One year ago today, my grandpa died. And while I thought I was over his passing, I'm guessing that I'm not.
My grandpa was my first real epicurean inspiration. He grew up at a time in our country's food history where there were no convenience products. Sure, people were self-canning their own produce, but there was no access to the vast quantity of processed foods we are buried under at today's supermarket. He used to talk fondly of the sheer quality and quantity of food that his mother used to make on a regular basis. Apparently to make ends meet, his mother took on borders and would cook meals family-style. Unfortunately, I only knew my great-grandmother as a very young child before I had a chance to develop any sense of a food palate, so I was never able to experience the awesome amount of cooking knowledge she must have possessed.
The memories I hold most dear regarding my grandpa always seemed to center around food. I remember being grateful in high school and college when he treated me to a good restaurant meal. Having no money at the time, I always vowed that someday I would return the favor. Finally, after graduating and landing that first job, I was thrilled for the first time to be able to treat him to a good meal.
My grandpa was a bit of a card and loved to interact with other people. This sometimes led to some embarrassment of myself, but in general, he was just a guy who loved to socialize. One particularly poignant moment is the first time I took him to the Baricelli Inn located in Cleveland. At the time, the Baricelli Inn was what one would consider "uppity", "snooty" if you will. We had ordered our meal, an appetizer, salad, and entree and a wonderful bottle of wine. About half-way through our first glass of wine, the waiter brought out the appetizers. I don't remember what we ordered, but it was decadent and delicious (as was the entire meal, actually).
Shortly thereafter, our persnickety waiter returned to check on the progress of our appetizer course. It was at this moment my grandpa gleefully exclaimed that it was "'Raat good!" and then proceeded to explain that he was from West Virgina and that was how they say it down there. Another time he responded that his meal was "Deee-wicious!", just like the little boy from the French's mustard commercial had done on the television. I would've been mortified had it not been so funny to see our waiter's reaction. I realized at that moment that my grandpa's outlook on life was the same whether he was sitting in a four star restaurant or the diner at the end of the block. From then on, his comments never bothered me anymore. (As a side note, the Baricelli Inn has since completely revamped it's menu and style and become much more accessible to a wider variety of customers.)
During the late 1990's in the midst of the Internet boon, I was fortunate enough to discover an upscale Mediterranean restaurant named Grappa's. Led by Chef Scot Jones (currently Executive Chef for The Vegiterranean in Akron), we would dine there about twice a month, the check always being picked up by me (those were some good years, consulting-wise). One of the servers there became our most requested server because of how well she took care of my grandfather and doted on him. After a number of months of visits, I finally had the chance to speak to her while my grandpa was in the restroom. I thanked her for the tremendous job she had always done taking care of us, especially taking the extra time I know she didn't have to talk with my grandpa. She simply looked at me and said, "You know, I have a grandpa, too. And that's how I'd want him to be treated if our roles were reversed." I shed a tear even now thinking about her kindness.
And although I didn't start my food blog until after his death, I would like to think that what I've done up to this point would make him happy. I share in his love of eating good food and engaging in good conversation. I've even discovered his love of Manhattans through my good friends at the Velvet Tango Room where they make a delicious Tango Manhattan. I wish I had discovered VTR a little earlier in my life when he was still around. As a cocktail drinker all his life, I think he would've appreciated the artistry and commitment that the entire staff has for an excellent cocktail.
So, while I can't bring you back, grandpa, I can raise my Tango Manhattan to your memory and spirit tomorrow night when I meet up with friends to help celebrate life, happiness, and a love for good food.