Isabella picked me up thirty minutes later than she said she would. She was disheveled, but cleverly dressed the way art students always are. Though I’m pathologically punctual, I didn’t mind. She was a free spirit and, despite our fifteen year age difference, we got along very well. Isabella was very smart and we both had a penchant for food.
We got down to Randolph Street but couldn’t find free parking so we resorted to meter parking on Halsted, a block away from Au Cheval. We had two hours.
The restaurant occupied a nice space, albeit small. It was cozy and dimly lit even though it was noon. Unfortunately, it was packed. People in giant down coats hovered around the hostess station so we had to wedge our way in to put our name down for a table. The wait was forty-five minutes; the hostess suggested we get coffee down the street at a tiny pastry shop. On our way there, we walked by Little Goat. It was opening day. The restaurant world had been anticipating this opening for months and we were curious, so we looked in. The wait was also forty-five minutes, but the atmosphere wasn’t quite as pleasant as Au Cheval. It was supposed to be a diner, but it was a large, unwelcoming, open space making it a place to see and be seen. We skipped it.
The pastry shop was small and more of a grab-and-go lunch place than pastry shop, but had tables if you wanted to eat in. We each got a coffee and a cookie. I went for the cornmeal lemon cookie and Isabella got the homemade Oreo.
We traded bites of our cookies — mine was crunchy, grainy (in a good way) with a lemony zip. I put it on my list of things to make. Light and delightful. One cookie killed just enough time to get us through our waiting period without having to stand around.
When we returned to Au Cheval, it was still packed, but we got a table that I was happy with in a far corner, away from the door.
As we sipped bloody marys, Isabella launched into her story about her boyfriend, Charlie. The last she had told me was that they were in love but things got awkward after she decided she should move to Iowa City and start a letterpress business.
“I asked him if he would move with me and he flat out said ‘NO,’” she said. She said this as happily as she says everything. It’s like nothing bad has ever happened to her. Nothing got her down. I envied her disposition.
We looked over the menu. She decided on a plain cheeseburger. I got the cheeseburger with a fried egg. I knew I was playing with fire, but I couldn’t help myself: I added the bacon topper. I desperately wanted to order both the mashed potatoes and the fries, but Isabella convinced me to split the fries with her.
I detailed my recent affairs as the food arrived. My burger was the most beautiful burger I’d ever seen. It was served open face. On one side of the bun was the perfect fried egg and on the meat and cheese topped with two thick slices of bacon gleaming with delicious, warm pork fat. I took off one slice of the bacon to taste. It was other-worldly. If there was a better piece of bacon out there, I didn’t want to find it because this one was enough to send me into a deadly bacon relapse. It was so good, I took off both slices to savor by themselves. The fries were equally dreamy: fried in pork fat and dipped in mayonnaise.
The conversation kept me from eating too much too quickly. I told her about Eamon and then all of the sordid details between me and Burton and how the relationship was manic. There were extreme highs and extreme lows but the sex was consistently fantastic. I mentioned our writing exercise and she demanded to read what he wrote.
“If you read it, you will never look at me the same way again,” I said. “Seriously, I saved it as ‘50 Shades of Burton.’ It’s very graphic.”
“I don’t care,” she said. “I want to read it. I can handle a little sex.”
I pulled up the email on my phone and let her read it while I finished my meat.
“It’s not edited,” I said. “We wrote and sent as is.”
“OK,” she said suspiciously.
“Yeah, he wrote twice as much as I did in the same amount of time.”
“I mean, it’s interesting. Very detailed, but he gets a little repetitive,” she said. “Also, I think he objectifies you.”
“Really? Is that what you took away from it?” I asked. “It’s a fair representation of our physical relationship, but he’s a very caring person.”
“I don’t know about this guy,” she said. I knew she was right. At 23 she was more astute about what was happening between me and Burton than I was at 38.
“I wasn’t excited about him,” I said. “I was excited about Burton. I’m still excited about Burton. I just don’t know what will happen.”
“I think you should walk away now. He’s bad news.”
“If only I had the willpower to do that. If I wasn’t so attracted to him, I would. He’s like… bacon.”
“How did you leave it today?” she asked.
“I told him I was going to lay low and not contact him for a while.”
“Are you going to?”
“I’m going to try.”
We finished our food and cocktails and returned to the cold. Isabella dropped me off. I over ate but I was eager to make those lemon cornmeal cookies.
- ½ cup butter
- 1 cup sugar
- zest of one lemon
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup corneal
- pinch salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 400F.
Cream together sugar and butter and zest. Add eggs and vanilla. Add cornmeal, flour salt and baking powder.
On a silpat or parchment paper lined sheet pan, scoop about one teaspoon of cookie dough onto pan with ample space between each cookie so they don’t touch while baking.
Bake in oven until slightly golden (about 7 minutes). They should be crispy.