Today like a lot of you I'll be celebrating Mother's Day with my great mom, my rock, my heroic woman.
We had a ritual on this day--a visit to an institution: Spenger's, in Berkeley. The greatest restaurant in the world until, naturally, new owners a few years back renovated and restored the old place--essentially yuppified it and totally wrecked the joint.
Those twelve of you that don't know Spenger's should understand it wasn't merely a seafood place--that would do it a mother of all injustices.
It had a vibe, a presence --Mother's Day, Father's Day, hell, any day for that matter, Spenger's was the place to hang out and eat. The prices were ridiculously reasonable and the loaf of sourdough bread alone was worth the price of admission. I grabbed 3 or 4 loafs and gave the union waiter a couple of bucks and he nailed me some and placed them in a bag with enough butter to last through a month. Gosh, how good that bread was but bread was just the start--assuming of course you managed to get in.
At Spenger's, the wait, on a good night, was 45 minutes. On Sunday, at least two hours. My late brother, Michael would have none of that. It eventually came to my family's notice that Mike had to have slipped the hostess a 10-spot because we always seemed to get a table right away. Da-dum!
Mind you sitting in this place was only the beginning. Every room had a name. The waiters wore classic white aprons --real old school. And everything tasted great. You like sand dabs? You got great sand dabs. Me being a traditionalist always went for the old stand-by: the CAPTAIN'S PLATE! Nirvana. Abalone, (the real stuff then), shrimp, regular deep-fried stuff that was enhanced with globs of tartar sauce and fries. I was in heaven. Mom always ordered the filet of sole. No mater what. Mel, my dad, had a thing for salmon. My sisters, I had no clue what they ordered because I was too busy on the Captain's Plate and my brother was nailing the swordfish and clam chowder, white, by the way, always, along with the bread. That was just the start mind you between the people-watching and our own table of screamers and yellers, mind you we're talkin' Jewish family here. Fortunately, the noise inside diffused our own Lieberman noise and that's a good thing. We hadn't made it through dessert before my mom and sisters were screaming and yelling at one another. Fortunately coffee saved the day. And if I was good, a second Mickey Rooney from the bar was on its way. If you're a young kid at Spengers, a Mickey Rooney was your kiddy vodka. It tasted just right and the compelling cherry on top was the topper.
Spenger's brings back pleasant memories. Family. Friends. Sunday evenings. It all seemed too good to be true. The joint was always jumpin' and the old-fashioned foodie virtues were one of a kind. Damn, some of the wildest memories. My late Uncle Al, Aunt Claire and Duddy. My brother's friend, Alan and the rest of the clan. It was Berkeley old-school but really more a Bay Area institution and it did a helluva business--breakfast mind you was a classic. And the crowds were decent enough that you didn't have to wait--again we had a luxury in that department with Mike, my brother but you get my drift.
Today, we will saunter over to my sister's place and celebrate with Mom on this day with a little BBQ in the backyard. I wish I could go back in time and get a table for 8 in the, I think they called it the "Teak Room?"--something like that. Even Herb Caen was a regular at Spenger's--the old place, not the rubbery fake one that stands today but times, yes, they-a-changin'.
I hope all of you have a great day. Say hi to mom for me and enjoy.
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