Dining adventures often take familiar turns

The Happy Eater

March 20, 1996|By Rob Kasper

THERE WAS A time when I generally avoided any restaurant you couldn't drive through. That was when the kids were small. That was when, in my mind, a successful dining experience meant nothing was spilled, stained or broken. For the kids, it meant the entree came with a toy.

Now the family attitude toward restaurant dining has changed. The kids, 15 and 11, are fans of eating in "real" restaurants. They like the idea of going to a place where you sit down, where a waiter serves you. And where Dad picks up the bill.

All of that makes me nervous. When our family of four sits at a table covered with a white tablecloth, I recall the time 10 years ago in Little Italy when one of the kids transformed the table cloth into a sea of spaghetti. When such memories strike, I calm myself by moving all the water glasses closer to the center of the table.

The kids don't even notice the movement of the glasses. They are busy perusing the menu, looking for something that strikes their fancy. They don't look at the prices. This, too, makes me nervous.

Veteran parents are familiar with the transformation kids make from Cheerios-eaters to restaurant-goers.

They have seen their offspring grow up and develop opinions, some lasting some fleeting, on the moral worth of vegetables, meat and salt. They have seen their once picky eaters develop palates.

These seasoned parents have told me about their experiences. I didn't pay attention. Like a lot of parents, I am amazingly myopic. I can only focus on the stage of development that my kids are in right now. I forget what happened before. I don't think I want to know what lies ahead. Perhaps this learn-as-we-go attitude is how the species survives.

About the only time our entire family eats in a restaurant is when we take a trip, like the one we took a few days ago to the Eastern Shore.

Our station wagon had not crossed the Chesapeake Bay when the debate started between the kids over where we should stop for lunch. We ended up stopping at the Chester River Inn. It is just east of the Bay Bridge. The exit off U.S. 50 was familiar to us. It was the exit we used to take when we ate at the McDonald's. Now, instead of turning left at the end of Cox Neck Road toward the McDonald's, we turned right, onto Castle Marina Road, toward the "real restaurant," the Chester River Inn.

The restaurant was the pick of the 11-year-old. Last December he had eaten the seared tenderloin there. The restaurant had become his favorite place.

It was a scenic spot, with a glass-walled dining room that overlooks boats bouncing in a nearby marina. Mark Henry, the former chef at the Milton Inn in Sparks, and his wife, Barbara, run the place. During our December visit I had given my son a taste of the delicious crab quesadillas appetizer, and I thought that this time the kid might venture out and order the Mexican flavored crab dish.

Not so. He stuck with red meat, beef tips with noodles. His brother ordered a burger. "A burger," I thought, "the kid could get at McDonald's!" But I kept that thought to myself. Moreover, an unspoken creed of our clan has been you eat what you like, not what other people think you should be eating.

Nevertheless, I wanted the kids to taste something beyond beef. I gave them sample bites of my fried oyster sandwich, crunchy on the outside and moist in the middle. My wife passed around bites of her perfectly cooked rockfish. The kids took the sample bites but seemed happy with their selections.

A few days later we stopped at another real restaurant for lunch, the Town Dock on Mulberry Street in St. Michaels. It is operated by Michael Rork the former executive chef at Harbor Court Hotel, and by his wife Betsy. It is a favorite spot of our 15-year-old son, who, in previous visits to the restaurant, had consumed major portions of its special fried potatoes coated with crab seasoning.

This time we had the spicy potatoes, along with some velvety crab bisque, a couple of crab cakes and another wonderful fried oyster sandwich. We traded bites. I had a glass of terrific chardonnay from Adelsheim vineyards in Oregon. I also tried a so-so merlot from Chile.

In the middle of all this tasting and sipping, I tried to get the 11-year-old to eat a fried oyster. He took a couple of bites. He said he liked it. Then he ordered a cheeseburger and soda for lunch.

Somedays we take bold steps down life's culinary road. And on other days, we find a comfortable spot on the side of the road, and stay there.

Pub Date: 3/20/96

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