Hands on Farish 4

Image | Posted on by | Tagged | Leave a comment

Art, Window and Rain

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Lavender Mums

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Red Pear Leaves

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving with Alice’s Restaurant

Thanksgiving has a uniquely American song, not the sort that Lincoln might have imagined when he inaugurated the holiday in 1863, but “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” is revolutionary, irreverent and earthy; in short, as American as pumpkin pie.

This folksong (actually more of a monologue) originated in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, home to another American icon, Norman Rockwell. It was also home to The Stockbridge School, a progressive, co-educational private prep school whose students in the early 60s included singer and songwriter Arlo Guthrie. The librarian of the school was Alice May Brock, whose husband Ray taught sculpture. Alice and Ray lived in an abandoned Episcopal church they owned along with a bunch of other hippies.

“Now it all started two years ago on Thanksgiving, when my friend and I went up to visit Alice at the Restaurant, but Alice doesn’t live in the restaurant, she lives in the church nearby the restaurant, in the bell-tower, with her husband Ray and Fasha the dog. This song is called Alice’s Restaurant, and it’s about Alice, and the Restaurant, but Alice’s Restaurant is not the name of the restaurant, that’s just the name of the song, and that’s why I called the song ‘Alice’s Restaurant’.”

Alice was born in Brooklyn, New York on February 28, 1941. She was kicked out of Sarah Lawrence in her sophomore year for her involvement in “unpopular political causes”, married architect Ray Brock in 1962, and the couple moved to Stockbridge, where she opened a restaurant in April, 1966 at 40 Main Street. In My Life as a Restaurant, Alice writes a great deal about why she opened the restaurant, her family, and her youth in Brooklyn, all of which culminated in her opening an eatery that inspired a tradition for America’s premiere culinary holiday.

“I think a lot of people who are interested in food fantasize about having a restaurant,” Alice writes. “I never did. I was twenty-five, married and crazy. I was a captive in a situation I had very little control over other than the role of cook and nag—being a hippy housewife was not satisfying. I had a world of fantasies; none included a restaurant, but all were based on the assumption that I would be my own person, on my own trip.”

Alice’s mother, who was a real estate broker in Stockbridge and determined to get her daughter out of her “situation”, called her one day and asked her to go with her and look at a little luncheonette for sale down an alley in the middle of town. “It had a counter down one side and three or four booths on the other side, and a tiny ill-equipped kitchen in the back,” Alice remembers. “It was painted two-tone institutional green, and it was definitely not the kind of place where I would eat, much less own. But it was a chance, a chance to escape. Before we left, I was hooked. I was already creating a menu, I was already free. Those moments, when suddenly an opportunity appears, a door opens—they are what life is all about.”

Alice called her restaurant “The Back Room”. “I knew nothing, absolutely nothing,” she admits. “I can’t believe how innocent I was. But it didn’t matter.” Opening night was a near-disaster, “a nightmare”, but she persevered, and soon she and her sister, who was also in a “situation”, were staying up all night cooking things she later wouldn’t consider for hundred-dollar-a-plate dinners and working five hours making thirty portions of some exotic soup that would vanish in twenty minutes the next day. “I was crazy, she said, “but I know that for all our unprofessionalism, we cooked some pretty wonderful dishes, and I established a reputation as a cook.”

The summer of 1966 was a magical time for Stockbridge; the Berkshire Playhouse had reorganized with aspirations to be something more than just a summer stock theatre, attracting stars and would-be stars to the town. “Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman liked hamburgers with onion, green peppers, and an egg in them,” Alice writes. “Frank Langella was called ‘Mr. Mushroom Omelet’. Ann Bancroft was wonderful, and when her whole family came, I cooked giant meals; when they stayed late, she helped me clear the table.”

One spring morning a year after opening, Alice says that she walked through the front door and freaked out. “I felt that instead of owning it, it owned me. The plates were out to get me, the pots were planning an attack, the stove was laughing at me. I had a terrible urge to smash everything.” Instead, she called Eastern Airlines and booked a midnight flight to Puerto Rico, emptied the cash box and gave away all the food. “It was a wonderful restaurant. It was a success. I ran it for one year. It turned me into a madwoman. I made enemies of old friends. I broke up with my husband. I left my home. I had actually broken free and become my own person. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew I would never have another restaurant. Never say never.”

Alice Brock went on to open not one but several more restaurants; she now lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she owns an art gallery. After Arlo premiered “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” before a captivated crowd of over ten thousand at the Newport Jazz Festival in July, 1967, he performed it live on non-commercial New York City radio station WBAI one night later that summer. The song became so popular that for months afterward WBAI rebroadcast it only when listeners pledged to donate a large amount of money. The eponymous (less the massacree) album was released that same year, with the song (at 18:20) taking up the entire first side, the other filled with a selection of bluesy folk tunes. The ballad has become a Thanksgiving tradition not only for classic rock stations, but for thousands of households across the nation.

Alice and Arlo (Photo courtesy of Alice Brock)

 

Posted in Eating, People | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Tangled Up in Blue

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Mistilis’ Hamburger Steak

If Oxford, Mississippi can be said to have a signature restaurant dish, the hamburger steak Angelo Mistillis made at his restaurant on College Hill Road would be it. Angelo opened the restaurant in May, 1962, five months before Meredith entered Ole Miss, and closed in 1988. His menu featured dozens of items, but first and foremost was the hamburger steak with potatoes. “You could have it regular, you could have it with onions, you could have it with just cheese, or you could have it all the way,” Angelo said.

“The hamburger steak was on the original menu, the hamburger steak with cheese and onions came in a little later, in the mid to late 60s. We used about nine tons of fresh ground beef a year. I had a butcher that got my hamburger meat with all the trimmings, and I got some from James’ Food Center. We always served it with hand-cut home fries. We’d use around 1200 lbs. of potatoes a week and two fifty-pound sacks of onions. The cheese was always sliced American, and we served it on a paper plate in a wicker basket.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment