use olive oil, lemon, red peppers and red onion for the salad, which is served with light balsamic greens, alfalfa sprouts, tomato, and Dijon mustard. As someone who craves tuna salad sandwiches regularly, I declare Happy Badger as the best place to get one in Bowling Green.
Perhaps the most popular sandwiche available is The Berwyn Special, which begins with an avocado base that is piled high with muenster cheese, shredded carrot, cucumber, tomato, alfalfa and mung bean sprouts and oregano. While the description may not sound filling, it easily tames the hungriest of appetites. Legend has it that Alan Cohen memorized the Berwyn after eating one every single day during his stay in Washington D.C. In order to gain permission to use the recipe, Alan called the National Food Café, where the Berwyn originated in 1976, but the tables quickly turned when Alan recalled, by layer, the sandwich for the new owners. What makes Happy Badger Café special are stories like the aforementioned that Donna and Alan share with diners. Donna, Alan, and their family’s gracious hospitality—their ability to greet guests with open arms and fall into casual conversations—makes anyone feel at ease.
The Cohen’s welcoming spirit is ever-present in the atmosphere of The Café. An eclectic mix and match of well-loved wooden chairs and tables create an intimate dining space. The whimsical art and matte pull-out posters from a Neil Young song book dress the walls and cultivate a sense of peacefulness and playfulness. A perfect place to enjoy of cup of organic, fair trade Jade Cloud green tea or house-made yogi tea with a hearty meal, the Happy Badger allows guests to unwind, relax, and share a moment in solitude or loved ones. The Happy Badger makes this diner very happy. And I encourage you to “make someone happy”—if you find yourself in Bowling Green, Ohio, grab a bite at the Happy Badger Café and pop into the Happy Badger General Store while you’re at it.
311 N. Main St.
Bowling Green, OH 43402
Bowling Green, OH 43402
Dinner Check: $
Hours: Mondays-Saturdays 11-6, Sundays 12-4
Woodberry Kitchen, Baltimore, Maryland by Kelly Fiore – Associate Editor
My husband, Matt, and I are relatively new to the organic and local food movements. What has been hardest for us in converting to this lifestyle is eating out. Despite our somewhat close proximity to Baltimore and Washington DC, we have had trouble finding restaurants that serve mostly organic dishes that aren’t strictly vegan. And we, my friends, are meat eaters through and through. That is why it was such a blessing to find Woodberry Kitchen, a fairly new restaurant in the recently refurbished Clipper Mill district of Baltimore City. Woodberry Kitchen’s philosophy is Farm to Table. Period. And once you’ve gotten a look at their menu and a taste of their food, you won’t believe the focus and labor that goes into running this restaurant. The owners, the wait staff, the cooks all adhere to the philosophy of the restaurant itself and it emanates out of every aspect of the meal.
When you enter the restaurant, a slim hallway leads you to a candle-lit hostess’ station – but just beyond the ambient lighting is the bright bustle of an open floor plan. The bar, the kitchen, and a good sized dining room are set against the backdrop of a strategic, art installation-style barrier of firewood, exposed brick walls, and huge plate glass windows framing the front of the room. Off to one side, a cozier dining room is filled with smaller tables. And up the staircase, onto a balcony-like landing, is the land of the couples: a mostly two-top table haven looking down over the rest of the restaurant. I felt a little like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window up there; I could practically see the apps on the table-side iPhone beneath me.
My absolute greatest regret about this meal was that, as I write this, I don’t remember my waiter’s name. He deserves so much credit for the fact that this meal was amazing. He spoke for the dishes, telling us their origins, their back story, the background information on the life of an animal or aging of a cheese. It was absolutely essential to have this kind of attention in order to really appreciate the intricacies of this meal. We began with cocktails; Matt chose their version of a classic Manhattan (called a Man-Hampden after the Baltimore neighborhood), which used Pikesville Rye, a local whiskey. I chose a Cranberry Apple cocktail made with organic vodka, homemade apple spice simple syrup, and cranberry liquor. A smattering of fresh cranberries floated on top with the ice and the glass was garnished with a dried, candied apple slice. The drink was sweet and spicy, somewhat reminiscent of the long-past fall season.
