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Wednesday, November 10, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Taste Of The Town

I Miss Yoo-Hoo -- Dozens Of Homesick Readers Pine For Foods They Can't Find Here

Seattle Times Restaurant Critic

Bruce Springsteen isn't kidding when he sings "everybody has a hungry heart." And if he lived here, I have no doubt that his heart, like so many others from the Garden State, would be hungry for one thing: a big, ripe Jersey tomato.

Homesick readers, by the dozens, responded with barely controlled passion and sometimes pages of comments to my Oct. 20 Taste of the Town column in which I wrote of a recent trip to Philadelphia. Back home I assuaged what I called "Old Hunger" with cheesesteak sandwiches, Tastykake pies, thin-crusted pizza and way too much deli food. My plea - "Where are you from, and what do you miss? What can you get there that you can't get here?" - inspired many a fervent response.

Philadelphians weighed in heavily (in more ways than one, I presume) with favorites I failed to mention, including the soft pretzels sold curbside all over town. "You know, the five-for-a-dollar type that, if eaten immediately, have a classic Philadelphia taste and texture that shouldn't be missed," writes L.B. Kregenow. "Of course, if you delay in eating them, they become hard as a rock within 24 hours, but for 20 cents, who can complain?"

Nancy Bradshaw won't have to wait for her next trip home to cure what ails her. Her sister's flying in from Philly later this week and will, says Bradshaw, "look like a traveling A&P, hauling Goldberg's Peanut Chews, Smuckers walnuts in syrup and Dietz & Watson Scrapple." Yo, Nancy! Which flight is she on?

New Yorkers, it should come as no surprise, had plenty to say about Old Hunger. They miss neighborhood Italian restaurants with "real Italian food cooked by real Italians," and "pizza by the slice that requires the `fold' just to eat it." They long for Carvel ice cream, a decent cannoli, Chinese takeout, Yoo-Hoos in 6-packs, H&H bagels, and, of course, deli food.

"Don't get me started on deli," writes Julian Mueller. "It simply doesn't exist in Seattle. In fact, the argument could be made that it doesn't exist outside of New York." Rather than dine at some fancy-pants New York restaurant on the last night of a recent visit, Mueller chose Katz's Delicatessen where he ate a huge pastrami sandwich on rye and a side of potato salad, all washed down with Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic. For dessert? "A hot dog and a Yoo-Hoo, what else?" he burped, contentedly.

Marilyn Alterman, a "kid from the Bronx," leads a large chorus that bemoans the dearth of real bagels in Seattle. "What they make here are just rolls with holes," she says. "And why can't someone make a good rye bread or pumpernickel?" Laura Tom McCarthy, whose ethnic heritage is Chinese, has a soft spot for Ratchik's Bakery in Brooklyn. "They had the best prune hamantaschen: nice and thick, and it crumbled when you took a bite. We ate so many of these growing up that it wasn't until I was a teenager that I found out hamantaschen were Jewish, not Chinese!"

Alan Zelt writes, "I remember my grandmother (who always had her apron on when going shopping) taking me in tow for some serious shopping on the Lower East Side." Their pilgrimage invariably led to "the holiest of the holy's": Russ and Daughters. "In those days the deli was filled with huge barrels, with many different kinds of herrings. My grandmother would roll up the sleeves on her sweater and reach down in and feel each and every herring. Only when she was satisfied would she pull out the honored fish."

Joe Steinberger, from Winnipeg, says he'd "challenge any city anywhere, even New York or Montreal, for the blue ribbon of Jewish rye bread." Other fond remembrances include Sunday mornings when his family would drive to Gunn's Bakery for hot cinnamon buns, "absolutely, without question, the very best." Another expat from Winnipeg, Marnie Webb, cites smoked goldeye, Ukrainian sausage, Saskatoon (berry) pie and "delectable" Tolman Sweet apples.

Fellow Canadian Joy Rogers grew up in Montreal and fondly remembers winters skating with friends at the local outdoor rink. Afterward, they'd go to the rec center to warm up and eat fries drenched in vinegar. "I have never found vinegar that can compare with what we had in Canada on those cold days," she says.

J.H. Heise writes: "Like you I have to go in an easterly direction to connect with the authentic treats one longs for, only in my case it is way east, all the way to Berlin, Germany." His description of Aschingers, an "institution since the turn of the century" and the "bluest of blue-collar restaurants, right downtown near the main railroad station" had my mouth watering for what he referred to as its "main attraction": pea soup. Alas, says Heise, who left Berlin for California in 1960, Aschingers didn't live to see the next millennium.

Despite the Pacific Northwest's vast array of seafood, New Englanders still have an insatiable taste for their own. Judy Resnick, from New Haven, Conn., is among a contingent crazy for lobster rolls. This is not cold lobster salad, she says, but "a huge pile of sauteed lobster on a grilled bun."

"Every little town in Rhode Island seems to have a fish shack that sells incredible seafood for what seems like pennies," writes Regina LaBelle, who is especially fond of clam cakes - described as fried balls of dough with clams in them. "The description doesn't do them justice, but they're incredible, especially when topped with vinegar," she says. Rhode Islander Susan Gilbert claims that Aunt Carrie's in Galilee makes the best clam cakes, and never misses an opportunity to load up on johnnycakes ("made from Rhode Island flint-ground white corn, of course!")

