No sooner had the crunchy nugget touched my mouth than a chill went up my spine and I stopped — looked at my sister and my son — and sighed. A smile consumed my face as I absorbed that fried clam and shared a lobster salad roll at a picnic table outside Carol’s Dairy Bar in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
There’s something about the sweetness of freshly fried, whole belly clams paired with relish-laced tartar sauce that punched my golden ticket to the past. I was physically back in time on a summer road trip dinner stop with my family.
I was only dragged back to 2021 by the roar of two muffler-less motorcycles racing through the nearby intersection and two people yelling in thick local accents.
Such is the power of taste and aroma memory to cut through the current mental clutter and take us away.
Location matters, too. I can find real fried clams occasionally in Colorado, but they can’t taste the way they do at sea level in my home town.
I had headed to New England because my mom’s sister, Josie, was celebrating her 100th birthday with a family reunion at her longtime Connecticut home.
No quiet, sleepy elder, Aunt Josie held court for seven hours while many of the younger family members showed signs of party fatigue and left. Having survived two pandemics, two world wars and so much loss in her 10 decades, I wondered what her secret was (beyond walking every day and having a close family). She leaned her head toward mine, gazed into my eyes and whispered: “Chocolate.” I asked whether she liked milk or dark? “It doesn’t matter as long as it’s every day,” she said.
During the trip I showed my son my home town — Main Street, the schools, the woods in the neighborhood. The big white house I grew up in is now sadly in disrepair. We stepped inside briefly but it seemed smaller and more claustrophobic than I remembered. I paused near the kitchen where I learned to cook everything from lasagna to Nana’s famous stuffing and started down a food-writing path.
Only food has the power to affect time travel and take you home. That’s why taste buds are our tour guides. At New England farm stands, restaurants and stores, I gravitated toward the memory foods from butter and sugar, corn and fresh tomatoes, to fresh blueberries and Table Talk Pies. Eating sandwiches with my brother and his significant other by the Connecticut River erased the decades of distance as did two scoops of maple-y walnut ice cream at a stand near Long Island Sound.
I know that many former Boulder residents seek certain culinary signposts when they visit, yearning to taste things they took for granted when they lived here.
In his “Remembrance of Things Past” — also translated as “In Search of Lost Time” — French author Marcel Proust wrote about how he felt when he tasted a cookie dipped in tea: “This new sensation had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me.”
It’s good to be home.
Smoke doesn’t get in your eyes
It may be hard to imagine now as you sit in a small Boulder eatery, but not so long ago there would have been a smoking “section” five feet away from you with folks exhaling clouds of second-hand tobacco smoke toward you. That’s the way it was, except in the few eateries that banned smoking.
Here’s a nod to late Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm, a strong advocate for smoke-free public spaces. He felt you had a right to not inhale second-hand smoke and supported the first statewide smoking restrictions in 1984. Voters endorsed it, delivering a big defeat for Big Tobacco.
As a dining critic from 2000 to 2008 for the Rocky Mountain News, I actually marked-down establishments a full grade — from an “A” to a “B” or “B-” to “C-” etc. — if my family had to inhale secondhand cigarette smoke in order to dine there. Thankfully, indoor public smoking was eventually banned.
Ironically, another smoking argument now consumes Boulder. It involves whether consenting adults can gather in a club or restaurant to smoke cannabis and inhale secondhand cannabis smoke.
Dead restaurants return to life!
In the restaurant business (as well as soap operas and cartoons), resurrection is possible. The creators of the long-running South Park series will buy Casa Bonita, the famous Lakewood eatertainment destination they’ve skewered for years. They promise that the notoriously horrific food will be improved and that the cliff diving and sopapillas will continue. … Meanwhile Zaidy’s in Cherry Creek, the iconic Jewish deli set in for 35 years before closing in 2020, has reopened at 600 S. Holly St. in Denver. The menu still features my favorite: the latke Reuben.
Local Food News
Rae’s & Kay’s Authentic Puerto Rican & Soul Food has moved from the Broker Inn to a new location at 2825 Wilderness Place for takeout and delivery. … Chef Samuel McCandless will be the new executive chef of Corrida. McCandless formerly cooked at Arcana (now Supermoon) as well as Frasca. … Longmont’s Left Hand Brewing has opened an outdoor beer garden at 1245 Boston Ave. with food trucks and live music. … West Flanders Brewing Co., 1125 Pearl St., will close Aug. 22 after a decade in business. That location on the downtown mall has been a restaurant site for decades. I cooked there in the 1980s when it was Pearl’s restaurant.
Words to Chew On
“Invention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple.” — Willie Wonka in the film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, first released 50 years ago.
John Lehndorff is the food editor of the Boulder Weekly. Comments and local eatery and food news to: Nibbles@BoulderWeekly.com