Woodberry’s food menu has offerings ranging from small $1-$5 plates of Deviled Eggs with Chipped Ham or Local Pears with Buckwheat Honey and Sea Salt to larger entrees of Rockfish and Chips and the Kitchen Burger, served with onion jam and french fries. There is always a selection of local, Chesapeake Bay oysters served both raw and wood-fire grilled with various sauces. Nightly flat-bread specials are exceptionally creative (the night we went, they were offering one with chorizo, arugula, sweet potatoes and ricotta – I really regret not getting it!) Matt and I chose to start with two of their specials, Braised Oxtails and Local Ricotta with Roasted Figs and Apples. Both selections came out piping hot – the oxtails swimming in a cola-infused sauce over polenta and the cheese and fruit browned inside a miniature cast iron skillet. The oxtails were a slightly fattier version of short rib-style meat. They can be prepared similarly and result in the same tender texture and almost barbeque-style appearance.
For our entrees, we chose the Scallops served with Butter Beans, Pork Belly, and Tarragon Sauce and the local “Meat Plate”: Smoked Chicken, Pork Ribs and Belly, Homemade Sausage and Sauerkraut. The scallops, our waiter explained, were non-chemically treated, which apparently most scallops are. And it’s true, they did taste different – cleaner and sweeter and softer, somehow. Still like a scallop, but more delicate. The “Meat Plate” was also a huge hit with us – the sauerkraut was delicious and crispy, as fresh as sauerkraut can be. The meats were perfectly cooked; I never order chicken in restaurants as a rule, but this smoked boneless cut was graced with a cap of crispy skin and was absolutely delicious.
To end the meal, we both chose two of the more simplistic desserts on the menu. I am a sucker for Chocolate Mousse on any dessert menu and the Woodberry Chocolate Pudding was just as good, if not better, than many mousses I’ve had elsewhere. Matt decided on an Apple Pie Sundae, complete with made-in-house Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Apple Cider and Honey Sorbet.
The thing that resonates most about Woodberry Kitchen is the commitment. Anyone who tries to shop organic or local knows that it is rarely convenient and sometimes a down right hassle. To run a business this way requires dozens of things to be made on-site and explains why Woodberry hired their own butcher and competitive barista – they are looking to keep things close to home in all ways. At one point, our waiter told us he’d been at the restaurant until 6 am that morning from his shift the night before, baking the bread for that day. I think that sums it all up – Woodberry Kitchen is a place full of dedication and commitment to a lifestyle that isn’t always easy but, in this restaurant, is always delicious.
2010 Clipper Park Road, No. 126
Baltimore, MD 21211
Baltimore, MD 21211
Farm to Table
Accepts Mastercard, Visa, American Express, and Discover
Dinner Check: $$$
Hours: Mondays-Thursdays 5-10; Friday-Saturday 5-11; Sunday Brunch 10-2;
Sunday Supper 5-9
Hutte Swiss Restaurant, Helvetia, WV by Natalie Seabolt Dobson – Fiction Editor
There’s no easy way to get the Hutte. It’s at least an hour and a half trek of winding road and steep mountain decline off the interstate no matter how you look at it. This incredible, unique Swiss restaurant is nestled in the town of Helvetia, West Virginia. The town itself was settled by Swiss-German immigrants in 1869, and most of the residents there can trace their ancestry directly back to those first settlers. The Hutte is currently owned and operated by Eleanor Mailloux, who is a direct descendant herself. The restaurant is in the original home place of her family, complete with wooden floors and planked wooden ceiling. The house is full of antiques and traditional Swiss culture which provides an opportunity for conversation and wonder.
The menu offers authentic Swiss food including Sourbraten, Bratwurst, baked ham, roasted chicken, and the Hutte’s own homemade sausage patties, which clearly fall into the secret recipe category. To go along with the entrees are Helvetia-made cheese with freshly baked bread, Swiss potatoes, vegetables, and salad with the Hutte’s own house dressing which comes to you in a small container with a spoon so that you can continue to stir the ingredients. Eating here makes me feel like I’m eating in the kitchen of a friend’s grandmother.
The Hutte offers seasonal desserts, such as the Cherry Tart, but keeps one main dish available all year: Peach cobbler. But before you yawn, you should understand that this is like no other cobbler you’ve ever tasted. Its warm cake-like middle is filled with soft peaches and it comes to you drizzled with real whipped cream and cinnamon. It is nothing short of divine and makes for the perfect ending to dinner.
