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memories in the ashes

February 20th, 2010 | 14 Comments »

I’m Minnesota born and bred, raised on summer sunshine, hot dish and 10,000 Lakes. Although there are times that I wish I had the experience of living in other places, experiencing other cultures, I can’t deny my roots, the ones that run deep. My entire family is from this area and I’ve never considered living elsewhere.

Almost all of my upbringing occurred in South Minneapolis. As an adult, I migrated across the river and took on Saint Paul, learning to love it’s unique fingerprint, then I packed up and ditched the urban landscape for the quiet of the exurban living, out where frogs sing to the glory of a spring night, coyotes howl and possum wander lazily under the bird feeders (and pick the underside of your sunroom for their demise- ugh!!) Deer are pretty used to seeing humans, and vice versa. But my heart, my life and all my stained glass mosaic of childhood are firmly rooted in the 55419 zip code. There isn’t a time of my entire life, from my first permanent memories onward, that did not include the tiny commercial corner of 50th and Bryant, the two brick buildings that lined 50th Street, home to an ever-changing parade of tiny businesses. It was a nod to “Locally Owned and Operated” before anyone even knew what that really meant, or how important it was to a community.

And it simply shredded me inside to watch it burn.

All photos courtesy of Kate NG Sommers of The Heavy Table

The power of social media and the internet reaches beyond almost any scope of comprehension. I turned on my computer around 1:30pm on February 18th and took in one Tweet from the local Twitter populace that said ‘Corner of 50th& Bryant in SMpls is scene of large fire” and something clutched deep inside me. I could see the area in my eyes, and as the tweets, news videos and updates began pouring through the internet, I sat utterly transfixed with tears streaming down my face. The heart of my upbringing was so deep in that area. I sadly posted the news on Facebook and the lifeline reached out even more.

My high school is just up the road from there- Washburn High School, of which I entered in 1978 as the first Freshman class, and exited in 1982. Through the magic of Facebook, I have gotten back in touch with all of my old high school friends and they are scattered around the US, and even in other parts of the world, but when they started seeing my update, the shock and grief overflowed. As did the memories. It was a flood. Between that and the Twitter updates, the scenes of devastation playing out live in front of me, it was all I could do to keep from laying my head on my arms and weeping uncontrollably.

I lived barely 1/4 of a mile from there as a child, and as a very young girl walked with my sisters and the neighborhood girls, nickels clutched tight in our hands to the tiny store that was once in that building. The owner, a crotchety guy named Paul, always intimidated us a little, but the candy selection gave us reason to face him. Back when candy was a nickel, we got off easy at that place, gleaming through bags of Sugar Babies, ropes of Bub’s Daddy bubble gum and Black Cow suckers. One of the earliest and most painful memories of my life occurred at that store; it had a huge heavy door that we always struggled to push open, and one day as I attempted to dart through it, it slammed shut on my hand shattering the tip of a finger. It was a ugly bloody mess that dripped all over the worn linoleum floor of Paul’s store. And the stain never went away. I could go back time and again only to see the shadow of my blood on the floor. Paul eventually passed away from a heart attack, and the store closed.

There was an incredible deli in that building at one point, named Zorka & Ollie’s. It was a tiny, tiny space that made monstrous and delicious sandwiches, slathered in their signature Zorka sauce that was both spicy and sweet. It was the first place that dared to sell thick cut potato chips, and I distinctly remember the initial magnificent crunch that hit my mouth. Z&O’s had wonderful coleslaw and terrific potato salad. It was way ahead of it’s time with the fresh made flavor, variety and personal touch that everyone craves, and these days actively seeks out. A sandwich from Z&O’s was a feast.

In the corner of the building, long before Patina took root- an event I remember feeling quite ambivalent about- there used to be a store called Punky’s Corner Consignments, and long before that, a gorgeous Antique store. That antique store was where I honed my love of antiques, and of classic old china to be exact. As a young girl I would go in there with my Mom and marvel at the patterns, the delicacy and the array of beautiful dishware and serving pieces. To this day that love remains. And Punky’s was a fun, funky and odd place that you could find any manner of interesting and unique items. My friends and I could roam there for hours.

All of these memories came roaring through my head, as I watched video and took in photos of the flames eating up a piece of history.  The loss of the current businesses is sorrowful; the two restaurants were stellar destinations in the local dining scene, and at the forefront of a whole movement bringing fine dining into neighborhood pockets of the city. I don’t doubt the area will be rebuilt, but the historical aspect of that building, with it’s artistic brick work and façades can never be duplicated again. Driving through there, even with the new businesses so well established and a more modern feel to the block, I never failed to sense the tremors of history, the laughter of my friends and I, the wonder of the small child in me as acutely as if those moments were still occurring. With the collapse of the roof, and the imminent wrecking ball, it likely will all be pulled down, memories gone for good. Hopefully a new generation of locals will come to know and love what stands on that corner in the future.

