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February 19, 2010

The history lesson

Middleton.jpgI love this post. It may be the last Free Market Friday that I publish, but I'm hoping Robert of Cross Keys won't stop writing guest posts for the blog. Here's Robert. EL

Last week I went to Joe Squared.  While talking to the owner, Joe, I mentioned that I am Robert of Cross Keys.  He responded with disbelief.  “You’re RoCK.  No way.  I thought you were like 50 or something.”
I’ll admit that I was probably born after my time. I spend a lot of time thinking about the past and what life used to be like.  Now, I’m not talking about what was life like in medieval Europe or colonial America, I’m talking about what adult life was like . . . when I was only a child.   
At work I find myself seeking out the veterans and asking what was Accounting like back in the 70’s or what was going on in Human Resources during the 1980s. Most of these conversations end up with me going on a rant about how lame office parties have become.  I’m not sure why, but somewhere around 1985 the highlight of these festivities moved from Seagram’s 7 to seven layer dip. ...

My favorite foray into past, however, is talking about restaurants that I didn’t get a chance to visit.  I will always welcome the opportunity to talk about Baltimore’s food scene from days gone by.
One time I was in Petit Louis eating sweetbreads. I started talking to these two older guys sitting next to me about how sweetbreads used to be more common in restaurants, but now they were more of a special treat.   Well, the next thing I knew they were telling me about everything from the shad roe at Danny’s to chocolate sauce at Marconi’s.
The history lesson isn’t limited to places that closed up shop years ago. A few days ago I was down in Annapolis at Middleton Tavern, which has been a tavern since the 1700s. I got a chance to meet Jimmy. Jimmy has been working in the kitchen at Middletown since 1946. I probably could have spent hours talking to him.  To think of all the things he has seen change -- while staying at the same place.
While meeting Jimmy, I couldn’t help but think about Elizabeth . The longevity of these two individuals is somewhat of an anomaly in their respective fields.  How many cooks or journalists are you going to see staying in the same place for years, let alone decades?
What I’ll miss most about Elizabeth is her institutional knowledge and local history, because that will not be duplicated. There will be other reviewers, and I’m sure they will be able to describe what the food tastes like at Roy’s, what the room looks like at Pazo and what the servers serve like at Birches, but they’re probably not going to know what Danny’s was like back in the 1970s or what was going on at  Marconi’s in the 1980s.

(Photo of Jimmy courtesy ofTamar Fleishman)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 10:54 AM | | Comments (15)


RoCK- great post! I agree. This logic is one of the reasons why Mad Men is one of my new favorites (Net Flix is awesome for catching up!).

I always think that a review that can make the historical connection makes it much more real for me. I want to know how things compare not just to current but to the past as well.

Excellent post, RoCK. Very insightful, for a kid. (I thought you were 50-ish, as well.)

Yup, I was surprised to find, at the sandbox dinner, that you were the same age as my children. I don't think they are nostalgic for my young adulthood, but I could be wrong. My favorite memory of Danny's from then is the night that my DH & I were hungry after a night at the BSO (which required full dress), and went to dinner at Danny's in full regalia without feeling the least bit conspicuous.

So how old are you Robert?

RoCK is 14.

Lissa, LOL.

I believe, if I had to guess, that RoCK is in his mid to late 30s.

Midnight Sun has a nice farewell post to EL.

PCB Rob, there is also a post about Brannan's Pub.

RoCK, I like your appreciation of the good old days. You'll always be cool with me, no matter how square you are. Thanks for the Free Market Fridays, as well as all the sacred and profane comments you've contributed to D@L.

RoCK, you really were born in the wrong time. I think you should have been a man about town in the sixties. Yikes, you might have even been an original hipster!

I can see you in a Cuban Nightclub (I'm thinking Tropacana) with a martini and a cigarette (it's ok, it's the early 60's and they don't know yet!)

Can we agree that RoCK is an old soul?

I've met RoCK. He looks a little like Mr. Peanut, but that's probably because of the monocle and spats.

OMG! He must have told you about his Halloween plans a few years ago...

No, but he did talk about legumes a lot.

Favorite Danny's memories: the dime left on your reserved table to reimburse your phone call, Danny Dickman preparing your Caesar salad tableside, Mrs. Dickman making pit stops at the Rotunda Giant when Danny's kitchen ran low, my parents getting all dolled up for their Saturday night Danny's dinner dates, my first visit to Danny's when I was 14, and of course, the popovers.

Great question you posed about long-tenured cooks. The chef at Ikaros has been there for all four decades - here's to four more.

I'm assuming you missed Haussner's. What I wouldn't do for one more Tyrolean dumpling.

The backbone staff of long tenure such as the gentleman pictured above are both the true strength of any successful operation (restaurant or other) and the absolute last people in the industry to give any credence to the pretension of naming such as "chef".

Anyone who actually does use that horrid term to describe themselves wouldn't have the fortitude required to stick it out that long. Or even a tenth as long.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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