Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Over the years, I’ve used my grandfather’s calendar entries to follow him to all kinds of long-closed businesses.

There was Stamford’s beloved Chimney Corner Inn … the Clam Box in Wethersfield, a heavenly-sounding family-owned seafood place … a Red Coach Grill chain restaurant in Framingham, Massachusetts … and the expensive-but-worth-it Carriage House in Westport, just to name a few.

It’s kinda nice to come across a place on his calendars that’s still in operation, under its original name, all these years later.

It’s like a minor connection to his world — and a reminder that, while the retail world is fleeting and capricious, a few businesses do it well enough to really last.

June 6, 1973.

June 6, 1973. The Yanks, winners today over Texas, are only a half-game back.

New Hampshire has only 13 miles of coastline (18 by some measurements), so I figured Amarante’s had to be one of a relative few restaurants lucky enough to nestle in. Must be some of the state’s most expensive real estate, I figured. Did the food match the view?

I was totally off the mark, of course. “N.H.,” in this case, meant New Haven, just up the coast from my grandparents, a city they’d visited when my Aunt Elaine went to school at what was then Southern Connecticut State College.

And it was my Aunt Elaine they were once again meeting there — this time, I’m guessing, to scout out the potential site of a wedding reception.

Amarante’s, unlike the places I listed above, isn’t a restaurant. It’s a wedding and function hall overlooking the ocean, in the Morris Cove area on the east side of the city’s harbor.

Apparently, the place did well enough at the June 6 visit to win over my family and get the gig.

August 17 and 18, 1973.

August 17 and 18, 1973. Hope they remembered the napkins.

Serpe Bros., the tuxedo shop mentioned in my grandpa’s August 17 entry, is still in business on Bedford Avenue in Stamford.

And Amarante’s, now known as Amarante’s Sea Cliff, is still serving up chicken piccata and “Brick House” to a whole new generation of southern Connecticut brides and grooms after more than 50 years.

I’ve not been there myself, so I couldn’t endorse the place, but they must be doing something right. It takes some degree of skill to keep any service business going that long, no matter how good the location.

I’ve wondered before about how much, or how little, my grandfather would recognize if he were able to visit his old stomping grounds today.

Change is inevitable — and often for the better. But it’s still kinda cool to find out about a place he’d know, and a place where he (presumably) had a good time while marking a major family event.

Although I’ve never been to Amarante’s, I can sort of imagine my grandfather looking out across New Haven harbor in his rented gladrags, munching a plate of cheese and crackers, and smiling.


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November 1970.

November 1970.

What does one say about older brothers?

Do you talk about the times they spilled your secrets, or the times they kept them?

Do you talk about the times you swapped punches with them, or the times you closed ranks with them?

Do you talk about the flak they generated, or the flak they absorbed?

Do you think of the things they taught you, or the things you found out for yourself? Do you take out the scales and try to weigh the balance between the two?

Do you depict them as irresponsible, or merely true to themselves?

Do you marvel at the ways in which they are different from you, or the ways in which they are the same?

Do you wonder how frequently and how closely you will stay in touch with them after the unifying central bond of your parents is gone?

You could do any and all of those.

Or, you could just page through the years of memories and look for one you like.

It would have been sometime around 1991 or ’92 when my older brother Eric spent a summer working at Kentucky Fried Chicken, one in a long line of summer jobs he held over the years.

Working the late shift meant he got to divvy up the remaining chicken with his co-workers and take some home at the end of the night.

We got sick of the bird after a few days, and he stopped bringing it home. But early on, we were still looking forward to it.

And the first night he brought home a box, he and I sat around the family dinner table ’round midnight, cheerfully devouring the chicken while we shot the breeze about Public Enemy or Michael Jordan or our summer jobs or whatever else was top-of-mind to a couple of college-age kids in the suburbs of the Rust Belt.

While I’ve grown to know the health hazards of late-night eating, there is something wonderfully cozy about sitting around a table late at night sharing food with someone else — especially when one or both of you has just come home. A single light shining through the kitchen window into the darkness, and a modest treat on the table, is as welcoming as home gets.

I think I first got this feeling when we would take family trips from Rochester to Stamford. We’d arrive late — maybe around midnight — but we’d still be a little strung out from the road, not yet ready to turn in, and sometimes we’d gather around the kitchen table and have a short glass of Seven-Up or something, and immerse ourselves in the comfort of having reached a friendly destination.

But, back to the Nineties:

There were no Big Reveals and no heavy discussions on this semi-forgotten evening. Just a straightforward, open, very pleasant sharing of time and space and chicken.

It is a fonder memory than its raw materials would indicate.