It is clear that those who are willing to travel to the Hutte get their reward many times over. All the employees treat you as if you’re family, and the warm smile of Eleanor Mailloux is a treat in itself. On a recent visit, while waiting for dinner, I helped Eleanor and a friend find the correct spelling for “vignette” in an ancient dictionary. We discussed a little of the intricacies of the English language while she rocked in her chair. The snow was falling and the warmth of the wood stove radiated through the restaurant. I thought of the families that had lived and grown up in the house, and all the families that visit it everyday. The house itself offers its heart to you when you visit. Eating at the Hutte is an unforgettable, one of a kind experience.
Daily life is slow there in the mountains. The town’s population is only about 65, and the Hutte doesn’t event take credit cards. But don’t worry—if you don’t have cash or can’t write them a check, they’ll let you mail it to them. They tell me they’ve never been stiffed—not even once.
Helvetia, West Virginia
Helvetia, West Virginia
Dinner Check: $$
Hours: Every day Noon-7 p.m.
Roscoe’s House of Chicken ’n Waffles by Katie Hillenbrand – Poetry Editor
I got curious about Roscoe’s House of Chicken ’n Waffles the first time I saw the line outside the door grow to half a block long. It was Sunday mid-morning, and the folks waiting in line were animated African-American families who’d just come from church. This wasn’t a crowd that looked like they were about to eat fat-free lettuce wraps, either. There was soul food inside, real soul food in downtown Long Beach. I just knew it.
I had to get in there, but I’m not much of a line-waiter when I’m hungry, so I decided to try again anytime other than mid-morning to mid-afternoon on Sunday. So I waited a few days and went back mid-week. What I found inside kept me coming back for years.
Soon after I arrived, a hostess came to fetch me and led me into the pink dining area. I should clarify. The booths and tables are largely brown, but the walls and ceiling are lined with magenta neon lights, washing everything in pink. This glow is more noticeable when it’s dark outside than it is mid-day, but it’s unmistakably Roscoe’s. It became Pavlovian. Show me a pink glow and I salivate.
The first time I visited Roscoe’s was in the morning, so I picked one of their breakfast specials, which included chicken sausage, two eggs, grits, and a biscuit. It was fabulous, but when I tasted the meal my dining-mate had ordered, I knew what I was getting next time. Namely, chicken and waffles. In retrospect, the name of the restaurant should have tipped me off to the fact that these two items would top the scrumptious-o-meter.
So, on my second visit, I ordered Scoe’s #2, gravy on the side. A big bowl of chicken-and-onion gravy, a fried leg and thigh for dipping, and two waffles bigger than your face. The chicken is moist, crispy, and greasy, and it’s a little bite of heaven dripping in gravy. The waffles will startle you, they’re so good. I’m not exactly sure what they put in those moist, fluffy, butter-slathered wonders, but I suspect the secrets include cinnamon and clove. Add syrup, and the unexpected combination of flavors, delightfully subtle, titillates every taste bud on your tongue.
If you’re like me, at first this combination can seem a little…heavy. A little weak on the veggie front. But don’t worry; the waffles are big enough to share, and there are great veggies available, too. In fact, I recommend splitting the waffles. If you don’t, you’ll be tempted to eat until you hurt, which is not something I normally do. I did it at Roscoe’s, though, where I found myself utterly incapable of putting my fork down.
If you do get sides, let me recommend greens and mac-n-cheese. Even people who think they don’t like greens will plow through the bowl Roscoe’s serves up. Warm, bacony, only slighty bitter: like all of the selections at Roscoe’s, you’ll have to remind yourself not to fill up on them before you try everything else on your plate. The mac-n-cheese, like the greens, is obviously homemade; it’s made with several cheeses, and they recently changed the recipe to be even creamier. Try House Combo #22: you get to pick the part of the chicken you want (I recommend two thighs), greens, mac-n-cheese, and a huge chunk of cornbread. Don’t forget to order a bowl of gravy on the side!
On one of my visits to Roscoe’s, I looked over at the table next to mine and saw a luscious-looking drink. Now, the waiters are always busy at Roscoe’s due to what seems to be an endless clientele, but I managed to flag my waitress immediately to order that beautiful drink. The Sunrise, I learned, is the most delicious mix of fresh-squeezed, super-sweet oranges and fresh-squeezed, highly sweetened lemonade I can imagine. I’m not kidding, I think someone squeezed those fruits within hours, maybe minutes, of serving the drink to me. On top of that, the drink comes layered like a sunrise, lemonade underneath, orange juice on top, so you can try them separately or mixed together. This drink is magical, both in taste and presentation. Roscoe’s also offers layered combinations of juices involving fruit punch, which are possibly even more beautiful than the Sunrise, though I prefer the fresh-squeezed taste of the OJ and lemonade combo. It makes sense that I found this drink in Southern California, where the citrus is the best in the world.
