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Word association. The electrical charges that ignite in one’s brain when a word crosses your lips or an image appears before your eyes, are very intriguing. For each of us, its different. Often the result of past experiences, memories, and external influences, many of which that might not have seemed significant at the time. Much like ghosts, they haunt us. In the case of food, which relies so heavily on all of our five senses to process, it can be an interesting exercise in examining one’s own psyche.
Take for example, the word pancakes.
What does that conjure up for you? The warming scent of a buttermilk and flour mixture cooking over a grill? The sweet taste of a thick drop of maple syrup? The dreary state of your body as you struggle to wake up on a cold winter Sunday morning? Or perhaps the sound of your family chattering around a breakfast table?
For me, I associate pancakes with Jason. Huh? No, not that white goalie mask wearing psychopath. Actually, its two Jason’s. Let me explain.
Growing up, I had a good friend named Jason who I hung around with at his home after school until just before their family dinner on many days. And every night, his stay-at-home mother would call him from upstairs to inform him that dinner was ready. So we’d climb up the stairs and he’d see me to the backdoor, passing through the kitchen along the way. And on many nights, I would glance over at the table that was being set up and see pancakes as the main course. I found this so odd. To me, pancakes was something you had for breakfast and certainly not something you would want to eat more than once a week. But at his house, I can vividly recall that was not the case on many occasions. I’d ride my bike home, feeling sorry for my friend having to endure another breakfast-like dinner. A funny ending to this particular anecdote is that as an adult, he ended up becoming a line cook in a restaurant for about ten years. With him having a disinterested cook for a mother, I found this amused me to no end.
Part II. Fresh out of school, in my first real job, one of my colleagues was named Jason. Since the eating quarters of our building were nothing to write home about, and neither of us a big bring-something-from-home-for-lunch person, we’d jump in a car and head out to the surrounding area to have our lunches. We had a wide array of choices, as we were never afraid to venture farther out and spend more time on our allocated sixty minute break really allowed us, but as two fresh-faced kids out of college, we had no fear, even though our immediate boss was a real dragon lady. It really was the first time I had a decent amount of cash in my wallet through a full time job, so I think this really was the start of my interest in exploring all there was to eat out in this bold world of ours. Returning to the narrative, one of this Jason’s favorite choices was a country western-themed joint. His goal at this place was to eat, you guessed it, the all-day breakfast. Of course, he would go with the stacks of pancakes here every time. What is it with Jason’s and their pancakes?
So this past weekend, I’d received word that this second Jason that I knew, had moved recently to where I am currently based most of the time. I have not seen him in about six years. We arranged to meet up on a major thoroughfare, to make it easy on him being new to the city. Driving along, I spotted a big sign that seemed to be for a casual and open 24 hours restaurant. Immediately, I though diner and all-day breakfast. Giving him the directions, I waited inside for him, drinking my coffee and reading the day’s newspaper. Scanning the plastic encased menu booklet at Top’s Restaurant, I knew he’d be happy, seeing all the breakfast items and of course his favorite flapjacks and waffles.
On first glance, Top’s seems to be a popular hangout for locals and/or for those fans of this place who have been coming here for years. The elderly white haired gentleman who appeared to either be the owner or at least the floor manager, would welcome many people inside and it was clear he knew many of them personally. It was a fairly big floor space, with comfortable enough looking booths scattered about. I could see this place being more busy late in the evening and early morning hours, filled with drunken revelers coming back from the downtown bars before heading home to the ‘burbs. Once my friend arrived, I had already knew what I would try on the menu. Going right by the pancakes section, I settled on a more hearty egg omelet combination. There were several standard choices available, but I thought I’d get adventurous and select the corned beef and cheddar cheese omelet. It came with a good helping of sliced potato hash that was nice and crispy on the outside but still soft on the inside. Two slices of plain white toast that was buttered completed my plate.
A few bites in and I knew I’d made a bad call with the flavor package in the omelet. Corned beef I like from time to time in sandwiches, but in egg, its no good. For some reason, I was picking up some sour hints from the meat, and the cheese as well. It just didn’t work. And I could barely finish half of it before resigning myself to just eating all the carbohydrates left on the plate. The endless refill coffee service was timely and pleasant. They certainly came around often enough, most times in diners that’s not always the case. I’d sum up Top’s as just another been-there-seen-that type of greasy spoon. Perhaps next time I will have the pancakes. My friend certainly enjoyed them…