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"
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
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
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
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?
the Next Origins:
What My Godparents Taught Me About Food...and
Want to know the whole HoJo's
history? Check out their site.
[This article originally
appeared in THG