Every time I tried something new at Roscoe’s, I loved it. If I’d stayed in Long Beach, I know I would have tried more combinations; I’ve heard the giblets are amazing. Everything at Roscoe’s is fresh and cooked by folks who know what they’re doing. Taste anything from Roscoe’s, and you’ll understand why they call it soul food.
You might not want to schedule any rigorous physical activities right after your visit to Roscoe’s, though. I suggest a nice, slow walk followed by a movie or a lounge on the beach. It’s worth making a day of it.
730 East Broadway
Long Beach, CA
Long Beach, CA
Dinner Check: $
Motel Mamalla, Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, India by Katie Fallon – Creative Nonfiction Editor
As I climbed the marble stairs, pushed through the large glass doors, and entered the comfortably air-conditioned restaurant, I felt the familiar sensation of being underdressed, messy, and downright plain looking. Our small group of Westerners stood out in Motel Mamalla, a drive-in vegetarian restaurant in the coastal town of Mahabalipuram (also known as Mamallapuram) in the southeast Indian state of Tamil Nadu. My dusty jeans, hiking boots, and simple brown button-down blouse contrasted sharply with the vibrant silk saris that virtually all Indian women wore. Additionally, their faces were decorated with small gold, red, purple, or jeweled bindis between their eyebrows, and their brown eyes were accented with perfectly blended liner, their arms encircled by gold bracelets.
My face was makeup-less, and besides some cheap silver hoops, the only jewelry I wore was a beaded elastic necklace that I’d bought a few minutes earlier from a child on the street; the girl’s skinny right arm had been heavy with necklaces, from her shoulder to her wrist. “Madam,” she’d implored, crowding close to me as I passed through the exit gate of Mahabalipuram’s Shore Temple, “Madam. Madam. Madam. Madam. Look. Madam. Three hundred. Two for three hundred. Madam. Madam.” After only a few days in India, I’d learned to ignore people on the street trying to sell me things. But for some reason I couldn’t ignore this girl. Both sides of her nose were pierced, her dark hair was pulled back into a neat braid, and her bare feet were dirty to the ankles. She wore a dull sari made of cotton, not silk. I’d guess she was eleven or twelve years old. I bought three beaded, handmade necklaces for two hundred rupees, about four US dollars. I walked away grumbling that I’d paid too much and almost immediately felt guilty—I should have paid more; I should have bought more necklaces; hell, I should have just given her money. I should have invited her to come with us to lunch.
After choosing a table and depositing my bag on a chair, I made my way to the restaurant’s hand-washing station, a common feature in South Indian eateries. The locals eat with their hands, specifically their right hands. But it was well known that Westerners chose to use utensils other than their fingers; by the time I arrived back at my table a fork and spoon had been neatly left on my placemat. The sun beamed through Motel Mamalla’s large glass windows, reflecting off the smooth wood tabletops. I pretended to read the menu and glanced around at the other patrons. While most of the customers appeared to be wealthy Indians, another table of Western-looking folks sipped coffee and finished their lunches.
Although fewer than 15,000 people reside in Mahabalipuram, its ancient archeological sites attract tourists and pilgrims from all over the world. The town’s rock-carved monuments, temples, and bas-relief sculptures are incredible to behold, and visitors can touch, climb on, and photograph these sites for a small fee (about 250 rupees per person, per site). I observed schoolchildren thronging around a life-sized carved elephant, a huge stone cow, and a sculpture of a roaring lion. Couples and families meandered through the stone halls of the towering Shore Temple. I commented on how well-preserved these 1,300-year-old structures were and on the absence of graffiti or trash; one member of our group answered, “Well, this is what having respect for your culture looks like.”
In addition to withstanding the tests of time and erosion, Mahabalipuram’s Shore Temple stood strong against another disaster: the December 2004 tsunami that devastated much of the region. Amazingly, when the ocean drew back more than 500 meters from the shore before the huge wave struck, manmade structures—on every other day hidden by the waters of the Bay of Bengal—were briefly visible to tourists and employees. These structures (which are now again underwater) are the focus of ongoing excavations and research by the Indian government.