Even with such devastation, two high points are well worth mentioning; other than minor injuries to two firefighters, no one was injured and there were no deaths from the blaze. And the venerable Malt Shop, in a building across a tiny alley was spared any damage. The Malt Shop holds a vast sea of memories for myself, my friends and more people than I even care to imagine. My friends and I almost lived there in high school, and the wait staff knew many of us by name. One underlying current that came in from many of my old classmates flung far and wide was the urgent need to know that The Malt Shop survived. Some of these old friends of mine left Minnesota after graduation and have returned only for visits, but the history, nostalgia and a piece of their heart is still there with me in Lynnhurst.

Tuesday's a good day for a Sundae

November 11th, 2008 | 8 Comments »

You would think that having a national holiday involving ice cream might be a great idea in, say July or some other typically hot month, but no…..it’s November 11th, and along with Veteran’s Day, today is National Ice Cream Sundae Day.

It’s surprising what you come across when you research food holidays, like the official website of the Ice Cream Sundae; an entire page of quotes regarding the time-honored dessert and not one, but two books.

And who knew there was such blazing controversy over the origin and official ‘first served’  status of the ice cream sundae? Despite the arguments and vitriole surrounding it, the hands-down site of the first ever ice cream sundae created is known to be Ithaca, New York. From the website:

“The year was 1892. Ithaca, New York, was dotted with local drug stores, where many a nickel was spent for a dish of ice cream. After Sunday services at the Unitarian Church, Reverend John M. Scott visited the Platt & Colt Pharmacy in downtown Ithaca, New York, for his usual dish of vanilla ice cream — but on one fateful day, history was altered forever. That day, instead of plain vanilla for the Reverend, Chester Platt dipped his scoop of ice cream into a champagne saucer, poured cherry syrup over the top, and dressed it with a candied cherry. As the two men pondered over what to call the delightful new concoction, Scott proposed that it be named after the day on which it was invented: Cherry Sunday”

The controversy stems from Two Rivers, Wisconsin and it’s claim to have served a ‘soda-less’ ice cream treat, that is, ice cream without the fizzy water, and throughout the ensuing years there became quite the rivalry over this; there was an entire segment on the CBS Evening News in 2006 about the ongoing dispute and furor from the Two Rivers town manager at the time who adamantly claimed his town’s right to fame. It didn’t seem to matter to him that a copy of a newspaper in Ithaca, dated April 5, 1892 advertised the now-famous concoction at the now legendary soda fountain, Platt and Colt. Two Rivers has no such documentation, and apparently they aren’t willing to go down without a fight. Can you believe the things some people will argue about?

The best part about examining these holidays is doing the research at home.

sundaes-004

As we sat down on a chilly November evening to indulge in ice cream, chocolate, nuts and cookies, we ended up in a friendly familial discussion over what constitutes a Tin Roof Sundae and a Turtle Sundae. Mike thought the Tin Roof was a Turtle with nuts, and Griffin insisted- because he’s 14 and knows everything- that a Turtle was with chocolate, caramel and pecans and a Tin Roof had peanuts. I looked at them both, spooning my ice cream into my mouth and wondered why they wouldn’t just stop debating and eat, for pete’s sake!

It turned out, surprisingly, that Griffin was right.

But a sundae, no matter what you put on it, is the most popular and recognizable of ice cream treats anywhere, I would wager even more so than the ice cream malt. And if you’re ever in a position to fully indulge yourself in a decadent dessert, head to Serendipity 3 Restaurant in New York City for their $1,000 ice cream sundae, composed of the following:

” The Serendipity Golden Opulence Sundae, sold by Serendipity 3 restaurant is a dessert that consists of five scoops of Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream infused with Madagascar vanilla, covered in 23-carat edible gold leaf, rare Amedei Porceleana and Chuao chocolate, American Golden caviar, passion fruit, orange and Armagnac candied fruits from Paris, marzipan cherries, and decorated with real gold dragees. The sundae is served in a baccarat Harcourt crystal goblet with an 18-karat gold spoon “

Or just get some Edy’s, Breyers, or Kemps and make your own delightful creation. Got a favorite combination??? Do share!! I love mint chip ice cream, chocolate sauce and crushed cookies. If you must add whip cream to mine, make it the real stuff!!

“It may be said that ice cream is the best drug available for both mind and body. It is spiritually uplifting, nutritious and wholesome. According to many nutritionists, the calcium in ice cream has a calming effect. A number of psychiatrists, instead of prescribing tranquilizing medication, advise their patients to have some ice cream.”
- Prof. Ralph Slovenko, Journal of Psychiatry & Law


Now that’s MY kind of diagnosis!


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