Wednesday, August 18, 2010
There's a show on Food Network called "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." The program asks Food Network stars to recall the best things they've ever eaten. They describe in great detail every bite, every ingredient and flavor that made that particular dish so memorable.
It's possible (and very likely due to the over consumption of Warheads as a kid) that my palette is incapable of experiencing such profound bliss from a bite of food. But like a crutch, I depend, or better yet, relish in the collective dining experience that accompany what would otherwise be just a meal.
Last weekend I went to Jimmy Cantler's Riverside Inn in Annapolis, MD. This is the quintessential crab shack. It's a local gathering place nestled in a residential area a few miles away from downtown Annapolis. The Riverside Inn sits on the edge of the still waters (I guessed it was the Chesapeake). The gravel parking lot was packed when we pulled in around dusk. There was a festive atmosphere between the foodie tourists and young midshipmen with their families. The patio overlooking the docked boats and the river was bustling with laughs and the sound of wooden crab hammers hitting the picnic tables. A man with a cooler set up a make shift cash bar and supplied the crowd with Miller Highlife tall boys and Arnold Palmers. We follow a group down the stairs to the dock where crab boats unload crates of fresh caught Maryland Blue Crabs directly into bins. Although the crabs and especially the clam chowder were better than average, I won't remember Cantler's for the food. The two hours spent waiting to be seated on the dock, sipping a spicy bloody mary from a Solo cup were equally as satisfying to me as the 1 hour we spent eating on the patio. The night reminded me that as much as I love tasty food, the food alone does not make the meal.
I was five when I first visited Medieval Times: Dinner and Tournament. Today I skim the website and see a kitschy roadside castle, its cartoonish and historically inaccurate with costumes that rival those of a middle school drama production and a menu that could double as the Sunday Senior Citizen special at Denny's. But in my mind's eye I remember a wildly different experience. Twenty years ago I recall walking across the parking lot-- a dark sea of boxy cars I couldn't see over. I spotted the torch-lined draw bridge at the entrance of the fortress and the silhouette of the facade slowly revealed itself. It was as real of an adventure as I could imagine. Moments later I knelt on a paisley pillow before a King to receive my knighthood. Just as his majesty's sword touched my shoulders I snapped my head towards my dad's camera with a look of pure amazement. I wore a red and black cardboard crown. The contest that ensued in the arena-style stadium was an epic story of pageantry and drama. At the end of the night my brother and I ran across the parking lot flailing our souvenir wooden swords and shields-- mimicking the choreographed battles from the show.
Not to be overly sentimental, but when I try to think of the best meals I've ever shared they don't always include great food-- but the one thing never missing is great people.