Monday, February 23, 2009

Going Home Again

Sometimes, going home again tweaks the emotions. Today, I headed out to Long Island, to the little town where I went to high school and beyond - and formed some lasting bonds. You see, many of the guys (and some of the gals) I was friends with back in high school, I'm still friends with today, almost 40 years down the road...and not just 'cause of facebook...we get together at least a couple of times a year, to play cards or go out to eat, have a barbecue or a little party, whatever. This past weekend, however, one of my old, dear friends had lost his dad, and those of us that are somewhat local made our way out for the funeral.

You gotta understand, this friend's parents were really parents like no others. It was and still is a big family; 5 brothers, numerous cousins, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, grandmas, grandpas, in-laws, name it. There was always lots of eating going on, as is usually the case when big Italian families get together. And no, it wasn't the food I saw at my family gatherings, or what I like to call the food of affliction..."baked" chicken, dry brisket, overcooked turkey, chopped liver (oh wait, I think I liked the chopped liver - it was sorta pâté, after all); well, you get the picture. No, this was lasagna and fried calamari; this was meatballs and gravy and great sausages and roasted peppers; this was salumi and cheese like we hadn't tasted; this was baked eggplant, fried zucchini and macaroni - nope, they didn't called it pasta yet. It was the food of Christmas eve, and the feast of the 7 "fishes" ...and damn, it was all so good.

And "the guys " were always welcome. That's right, there might have been 2 of us or there might have been 30 of us (remember, there were 5 kids), and we were always welcome... at times in some rather interestingly altered states of consciousness. And we were ALWAYS well fed. I often wonder if it's where I first fell in love with Italian might've even started my lifelong passion for it.

So when the mass was over, a few of us decided to head to a place that we used to go to late at night, when the debauchery died down or when the bars closed. It's still there, although they did fancy the place up a bit (they never can leave well enough alone, can they?) It was a place that was packed to the gills on a Saturday night when all the bar mitzvahs were over. You see, we went to the

That's right, it's the Lantern Diner - Open 24 Hours, or never closed as I like to say. Never once in the last 40 years? Wow. It sits just east of the intersection of Nassau Blvd. and Hempstead Tpke., in West Hempstead, one town over from Franklin Square, where I, ahem, grew up.

Unfortunately, our favorite waitress, Linda, who could carry about a dozen coffees at one time and who I used to run into on my occasional jaunt to Roosevelt Raceway to check out the trotters, is no longer around. But, c'mon, how classic is a joint that sets the tables with placemats like this...

Yes, all your favorite cocktails, right there on the placemat in front of you - don't forget to bring the kids. Interestingly enough, some of the recipes are perfect, but I'll take my Manhattan 2 to 1, thank you.

For old time's sake, I ordered the English burger - or an "all-beef" patty on a toasted English muffin, with grilled mushrooms and onions. Came with a pickle and slaw, and not half-bad for a diner...

And it tweaked all my emotions, as I mentioned at the start. On the one hand, a day made sad by the funeral of someone who was just a really nice guy. And of seeing all the people he touched, and their sadness too. And on the other hand, a chance to spend some time hanging with some old friends...talking about the past, worrying a bit about the present and wondering about the future. Food and friends - that's the way it should be, and don't you forget it.

And to Mr. D, a big tip of the hat and lots of love to the whole family for how welcome you made us all feel.


  1. Great post, Boss. Cute story. I remember one Christmas Eve when one of the Italian uncles was laughing and winking to everyone, telling me to try the scungilli (which I'd never eaten before) to see my, I guess, horrified reaction, and he was like, so kid, you gotta try dis. It looked weird but I ate some and he was waiting for me to spit it out but I really liked it and said, wow that's really delicious, can I have some more? He was visibly disappointed as I was probably the first Jewish kid he'd ever seen eat that stuff and love it. Same with the squid. I can still smell, and imagine the taste, of that marinara sauce, which was the first homemade spaghetti sauce (as we called it in my house) I'd ever had.

    I don't think most of us ever ate at the 'tern unless we were stoned, 'luded, completely blotto, or all three. How is the food without drugs? And how many people looked around at some doofus taking a picture of his efin hamburger? How far we have come, Mitch. If Linda was there, she would not have let that get by without at least several withering, yet hilarious comments.

  2. Considering all that we did, great memory there, bro.

    How great was that scungilli - I can't believe you'd never had it before, at home. See what our parents made us live without.

    The food - just like I remembered it...I think. And no one was annoyed at my picture taking - they had seated us in the special "blogger" area.

    Whaddya know - just as I type the "You Can't Always Get What You Want" came on the radio.

  3. Yo! I've been to the Lantern! Its where I was introduced to french fries with gravy. Even in an altered state it was mysterious and gross.