Food, Fellowship and the Flag

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If you could have seen the sight I had from the Main Stage at the Lewiston Jazz Festival you would have an idea what I am talking about.

As far as the eye could see, on Center Street, the main street of Lewiston NY, people were everywhere. If it was a surface, they were sitting on it…bag chairs, railings, and even window boxes (awkward) provided a base to listen to amazing music and chat with friends. Those without any surface were standing; either trying to find a place to listen or they were trying to move to a place where they could listen to conversation.

Everyone was eating. And, they were drinking.

Local restaurants sold their signature dishes on the street and outside vendors served up everything from brick oven pizza (from a portable brick oven with visible flame) to sushi. There were IPO beers and local wines, red and white sangria and the most delicious Mojito’s that had so much mint you felt like you are getting your daily dose of fiber.

It was noisy, not always easy to navigate and there was zero personal space.

The cacophony of retail, music and conversation would be harsh if heard without context. It was just plain loud but few people seemed bothered. Actually, they seemed invigorated by it. The louder the sound, the more intimate the conversation.

Have you ever noticed how a shared pizza pie or a cold beer act like a binder, providing commonality until conversation can get to shared experience?

And, Western New Yorkers play that game better than anyone I know. We can meet a stranger but know that our Godmother taught their nephew in grammar school in record time. We love the connection.

As I stood on the Main Stage I knew the folks were anxious for the headliners to start their show. I was the last thing between the community service announcements and the music which brought them all together in the first place.

Who could have blamed them for being impatient with the lovely practice of honoring the flags of the two countries sitting side by side?

But honor them they did, standing at attention as I sang the Canadian national anthem. “Oh Canada” their “home and native land” stood just a mile or so behind me. Many Canadians come to our little piece of New York State heaven for this festival as they pour here every day to enjoy the retail and the strength of their dollar.

Clap clap clap. They are sweet with their recognition that I sang their beautiful song with few errors.

Then, as they continued to stand, hats removed and many covering their heart, I began the Star Spangled Banner. I waved my hand as a request for them to join in and to my surprise and delight, they did.

Oh, if you could have seen the view from the stage of bodies everywhere, stopped for just a minute to sing a song that binds us just as an egg binds a meatball, you would have had shivers.

If you could have seen their faces, rapt with pride and a sense of belonging, you would have truly appreciated how food, fellowship and the flag truly represent needs we have as humans to survive not only physically but in our hearts and minds, as well.

 

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It’s Fun to Eat at the Bar!

I travel a lot, often by myself. While I am not averse to eating alone with a book or my iPad, I most often enjoy sitting among my soon to be friends at the bar. You usually get served more quickly and you often have small plate options not available on the full menu.

Twice in New Orleans I ate memorable meals at the bar. The first was at the Acme Oyster House where I watched a highly skilled oyster shucker open hundreds of oysters an hour. I settled in my seat after only a few minutes waiting outside in a line that went around the block. A simple question of availability at the bar afforded me the chance to eat an oyster po boy and it was one of the best sandwich bites of my life. I am not sure what the sauce was but the combination of the fresh bread, perfectly fried oysters and sauce makes my mouth water as I write.

The second time was at K Paul’s on Chartres Street in the French Quarter. Again, there was a large crowd waiting for tables but I spotted a spot at the end of the bar. I asked the bartender his specialty and he boasted he won the award in New Orleans several years in a row for his original twist on the New Orleans Hurricane. I must admit, it was a tasty drink.

When it was time for dinner I asked him my usual question: “If I never return, what is the one dish I must try while visiting your city?”

His answer was the stuffed pork chop. It was a very large pork chop filled with herbs and cheese. It has been a while so I cannot remember the particulars but it was a delicious dish. The meat was very juicy, which is no easy task on a cut so think. When a gentleman sat at the bar a few seats over he asked about the specialty that evening. The bartender asked me to let the man know my thoughts and he ordered the same thing. As we chat with the others at the bar we talked about home. He said he was traveling north to New York to attend his niece’s high school graduation. A few more minutes of conversation determined he grew up in Kenmore, NY and was attending Lewiston Porter’s graduation.

It truly is a small world as Lew-Port is my alma mater, as well. You just never know who you will meet.

