Food, I have often said, is a vehicle for stories. This is one of those stories. A very long story. A 16.42 mile story, to be specific. So perhaps you should get some popcorn while I start at the beginning.
One of those most difficult aspects of being in a career search is the inexhaustible boredom which comes with waiting. Yes, one can always be filling out applications and casting his/her lot into every open position, but there comes a time when you’ve just got to step back and embrace the virtue of patience while the wheels of HR Departments go to work. I’ve been stuck in one of those cycles for a week now, and given some transportation limitations, have had to come up with creative ways to pass my time. Aside from the usual chores, comic book reading, and graduate school studying I may or may not accomplish in a given day, this often includes kitchen experiments.
Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, would seem like the kind of day to indulge my sense of culinary creativity. Pancakes are pretty easy to make and unemployment definitely supports getting fat. Only problem is that I’m stubborn, and I knew the pancakes I could make in my house would hardly do justice to the kinds of over-the-top gut-busters that the diners a good six miles down the street could make. I haven’t gotten pancakes at the Forest Diner in Ellicott City in years, but the thought of 8-year old me slogging through a stack of thick banana griddle cakes was enough to inspire me to do something potentially pretty stupid this past Tuesday.
Not that it mattered to me as I was hitting mile three or four on my leisurely jog out the door and into town. It’s been awhile since I’ve busted out a 10+ mile run, but I’ve done them before and packed plenty of snacks to keep me going. Besides, I think it’s good to do truly bizarre, seemingly “impossible” things every once in a blue moon. It reminds me that with a little will and some effort, I don’t need to let anything hold me back. Whether it be in applying for a job or asking someone out or eating a bunch of pancakes in between a half-marathon, it’s good to know my mind and body have some fight left in ‘em. Anyways, I figured I’d hit up the pancake house, stuff myself silly, then do some volunteering at the historical society down the street before passing out from a food coma. All the same by me. Ash Wednesday demands fasting, so an extra meal (or two) was in order.
It’s at this point I should mention doing an odd thing during that first half-hour of jogging. Stopping briefly on the side of the road, I spotted a sleeve of Hostess Mini Chocolate Frosted Donuts with two uneaten donuts still inside. Sick, right? I know, but like George Costanza eyeing a half-eaten eclair in the trash, I couldn’t help but stop and actually consider the donuts. No, I didn’t eat them, but I’d remember them in about an hour. More on this later.
Around mile 4.5 I passed a place called Kolache Kreations. I’ve heard about this place for some time and have driven by it for all of forever, but had never gone in. I made a mental note. More on this later.
Eventually I made my way to the Forest Diner. It’s a crummy looking shack, and when I walked in I saw a few old people mulling around and a very limited menu. I checked out their griddle cakes and at $6.99 I thought about it. Then, the old lady at the counter came over and said in a thick, mean-sounding coarse Baltimore accent, “you gonna order anything, HON?!?” If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the word “hun.” Confirming every negative stereotype about Baltimore and Maryland that I have, I quickly left and made for the Double T Diner next door. At least there were a bunch of cars over there.
Having never been to the Double T, I was initially put off by the retro, “New Jersey” diner feel that I had really only ever seen on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives. A menu offering the cheapest pancake option at six bucks didn’t encourage me (eh, I guess I’m more or a McDonald’s ‘hotcakes’ guy when it comes to paying my own way), and feeling a slightly irrational fulness, I decided to just keep running and see what else I could find.
20 minutes later, nature called, so I made sure to duck into a Dunkin Donuts to use the restroom. After contemplating a donut I decided that wouldn’t be keeping with my Lenten resolution not to blow money of fast food, so I made my way back another two miles or so to Kolache Kreations. I had heard they had a Pulled Pork kolache, and that sounded like it would hit the spot before making my way back the four miles to home. Key word is “thought,” because by the time I got there, they were out, and had only a few stale looking sausage and cheese kolache’s left. All due respect to the Czech’s, but I am not a sausage and cheese kind of guy.
Still feeling oddly not hungry, I continued on my run, thinking I’d just go home. Not 10 minutes later though I started to get hungry. Really hungry. Like runners-high-wearing-off, hit-the-wall hungry. And suddenly, I remembered that donut. Having a hobo moment might not have been such a bad idea, because at that particular moment I was either locked in towards running back home, or attempting a slight detour. In spite of my inner cheapskate I chose the detour, remembering the obscene amount of “5 Dollar Special” signs I had seen near the Italian place in the Waverly Woods plaza. Knowing full well it would be another few miles to get there and then another four or so to get back home, I had clearly lost my mind to the delusion of low blood sugar and a pizza craving.
I ended up at Tattoria Montese, and expecting to be greeted like a marathon runner at the finish line, was instead greeted by a not-so-happy looking Italian lady who impatiently waited for me to order. Noticing that the guido-looking crew was in the habit of reheating the monster, Sbarro-like pizza slices, I asked to get a piece from the previously uncut pie at the end, saying, “I want the freshest you have.” She didn’t take too kindly at that and bit back that “they’re all fresh.”
Clearly, Fat Tuesday is an excuse to lie before Lent begins as well.
So how was the pizza? About what you’d expect from New York Style reheated pizza. It was, I should say, overpriced and comparatively average. The idea that it should cost five bucks with a fountain drink and a few hunks of lettuce (and coming with some rather rude service) won’t make me a repeat customer, while the feeling of running back another 5+ miles to my house with the whole shabang in my gut was among the worst physical experiences I’ve endured since getting my chest hairs ripped apart at the hospital during my junior year of college.
But, for a good five minutes on Fat Tuesday, that pizza tasted like the best damn pizza I had ever had. Forget that the cheese wasn’t optimally stretchy or that the crust sagged more than Pam Anderson will in a couple of decades, but the greasy, salty taste of mild mozzarella warming run-of-the-mill, generic Italian-herb sauce and chewy pizza dough was subject to that omnipotent “x” factor of taste. It satisfied something desperately primal and, after not having this kind of cheap, mall-type New York Pizza style in years, brought back warm memories of my once loved Mama Illardo’s.
I left altogether satiated, both in mind, and in stomach. And that’s pretty much all anyone can ask after forking over five bucks for lunch, right? It may not have been a traditional Fat Tuesday, but it sure was an adventure, and a nice reminder that you really can do anything you set your mind to.
I’ll just never do that again.