When the other table of Westerners gathered their belongings, I focused on my menu. I decided on chana masala—a spicy chickpea dish—that I typically order at Indian restaurants in the US. My husband, being more daring, ordered the “South Indian Lunch,” sort of a sampler of the region’s specialties. Served on a large round tray, his meal consisted of nine small bowls of different foods. He also received two kinds of bread: poori, a round, “puffy” bread common in Southern India, and a flatbread. Neither of us knew the names of the foods in the small bowls, but they were all vegetarian and all delicious. My chana masala, too, was flavorful and similar to chana masala in the US—except for the spiciness. After the first bite my eyes began to water, my nose ran, and my throat tightened. For a moment, I actually felt nauseous. Thankfully, this passed, and I enjoyed my spicy, saucy chickpeas and cup of sweetened coffee. Another difference was the price; my chana masala cost 50 rupees and Jesse’s sampler, 70—about $1.50.
Completely sated, slightly sunburned, and heavily jet-lagged, we stumbled to our rented minivan and settled in for the hour-long ride back to the hostel where we were staying in Chennai, Tamil Nadu’s capitol city, population six million. As the van bumped along the road, I watched wandering cattle foraging in trash bins, unteathered goats lounging in the dust in front of a chai stall, and a woman in a turquoise sari driving a herd of lumbering water buffalo along the road’s shoulder. I rested my forehead against the cool glass of the window, and before I drifted off to sleep, I found myself again wishing that I’d paid more for the necklaces.
ECR, Mahabalipuram 603104, India
ECR, Mahabalipuram 603104, India
The Dove Restaurant, Satellite Beach, Florida by John Hoppenthaler – Curator Special Features, Poetry/A Poetry Congeries with John Hoppenthaler
Mom & I, & The Dove
Last week, I hand fed my mother. I got to the nursing home just as dinner trays were being placed in front of residents who had been nodding off or watching tv; my mom had been staring off into space. Rather than remain in the common room, a grimly depressing place, I grabbed my mom’s tray and, dodging various carts and other obstacles, maneuvered the wheelchair into her dorm-style bedroom at the end of the hall. A disposable bib had already been slipped over her head. I uncovered the plastic plate on her tray, and the aroma of institutional stuffed peppers began to lace the room’s air. My mother—unable to chew and swallow properly since her debilitating stroke some years before—now requires that her meals be pre-chopped into a digestible though unappetizing mess. Her meals here all have pretty much the same grayish color and grainy texture. She ate with perfunctory determination, and we spoke between her mouthfuls. The things she said alternated between kernels of lucidity marked by extraordinary historical recall and detail, but then devastating flights of dementia. When every bite of her dinner had been eaten or wiped from her chin, she was through chatting and asked to go “downstairs.” By this she meant the dayroom, which isn’t downstairs at all but on the second floor. Much of what my mom says these days is confused and confusing; there’s little about her situation, her life here, that can make this any different.
Jean Zana’s popular restaurant, The Dove, has been a site for family reunions and celebrations since its inception in 1989. Zana began his involvement with The Dove six months after its opening, serving as the restaurant’s manager for thirteen years before eventually buying out the original chef/owner, John Matiello, seven years ago; he now looks forward to the establishment’s twentieth anniversary. The restaurant has been recognized as one of Florida's "Top Italian Restaurants" (Zagat Survey, 2000). It is the sort of place where early bird retirees mingle with younger families, where the well-dressed coexist with the casual. Zana estimates that 80% of the restaurant’s patrons are locals. With Cocoa Beach just up the road and the lively Melbourne Beach area a few miles south, The Dove remains a safe haven from the tourist craziness associated with other area restaurants.
Zana, born in Nice, has been careful to cultivate a subdued, mildly Mediterranean atmosphere, an “Old World” style that evokes something of a timeless quality, providing diners with the illusion of a hedge against time even as it passes away outside the restaurant’s doors. The feeling I get there is that of having a seat at an extended family dinner on a special occasion, good silverware and manners on display. The breads, soups, sauces and salad dressings are all homemade on the premises. Most of the well-trained, informed, and unobtrusive staff has been with the restaurant for years, so a familiar face usually greets diners. Former owner Matiello still stops in from time to time to chat with his old customers. Another homey touch is that children under 12 eat for 1/2 price. It is common to hear diners bragging about how long they’ve been coming to The Dove. However, given that many of the restaurant’s patrons are seniors, the periodic loss of regular customers to the hereafter serves as a constant reminder that time indeed—despite any illusion to the contrary—continues its relentless passage.
