A couple of weeks ago, I invited readers to submit what they remember as the scariest meal of their lives. I was motivated by my recollection of a platter of jarred black caviar garnished with crackers and maraschino cherries on a buffet at the old Statler Hotel many years ago.
Granted, since that time many other odd ingredient combinations have emerged on the dining scene – some, I suspect, for sheer shock value (lobster with vanilla sauce had its day). But the thought of that ghastly black and red platter still has the power to wake me up at night.
Readers took a different tack, however. They concentrated on more, let's call them "physical" aspects of the dining experience. Some were so off-putting, I didn't include them here. But others were pretty funny. Like this one from Laurie M.:
"My scariest dinner happened in 1969 while traveling around Europe with my sister. We stopped in a beautiful little town called Prien am Chiemsee, where relatives lived. This lovely younger couple took us sailing on the lake, then back to their house for dinner. They were giving us a very special dinner, from their perspective. I walked into the dining room to eat, and at each setting there was a wooden board with a hunk of snake on it. I nearly freaked out.
"It was actually smoked eel. They also served a fresh tomato salad, and I didn't like tomatoes at all. The only thing that saved the dinner for me was a bottle of a white whiskey on the table that everyone kept having shots from throughout dinner. It made for a very memorable evening."
Or this one from Jon M.:
"Several years ago, I met a group of friends at a restaurant in Fredonia. We met for a Friday night fish fry, which to this day is very good. In the back of the restaurant is a ‘greenhouse' style room overlooking a back parking lot and a neighboring restaurant. After receiving drinks and placing our food orders, we engaged in conversation and waited for our meals. I looked out the window and noticed a busboy from the neighboring restaurant bringing garbage out to a dumpster. At the same time, I saw the transformer box connected to the power lines above the dumpster begin to spark. Luckily, the busboy ran back to the restaurant. Within a few seconds, the transformer exploded.
"I can only imagine what could have happened if the busboy didn't take quick action. Unfortunately, we were unable to eat our fish fry that night as the power was off throughout the block."
But I must admit this one from Penny of Williamsville was my favorite, both a trick and a treat:
"My father, mother, brother, sister and I were on a family vacation traveling across the United States. One night we stopped at a nice-looking restaurant somewhere in the West. Because we were in ‘beef' country my father ordered his favorite type of steak. When it came he bit into it and was dismayed to discover it was very tough. He complained to the server. A few moments later the following happened:
"A tall, heavy-set man with a white chef's hat and apron came out from the kitchen. He asked what was wrong with the steak. My dad explained it was too tough. The chef looked at him and said, ‘There's nothing wrong with this steak. Why I could tear it apart with my bare hands!' Then he picked up the steak from my dad's plate and proceeded to try and do it.
"Shocked and unnerved my family did not wait around to see if he succeeded. My parents quickly ushered us out of the restaurant."
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Pasty redux: In last week's column, a reader asked where to find Cornish Pasties – meat-filled, hand-held pastries that originated in the British Isles as a workman's lunch:
"Being of Welsh descent, pasty (or Cornish pasty) is my favorite home cooked meal. ... The ingredients and preparation are very specific to create the wonderful and satisfying taste. For example, the dough must be made with lard and the meat must have a high fat content," reader Cherie Smith wrote.
Many of you emailed about the English Pork Pie Co., 1176 South Park Ave., which has pasties in several varieties like cheese and onion, steak, chicken tikka and egg custard. Take out or eat in.
Time off: I'm taking a short break, but will return in four weeks. Until then – keep eating, keep asking and keep emailing. Bon appetit.