From my Facebook page today:
Have you ever been a forensic cook? Trying to re-create the taste of something you loved from your past? Me, too. After years of messing with various recipes, I can report that I have recreated the taste and texture of the beef ribs from Victoria’s Station, my favorite childhood restaurant. When I took a bite, I almost cried. It all came back. Birthday dinners all dressed up in something with ruffles on it, trips to the SALAD BAR (Wow, the SALAD BAR was a huge innovation back then), feeling like life was so swank and special and magical. Being out and on my best behavior in a dimly-lit grown-up restaurant was living the Glamorous Life, indeed. I could have a Shirley Temple and there were cloth napkins. I probably had patent leather shoes and my parents were both there, and my kid brother and big sister. Food and nostalgia. I’m so Proustian tonight, huh?”
So far I’ve got about thirty comments on this post. A lot of you know where I’m coming from. Someone mentioned the bleu cheese dressing they had at the Victoria’s Station salad bar and I just about died laughing. That bleu cheese was some kind of fancy back in the day. That was like, FOODIE FARE in the 1970’s. It probably had 300-400 calories per teaspoon but we loaded it onto our lettuce because you just weren’t going to get anything that amazing at home. No way, no how.
Gosh, food has changed. We ate meat and a starch and a green salad every night for dinner. Mom cooked every single meal. It was wholesome and delicious but there wasn’t a whole lot of variety because there wasn’t a lot of variety available. Now I can go to the local suburban Stop + Shop and find obscure Asian sauces and the same brand of spices I find in Latin America. If I have a hankering for the British condiment Marmite (and I don’t because Marmite is disgusting), I can pick some up. You got a taste for something? I guarantee you can find the ingredients to make it somewhere within a 30-mile radius. Need Turkish grape molasses to bake your own simit at home because you loved it so much during that trip to Istanbul? Yea, we got that.
What we don’t got is the ability to go back in time and sit at the table with loved ones in an age of innocence. We can’t open a condiment jar and magically conjure our dead father out of it, like a genie in a bottle. I remember the pang of love and guilt I always felt at the end of a dinner out at a restaurant when my dad took out his wallet to pay. Why would I have felt guilty? Daddies paid for everything: that’s how life worked. If Mom had taken out money, it would have seemed like something was askew in the universe and of course children didn’t pay for dinner.
I think my guilty pang came from the fact that my Daddy worked very hard, and I knew that workaholism was taking a terrible toll on him. He had a heart condition and we lived with the fear of him straining that heart; it was always there are a spectre lurking in the corner. The hospital bed in the house when he came home after having open heart surgery when he was in his early 40’s (a procedure that was new and rare and extremely dangerous in the 1970’s, and for which he had to travel from Connecticut to Ohio).
“Thank you, Dad,” we were taught to say after he took us out. We had good manners. Thanks for the delicious beef ribs and the baked potato with butter and sour cream. Thank you for the SALAD BAR and the nice waitress whose name he always made sure to use, and the fancy little desserts on separate plates with clean forks, which Dad always took “one bite” from — that one bite being a huge gouge taken from the piece of cake or chocolate mousse. We would always protest. “DAAAA-AD!” He would smile slyly. He was just a kid, really. I’m older now than he was then.
In the car on the way home I always had a Victoria’s Station matchbox tucked in the pocket of my winter coat.
PeaceBang’s Just-Like-Victoria’s-Station Short Ribs*
Rub salt, freshly ground black pepper and garlic powder all over short ribs.
Heat up some canola oil in a big sautee pan until good and hot.
Brown the short ribs all over, making sure you get them really, really browned and delicious on every side. They should be just crackling with carmelized crust!
Boil some water, pour about 2 c into a big measuring cup or bowl and mix the following into it:
Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, salt, pepper, tomato paste (2 squirts), 1-2 tsps red wine (or cider, but red wine is best) vinegar.
Smash a few cloves of garlic and put in the Crock Pot.
Put the ribs in a crock pot. Cover with the liquid mixture. If you want to, chop up some carrots and celery and onion and throw them in there too.
Cook 6-8 hours until meat has fallen off the bone and you can cut it with a spoon.
*Victoria’s Station went out of business in the 1980’s. The one I am remembering was in Darien, Connecticut. They used big beef ribs and probably grilled them. I don’t know. But I am certain that the magic ingredient here is the combination of the crust from searing and the vinegar. It was the vinegar that did it. The vinegar was the “AH! Voila!”