I twice dined at the bar this past week. On Saturday we had some wine and watched the Master’s at Hops N Vines in Lewiston. We enjoyed the mussels in white wine sauce and lobster bisque mac and cheese brought down from Casa Antica.

Another wonderful bar dining experience happened last week when I suggested to my friend Amy we grab one drink after work. We settled on Oliver’s where we met at Christmastime and enjoyed a chocolate martini expertly created by bartender Mike. I sincerely love watching a bartender mix a drink and interact with the crowd.

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We enjoyed a French 75. This gin and lemon drink must be making a major comeback because it was new to me just a few weeks ago and I now have several ones to compare. Mike offered it with gin or vodka and since reading about it when I wrote my Town Hall review I wanted to try one with gin. He used fresh lemon juice and simple syrup. He added ice and gin to a shaker and shook to chill the liquid. He poured it into chilled martini glasses and added champagne to the top. I may have a new favorite drink.

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I was hungry and I talked Amy into splitting a a bowl of parsnip soup with crispy pancetta. They were kind enough to actually split the soup into two bowls. If you are watching your waistline and your wallet it is a great idea to share. Some restaurants charge a fee for this but it is still worth it because no one needs the portions served at most restaurants.

We also shared a pizza. It was no ordinary pizza, either. It was called a Cuccidati Pizza, bitter greens, fresh ricotta, walnut & fig pesto. I am a big fan of figs and this was really good.

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Mike barely suggested dessert and I pounced on the idea . Yes, the lady may have appeared too eager but the offerings were so yummy who could resist? This was a chocolate torte with a butter crunch ice cream and a toffee crisp on top. There apparently was caramel on the plate but I talk too much and Amy took complete advantage and ate most of it. I forgive her because I ate most of the toffee. It all evens out.

Next time you find yourself alone at a restaurant, I highly recommend sitting at the bar. You will enjoy the camaraderie, learn about the area and never dine alone.

Have a yummy day!

Lewiston NY: The Center of My Universe

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20120620-071307.jpg My first memory of Lewiston NY was being in a grocery store the day President Kennedy was shot. I don’t remember the name of the store. Maybe someone can remind me which grocery stores were in Lewiston at that time. I do remember that there were two of them. Was it the A & P?

20120620-073724.jpg was it Loblaws?
I just remember my mother acting weird then not being able to watch cartoons.

I also remember Jay’s Drug Store and going with my dad to test the tubes in our television.

20120620-074024.jpg I can remember him mumbling “I hope it’s not the picture tube!” As a teen prior to the independence of a drivers license I remember being envious of my friends who lived in the village because they “walked into town” to hang out on the railing on Center Street by Jay’s. They were SO cool!

As soon as I could read my mother would bring me to the library on Saturday.

20120620-074505.jpgWe would get books and sit in those worn leather chairs by the fireplace. When I was old enough the librarians would let me sort the cart and restock books.

20120620-074946.jpgWhen my brother was old enough to drive my mother made him take me to the library. He always complained about it. What teenage boy wants his little sister tagging along? Later I learned he loved it because he got to hang out with his friends but just complained to irritate us!

20120620-072524.jpg I received my First Holy Communion at St. Peter’s RC Church on Plain Street and was the first Confirmation class, in 1971, in the “new” “oh my God that’s so modern what were they thinking” church on Center Street.

20120620-072542.jpg While they were building the new church we went to church in the school hall

20120620-072534.jpg because the church on Plain Street was so small there was overflow.

20120620-071343.jpg I took piano lessons here, across from the convent and original St. Peter School now rectory.

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I remember the sesquicentennial in 1972 and being a part of the 150th celebration at the Red Brick School.

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That same year a bunch of my friends who went on to be part of my 1976 graduating class at Lewiston Porter High School graduated from St. Peter’s School.

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I have many memories of Lewiston…I grew up here…I got married here…I go to church here…I love where I’m from and today the country will begin to know why Lewiston NY is the center of the food universe.

Welcome Mike and Brian, http://blog.bestoftheroad.com/2012/06/12/team-road-bros-en-route/ as they learn and explore #LewistonBest.

20120620-071224.jpgin the words of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard:

Mr. DeMille, we’re ready for our close up!

Have a yummy week!

Jude
JudeTheFoodie.com
Twitter: @JudeTheFoodie
Facebook: Jude The Foodie