Wednesday, January 09, 2008

And Some Gravy For The Fries, Please...


When I first moved to North Miami in the 1950's it was very much a different place, a Southern place, strange, in fact alien to my New England sensibilities. The first order of business for a not quite fourteen year old kid was finding the fishing tackle store and the local movie theater. The House of Snook was at 12780 West Dixie Highway, and the movie theater was a block south and across the street. Kids could go to the Saturday matinee for a quarter, see a double feature, coming attractions, news, sports, and a few cartoons. Another dime would buy a box of popcorn. Best of all it was about the only place in town where you could find air conditioning! That alone was worth twenty-five cents. The theater is still there, but despite aborted attempts to revive it over the years as everything from a children's playhouse to a soft core porn emporium to a 99 cent movie theater it sits empty and forlorn these days.

The House of Snook also went through numerous incarnations over the years, most recently about nineteen years ago, but between not being able to compete on price with the likes of The Sports Authority, and the almost total lack of shoreline and bridges where a kid can still fish these days, I suspect that no more revivals will be attempted.

Just north of the theater was Mary's Restaurant. Like most neighborhood places there was no air conditioning, the windows were small, and the gas grill, steam table, and coffee pots gave off plenty of unwanted heat. A couple of electric fans strained to blow air through the length of the place. Front and rear even the screen doors were left open. Closed they slowed down the air flow too much. Better to swat a few mosquitos and chase flies from the food than risk raising the temperature another degree. You can only stand to sweat so much!

Mary, a big woman, was always covered with sweat in the summer. We all were, I suppose. That's the place where I learned that grits weren't some mystery Southern concoction to eat with your eggs. I'd never liked the oatmeal that I grew up with, but I quickly learned to love grits. Instead of a hamburger with tomato and ketchup I learned how good a burger tasted with lettuce, tomato, and mayonaise. And I learned just how good French fries tasted covered with brown gravy. It seems to be a dying custom, however. Waitresses no longer enquire "Gravy on your fries?" Some even give you a strange look when you request it these days. Well, here I am at Jimmy's Place just a few blocks south west of where Mary worked her culinary magic half a century ago. My fries have their gravy. The older waitresses openly and patiently explain to the new hires (right in front of me, no less!) that yup, crazy Al likes gravy on his fries, and he even says that it used to be common to eat them that way.

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