Who said you can never go home? Besides several lawyers with restraining orders and angry townspeople holding torches? We all make mistakes. Home is where the heart is. Home is where you don’t have to explain yourself. Your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe it. Home is, fill in cliché here, I’m tired. I spent a fair amount of time on the CT Shoreline, or as I call it, Yankee Key West. It’s a charming series of towns by the CT River and the Long Island Sound. The local people are an amazing clatch of colorful personalities. All tasty in their own right. I’d blow through the area between acting jobs, just long enough to piss off the lawyers and townspeople, meet some cool people and sally forth. (not her, but you get my meaning) I was taught at an early age the good people find each other. I’m a firm believer in this. Actually I’m not very firm from all I’ve eaten lately, but again I digress. Birds of a feather and all that.
It was on one of these Foxtrot through Yankee Key West that I found another good person. Slightly after Star Wars and just before cell phones I met Hedy. She was a senior bartender at a rooftop deck on the main drag. I was naught but a child in his early twenties. I was the day guy who cut her fruit and stocked her beer and cleaned what she missed. An apprentice to the magic I like to think. Pecking orders. The establishment’s owner conceived this money-maker renovation and built the enormous platform atop his prime rib seafood shanty. It was kind of like a ginormous deck chair for hundreds of tourons (tourists-morons) to come tumbleweed through and eat a basket of fried clam strips. It required a doubling of staff and a bitch of a stair case to the main kitchen. It required us learning how to shuck and jive. We had a raw bar. It still haunts me. Hedy and I worked well together; I’d run my young ass down to retrieve all our hot orders and she’d shuck the half shell orders standing still under an electric fan. I should mention the humidity on the CT Shoreline’s cruel. Did I mention the stair case was a bitch? Moving on. This deal seemed fair at the time.
Hedy was always sharing great stories and I loved hearing them. Her easy manner let her talk to anyone about anything. This impressed the hell out of me. I learned lots from people like her. We had a mutual love of good living, good eating and good stories. With her fresh from Key West and me thinking my next adventure was going to be Hollywood we bonded quickly in our tales of revelry. I don’t recall seeing her after this one summer in the early nineties.
One day she arrived to work beaming on the previous great night’s episode. She regaled me on how she had been in a chef’s kitchen (she was always meeting people and gaining invites) learning to make a veal stock. The chef, his wife and Heddy laughed, drank wine and nibbled while tending their cauldron. They created a tasty little liquid which she shared. It blew my mind one could do this outside of restaurant of a culinary institute. Her glow of having savored the experience was right pretty on her. It makes me smile to this day.
Which brings me two decades later and without my prized mullet to my story. Dish It Out was on the road recently eating our way around Yankee Key West whilst visiting family for the holidays. We had just left a very early appointment with our wedding caterer Andrea (much more on her and Cloud Nine Catering soon) feeling peckish. The sights and sounds of Deep River called me back to my youth. That and a reasonable hunch that I wouldn’t be easily recognized with out my Billy Ray Cyrus hair style and MC Hammer baggie pants. We explored the main drag, finding an old dive bar that had provided me a supposed good time or two. Aah, Calamari’s, the name says it all. It was cloudy. The memory, not the day. When the Whistle Stop caught my hungered eyes. Also if I don’t feed Mick on a regular basis he tends to claw at the interior of the car and chew on stuff. It’s not pretty. In we went.
The clutter on the counter charmed me. Jars of exotic teas and lemonades provided a defense line from surly early morning New Englanders. I figured it was psychology to put medium bright colors in front of their faces to lull them out of their mid winter doldrums.With enough bric a brac to occupy their wait. Overthinking it? I don’t believe so. Then again a multi ink pens activate my ADD. The smallness that was the cafe was Gulliver-esque. We got a warm “Good Morning. Anywhere you like..” from the waitress and the lady working the griddle. I saw a stack of plates to the chef’s right that were the same Corning plates we had growing up (aw, heart). They were inexpensive and plentiful. This broad was seriously prepared to cook. She had enough sauces and containers around her to make a Hogwart’s professor nervous. It was her smile that was familiar, and the sparkling eyes. Oh, wow. It’s Hedy. I tuned in on the voice and it all came back to me. Hadn’t thought of the upper deck summer in years, and I went right back there. I could feel the stiff uniform, the humidity and the cold little necks clams to shuck.
Hugs and exclamations scared the patrons for a moment but they aptly resumed their daily bread. We filled in the last two decades, her with raising children me with racing around. She’d been in the Cafe for 15 years now, I’d been in six states (not counting disarray) She was exactly the same, and told me I was too. These moments are pretty cool. Coming home and all that rot. She sat us back down, picked up an enormous cinnamon bun with thick with icing like I wish I had hair. She sliced it in half like a bagel, rolled it in vanilla french toast batter and griddles us a little nice nice. “Ooooooh, that’s really going to suck” Mick and I thought. She put it down with her compliments to start our bfast. Oy. Then came my Cannes Benedict; herbed chevre, fresh organic baby spinach, shallots, bacon and eggies. So good. I don’t want this holiday to end (loosens belt) I’m not sure what Mick was eating as he had his head down too, meaning he couldn’t be disturbed. You know how you never bother a bear or large dog when their eating? Same rules apply in our relationship. Hedy makes her own granola, sauces, soups, stocks (surprise!) and specialty spreads. She makes outstanding hash; clam, ham, corned beef and pastrami. You never heard of clam hash? Oh, well welcome to New England. She does breakfast and lunch. She’ll cater your wedding or even your family picnic. Need a romantic dinner on the beach? Yeah, she’s got that for you. And all the while raising two great kids. Hedy Watrous’ The Whistle Stop Cafe’ on N. Main Street in Deep River is a little slice of home. Thanks Hedy, I was glad to come home and find this little slice.
Note to wedding guests, this place is a must do.
And no lawyers or angry townspeople were hurt in our Eating Across CT Shoreline Odyssey.