Happy birthday, older brother.

November 16, 1970.

November 16, 1970.

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Yeah, I think this week we’re going out to eat again.

Last year around this time, we dropped in on my grandparents in May 1969, as they marked their wedding anniversary with a splurgey meal in the upscale town of Westport.

This year we revisit them six years later to the day. They are still married, of course, and still committed to going out for their anniversary.

But some things have changed: My grandpa is retired now, and has a little less money to throw around. He’s probably watching what he eats a little bit more, too.

For this year’s celebration, they stay a little closer to home, choosing a Stamford institution for their big dinner:

May 3, 1975.

May 3, 1975.

A little searching on the Internet, and the place starts coming alive:

The Stamford Advocate tells us the Chimney Corner did business for 41 years at Long Ridge and Webbs Hill roads, and was particularly popular among elderly diners for its early-bird specials.

This undated, unused postcard brings us inside the main dining room, decorated in an early American style.

This ’50s-era postcard shows us the distinctive slope of the building’s exterior, as well as a landmark depiction of a horse and sleigh that stood over the parking lot entrance until somebody knocked it over.

This matchbook tells me my grandparents would have called Davis 2-1264 to make a reservation. (Well, OK, not by 1975 they wouldn’t have.)

This sugar cube tells us … well, it doesn’t really lend any historical insight per se, but it’s sorta fun to imagine my grandma putting one in her coffee. (There was a time when sugar didn’t come from sealed paper envelopes, apparently.)

And this article from the New York Times (which may be trapped behind the Gray Lady’s paywall for non-subscribers) fills us in on what became of the place: Most of it was torn down in 1991 to make way for a shopping center. The corner of the building with the namesake chimney was retained, apparently as some sort of tie to the past.

Pretty sure

This building is where the Chimney Corner was. It has three chimneys now, and I don’t think the one in the photo is the one they kept. (There’s space available, if anyone’s looking to sublet.) Photo courtesy Google Earth.

The one thing I can’t find online is a menu that would help me get a sense of what my grandparents would have sat down to on May 3, 1975. (I do find a past eBay listing of an old menu, but wouldn’t you know it, it’s closed. The menu. Not the auction. Well, yeah, both, actually.)

I note that the New York Times’ archives do not include any reviews of the Chimney Corner Inn — unlike the Westport restaurant where my grandparents ate in 1969, which received a NYT review a number of years later.

If the Chimney Corner Inn was around for 41 years and New York’s paper of record never went to the ‘burbs to check it out, its culinary reputation couldn’t have been too noteworthy.

I’m guessing the place was one of those stolid, upright, not-tremendously-creative locally owned restaurants every city has — the sort of place you go for high school graduations or anniversaries that don’t end in zero or five. I imagine they broiled a lot of prime rib, stuffed a lot of pork chops and baked a lot of potatoes over the course of 41 years.

There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, of course, if that’s what you’re looking for.

It seems to have struck a chord with my grandparents: A little further research indicates they’d been there the year before.

May 2-4, 1974.

May 2-4, 1974. Hey, Rod, you didn’t call.

I guess predictable and reliable are good things to be after 30-plus years of marriage — whether you’re talking about the marriage, or the place you go to celebrate it.

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As I type this at the start of March, weather forecasters are tossing around phrases like “omega block,” “atmospheric bomb” and “monster” to describe a developing blizzard that has the potential to devastate a good chunk of the East Coast in five days or so.

By the time this post runs, we’ll know how accurate the predictions were.

(Edit: That storm, a few weeks ago, didn’t hit eastern Pennsylvania. But another one is bringing us two to four inches of snow today.)

It’s been a cold, gray, rainy, windy winter … and a long one, even by the standards of someone who considers himself alternately a Rust Belter or a New Englander at heart.

And I wish it would end now, if not sooner.

I do not know how to jump-start spring (or summer). Absent a candle, I open another can of beer and curse the darkness.

My grandfather seems to have had something that brought warm weather a little closer. And this was around the time of year he turned to it.

March 18, 1975.

March 18, 1975.

I’ve written before that tomatoes were a staple crop in my grandparents’ yard throughout my childhood. (If you missed that post last year, go read it now. It’s better than this one.)

I don’t remember my grandpa having growth lights in his basement. I’m guessing he coaxed his tomato seedlings out of the soil simply by putting them next to the sunniest window in the house and dosing them with Miracle-Gro.

But clearly, he wasn’t waiting for consistently warm weather to get his crop started.

Maybe he started his tomatoes the day after St. Patrick’s from some sense of tradition, or some old-timer’s knowledge of just the right time to do such things.

