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Daily Gullet Staff

Letter from the Canyon

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<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1196706166/gallery_29805_1195_14317.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Priscilla

We're lucky to have a restaurant within walking distance. And walk to it we do -- it's a steakhouse, and has a decent wine list with delicious Duckhorn cabernet dependably available, and while it would not be a place I'd go out of my way to visit if it wasn't within the aforementioned walking distance, I do feel blessed by its presence. But then, I have a strong predilection for roadhouses, and would like this one even without its value-added full bar.

Before we lived in the canyon we actually did go out of our way to eat there once, in one of those situations which we have thankfully scrubbed almost 100% from obligatory activities, "going out to dinner" with another couple whom we did not know well, did not want to know any better, but with whom at the time there was a perceived work-related benefit. It’s a sadly squirm-inducing, undoubtedly widely understood situation -- an acquaintance labels you a "foodie," and wouldn't understand in a million years why that term makes you want to PUKE YOUR LIVING GUTS RIGHT UP, and begins to VERY MUCH want to "go out to dinner." And the acquaintance seems passably nice, someone upon whom you certainly wish no ill, but dang. "Going out to dinner."

And so we found ourselves in the back seat of someone else's expensive car, suffering the discomforting semi-infantilization that that entails, and driving, a LONG way, to this steakhouse in the canyon, to partake of meat and historic canyon mystique. The expensive car was directed by a hardy young canyon denizen with a flashlight (one in a long unbroken lineage of such denizens, I know now) to wedge itself tightly in among all the other expensive cars, because alotalotalot of 'em need to fit in there tonight. The only mystique this place held for me at the time was its dubious sometime identification with Richard Nixon from years earlier.

Now, 'round these parts, to paraphrase Mark Twain, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a Republican. Course in the canyon there are more political permutations than just the Big 2 . . . some time ago a neighbor was hastening to tell me about another (former) neighbor being neither Republican nor Democrat, but wiccan. I am afraid the mild surprise caused by the use of the term sent my mind a-wandering, considering if wiccan was correct or wouldn’t he properly be called a warlock, but she noticed not and continued along as though I knew what she was talking about. Elsewhere, when our then-house was on the market, a man walking through with his wife and real estate agent noticed a copy of The Nation lying on an end table, and turned to me. "One third," he said. I was miles away. "One third," he repeated, and then picked up the mag as an indication. “Democrats are one third of the county."

There are no such secret signs at the steakhouse. There are celebrity photos all over, and a little Elvis diorama, and aging men’s ties, the ties not the men although truly, how would I know, trophies from the (possibly erstwhile) conceit of cutting the cravat off a customer hapless enough to show up wearing one. I have long wondered how bolo ties would fare. It is nicely dark and there is an oak tree of huge circumference growing in the middle of the room but mostly out the roof.

But, ignoring all that, and I mean all of that, it's a nice place. Nice people working. Accurately cooked double lambchops, steaks, skinny frites or an overlarge baked potato, and the all-important bottle of Duckhorn. The house salad has a mystique all its own. I never eat there without thinking of the similarly regarded salad Elizabeth David writes about in her essay "Secrets" from An Omelette and a Glass of Wine. Each friend she dines with at the middling Beau Geste, sophisticated and discriminating eaters all, makes especial mention of the salad. The salad at the steakhouse is pedestrian in appearance -- romaine and the odd shred of red cabbage and carrot, but unfailingly icy cold and dry, endearing traits in a salad, among a few other edibles and drinkables. It is immediately obvious that the house-made dressing is too acrid… or is it? Did I mention how the lettuce was both cold and dry, dry and cold? Salads are absolutely demolished on all sides. It never fails. Elizabeth David got from the owner of the Beau Geste that his dressing was made with peanut oil and malt vinegar. Maybe someday I’ll learn the steakhouse equivalent.

The guy working the grill, a mesquite grill that is the only source of meat-cooking heat, is really good . . . been working that grill for a long time. Over the years I have occasionally watched, if I happened to be passing, as a big open truck makes the mesquite delivery, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pounds of charcoal in plain brown bags that look quite like the 40-pounders we buy at Smart & Final except for their humungousness. Exceedingly appetizing, if, like me, one finds the thought of mesquite-cooked food appealing.

Many of our neighbors do not patronize the steakhouse, because of some long-ago beef (so to speak) with the place, the details of which I have not, despite repeated attempts, been able to cross-correlate among available sources. That is, no two vague, not to say half-baked, stories are the same. Similarly mysterious illogical avoidance applies to the local supermarkets and I've never been able to make head nor tail of that, either. It is of little matter; upon our arrival years ago we quickly acquired our neighborhood reputation of being "different," as I have been told. Not to put too fine a point on it, they think we're freaks! The irony is, of course, they have no idea. But being considered a freak here in the canyon, now that is saying something.

