This holiday season I bumped into a longtime customer of ours while shopping. We were on a long line together at Toys R Us and chatted as we waited patiently. Patience is a great virtue to have during the holiday rush. But I was happy to have this time with her because she shared her very first memory of the restaurant. As she spoke she brought me back in time. She woke up those old memories of yester year when the restaurant was located in downtown Poughkeepsie. I remember the holiday season being so much fun. Downtown Poughkeepsie was hopping with shoppers and workers alike. Everyone greeted each other on the side walk with reciprocated Merry Christmas’ and Happy Hanukkahs. People carrying fancy packages, coming into the restaurant for a quick dinner all knew each other. I remembered all the happy faces with big smiles as my dad and uncles greeted each and every customer by name. Downtown was so festive! It wasn’t just the store fronts beautifully decorated! Even the people were beautifully dressed! The best department stores were located on Main Street. There was Schwartz and Co. were all the men purchased the finest suits. It was the Up To Date where I learned all about fashion. And let us not forget Santa! The real Santa was at the Luckey Platts! And there was a jewelry store with beautiful gemstones gleaming in the windows on every block. My mom introduced me to perfume. Every Christmas I received ‘Up To Dates’ newest scent. Poughkeepsie was like a mini NYC 5th Avenue!
For the first five years, we lived above the restaurant so I was right in bird’s eye view of downtown Poughkeepsie. It was electric! The streets were full of people shouting to each other with joyous voices. The restaurant lunch crowd was mostly business people while at dinner they all brought their families. Back then having a Martini or Manhattan at lunch was common. There was one lawyer who didn’t drink would order a water in a martini glass with an olive just to be part of the “Martini Lunch Clique”. Owning a restaurant sometimes makes you privy to people’s secrets. You would think I saw some not so nice things but I have to say those were rare. It was all good experiences back then. All I remember is my dad and mom being so happy. My dad’s smile was so big. I think his smile must have been contagious because everyone that came into the restaurant had that same smile when greeting my dad. How I loved those days!
I had to shake my head a little to bring me back to the present as the woman continued talking. She had a familiar smile on her face as she recalled her very first introduction to the restaurant. Back in 1970 when she was pregnant with her first child, she and her husband travelled from Westchester to interview for a job at law firm in downtown Poughkeepsie across the street from the restaurant. As she recounted that she had been waiting in the car for her husband, I stood there starry eyed as I imagined that they had parked in the large municipal lot behind the restaurant. The very lot that I could see from out the window of our apartment. As part of the interview process the firm’s partners brought her husband to have lunch at our restaurant. While she was laughing as she told me her story, I was thinking, “Goodness gracious! She must have been starving while waiting for her husband!” When her husband got back to the car he explained that they brought him to an Italian Restaurant. The menu was full of the most delicious Italian entrees. The woman said that her mouth was watering as he described the entrees. But what shocked the husband was that everyone at his table did not order Italian food! To his surprise, they all ordered grilled ham and cheese on scooped out Italian bread. As I looked at her big smile as she finished her story my heart warmed because I saw my father’s smile in her. It never occurred to me how weird it must have been that we served Grilled Ham and Cheese at our Italian restaurant. I thought it was normal that dozens of plates of Grilled Ham and Cheese flew out of our kitchen. Lunch was served fast to accommodate the workers! I can still hear the wait staff ordering Grilled Ham and Cheese on scooped out Italian. I guess from an outsider it really was weird for Italians to be serving Ham and Cheese but not in Downtown Poughkeepsie!
So, as we start a New Year I want to leave you with a memory of the years gone by. I wonder why an ordinary Grilled Ham Cheese was so special back then. But maybe it was because the smiles were contagious! Everyone smiled! So, I am making my New Year’s resolution this year to smile more and I hope all of you will too! I bet our smiles will be contagious and we will make memories out of the ordinary!
Grilled Ham and Cheese on scooped out Italian
Fresh crusty Italian bread (French baguettes)
Thinly sliced boiled ham
Thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Slice the Italian bread in half through the middle to have two wedges.
Scoop out the soft middle.
Place 2 slices of boiled ham on each slice of bread. And 2 slices of mozzarella.
Lightly drizzle extra virgin olive oil.
Lightly sprinkle paprika.
Bake for 12 minutes until the cheese is melted and the bread is crisp.
Don’t forget to smile while you bite into the crispy gooey Ham and Cheese on scooped out Italian!