"There is nothing in the world better than a whole fried clam, bellies and all!" writes Laurie Brilhante, a Boston-area native. John Metzger agrees: "I lust for fried clams with bellies, and real corn on the cob, picked up at a farm stand." Jane Hitztaler makes a beeline for Benny's in Portland, Maine, for her fried-clam fix, following that up with ice cream from "roadside, nonchain, family-run stands" where a cone "must hold at least a pint and a half" of the sweet stuff.

Ice cream also holds a special place in Jill Cohen's hungry heart. She took a trip to Cincinnati last summer to celebrate her parents' 50th wedding anniversary and immediately headed for Graeter's. "In my humble opinion, no other ice cream in the world comes close to their mocha chip, an incredible blend of freshly made coffee ice cream with the biggest and best chocolate chips you've ever seen. . . . My motto for the weekend was `Graeter's Ice Cream Every Day!' I'm proud to say we reached our goal!"

Though she's lived here 25 years, Judith Kent, from Indianapolis, says she still dreams about White Castle hamburgers - "little square burgers with five holes punched in them, fried on a greasy grill with greasy onions, served on a square bun." Pat Wisen's favorite sandwich, popular in Lincoln, Neb., is "runza"-ground beef and cabbage on a hamburger bun believed to have either a Polish or German provenance. Doug Hammond, from Cheektowaga, N.Y., near Buffalo, remembers Friday night family fish frys and is among a crowd who long for Beef on Wick - a late-night tavern favorite. "It's thinly carved roast beef, dipped in a gravy only slightly thicker than au jus, served with plenty of hot horseradish on a Kimmelwick roll baked with caraway seeds and chunks of salt," he says. "It was exceptional!"

Chicago natives miss their Vienna Red Hots, New Yorkers pine for Zabrets, but those dogs surely can't compare in bite and bark to Gena Yousoufian's description of an Italian hot dog from Jimmy Buff's in Irvington, N.J. "It is grease taken to new heights," she says. "The hot dogs, the green peppers, the potatoes and the onions are all deep-fried in the same vat of sizzling hot grease. They are then stuffed into half a loaf of round, flat, Italian bread and the yellow mustard is squirted on. My stomach aches for about two hours afterward. It is sheer bliss!"

KC Nordquist grew up in Los Angeles and recalls going to the butcher as a child, where she'd always be presented with the end of a bologna stick. "That bologna was 100 percent better than Oscar Mayer," she says. Sharyn Earl, a self-described Army brat, writes that she and her brother still reminisce about a lovely citrus-like fruit called a guinnup, which they ate by the bagful while living in Panama. "They were about as big as a pingpong ball and green like a lime on the outside. When you bit into the thin skin, it broke open like an egg revealing a juicy, flesh-colored, sweet/sour ball of pulpy fruit that you sucked off a big pit. I have looked in vain for guinnups, but no one has ever even heard of them."

"I keep telling my relatives in Miami it's not them I'm coming for, it's the food," says Yvette Cardoza. While in Florida she fills up on cafe con leche, "the world's original latte but much richer, coating the inside of your mouth with comfort like no Starbucks ever could." Then it's on to "Cuban black bean soup so thick it's like paste, so full of flavor the insides of my cheeks quiver just thinking about it." And "maduros, which are ripe plantains, covered with honey and butter and fried."

"Barbecue just isn't the same here," laments 16-year-old Emily Williams, from Richmond, Va. "In Richmond the meat is tender and rich in flavor. The spicy, tangy barbecue sauce would seep through the chicken and ribs and drip off the sides." Thoughts of home also turn to grits, butterbeans, and "always, with every meal, summer or winter: sweet iced tea."

"I can smell it now," writes Kim Darwin, who hails from New Mexico. "A Christmas feast with posole (hominy soup with red chili), tamales, empanaditas (fried fruit or meat pies), sopapillas (fried dough pillows) and biscochitos (anise cookies). Aaahhhh, maybe I need to take a trip home. Every time I do, though, I can hardly see my feet when I get back!"

Lois Sherman Jongsma recalls garden-fresh strawberries heaped atop baking-powder biscuits warm from her mother's wood-burning stove; oysters, gathered by her father in a gunnysack then shucked, breaded and fried in butter. She remembers a small flock of Rhode Island chickens and a henhouse, where hens pecked the back of her hand as she stole their eggs - eggs, she says, "that stood up to greet you when you broke the shell." Fourth of July meant celebrating with ice cream, hand-churned using heavy cream from fresh cow's milk. "What a treat to lick the dasher," writes Jongsma.

Her letter began: "Nancy Leson says, `A trip home means time to satisfy Old Hunger.' How true! But I can't go home, because home isn't there anymore. The town isn't there anymore. Our house isn't there anymore. My mother isn't there anymore. Going home for me would be going home to a logging camp, 30 miles from Aberdeen, in the '20s and '30s." Jongsma reminded me how lucky I am to be able to take a trip home to satisfy my Old Hunger. For her, memories will have to do. And that, hungry readers, is food for thought.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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