It is dinner time on the road. We’ll not stop here for the night since we want to wake up in Niagara. Blue road signs display the usual list of junk food vendors. We are skirting the city of Erie, PA.
Without further guidance, we’re holding out for a mall. Courthouses and malls, even a Wal-Mart can provide some outlet for the local fare, however simple. But, more quickly than we can imagine, the dining prospects dry up. The blue service advisories give way to green highway markers and orange construction warnings.
“There is a University at the next exit.” Dale searches the map for other opportunities. Students get hungry. “Nothing much after that, though.”
A concrete ribbon conducts us around freshly mowed hills, pass the country club, the aquatics center, the community center, and eventually toward then away from the campus. There is no food.
“We can turn around and go back to the by-pass.” Dale suggests.
Uncharacteristically of me, I urge us on, “Let’s just see.”
Usually, I am the first one to cave in for immediate food. I am not above gas station pimento-cheese sandwiches well passed their expiration date, soggy chips, and warm Coke. My Hungry is Ugly. But, the 12-storey office building which anchors Erie’s downtown appears on the horizon; the city cannot be far. Shortly, we arrive on the Green tented, festooned, and boothed for a Festival of Bikers.
Lining the major arteries through the Central Business District are leather clad men, their rigs and their molls. No bar, no restaurant, no honky-tonk is exempt. Each has regiments of chrome, paint, and leather at the curb; a screaming juke box inside; hordes of bikers marauding the street, and a biker chug-a-lugging a long-neck on the pavement.
At the next light, I notice something different. Through the fuzz of the onsetting hypoglycemic coma, my eyes make out a corner storefront sans bikes, bike noise, mess, or people. Can it be? Yes, it is a kitchen.
I pronounce: ”There is dinner.” Starvation prevents argument.
“Table for two?” I ask, blustering through the door like a tornado.
“At the bar.”
The mysogeny of restaurateurs is that homocidally hungry people are made to wait. So, it is true at the bar. Counting ice cubes, polishing glasses, talking to other patrons, arranging toothpicks, one gets the distinct impression that the barman can’t be bothered. I notice, too, that there are plenty of empty tables. When we do ping his radar, the ‘tender asks for our drink order.
“May we have menus?”
He presents one. One is convenient. One is handy. One is what we get. No chips. No nuts. No pretzels. One barkeep. One menu. Two diners.
“Oh, it is like this, is it?” I peruse the the grease-stained sheet between us. Very long descriptions romance any trace ingredient, every process no matter how inconsequential, vain attempts to defend the exorbitances. ”In Erie, Pennsylvania? Surrounded by biker bars?” I think to myself, but, aloud, I huff, “BIG PLATES-little food.”
“There’s an Arby’s across the street.” Dale counsels.
(Of course, there is.)
Only two of the dishes could tell their tale in fewer than 175 words.
It never fails. One finds the most extraordinarily honest food where one least expects it.
And, it is always too cheap.