Robert Frost famously described poetry’s ability to provide “a momentary stay against confusion.” Relaxing into the earth tones of The Dove’s décor, soft piano music tinkling in from the restaurant’s lounge, one begins to discern a pattern, feel a texture composed of images and sensory stimuli that seems to make such a stay seem possible. A good meal is not unlike a poem. When a meal is well-prepared, when its progression is controlled so as to allow for the flavors of each successive course (like each successive line or stanza) to mingle and play off of one another, when this sort of culinary generosity is appreciated without the distraction of television, texting, newspapers, or anything else but the diner’s focus and the warmth of good company, then the meal, like the poem, becomes an engagement and takes on a life of its own, one that exceeds the individual visions of chef and diner. The world becomes, for a while, a little less confusing.
After my father’s death in 1993, my mom sold the suburban ranch house where our family had lived since 1965 and moved to Florida, all by herself. Mom and dad had planned to retire to the Melbourne area after several visits there to see old family friends; my Mom decided to carry on. What else could she do? Even though the mortgage had been paid off, the cost of living in Rockland County, NY was an impediment that could not be ignored. After renting for a couple of years, she ended up buying a condo in Indian Harbour Beach, just around the corner from The Dove. My visits to see mom inevitably included a trip to The Dove, a restaurant she loved but visited only on special occasions; my mom’s frugality seemed always to foil her desire. She’d accompany pals on gambling cruises that departed regularly from Port Canaveral, for example, though she would rarely venture more than ten dollars on gaming. Instead, she would enjoy the sea air and the company of her girlfriends. But visits from her only son were as special for her as they were for me, and so these trips to The Dove became shared moments of celebration that even the stroke has been unable to obscure.
After the stroke, my sisters and I brought our mom back to New York, to the nursing home where she still resides. She had been put through therapy, but the stroke’s damage proved irreversible. I’d make periodic visits to the condo for routine maintenance and a few days of solitude in which to write or recover from the day to day bruising of the world, and I’d return bearing the gift of breadsticks and rolls from The Dove’s own ovens. Patrons of The Dove are able to snatch a bag of these breads from the rack by the doorway on their way out, a friendly gesture that endeared the place to me immediately. My mom would savor a few nibbles and ask about how the condo was holding up, about the friends she missed so much. My mom was of the old world, off-the-boat German via Romania like my father. My mom had spent her American life mostly as a housewife; she spent nearly all those years on her hands and knees, cleaning the homes of wealthy people. Even after her move to Florida, she worked as a housekeeper in a resort hotel for several years. After my father’s death, we were shocked to discover that she could not write out a check; she never had been required to, and I would help her to practice this and related skills at the kitchen table. It was remarkable to us how well she managed to adjust to single life. For a few years—despite missing us back in New York—her life was happy and full of activity. But then came the stroke, and it all disappeared. My sisters and I maintained the condo as best we could, but lately the money has been tight. It became apparent that we could no longer manage to keep it. My most recent visit to The Dove, in early March of this year, was on the occasion of finalizing the condo’s sale and gathering the few last personal possessions that remained there. We won’t tell our mother about this; it’s better that she not know.
Dinner at The Dove begins with a small bowl of pasta fagioli; tender beans and pasta, combined with a subtle yet tangy tomato-based stock, takes the edge off the keen hunger with which I’ve arrived. The soup is accompanied by the previously mentioned breads and small dishes of whipped butter and extra virgin olive oil spiked with garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. I’ve made meals of less, but a trip to The Dove is not a trip meant for those with slack appetites. On the heels of the soup and breads, a small salad of greens, cucumber, and tomatoes appears, topped with bread crumbs toasted in garlic and oil and lightly drizzled with a creamy parmesan and peppercorn dressing. The mouthfeel created by these complimentary flavors and textures is one to make this salad—unlike most items on American menus that claim the term—truly an appetizer, readying the palate and mind for the main course to come. This does not stop me, though, from ordering an additional appetizer, as mom and I sometimes did. I choose the clams casino. Again, it is the layering of texture and flavor that appeals to me. Pimento and smoky bacon top a thin bed of breading that is not, as is the case in many places, the main part of the dish, mushy and hiding, with good reason, an overcooked, rubbery nub below; rather, in The Dove’s version, the breading is a well-seasoned crunchy drapery under which rests a perfectly al dente clam, awash with the fresh brininess of the ocean. Each clam is a delight, as I pull them from their shells with a seafood fork. Soon, my waiter arrives with a restaurant-made digestivo, a sweet, lemony liquor with a slightly bitter aftertaste that both cleanses the palate and provides its own pleasures. Lemon rinds are left to marinate in vodka or grain alcohol and sugar for seven days, and some water is later added to thin it out a bit. My father, I recall, made his version for Christmas, using orange rinds, and his presence, too, suddenly joins me at the table.