<div align="center">* * *</div>

Priscilla writes from a Southern California canyon where the variety of four-legged creatures walked on leash currently evinces a vogue for miniature horses and pygmy goats, along with the usual llamas and rescue greyhounds.

Previous Letters:

Danger Zone

Rarus Fructus

The Last Caprese

Fava-vavoom

Sourdough Ducks

Sincerely, Flounder

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Cold dry salad, an Elvis diorama and a mountain of mesquite!!! What's not to love in that? We still have about a third of the pickup load Daddy drove up here from Texas the year before he passed on.

Always glad to hear from the canyon. Always.

Your Freak Friend in the Heartland

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Nice piece, Priscilla!

This is a bit embarrassing, but what would you consider to be the definition of a roadhouse? I like the term, it has a certain rustic quaintness to it. My imagination conjures up cliched Hollywood stereotypes, but I'm certain there's much more to it than that...

Steve

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Thank you, Steve.

Roadhouse... a place (on a road) you encounter on your way out, which doesn't mean you don't sometimes go there on purpose.

Like the tavern where the hobbits met Strider/Aragorn in Bree, the Prancing Pony, only (one dearly hopes) with a much less cringeful name. Heading out like Alan Ladd's Shane, leaving the sacred and the settlers behind, toward the profane and the unknown.

(Not to be confused with the Patrick Swayze movie which gave Joely and the robots on MST3K one of their favorite lines to flog, "My way or the highway.")

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Just hit me with a dead cat!

Loved the story and coud almost smell the Porterhouse on the grill.....

Thank you, Chef Malik.

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ETA, and then remove, a Patrick Swayze joke.

:laugh: Now see, the pop culture reference my brain immediately popped up with was more along the lines of this:

Ah keep your eyes on the road,

Your hands upon the wheel.

Keep your eyes on the road

Your hands upon the wheel.

Yeah, were going to the roadhouse,

Gonna have a real good-time ...

Guess I'm some kind of freak too, huh? :laugh:

I do loves me a good roadhouse on occasion. There's a few I've seen where the insistence on unpretentiousness can become a little too, well, pretentious ... but sometimes I'm just in the right frame of mind for all that ... and a nice uncomplicated steak doesn't hurt things either. Thanks for the memories!

(Hmmm ... there's apparently a steakhouse on the outskirts of San Diego that also does the tie-cutting-off routine ... maybe I should pay it a visit just for the sharing of vibe.)

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So help this addled right-coast diner denizen. What makes a roadhouse a roadhouse exactly?

ETA, and then remove, a Patrick Swayze joke.

Dunno, exactly... maybe it's a state of mind. But considering the cravat-cutting (of which, mind, I have only vestigial evidence) I'd think twice before popping open my laptop!

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ETA, and then remove, a Patrick Swayze joke.

:laugh: Now see, the pop culture reference my brain immediately popped up with was more along the lines of this:

Ah keep your eyes on the road,

Your hands upon the wheel.

Keep your eyes on the road

Your hands upon the wheel.

Yeah, were going to the roadhouse,

Gonna have a real good-time ...

Yes, me too, MizD., from one of Ivan's very favorite albums. The Patrick Swayze catchphrase I only know as MST3K hearsay.

Not that this secondhandedness has kept me from getting my mileage out of it. Or of countless other MST3K lines like "I don't care" or "Ask for it by name!" or "Joe Namath Mesh Action Brief," although that last I must say I first encountered in primary source, the ad on the back of the TV insert in the LA Times, alternating with Aluma-Kool patio covers, when I was young.

Edited due to haste!


Edited by Priscilla (log)

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Just so ya know, your former neighbor is properly a wiccan. Wiccan types do not use the term "warlock" as it denotes evil. Both men and women may refer to themselves as witches on occasion.

I am neither a wiccan nor a warlock, but I sure do know some nature-based religious trivia!

I SO want a salad and steak right now.

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I am so loving this "Letters from the Canyon" series. Well written, evocative. You put me in a parade, and now I am in a good old fashioned roadhouse. Love it.

I can smell the steak. Love's me some steak. And I also loves me some pretentious non pretentiousness! :biggrin: Cutting the cravats had me rolling.

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Just so ya know, your former neighbor is properly a wiccan.  Wiccan types do not use the term "warlock" as it denotes evil. Both men and women may refer to themselves as witches on occasion.

Linda, thank you. I am not surprised there is someone out there who knows more than I do about this subject.

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I am so loving this "Letters from the Canyon" series. Well written, evocative. You put me in a parade, and now I am in a good old fashioned roadhouse. Love it.

I can smell the steak. Love's me some steak. And I also loves me some pretentious non pretentiousness! :biggrin: Cutting the cravats had me rolling.

Thank you, Anne. "Pretentious non pretentiousness": Exactement.

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To Priscilla, Ivan and sixteen-year-old son and heir, the happiest of holidays and a bangin' 2008. May we read many Letters from the Canyon in the New Year.

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