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A SUMMER PLACE
The delicious flavors of summers past
By Ted Scheffler
Photos by Niki Chan
It's summertime, and I'm in the back seat of a hot car, playing "slug bug" with my sisters. Each time we see a Volkswagen Beetle on the highway we yell, "Slug bug!" and the first one to spot the Beetle gets to slug the others in the arm. My parents are both smoking. It's stuffy and cramped, and well before the days of in-car air conditioning. We've been hostages in the car since about 3 or 4 a.m.; on road trips, my father always wants to get "an early start."
My mom spots a sign for Stuckey's—home of the famous Stuckey's Pecan Log Roll—and we stop for an early lunch. It is a revelation. I eat the first restaurant-made grilled-cheese sandwich of my life. And what are those things next to it? French fries! Two incredible discoveries in one memorable meal. Today, I eschew most professionally made grilled-cheese sandwiches, preferring to eat homemade. Unless, that is, I find myself in the vicinity of a Melty Way (MeltyWay.com). Then I treat myself to a taste of gooey nostalgia.
It's summertime, and my dad and I have driven—well, he's driven—from where our family lives, in Seville, Spain, to Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol. We arrive at night, and for reasons I don't recall, I choose to sleep under the car on the beach while my dad sleeps in it. The next day, Dad takes me to a chiringuito—one of the small beachfront bar/cafes that serve cold beer and hot tapas. My dad orders a beer for himself and a Coca-Cola for me, along with gambas: a small plate (my introduction to tapas) of fresh shrimp wrapped in serrano ham, grilled and served in a garlicky sauce. These are flavors I'll never forget. But, if I need a reminder, I order the gambas con bacon at Cafe Madrid (5244 S. Highland Drive, 801-273-0837, CafeMadrid.net).
It's summertime, and we're on the road again. We've returned stateside from Europe and are headed to sunny California, where we'll put down stakes for a couple years. Somewhere in the Midwest, we stop for dinner at a Howard Johnson's where, at my mom's insistence, I discover what would become one of my favorite edible treats on the planet: fried clams. Years later, I would learn that my culinary hero, Jacques Pépin, was hired in 1961—after working for the likes of Charles de Gaulle—by Howard Johnson himself to update the menus at the chain of roadside restaurants. He stayed with HoJo's for nearly a decade.
According to Pépin—whom I had the honor of studying with briefly in New York City—the fried clams were made from the tongues of huge sea clams (the rest of the clam was used for chowder). Since my childhood introduction to fried clams, I've eaten them in dozens of places, from the Lobster Trap on Cape Cod (where you can get them with the bellies intact), to Gladstone's on the beach in Malibu, Calif. On Long Beach Island, off the coast of New Jersey—where I now spend hot and humid summers with my son, Hank—we eat piles of fried clams at The Clam Bar. One future hot summer, he'll teach my future grandchild to love clams as much as we do; food ways are passed from generation to generation. For the best fried clams in Utah, you'll need to head up to Park City, surprisingly—to Cena Ristorante and Lounge in The Chateaux at Deer Valley (7815 Royal Street, 435-940-2200, The-Chateaux.com).
It's summertime in Morocco, and I'm riding a camel. I'm in Morocco to play in an all-star Little League tournament against other teams from around the region (yes, there is baseball in Morocco). My mom is a chaperone for our team, and our guide is escorting us through the colorful chaos that is a Moroccan bazaar in Rabat. I buy a souvenir fez. At some point, the guide leads us through an alley and into a small house filled with exotic smells.
A family that is helping to host our Little League team has invited a few of us to lunch, and I think it's cool we get to eat with our hands—no utensils. We are treated to a sweet-and-savory (a term I'd only come to know decades later) Moroccan dish—a sort of phyllo-dough pie filled with chicken, nuts and spices, and dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Many years later, during college, I'd come across this amazing dish again at a Boulder restaurant called Mataam Fez, and would learn that it's called pastilla (aka bastilla, bisteeya, bstilla and b'stilla). It's still one of the most remarkable dishes I've ever encountered—and now when I want to remember those Moroccan flavors, I check into Cedars of Lebanon (152 E. 200 South, 801-364-4096, CedarsOfLebanonRestaurant.com) for its delicious pastilla. Alas, our Little League team ultimately lost the tournament, but discovering pastilla still makes me a winner.
