The Hungover Gourmet


HoJo's and The Basics of Eating Out

Eating out. Two of the greatest words in the entire english language. Like most Hungover Gourmets, even I tire of slaving over a hot stove. On nights such as this, I seek refuge in the corner bar, swank bistro, ethnic dive, or fast food drive-thru. But it wasn't always like that. As a youngin', my family had a fairly regular Friday tradition. On those nights Mom wasn't whipping up a Lent-inspired hodge-podge of scrambled eggs, peas, and mac 'n' cheese, we headed for local HoJo's...

It was at the Willingboro, NJ Howard Johnson's that I learned my dining out skills, which makes it even more remarkable that I'm allowed in any slightly upscale eatery. I don't actually remember going "out" to eat until my siblings and I had been whittled down to a trio thanks to marriage and maturity. All I can remember are those Friday nights when Mom and Dad would pack their three growing sons -- separated by eight years -- into the family car and unleash them on the "All You Can Eat Fish Fry." On more than one ocassion we tested the legal ramifications of such a claim.

Catholics and a good ol' fish fry go together like ram-a-lama-ding-dong. Though The Church was edging towards looking the other way when it came to the dicey issue of "meat on Fridays," my folks were strict adherents to the old school. Slim Jims after that last day of the school week were nothing short of a mortal sin, and we won't even address the "hot dog at a ballgame" issue.

To be honest, it was the 1970s and my folks were still firmly rooted in the 1950s. Inevitably, this made for some edgy relations around the ol' homestead. How could parents who appreciated Mitch Miller understand sons that embraced David Bowie? Since when did the writings of Hunter S. Thompson surpass a good issue of Reader's Digest? On those nights at HoJo's, questions like that meant little and all our relations were a tad less strained.

Which is why we so looked forward to them and probably why I remember them so fondly. Dad worked very hard and provided everything we ever needed...which taught us the value of working for the things we wanted. Granted, it took some years before I could separate the two, but the lesson was there just the same. And taking Mom out of the kitchen gave her the chance to act, well, like a Mom...a habit she's incapable of shaking even today.

The HoJo's in Willingboro is no more, turned into a dozen different things since it stopped being "Home of the All You Can Eat Fish Fry." Last time I checked, the familiar edifice was intact, but the cracked parking lot had sprouted weeds. I can still recall the area where we obeyed the "Please Wait to Be Seated" sign, and the art deco crown of whipped cream that floated atop my hot chocolate (ordered even in the heat of summer, much to my mother's chagrin).

I often wonder if kids today are taking the same lessons about family, food, respect, and relationships away from their hurried dining experiences at Applebee's, Chuck E. Cheese, and Friday's...or is it all just a place with a lot of crazy crap on the wall?

In the Next Origins: What My Godparents Taught Me About Food...and People

Want to know the whole HoJo's history? Check out their site.

[This article originally appeared in THG #2]

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