Friendly's

If you cleaned your bunk well enough for seven straight days in a row, and scored perfect 10s during morning cabin inspection at Camp Watitoh in the Berkshires in 1971, you earned a trip to Friendly’s on Route 20 in Lee, Massachusetts. The winners for the week were announced at Evening Flagpole. They piled us into an old US army panel truck reminiscent of M*A*S*H. The planked wooden floor was covered with beat-up mattresses and we were protected by nothing more than a clanging back gate. We sang at the top of our lungs as we were transported over Mt. Greylock, the canvas canopy whipping and snapping in the warm summer wind. This was this boy’s first rendition of destination food. We were all of about 10.

Camp Watitoh

Beyondish editor-in-chief, heretofore unidentified.

Packed into red pleather banquettes, we took over the joint, ordering Fribbles and fries, and the “double cheeseburg deluxe” – two patties, lettuce, tomato, pickle , a smear of mayo and and melted American cheese smacked flat on a couple of slices of lightly toasted white bread. My lifelong passion for food began in that unassuming white clapboard diner. Today, Friendly’s of Lee has permanently closed and the venerable chain has been purchased. Still, the memories remain as strong as a hot summer’s day, our bellies content and full, as that Army truck carried us back to our temporary home in the Berkshires.

Camp Watitoh

The New Normal

America is coming out of its long cold winter and the food landscape has changed. What we once craved may well be gone. Countless odes to Covid restaurant casualties have been written. For me, the obit that aches most honors the difficult-to-fathom loss of La Caridad on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Who combined Chinese and Cuban food under one roof, anyway? I can still taste the chewy, zesty flavor of a Biste Salteado with rice and beans, accompanied by – why not? – a plate of steaming pork lo mein. I will never stroll down Broadway again and not long for those flavors, etched into my culinary cortex.

La Caridad

As the earth slowly tilts toward our second summer solstice since this virus began, we are getting vaccinated, hugging our loved ones, and finally thinking about dinner with friends. President Biden signed off on $28 billion of restaurant relief. Still, states are playing with fire about when and how to open the floodgates. What are we, as house-and-apartment locked diners, to do?

Go forth and go out, we say, but please dear lord, safely. Wear your mask and scrupulously maintain that distance. Keep it outdoors if you can for just a while longer, as winter turns to spring. Not only for your health, but for the essential workers called “waitstaff,” who hung in there for all of us, those who could, and now are opening the doors for our dining pleasure.

Support your local eaterie. Tip big. And raise a glass to hope. We’ve got this, people. Please let’s not let it slip away.

Sincerely, Ken

Editor-in-Chief

 

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AUTHOR

Ken Carlton

Author, screenwriter and midnight chef, Ken's credits include a screenplay with the folks who brought you "Babette's Feast" and a memoir with the chef of New York's Waverly Inn. His latest novel is FOOD FOR MARRIAGE.

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