There I was on my therapist’s couch, wondering aloud how my unhealthy relationship with food got started.
“Most of my fond foodie memories involve a safe place or a time in my life when I was carefree,” I said. “Like when my grandmother would make me her famous chopped liver or I would gorge on pizza during my college years.”
“Uh-huh,” she nodded, writing something down.
“At some point I began to use food for comfort,” I continued, “and it all kind of just went downhill from there.
“Now I seek out the kinds of foods that transport me back to those times,” I said. “Like Crazy Jay’s Pizza and Pasta (2817 W. Berry St.) — it just felt so familiar, as though I were back in college with nary a care in the world, aside from math tests and three-page papers.
“The atmosphere felt so ‘college,’ ” I said. The tiny Berry Street eatery, a stone’s throw from Texas Christian University, was crawling with kids, I told her, “and they were dressed as though they’d just rolled out of bed. Crazy Jay’s offers walk-up counter service” — I was starting to babble — “and there were pre-made pizzas for sale by the slice sitting under a heat lamp.”
“Uh-huh,” my therapist said. I decided not to mention how friendly the server was — who knew what she’d read into that.
I was practically swooning on the couch by this point, describing how the food was perfect for student types who value quantity over nuances of flavor. “The pie is the thin and foldable New York style, and there’s nothing fancy about it,” I said. “The sausage and pepperoni pizza ($2.50 per slice) was the size of a hubcap and tasted … well, it didn’t. It was pretty bland. The crust was nice and crisp, but the cheese and meats didn’t add much in the way of flavor. But, boy, was it filling. Like the lasagna ($9.95) — it arrived in a dish the size of a Buick, with pools of grease sitting atop a hillock of cheese. Again, the dish was pretty much devoid of flavor, but I ate it anyway because it was edible, and it was served to me.”
“Uh-huh,” my therapist said knowingly.
Emboldened by her response, I revealed more of my secrets. “For me, the ultimate comfort food is served by waitresses who call you ‘hon’ in out-of-the-way diners,” I said. “Like Moe’s Café Home Cooking (4705 River Oaks Blvd.). The menu could have been written by my grandmother. The place looks as though it were ripped out of an episode of Alice.”
“Give me Moe,” she said, or maybe it was “give it a rest.” But by this point I couldn’t stop. “The blue carpet! The green booths! They were as perfect a fit for Moe’s seasoned crowd as the TVs and tall tables were for the kids at Jay’s.”
I described how I’d ordered the ultimate comfort dish: chicken-fried steak. “The lunch special ($6.50) came with two sides and a roll. The steak itself was big but not intimidating and drenched in cream gravy. My fork cut through the tender meat like it was a pound cake, and the batter was crunchy.” I hoped she was writing this down — it was pure poetry. “My guest went for the liver and onions plate ($7.50). The thin slices were slathered in brown gravy made from drippings. My grandmother used to make me that dish as a child, and Moe’s version matched her cooking bite for bite — the highest possible praise.” What would she make of me mentioning cut-up liver and my grandmother in the same breath?
“Uh-huh,” she said, looking at her watch. “It looks like your time is up.”
“Good,” I said. “I’m starving.”
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