My father has always boasted that the only green vegetable he eats is pickles. In fact, he protests so much that I began to wonder whether he is really a secret salad eater, sneaking off with the boys for a night at the salad bar while he pretends he is playing poker. His is probably the last generation to brag about eating such a devil-may-care diet.
In our presence, though, he is staunch. Oh, he'll eat vegetables sometimes -- french fries, or baked beans if they have enough brown sugar. And long ago, in the days when he had a backyard garden he would have the first radishes sliced into sour cream -- with diced cucumbers and tomatoes as well. But in view of his otherwise firm stand on green vegetables and my inability to remember other details of his garden, I have lately wondered whether all he grew were radishes and salamis.
He's not a steak eater (unless it is marinated in soy sauce and garlic, a trick he learned from a Denver restaurant well before the teriyaki craze). In fact, during my childhood when my mother served steak for dinner, my father liked to have eggs instead: bacon and eggs or salami and eggs.
Which brings me to his favorite restaurant.
He shudders at French restaurants; not only do they usually require neckties, he insists that French food gives him indigestion (thereby condemning, of course, an entire cuisine that has managed to nurture millions of Frenchmen for quite a long time). Hamburgers, particularly those at Roy Rogers, don't give him indigestion, which is probably a factor of his being allowed to wear whatever he likes when he eats them. (My mother, of course, loves French restaurants, or any restaurants that require neckties. We toyed with the idea of having their 50th anniversary party at Roy Rogers and adding a caviar bar.)
So it follows naturally that my father's favorite restaurants of all time are those that don't require a necktie and serve a bowl of pickles on the table. That way he can get right to his green vegetables and finish them in order to get dessert. His favorite of all those favorite restaurants (which are, of course, delicatessens) is the Rascal House in Miami Beach. A lot of people agree with him, since I have never seen the Rascal House without a long line waiting for tables. Sometimes there are three long lines.
Even though I am a vegetable eater, I love the Rascal House, too. In fact, when I visit my parents in Miami I usually try to swing a visit to the Rascal House for at least breakfast, lunch and dinner. That way it is not so excruciating at any one meal to decide among the corned beef, the pastrami, the brisket and the lox. And if I get there twice for breakfast I can get both lox and onions with eggs and the salami omelet. In some ways I take after my father.
Of course a lot of my father's generation have changed their eating habits, learning to eat broccoli instead of pickles as they developed hypertension, and foregoing the salami, and even the eggs as their cholesterol levels rose. But they didn't necessarily change their restaurant-going habits. One day as we waited in line for breakfast at the Rascal House we encountered an acquaintance of my father whom I hadn't seen in years. He, too, loved the Rascal House, he said. In fact, he was so addicted to the restaurant that he went there for breakfast every morning, waited in line day after day. And he always ordered the same thing.
I understood perfectly, I told myself. The Rascal House makes the best lox, onions and eggs I've ever found, its rye bread is close to perfect, and its french toast is enough to feed a small French town. So which of these deli glories drew somebody to deal with that wait every day of his life? What did he order?
Oatmeal. Every day, oatmeal.
I think it was the waiting in line, actually, that he loved.
Tabletalk Fathers are apparently not the only people for whom pickles are the green vegetable of choice. Pickle Packers International tells us that Americans eat 9 pounds of pickles a year. And that a good pickle has an audible crunch at 10 paces.
PPI recognizes 36 basic pickle varieties, and claims that 26 billion pickles are packed each year worldwide, either cured (fermented in salt brine, then marinated in seasoned vinegar) or fresh-pack (marinated fresh in seasoned vinegar). It doesn't mention the most unusual pickles I have found, the pickles of Hungary that are fermented with rye bread stirred into the brine.
RASCAL HOUSE SALAMI AND EGGS, PANCAKE STYLE (1 serving)
There is not much to vary in a salami omelet. You've got salami, you've got eggs and you've got an omelet pan. But like everything else it does, the Rascal House adds its special character, and offers not just one kind of salami-and-eggs, but two. For scrambled eggs and salami, the salami slices are quartered and heated on a hot grill until they release some of their fat but not until they turn crisp. The eggs are beaten, then scrambled in butter together with the drained salami, just until the eggs are firming but still wet. For pancake-style, the salami is added in thin slices, uncooked. In both cases the restaurant uses fresh eggs, delivered throughout the day only one hour old, and beaten (with nothing added) just before they are cooked.
2 teaspoons butter
3 small or 2 large eggs
3 ounces thinly sliced salami, preferably kosher style
In a 9-inch skillet or omelet pan, heat 2 teaspoons butter until foamy but not brown. As it heats, beat the eggs lightly; it is important to beat eggs just before they are used, or they will deteriorate. Pour eggs into the hot pan and cover completely with a layer of salami slices as you would cover a pizza. At this point, heat another similar-size pan. When the omelet has set and begun to color underneath, loosen it from the pan and flip it over into the second pan (the Rascal House flips the omelet onto its grill). Cook just until the other side begins to color, in the meantime using the first pan to start the next omelet. Flip onto a plate and serve immediately.
1987, Washington Post Writers Group