Or maybe, like me, he was fed up with winter and looking for any outlet he could find that would bring warmer weather closer.

If you can put seeds into soil and start getting them to sprout, you can feel reasonably confident that you’ll pluck ripe, warm fruit from them sometime, if not necessarily immediately.

(His calendar entries for April 3 and 4, 1975, show temps down to 30 degrees, 50-mph wind gusts, and a note about “winter’s last blast.” So he knew when he planted his tomatoes — presumably inside — that Stamford wasn’t immune to one last wintry spanking.)

April 3 and 4, 1975.

April 3 and 4, 1975. Gotta love the barometer reading. Now, that’s attention to detail.

I could stand a seedling or two right now to bring the promise of warmer weather. I should cut the top off this empty can of Genny Bock, fill it with soil and seeds, and park it by the window.

‘Tis better to light a candle, and all that business.

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It has been bitterly cold all week as I sit down to write this. Methinks it is time for an out-of-season adventure.

# # # # #

Regrets? I’ve had a few.

One that lingers involves a late-spring morning in 1996, when I was working for a chain of weekly newspapers in the suburbs of Boston.

It was a slow day — probably the day we sent that week’s papers to the printer, and lackadaisically started getting busy on the next.

Idleness being the devil’s workshop, the guy in the cube next to mine came up with an impetuous idea. He suggested a bunch of us ditch work for a couple of hours, drive up the North Shore and feast on fried clams.

Several of us thought that was a great idea … but we could not quite convince ourselves to abandon our responsibilities and go on a joyride. And within a few minutes, the impulse was lost.

Whatever stupid local-interest story I worked on during those hours is long since lost to history. But I bet if I’d taken that ride, I could still close my eyes and taste the fried clams today.

(In a good way.)

I am pleased to report that when my grandparents had the opportunity to savor some real New England fried clams, they didn’t waver like me.

In the vernacular of the plainfolk, they crushed that shiznit.


June 6, 1970. Horace “Hoss” Clarke, figurehead of a decade’s worth of wasted years for Yankees fans, is leading the American League in games and at-bats. But, as usual, I digress.

Exit 24 off Route 91 is still there. Depending on which way you go, it will take you to one of two towns in the greater Hartford area — Wethersfield or Rocky Hill.

Sadly, the Clam Box, where my grandfolks supped, is no longer there. The interwebs say the Wethersfield location closed in 1979, while satellite restaurants in two other Connecticut towns closed in 1985.

Two posts on other blogs tell the story of the Clam Box better than I could. One covers the restaurant’s rise and fall, while the other includes comments from a member of the family that ran all three Clam Boxes.

The story is a familiar one: Family restaurant thrives thanks to insane amounts of work, but eventually runs aground when the next generation decides it wants to do something else with its waking hours besides jostle trays in a Fryolator.

There was more to the Clam Box than just small-town mom-and-pop, though.

An ad for the Clam Box restaurants pops up in a July 1972 issue of New York magazine. So, apparently, the owning family had aspirations that went beyond central Connecticut.

And the first blog post linked above says the Clam Box wasn’t your average fry-’em-up-and-move-’em-out seafood shack.

According to that post, the restaurant sent a buyer to New York City’s Fulton Fish Market at 3 a.m., then stored the freshly delivered seafood on a regularly replaced bed of ice, rather than refrigerating it.

That suggests a commitment to freshness and quality — which is pretty much the first thing you’d want in a seafood restaurant.

Of course I have no real way to know what my grandparents ordered. (For that matter, I have no clear notion what brought them to the Hartford area to begin with. Perhaps they had friends in the area they were going to meet.)

This would have been about a year before my grandpa’s first heart attack, and I doubt he was watching his diet all that much.

So maybe he took a hint from the name of the restaurant and tucked in to a big, golden, warm, succulent, briny plate of fried clams, every bite redolent of the great mother sea that graciously gives up its treasures to the two-legged but will someday lose its patience and press the Game Over button, claiming every one of our pathetic mortal souls in a turbulent rolling salty welter of —

— whoa, whoa. Catch your breath, Horace Clarke. Where were we?

So, yeah.

In my head, my grandparents, and presumably my great-grandma too, are sitting around a rustic table in a room decorated with fisherman’s netting, politely dunking fresh-fried clams into tartar sauce, quietly enjoying the feel of early summer and the feel of being alive, and ignoring their coleslaw.

Next time I get back to Massachusetts — and there will be a next time; I’m not keeling over until I’ve been back a couple more times — I’m gonna do the same.

For them … and for me.

I’m kind of overdue for a good plate of fried clams, you see.

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