Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Food Memories of the ‘70s

From 1976 until about ’79, once a month my grandparents would take me out for dinner. Eating in a restaurant in those days was a treat, at least for our family. My three sisters and one brother were all much older, in high school or college and had no desire to spend their time with their very little sister and grandparents (they had illegally bought beer to drink and unsupervised parties to attend). So it would be just my mother’s parents and me.

I loved those dinners. I wish I could say that it didn’t matter to me that we were at a restaurant; that it was the meaningful time spent with my elders—but that would only be half the truth. The reality is, I loved them both equally, the company and the food.
Nanny and Herb, my grandparents (why ‘Herb’ was referred to by his first name, I to this day don’t know) would let me choose the restaurant. It was always one of two: The Maennechor, (a German restaurant and men’s singing club to which one must be a member of German descent) or TGIFridays. 

Two stratospherically different places to eat.

I liked the Maennechor because of the utter oddness of the place and the food. Picture if you will, men in starched, white shirts and crisp, black bowties strolling about the tables, singing German folk songs as waitresses with cotton candy-like bouffant hair-dos, decked out in landhausmode—traditional German peasant dresses, dished out bizarrely foreign delicacies. To a Midwestern, ten year old girl, the food was surreal: Fried Pike, a fish from the Great Lakes that came to the table having been fried whole, eyes and all and, my grandfather’s favourite, Pig’s Knuckles, which looked to be exactly what it professed, only I discovered years later in culinary school that what is referred to as ‘knuckles’ are actually the knees of a pig. 

The Maennechor was also where I had my first taste of crumbled blue cheese. To this day my favourite salad is one made of iceberg lettuce, garnished with two cucumber slices, one cherry tomato, dressed in Italian and topped with crumbled blue cheese. I go weak in the knuckles for that one…

My other favourite restaurant, TGIFriday’s was, in 1978, authentic Americana serving what has now become quintessentially 'American' dishes. I mean, TGIFridays put stuffed potato skins in the culinary map. And nachos? Forget about it—are you old enough to remember how fantastically original these dishes were back then? Bare in mind that this was thirty-odd years ago, way before sous vide cooking was the norm. Back then, meals were prepared fresh upon order. 

TGIFridays was the godfather of all family-sit down style restaurants. It blazed the trail for Outback, Macaroni Grill and the like. Unfortunately, today those types of restaurants are woefully prolific and void of any sort of culinary vision, creativity, or in my opinion even anything edible.

But back in the heady days of bell-bottom fifth grade, my absolute favourite dinner to get at TGIFridays was the Pizza Burger. Simply genius.  It was the best of both worlds! A thick, juicy hamburger topped with pizza sauce and gooey melted mozzarella cheese. It was the best burger EVER. 

I still pine for that burger...and for those evenings spent with my grandparents.

…If this overwhelming feeling of nostalgia doesn’t pass soon, I may post a recipe for pig’s knuckles within the week.

Anyway, it is with the original TGIFridays in mind that I created Pizza Chicken. It is simple to make and can be all prepared ahead of time, just popping it in the oven when you are ready to eat. 

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