Mom and I almost always ordered the same dishes when we visited The Dove. She would get the milk-fed veal parmigiana, served with pasta and topped with marinara sauce and Mozzarella cheese. A classic, and one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes. I sometimes would order the “Little Zuppa,” The Dove’s tempting take on a classic recipe that includes shrimp, calamari and mussels sautéed in garlic, olive oil and white wine. Usually, though, I’d opt for the Pesce Oreganata, the broiled catch of the day, lightly breaded and seasoned with oregano. The inside joke is that the catch of the day is ALWAYS mangrove snapper (not to be confused with the threatened red snapper). At one point, Zana explains, he tried to vary the choice, but it led to complaints. The comfort of continuity is important to the restaurant’s patrons. I order both the veal and the fish. Mom and I would share our meals, and this day I wished to duplicate, as much as possible, the moments my mother and I shared here, to conjure up her presence. I wanted to stop time for a moment without thinking about what had come to pass and what the future will hold. When I visit the nursing home, my Mom almost always asks, “When can I leave here and go home?” “We’ll see,” I say. “We’ll see what can be done.” The actual answer has brought me to tears more than once. But how do you say never?
The main courses arrive at the table with a refill of the house Chianti. The veal is pounded thin and tender, but not so tender as to lose substance. A slight chewiness remains, al dente, as is the case with ziti beside it on the plate. The marinara is agreeably fresh tasting, and the slightly-browned layer of cheese is of high quality, not the thick mass of greasy goo one is so often forced to confront at “Italian” eateries. The generous portion of snapper, pan-seared in butter, capers, and white wine, is moist and delicious, prepared perfectly. It is accompanied by vegetables, also pan-seared, and the sweetness of the carrots combines wonderfully with the slightly charred broccoli and cauliflower. A jasmine rice pilaf completes the dish.
I left The Dove with ample leftovers for the next day’s lunch and a bag of breads. Stepping outside, the illusion of timelessness faded and was quickly replaced with borderline melancholia I wasn’t able to shake that evening, though I drank the better part of a bottle of wine trying. Frost’s quote about confusion and poetry’s temporary ability to defy it, from his essay “The Figure a Poem Makes,” is more substantial than the snippet most poets allow to easily trip off of their tongues: “[The poem] begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life—not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion. It has denouement. It has an outcome that though unforeseen was predestined from the first image of the original mood—and indeed from the very mood.” A very good poem, like a very good meal, ends in clarification and leaves us sated but, as well, finally leaves us with what “was predestined from the first image of the original mood...” Drunk and staring out the hotel window at the huge bulk of a cruise ship awaiting its departure, I arrived at clarity, at denouement. My Mother’s old world, as well as the old world of my sisters and myself, is gone. What can we say that will make this any different? How can we say never?
1790 Highway A1A
Satellite Beach, FL 32937
Fine Italian and Continental
Dinner Check: $$$
Hours: 5-9 Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 Friday & Saturday, 5-8 Sunday, 11-2 Sunday brunch
Smokin’ Jacks Bar & Grill. Reedsville, WV by Ken Robidoux – Founding Editor-in-Chief
When we came up with the idea for Connotation Press: An Online Artifact I knew making it come to fruition was going to be no easy task. To say I’m busy would be a serious understatement as anyone out there that’s ever created a start-up business will attest. But when we started I really had no idea just how busy I’d be. I’ve put in 18+ hour days every day for the past eight months, and there’s no sign of it letting up anytime soon. We’ve published nearly 300 artists in those eight months and as thrilling as it all is, and it really is, it’s also about as much work as you can imagine. In addition to handling all post and layout duties, I personally edit eight of the 17 columns on the site, take care of all managerial duties, help all the editors with whatever they might need, and stay focused on the continual development and future goals of the magazine. And that doesn’t even count the travel. I’ve been to the west coast seven times since September, spent a weekend in Sedona, Arizona at their Best of Fest Week, drove to New Jersey for a night reading and back in one day, spent a week at the Bahamas International Film Festival, and moved from Long Beach, CA to Morgantown, WV. Add to that my teaching duties at the wonderfully burgeoning Waynesburg University and yep, I’m buried!
