By Ike Adams
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — A fellow columnist, who works at a big city newspaper, once told me that anytime he ran out of anything to write about he just sat down at his typewriter, loosened up his fingers, and submitted whatever happened. So that’s what I’m doing this week, now that it’s March, we’ve had another change of weather, started fast time, and madness has set in.
Back in the 1990s, before there was a Mexican or Chinese restaurant on every corner, the late Truman Caudill, Bard of Blair Branch, came down from Letcher County to spend a weekend, hold the light so I could catch night crawlers, and pick on the five string for me and we decided to take him out to eat.
When I asked him where he wanted to go, Truman said, “Didn’t I see one of them Mexican joints there in Richmond the other day?”
He said, “ I drove an 18 wheeler all over the desert southwest for 20 years and I’ve never had any of that stuff.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he’d have been way better off if he’d stopped in Tucson long enough to eat and wanted to taste something similar to the real thing. On the other hand, I figured they knew about as much about Mexican food on Blair Branch as we flatlanders who have had the wool polled over our eyes, lo these many years.
My friend, Sandy Walker, once took me nearly 300 miles down the Baja on a fishing trip, and one night we ate at a restaurant in Puerto Citas, there on the Sea of Cortez, where they served butterfly shrimp that would cover your open hand, fingers and all, along with prickly pear cactus and a huge helping of grilled peppers. If they had refried beans and rice on the menu, I didn’t see it, and I think I wrote about that trip over 20 years ago so now it’s “olds” instead of news.
And it’s probably unfair to the local so-called ethnic eateries to compare them to the real thing, no matter what nationality they claim to represent. If you really want to eat genuine Italian food, for instance, you’d be well advised to fly to Rome or Naples.
Anyway, we asked Truman how he liked his meal. He’d had a seafood chimichanga, most likely unheard of in Mexico, along with a salad and the ever-present yellow rice and refried beans.
Truman said, “Well that’s the first time I’ve ever had fried beans and they probably had ‘em way too done to suit me the first time.” He said, “I’d bet that you could spoon some soup beans out on your plate and mash ‘em up with your fork and they’d taste a lot like that, but that seems like a lot of work for nothing.”
He said, “I first thought that green stuff they dumped on my salad had come out of the back end of a grass-fed chicken but I ate it anyhow cause I seed that Loretta was and I figgered I’m as brave as her. And by golly, it was purty good, but if we ever go back, you can have my beans.”
Over the last several years, since a dollar won’t buy much anymore, Loretta and I have developed a fondness for both Mexican and Chinese restaurants, mostly because we can go in hungry and leave feeling very well-fed. Not only that, but you can get out of the place for not much more than you’d spend at... name any fast food joint. I can remember when a Whopper really was.
We particularly like those Chinese buffet places where you get all you can eat for less than 10 bucks. I honestly don’t believe they can possibly be turning a profit on me. And lately, I’ve noticed that they are putting out sliced pizza which is not something you’d ordinarily expect in a place that’s supposed to be “a touch of China.” But, of course, pizza is not really a touch of Italy, even though I’m told that if you look hard enough, you can find it there now, usually next door to... name your favorite fast food place.
What I really wish I could have been able to do for Truman is take him to The Wind Gap Diner and insist that he order scrapple.
Truman would have said, “I bet hog snouts taste better than this stuff.”
And I’d have replied, “Nope. They’re the main ingredient in what you’re eating.”
Truman would have replied, “ Oh well, I’ve heard that in some places they eat snails.”
And I’d have replied, “Stir that stuff up a little and see if you can’t find one.”