It's summertime in the late 1960s, and my mom is dragging me and my sisters around Manhattan. She loves the city, and my father won't go near it. She takes us to a place for lunch called an "automat." It's a big, lunchroom-type eatery where customers plunk money into coin-operated slots that dispense food—stuff like sandwiches, coffee, pie slices and even soups and stews—which await behind a small glass window.
Decades later, when I moved to New York City on a hot summer day in August, I'd learn that the place was called Horn & Hardart, on East 42nd Street. It's closed now. I'd moved to New York City to attend grad school, and quickly found my way (via a guide called New York on $15 a Day) to Manganaro's Hero Boy in Hell's Kitchen. There, I relished the massive, inexpensive hero sandwiches (said to be invented there), piled high with fresh-sliced meats, cheeses and extras like pepperoncini. Today, when I want a terrific bang-for-the-buck hero (or hoagie or sub or grinder or torpedo or whatever you want to call it), I go to Grove Market & Deli (1906 S. Main, 801-467-8860, GroveMarketDeli.com) for the Big John, to the original Granato's (1391 S. 300 West, 801-486-5643) to enjoy their Godfather, or to Caputo's Market & Deli downtown (314 W. 300 South, 801-531-8669, CaputosDeli.com) to get my lips around The Caputo, with prosciutto, mortadella, salami, provolone and fixings.
It's summertime, and I'm in Belgium eating steamed mussels. They're extraordinary, and not just because I've never eaten mussels in any form before. It's because they are plump, juicy and bathed in a silky broth marinières, with a side of spectacular french fries to boot. It's a warm summer night, and I'm dining at one of Brussels' oldest restaurants, Aux Armes de Bruxelles. It's one of the simplest, yet most memorable, meals I'll ever enjoy. Since then, I've gone on to make many batches of my own moules marinières, but when I'm too lazy to cook or just want to enjoy a good restaurant meal, I order the moules marinières at The Paris Bistro (1500 S. 1500 East, 801-486-5585, TheParis.net) or at J&G Grill in Deer Valley's St. Regis (2300 Deer Valley Drive East, 435-940-5760, JGGrillDeerCrest.com).
It's summertime, and I'm in Brazil—which means it's December. During a break from graduate school, I'm honoring my obsession for the Brazilian martial art of capoeira by flying down to Rio de Janeiro to study under Mestre Camisa, the Bruce Lee of Brazilian capoeira. There, I discover the carnivorous phenomenon that is churrasco at the churrascarias serving skewered, grilled meats in an endless, all-you-can-eat rotation (rodizio).
Eventually, I roam north with my capoeirista compatriots and eat at seaside shacks in Salvador, Bahia, where I buy acarajé—a mashed-and-fried bean concoction—from women attired in native garb. I enjoy it on the beach between capoeira sessions, along with other delectable Salvadoran dishes like vatapá, moqueca and, on Saturdays, feijoada. Although the cuisine of northern Brazil is hard to come by here, there are plenty of places to get the churrasco experience: Tucanos Brazilian Grill (162 S. 400 West, 801-456-2550, Tucanos.com), Texas de Brazil (50 S. Main, 385-232-8070, TexasDeBrazil.com), Rodizio Grill (600 S. 700 East, Trolley Square, 801-220-0500, RodizioGrill.com), Tushar Express (1078 W. South Jordan Parkway, 801-446-6644, TusharExpress.com) and Braza Grill (5927 S. State, 801-506-7788, BrazaGrillUtah.com), for example.
It's summertime, and I'm spending it in Oaxaca, Mexico. It's the Reagan 1980s, and I'm much in need of a mental-health break and some separation from Reagan's America. I'm awakened before dawn every morning by the crowing of the rooster that resides at the house next to my little bungalow in Oaxaca's Colonia Linda Vista, where my anthropology mentor and friend, Michael, has procured me an apartment for $40 per week, including maid service.
The city of Oaxaca is landlocked, and I crave the ocean in summer. So, I drive south to Puerto Escondido and check into the Hotel Santa Fe, overlooking Zicatela beach and its famous Mexican Pipeline, which draws serious surfers from around the globe. It is here, at a seaside shack—the name long forgotten—that I come every day for fish tacos. If memory serves, they were made from local red snapper or sea bass. Today, when I need an escape from reality and I'm jonesing for South of the Border flavors and ambiance, I head to Lone Star Taqueria (2265 E. Fort Union Boulevard, 801-944-2300, LoneStarTaqueria.com) and order up their excellent fish tacos.
It's summertime, and I can't wait to discover what flavors and adventures this summer will offer. So far, summers have treated me very well.