Monday, July 26, 2010

hot dogging memories

My trip to the zoo did not turn out as well as I had hoped.

But I know how to save any failing social event: comfort food.

Everyone has a favorite food place.  In my case, it is a drive-in: Lew's Dari-Freeze.  (OK.  I would prefer La Tante Claire in London.  But we are living in this world right now, Steve.)

I have been eating at Lew's for over fifty years.  The specialty: foot long Coney Island dogs.

That was not my specialty, though.  Mine was the chip steak sandwich (topped with sweet onions and a sauce of unknown, but magical, provenance) and a cherry ice cream soda.  I doubt anyone had even heard the word cholesterol -- let alone, triglycerides.

It was the perfect choice after any event -- at any time of the day. Collecting for my newspaper route.  Following a high school football game.  On my way home from a late evening college course.  No matter the circumstances, the first bite would set the world right.

Of course, it was not simply the food that made Lew's special.  Drive-ins are about relationships.  There was Lew (of course) and Evie and Dean.  Each one always knowing exactly what I would order.

When I returned to Oregon from my stint with the Air Force, the place was not the same.  Lew sold the place.  Evie retired.  Dean went elsewhere.

And my chip steak sandwich and ice cream soda disappeared from the menu.  Joining Jimmie Hoffa and Amelia Earhart in the list of missings.

But the classic remained: the long Coney Islands.  So, I switched.

As we were leaving the zoo, my friend Andy asked where I would like to eat.  Lew's would mean driving all the way across town, but he was a former aficionado of the hot dog.  So, off went.

You probably know where this is going because this will be my third post in a row about memories.  Once again, reality could not measure up to my memories of Lew's.

Even though candidate Obama discovered and praised Lew's during the 2008 campaign, my hot dog was not very good.

Perhaps, my body was telling me the inches I have acquired through lack of walking would not be helped by a wiener swimming in chile sauce.

But that was not the true nostalgia jolt.  I found myself missing Lew's laugh, Evie's advice, and Dean's dreams. 

And realized each of them is a part of who I was and am.

Even without a chip steak sandwich.


Anonymous said...

reading this made me hungry-at least the part where you describe the delicious chip steak. i meant to go to coney island when i visited matt but didn't get around to it-next time.

have a great week!


Tancho said...

Steve, your writing is captivating! The old memories just go to reinforce the old saying, "either leave well enough alone" oops I can't remember the other one....
We had a place in the city actually a few of them, the best one was Mel's. They used it for American Graffiti scene, the food was probably not that good, but the fond memories of the interaction still remain dear. The new owners either can't bring back the ambiance, or it's just that we cherish the memories better. I think the latter.

Anonymous said...

For over 52 years it's been White Castle hamburgers and Coney Island hot dogs (must have natural casing, so it snaps when you bite it)
We have a saying here in Detroit..."If you can pick it up, it's not a coney!" Yes, extra chile and onions. I recently learned WC's are a family owned shows, they're as good as ever.

Steve Cotton said...

Teresa -- There is always something very comforting about a Coney Island.

Tancho -- The new owners of Lew's have tried a number of new formats. But it is just another sit-down restaurant now. Not the same.

Francisco -- I learned to eat a Coney Island out of a bag. Now they come on trays. 50 years of transferrable skills down the tube.

Felipe said...

Steve, you have ongoing health issues, yet you continue on this eating trail. Amazing.

I hope you see 65.

Steve Cotton said...

Felipe -- Point taken. Of course, I am the guy who is about to jump back on the zip lining platform.

1st Mate said...

The key remark in your post was "my hot dog was not very good." You had to try it, to find that out. Otherwise you'd always wonder.

The Capt and I have the same relationship with hamburgers: about once a year we order hamburgers under the illusion that they'll meet some fantasy we have of what they should taste like. They never do, and before I've finished mine I always remember why I don't eat hamburgers anymore.