‘EATING’ The Lobster
Among the many things that my parents did for their three sons was a ritual that my father observed on his sons’ birthdays. He would take each of us, individually, on our birthday to a good restaurant. How cool was that! King of the World was how absolutely cool it was. Dad and I alone, being treated as a grownup, a real restaurant: candles on the table – lit! Cloth tablecloths and napkins, menus, a waiter, Shirley Temple drinks, Dad had something stronger and a relish tray. Oh my God the relish tray above all! As I recollect, in the 50’s and 60’s Connecticut restaurants always had these relish trays. They were a little tray, usually stainless steel, with several small sections that had canned olives, corn relish, cottage cheese, celery, maybe a dip or spread, mini breadsticks or Melba Toast in plastic wrappers. I know, today it’s odd, but to a kid such as I relish trays were just about the crème de la crème, Christmas!. It had stuff that we didn’t eat at home, you were supposed to eat it before your dinner came and you could still get dessert too!
On our birthday dinners
WE COULD ORDER ANYTHING THAT WE WANTED!
That statement had to be made in big, tall bold letters. Many times I did order the lobster. Actually, I can’t remember ordering anything except the lobster. The lobster dinner came with a price, perhaps a small price or perhaps not, but most certainly with a price. A price that, though we didn’t realize it at the time, would serve my brothers and me, and our families, faithfully and commendably throughout our days on earth. The price was – ritual and form. You couldn’t just eat the lobster – you had to EAT the lobster. You could not leave the smallest bit of meat uneaten.
This of course from the man who admonished his entire family, at any dinner that we ever ate at any restaurant, “Don’t fill up on the cheap stuff”. He was absolutely convinced that if we ate too much from the Relish Tray we wouldn’t be able to absolutely finish – decimate – leave no crumb of what we ordered for our meal.
If we didn’t eat everything that we had ordered then the restaurant would have won. They, the restaurant, would have sated us with the free relish tray and yet – we wouldn’t have finished the food that we actually ordered and had to pay for. The restaurant would get this food back, uneaten, and God knows how, but they would make money on it. Didn’t this guy ever hear of a doggy bag? In Dad’s later years the battle cry changed from, “Don’t fill up on the cheap stuff” to, “I could make a meal out of bread”.
The Grunwalds dressed up to go somewhere in the late 1950’s
The Grunwalds EATING of the lobster was, as Bonnie has likened it, similar to the scene in the movie ‘Splash’ where Tom Hanks has taken Daryl Hannah to a beautiful restaurant; she orders lobster and absolutely annihilates it – eats the whole damn thing: meat and shell! The Grunwald way of eating lobster isn’t quite that extreme – but it’s close. Of course the main pieces of meat in the claws and tail are easy – for amateurs. BUT, how about getting those pieces of meat that are located in the fins of the tail – HOW ABOUT THOSE PILGRIM!
How about the meat in all the legs! Put those legs in your mouth, crack ‘em and suck that meat out! Forget the claw knuckles and you will be damned by Poseidon. Don’t Miss Them! – Miss What? – The HUGE pieces of meat in the base of the legs and claws where they go into the body! Crack that body shell in half and get the meat on the sides of the body.
And by God you just better attend to the coral (red stuff) and the tamali – I don’t care if the tamali is greenish, somewhat gelatinous, and has supposedly soaked up every bit of toxin that the lobster has ever ingested – it tastes great!
All my brothers and I continue to have a lifelong love affair with eating lobster the way Dad taught us. We are so absolutely certain that this is the way to EAT lobster that our revolutionary zeal has made it easy to enlist our wives and families in this fraternity. This is not to say that the path to lobster eating enlightenment has been easy. The Grunwald method of eating the lobster was a lot for a young kid to absorb. There were moments at the lobster table when we faltered in our commitment and resented not be able to take the easy path of just the tail and claw meat. However, we eventually understood that the truism of ‘anything worth doing is worth doing well’ could be applied to every aspect of our lives. For this, if nothing else, I owe Dad eternal thanks and love.
Our commitment goes deep and we take no prisoners. On one of my brothers’ wedding anniversaries he cooked lobster for himself and his wife. While they were eating the lobster my sister in law sliced her hand open while cracking a claw open (an accepted hazard in the course of EATING a lobster). The cut was deep enough that they had to go to the hospital to get her stitched up and ‘pain-killered’. When they returned home the wife went to bed, basically passing out from the drugs, whereupon my brother went back to the table and finished his lobster – and hers. Well what was he supposed to do?