Because I have so little of it, I take my free-time very seriously. What I like to do on my time off is drive. Strike that, I LOVE to drive, always have. My favorite activity is to jump in my truck and try to get lost. I wind my way through Appalachia intentionally trying to lose my way home and then stop in some small holler to investigate the goings on and meet new people. It is a glorious way to spend an afternoon and requires absolutely no editorial skills. It was on one of these “run-away-from-home” getaways that I found Smokin’ Jacks. It’s about a 25 minute drive east of Morgantown through Masontown and it’s worth every inch of the drive.
Smokin’ Jacks Bar & Grill is located in Reedsville, West Virginia, but don’t let the name fool you. It may be a bar but there’s nothing even remotely like “bar food” in this place. It’s owned and operated by Jack W. Hall Jr., a highly decorated soldier with one tour of duty in Desert Storm and one in Operation Iraqi Freedom II. Jack is a Mobilization Training Coordinator at Camp Dawson in Preson County, WV. A graduate of West Virginia University, on March 20th this year Jack celebrated 20 years of service to his country. He’s about as tough as a man gets and I can think of few I’d rather have get my back in a fight. Just being around the guy makes you realize how fortunate we all are to have the men and women of the armed forces by our side, and I’m not just pay lip service to the idea, either. I actually feel safer knowing guys like Jack are out there doing what they do.
A little less than five years ago Jack bought the bar & grill and a couple years later he made what I feel to be one of the best business decisions he could have made, he hired Antonio “Tony” Glass to be his Chef. Born in Carroll County, MD to Barbara and Earl T. Glass, Tony attended Francis Scott Key high school and started working at that time as a line cook for Baugher’s Country Style Restaurant. After school, he tried a few different professions, mostly construction, but always seemed to end up back in the kitchen. In 2002 Tony worked at Four Seasons restaurant in Mount Airy, MD for three years under Marcella and Joe Ipollitti, and in 2008 he was hired as head Chef of Smokin’ Jacks’. Tony is a self-taught culinary genius that can turn the term “comfort food” into a mantra. Using only the best locally grown organic beef, Tony makes a Smoked Prime Rib to die for. His Pasta Alfredo with Shrimp and his Smoke Baby Back Ribs will make you tear up and miss your Grandma, I kid you not. And I would drive across five states to get a plate of his Stuffed Bell Peppers.
Last month Tony invited me into his kitchen to show me how he makes his Pasta Alfredo with Shrimp, Smoked Prime Rib, and Smoked Baby Back Ribs (my personal favorite), and he generously provided recipes to go with the following video. Although I was extremely hesitant to share my secret hideaway with the world, (I mean, I sure don’t want to find a line when I get there!), a secret like Tony Glass’ cooking, the no apologies atmosphere of Smokin’ Jacks, and Jack Hall and the rest of the crew at my favorite restaurant in all of West Virginia was just too good to keep to myself. If I’m in Morgantown and have conned myself into taking a couple hours off work, you can find me there. But please, if you do just pull up a chair, grab a fork and a tall cold one, and do what you can to not talk shop. I’m pretty sure there aren’t a lot of folks at Smokin’ Jacks arguing the value of lit theory or complaining about hostile publishers and, to be honest, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
15469 Veterans Memorial Highway
Hours: When they get there until they leave, seven days a weekDinner Check: $
Pasta Alfredo w/ Shrimp
Parm-Romano Cheese Mix
Small diced onion
Dice onion in margarine until onions become soft then add flour to make it a paste
21-25 count shrimp raw with shell on Penne pasta
Mix 1 cup heavy cream, ½ cup half-n-half, ½ cup cheese mix, and one tsp each of garlic powder, salt, pepper, in a sauce pan. Bring to a light boil then add Rue until creamy. Boil pasta – peel and devein shrimp. Coat with Old Bay seasoning and sauté in olive oil. Add pasta and serve.
Smoked Prime Rib
Whole boneless ribs
Crushed Red Pepper