Tastes of Memory & Me
Posted April 5, 2010on:
Finding the yellow and red box of Streit’s Matzos since 1925, lightly salted or not on a very bottom shelf at Festival was a delight and truly a “Taste of Memory.” Peanut butter, cream cheese, spinach dip, humus, sardines or eaten plain out of the box – cracking off a long skinny section at a time. I just had to share my enjoyment of Matzos.
This comment on my blog really sent my mind racing Sunday morning. Betty, who had been in one of life history classes, wrote of Matzos as being a “taste of memory.” Although she didn’t call it this, she also had a “sound of memory” when she recalled breaking “off a long skinny section at a time.’
My return visits to St. Louis, which are uncommon now that my parents are gone, are often taste tours of my childhood. We stop at Steak n Shake on the drive to St. Louis “to get in the mood.” And then every day at least once a day we’d go to this burger place of our youth.
Steak n Shake is so important in our taste buds that when my brother Andy came to visit last November we drove three hours – each way – to get a burger at a Steak n Shake near Milwaukee. (Steakburger with lots and lots and lots of pickles and mustard for me. Don’t ask what Andy gets; I’m sworn to secrecy.)
Once in St. Louis, we always made the pilgrimage for an “encore salad” in the tea room at Stix Baer and Fuller, née The Grand Leader that is now part of the Dillards chain. From 1882 to 1984, it was considered the place of “high fashion” in St. Louis merchandising, which naturally meant a place where I belong. (Yeah, right.)
On Saturdays, Mom and I drove to the suburban Clayton store for shopping and lunch. Oh sure, there was a period in my adolescence when I was embarrassed to be seen with my mother, as I’m sure my kids were to be various places with me for a time. (Still?)
At the Stix store, I always ordered the Encore, a chef salad with cheese, turkey and yes bacon that was so delicious because it came with Thousand Island dressing already mixed in, which naturally meant a lot. Deliciously a lot. On the side was an “alligator roll,” a textured crust roll that was very much like the back of an alligator, not that I’ve ever eaten an alligator.
Even after we (sadly) started ordering our dressing on the side, we’d still go for the Encore Salad when I came into town. On the way out, we spooned up complementary chocolate mints from a bowl. It was my mom who suggested the spoon for sanitation purposes. Go Mom.
That tearoom was later closed, I’m convinced, because Dillard’s turned that wonderful alligator roll into a very sorry imitation.
Other culinary stops in St. Louis included Via’s, although it closed sometime in the last thirty years. It offered St. Louis style pizza, which is very thin, slightly crispy and cut into small squares.
This was also the place that my brother went to hang out with his friends so frequently my father was enraged when Andy had to call home to get two cents he was short. The owner, so appreciative of their business, insisted my dad bring in that money rather than waiting until the next time they came in – most likely the next day.
With Via’s closed, we turned to Talayna’s pizza (Talayna, my brother reminded me, is Yiddish for Italian). There were others, including Rich and Charlie’s, which had an incredible Italian salad. But nothing could really replace Via’s.
Oh, then there was the fried clam sandwich from Howard Johnson, which also had many flavors of ice cream. One hot summer night we snuck over there despite not being dressed up, something my mom would never do. We saw so many people we knew that this young man said to my dad, “Sir are you somebody we should know?”
My brother provided me with more Tastes of Memories:
- El and Lee’s deli – We went there to pick up deli on Sundays after United Hebrew Temple Sunday School. “Once I barely made back in time after skipping Sunday School and going to the Zoo,” Andy wrote.
- Parkmoor — Famous for ‘King’ Burgers and Pork Tenderloin sandwiches. It was also a place where at a birthday party of a bunch of cousins, a huge ice cream cake slid onto someone’s lap.
- Chu Wah. “Was that the name of the Chinese joint in the Olivette Shopping Center?” Andy wrote. Later, our parents discovered the Jade Tea House, where we went or picked up food at least once a week.
- Garavelli’s, an Italian cafeteria where they carved meat for thick sandwiches right in front of you when you ordered. Originally it was at the intersection of DeBaliviere and Degiverville, street names so great I had to write them (after researching their spellings).
- Holloway House – another cafeteria, across from Famous Barr in Clayton, the suburb of St. Louis that also housed Stix.
- Toddle House – We went there after our weekly family Spanish lessons at the Berlitz school. We learned Spanish because our dad didn’t want us to appear like “Ugly Americans” when we traveled to that country in the early 1960s. Added Andy about the Toddle House, “My personal ‘Hebrew School’ placebo.”
- Kris’s – “German food on Lindbergh … oh, the schnitzel and potatoes,” Andy wrote. The best friends of our family were named Passanante and there are many stories to be told about them. But the one related to Kris’s was that we went there one night on the spur of the moment only to be surprised they had a reservation for Hessel. It turns out that the Passanantes used “Hessel” for reservations because it is a lot easier than their name.
- Schneidhorst, also a German restaurant once called the Bevo Mill Schneidhorst at first and had a windmill design to its building.
- Straub’s, a very pricy grocery store with a tearoom. I remember their grilled hotdogs.
- Fitz’s Root Beer Stand. “It was famous for their RB and Hot Dogs, split, grilled, served on a hamburger bun in ketchup/mustard sauce with chunks of onion …,” Andy wrote. Clearly, the onion was not part of my order.
- Craig’s Drive-In over by Lou Fusz Pontiac. Going to the drive in was always a treat. And later Lou Fusz had a franchise for every car built on planet Earth and likely is looking for Martian dealerships as well.
- The bakery in the Olivette Shopping Center “was a favorite haunt for chocolate iced cake donuts, glazed donuts and sugar donuts … for the outrageous price of 6 cents,” Andy noted. A speech therapist once told me to go into the bakery and ask for milk to practice speaking in public. Not a good experience.
- And finally, “Remember that Glaser’s had a great coffee shop … great cheeseburgers and fries.” I went for the grilled hot dogs and cherry Cokes. What I remember most about Glaser’s, a local drug store chain, was that on Sundays things were covered over because of Missouri “blue laws” preventing sales of anything but essentials. That meant no toys on Sundays, as if they aren’t essential.
Late returns from Andy, who came up with even more: “Lynne sez, did you include Buckingham’s? Best fried chicken ever, rolls, including dinner and rum raisin, mashed Potatoes and gravy, lemon merengue pie six inches tall.” It was the place where baby Andy flung a spoonful of mashed potatoes in some lady’s eye. He and I always brought home leftover chicken to eat while we watched Bonanza.
“If only Lucille Buckingham (Mrs. Buckingham) was still alive and her restaurant (in an old house in Kirkwood?) still open …,” Andy wrote.
Home tastes, added in another email from Andy:
- Frosty Root Beer
- Sealtest Ice Cream
- Hodge’s Chili (In the roll)
- Fish Sticks (Mom’s homage to sea food)
- TV Dinners like God intended
- Corn Pops when you could still call ’em Sugar Pops (are tops!)
“Lucky for you, although my memory ain’t what it never was, I can still remember food related venues …,” Andy wrote in his email.
The problem with this tastes of memory thing is the tastes don’t always live up to our memories. Sometimes eating the foods of our youth are more memories of taste than taste of memories. We remember the taste and so badly want what we remember.
The truth be known, the last few years of the Encore salad was more memory than taste. But take a bite and I was there, just like at Steak n Shake, Parkmore and Via’s.