You really do have to cook the lobster yourself. It’s so easy to steam or boil it that you should never entrust this task to some eyebrow pierced and tattooed 16 year old in your local food store who will boil your expensive lobster to the point where it has acquired the chewy-ness of a car tire. And for those PETA folks out there that are reading this and ignoring the realities of evolution and the food chain I want you to know this. Know that before I put the lobster into the pot of boiling water or plunge that knife into its back I give thanks and I give that crustacean a chance to live. The lobster and I actually have a conversation, though to date it is one-sided. I say, “hey little lobster. If you can say one or two words of English I will let you live in splendor for the rest of your natural days.” So far, the lobster always says – nothing. I give him a minute or so to respond and then – the end. I will alert everyone when the first lobster speaks to me.
There’s an absolutely wonderful seafood market on the Cape – Hatch’s. Just one of the things that make this emporium so wonderful is that they give away free lobster bodies! The first time that I saw the small sign that they had posted saying, “Free Lobster Bodies” I nearly fainted from the huge number of happy thoughts that were running through my head. The cooked bodies are the unappreciated leftovers from the lobsters that the store cooks up for undeserving amateurs who just dine on the claws and tails. Not only is there a good amount of meat in these bodies, they also form the base for wonderful broths and stocks.
I went in one day and there were several people in the store. When my turn came to be waited I noticed that THE sign was posted and when it came my turn to order I asked the counter guy to fill a bag for me. I have little hesitation in being a pig about this, few people avail themselves of this delight. Maybe, if I could get cheap lobster on a regular basis I’d approach this differently. Maybe.
As my bag was being filled with the bounty of other folk’s laziness a women standing by my side waiting to order some fish looked at the lobster bodies being piled in the bag, turned to me and smiling asked, “What will you use them for? An art project, or decoration?” I smiled back and said, “Why no ma’am, I’ll be eating them”. You never have a camera with you for that Pulitzer winning photo. Her look said that her stomach had been turned inside out and the fact that you could see the blood draining from her face summed it up – Amateur. Dad would not have approved of her inability to EAT the lobster – and I certainly agree with his assessment.
The Frontiersman And Patricia Murphy’s
Let’s Let loose the Hounds of Hell right here. Virtually all young children should be banished from the better restaurants until they reach the age of eighteen. Rather than defining what a better restaurant is, let’s just say that children younger than eighteen years of age should be confined to the likes of fast food restaurants, national chain restaurants or the dining room of any third rate, or lesser, national hotel/motel chain. While there are children capable of acquitting themselves appropriately in an upscale setting the majority cannot. I was one of those golden children, as was my cousin, Claudia, who joined me at our parents’ wedding anniversary dinners at Avon Old Farms was one and later in my story I’ll introduce you to the third golden child. I wrote that my parents took my brothers and me out to good restaurants so you may think that I’m contradicting myself. Understand that my brothers and I were golden children because we knew that if we were not we’d be dealing with Dad’s belt. I’ve always felt that a little fear is a good thing.
I know, you’re reading this page and screaming, “My child’s perfect you asshole!” The truth is that your child is not perfect. Truth be told you love your child and maybe, just maybe, the grandparents love your child. No one else cares the slightest about them. Your child is loud, runs around the restaurant like a Chihuahua on uppers, screams loudly and sharply enough to split eardrums, throws food and silverware to the floor, and is a mind-boggling irritating pain in the ass to someone who’s gone to a good restaurant to be cosseted in the lap of culinary luxury.
You have absolutely no idea as to how irritating your child is when they’re misbehaving and in need of a ‘time out’. I was out to dinner with a friend of mine who has children. There was a child in the banquette next to ours screaming, putting their head over the top of the partition to look at us and throwing food. I said to my friend, “We have to get our seat moved because in another minute I’m going to injure the child and the parents”. He looked at me and said, “What’s the problem?” Wild eyed I replied, “Can’t you hear that screaming kid. I’m not going to eat dinner with that crap going on!” His response was classic, “Gee, you know I didn’t even notice it. When you have kids you pretty much learn to ignore it.” With those words I entirely understood the parents’ situation – you’re deaf and blind.
