For me, nothing marks the passage of time so much as the disappearance of favorite restaurants. The pang for lost restaurants hit me recently when reading from my favorite of Julia Child’s books, “From Julia Child’s Kitchen,” where she comments on a place in Monte Carlo that she and her husband Paul had enjoyed in the post-war period through the 1950s.
More from Zester Daily:
She confesses to “almost weeping over the end-of-an-era elegance of the room, with its string orchestra hidden in a balcony, its marble columns, its gilt encrustations everywhere, its flocks of frock-coated waiters, and its diners in evening dress.” When she returned some years later, the historic restaurant had been replaced by a rooftop eatery lacking in atmosphere. Because she avoided sentimentality and was inclined to focus on the present rather than the past, Julia accepted the loss of that restaurant stoically, saying, “it is useless to cry over lost loves.”
While I admire her for being so philosophical about the disappearance of a memorable eating place, I, on the other hand, tend to mope when my favorite restaurants are gone. I miss those vanished places that held great memories for me or simply were convenient and enjoyable spots where I mingled with friends. Everyone, I guess, feels the loss of favorite places, but for me the bygone restaurants in Harvard Square have had the greatest impact. The ordinary passage of time leads to change, so restaurants close because owners cannot meet the costs of rising rents or they simply retire and move on. Picturesque haunts where students and locals mingled, sometimes for many decades, are often replaced by generic and boring chain restaurants.
When I first started working near Harvard Square, I used to go to a place where for a couple of dollars I could get poached eggs on a muffin (or, in the New England vernacular, “dropped eggs”). They came with corned beef hash and a large cup of coffee. And later in the day one could get corned beef and cabbage (aka “New England boiled dinner”) or liver and onions. The worn-out linoleum floor made clear that this was a humble place for hungry people who might be Harvard students, faculty, staff, or the janitors who eased everyone’s lives. The place couldn’t last and it didn’t.
Gone, but not forgotten
The most recent victim of high rents is the Casablanca Restaurant, for years the Harvard Square go-to place to meet friends for drinks and perhaps a mezze plate loaded with hummus, olives, salads, and slices of flatbread. Its Mediterranean theme was carried out not only by a menu of deep-flavored dishes filled with Middle Eastern spices and olive oil, but on walls filled with murals depicting characters from the much-loved film, “Casablanca,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. That film is shown annually at a local theater, a tradition with a following so cult-like that famous lines in the film are recited in unison by the audience. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine,” we say along with Bogart when he catches sight of Bergman, with whom he has a past, entering his establishment. These days, former denizens of the Casablanca Restaurant are missing that joint terribly.
The Wurst Haus is another place that had a long history. It was a German restaurant with an extensive beer menu, and as one online wag put it, “The great thing about the Wurst Haus was that everyone could wear a plaid jacket, horn-rimmed glasses, smoke a pipe and not get beat up.” Harvard professors, pseudo-intellectuals and plain old beer-lovers mingled in an atmosphere of dark-paneled walls and sloping floors in the false security that what had been around for decades would always be around. But, in the 1990s, meat-laden and sometimes greasy German food had given way to the lighter menus expected by a more health-conscious public, thus dooming the Wurst Haus.
This change in public taste may explain the disappearance of Jack and Marion’s, a beloved delicatessen in Brookline, Mass., that gave pleasure to many with its huge menu filled with every single Eastern European Jewish dish in existence, not to mention oversized desserts. Though it closed in 1971, people are still talking about it. They shake their heads sadly, and compare it to other delis in the area that have since moved in, but none can measure up to a place that has assumed mythic qualities.
Sentimental for ice cream
Children are also affected by the disappearance of favorite places. Boston-area kids used to go to a place called Chadwick’s, an old-timey ice cream parlor best known for birthday celebrations. Waiters would ring bells, bang drums and sing loudly to honor the birthday boy or girl who would receive free ice cream that day. And apart from its birthday ceremonies, Chadwick’s was known for its “Belly Buster” sundaes, a mammoth bowl filled with 18 scoops of ice cream that would be delivered to your table on a stretcher.
And speaking of long-gone ice cream parlors, I still think about Bailey’s, a combination ice cream parlor and candy store, where sundaes were served in old-fashioned silver dishes set on silver plates. An abundance of hot fudge was poured on so that it would spill onto the plates, putting you into a quandary as to where to first put your spoon. Bailey’s was close to my office, so I could drop by on days when someone had been mean to me and find solace in a hot fudge sundae. In truth, I was known to show up even when everyone had been nice. The demise of Bailey’s is a painful loss, and to console myself I have tried to recreate its hot fudge sauce, attempting several recipes said to be the real thing, and this is the one that works for me.
Hot Fudge Sauce
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup cocoa
¾ cup sugar
½ cup evaporated milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1. Melt chocolate and butter in small saucepan over low heat.
2. Sift cocoa into pan, add sugar and thoroughly mix.
3. Add evaporated milk, vanilla and salt and stir constantly. Sauce will thicken quickly, usually after just 3 minutes of stirring.
If not used immediately, the sauce stores well in the refrigerator and should be warmed up before pouring over ice cream.
Top photo: A sundae with hot fudge sauce recreated from Bailey’s. Credit: Barbara Haber