Central Connecticut Hoodlums – I knew these kids and in 1957
none of them should have been granted entrance to a good restaurant
If you’ve calmed down enough to appreciate what I’ve told you should be asking yourself, “How will they ever learn to behave in a good restaurant if I never take them to one?” Try eating dinner at the table as a family, with something that you actually cooked rather than poured from a box or gotten from takeout. Have the kids’ help you make dinner, at least have them set the table if not cook (maybe they’ll remember which fork to use when – a skill that I’m still working on), have the family sit together and talk politely for the entire meal and cleanup together. Teach them the wonder and magic of food and cooking. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to take long. Buy ground beef (not the pre-made patties), good hamburger buns, make some of Dave’s Roast Potatoes – or even potato chips and make a green salad. And when I say make the salad, I mean make the salad. Do you know how long those ‘pre-made salad mixes’ have been sitting around and what chemicals they’ve been dosed with to keep the lettuce green? Make meatballs instead of hamburgers, the recipe is only a little bit more work. Make a marinara sauce; one half hour tops. Cook up some pasta. There, in less than 30 minutes you’ve made pasta with meatballs in marinara sauce.
I’m convinced that soccer is a communist plot intended to destroy the American family. You don’t need to go to practice and games 24/7. What do you think is better for your kids’ upbringing? Being together as a family or being shuttled to an endless round of soccer games? Was our family together most of the time? Yes we were. What did being together do for us? I’m not sure; I just know that it was right. Was it perfect all the time? Of course not, silly. But the few perfect times do stick with you.
I wrote that I was one of the golden children who consistently behaved perfectly in all restaurant settings – I lied. I recall an incident where Dad had taken us to see a Yankee’s game in New York sometime in the late 1950’s. After the game we went to ‘Patricia Murphy’s’ for dinner. In my preadolescent memories, I think that I was somewhere around eight or nine years old, maybe 10, I recall ‘Patricia Murphy’s’ as a pretty damn opulent restaurant with incredible popovers. A restaurant that may have been out of my league except for the fact that it was here on this day, after seeing Mickey Mantle play baseball in Yankee Stadium, that I ordered for the first time – duck a` l’orange. Mickey Mantle and duck a` l’orange as equals? Absolutely. Mickey Mantle, a boyhood hero of mine to this day and I loved the duck, crispy sweet and tangy, rich tasting and served in a beautiful setting.
And then the demons cast their spell on me and I became just any other pain in the ass child in a restaurant. It being the 1950’s I recall that I was dressed in some sort of cowboy outfit. If you’re puzzled by that, than you don’t know the 50’s. In those days every boy was dressed in a cowboy outfit or a Superman cape. Not only was I wearing a cowboy hat, or a Davy Crockett coonskin hat (actually, I believe that the coonskin hat was made of vinyl and squirrel fur), but I was also wearing a holster with two cap pistols in it. Being the 1950’s you could get away with parading around with a holster with guns in it. Even with the guns and holster this outfit is fashionable today in certain neighborhoods of New York City, Dallas, Houston or Provincetown.
We were seated at the tables and well into our dining when the incident occurred. As a child I never relinquished my guns to the maitre’d, one never knows when one will need to protect kith and kin. Consequently I had stuffed my Husky Boy Bubble Butt, holster and cap pistols into a very elegant chair not large enough to accommodate such large example of youthful 1950’s virility. And then – one of the cap pistols fell from the holster to the hard marble floor causing it to fire (hair trigger you know) and letting loose a humongous bang that echoed through the restaurant for 20 minutes. The fragrance of cordite from the exploded caps did not ‘work well’ with the duck. I was surprised as anyone else in that room and my first thought was that I hoped I hadn’t damaged my pistol, my parents were so surprised that, at least initially, they hadn’t even thought to swat me, the other diners were surprised, but not to the point where any of them dove to the floor. That is to say that the other diners did not seem unduly disturbed with one exception. The exception being an older woman (to my eight or nine year old eyes she looked ancient, probably somewhere around thirty years old). This old lady was sitting at the table next to ours, her seat just to the side of mine. I recall the scene visually and as a series of loud noises. When the cap pistol fired (the first loud noise) I heard her shriek (the second loud noise) and saw her grab her chest as if she was having a heart attack, she jumped up knocking her chair over (the third loud noise), knocked her meal to the floor (the fourth loud noise) and angrily confronted my father about the hoodlum that he was raising (the fifth and possibly loudest noise).
Boy did she confront him. I remember that I was absolutely astonished that a woman would scream at my Dad like that. I honestly don’t recall a punishment for this, but the worst thing is that I was too young to truly appreciate the humor of the situation.
NO CHILDREN IN GOOD RESTAURANTS
Christmas 1952 – The cowboy outfit preceded the Davy Crockett
Outfit by several years. However, the inclination towards firearms is obviously present.
NEXT WEEK: CHILDHOOD’S END; HE DID GET INTO RISD; HAVEN BROS. AND HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES