Thursday, December 24, 2009

LOFT LIFE: Walkabout

I love small cities that have the charm of small towns and the convenience of larger cities. Such is our northern CT abode. We have the mall, of course--Macy’s, Target, Home Depot, Best Buy, etc.--all the big box shopping we can handle. The worst is Costco, which is addicting. My first trip there in 30 years and I found myself hyperventilating with the temptations surrounding me. Starting with gourmet appetizers to die for, like Brie spread with pesto and cranberries, and Brioche, filled with brie, cranberries and...well do you see a theme here? And, they give you samples! You can really have lunch at Costco just by stopping at each sample station. Jay, who still hasn’t figured out the calorie thing (could be he still weighs what he did when we married 28 years ago), believes that unless he tops it off with Costco’s $1.25 hot dog, cheese spreads, puff pastries and soup samples are not lunch. You can almost see him secretly beating his chest, Tim Taylor style, and vocalizing, “Meat! Me want meat!.”

But, even Costco’s delights don’t compare with the joy of walking around our neighborhood and discovering the small shop offerings.

First there is Diana’s Bakery. She claims to have been in her Main Street location for 20 years. Her Italian cookies are wonderful, and I am still sampling her breads. Didn’t much care for the whole wheat--it seemed too refined to get the low glycemic benefits, but her rye, which Andi pointed me to, “without seeds” was just fine. I still miss Great Harvest, which if I ever decide to mount the challenge of meandering surface streets to Manchester, I will visit. But, for now, Diana’s is good.

Really, even though it isn’t whole grain, Sylvia’s Restaurant has good breads. She is Rumanian, but serves Hungarian, German and Rumanian foods. There is never anyone in this charming restaurant, which has us scratching our heads. We dined there once, and ordered the lunch portions, which Sylvia, a proud woman, just could not do. I think she thought it was a price issue, so she gave us dinner portions at lunch prices, which made us feel bad, because we were the only diners that hour. The food was delicious. Jay got goulash and I had schnitzel, which was a little greasy and not as hot as I wished. But, I couldn’t complain when Sylvia, herself, was our server, and I heard her exasperation trying to explain to the chef, probably her son, that we only wanted lunch. His reply was something like, “Well how many pieces is that?” to which Sylvia shrugged and gave the okay to give us the full dinner portions.

On my way to Diana’s I had stopped at the Polish Deli to get Jay some baked ham for lunches, but the owner was busy, and doesn’t hurry anyone, so I said I would be back. At Diana’s I mentioned that I was going to the deli next, and she said, “Oh, say hello to Helen.” So I did. And, Helen seemed truly surprised to see I came back. Since it was my turn, I got the full customer-service treatment.

I had a cookie sample, on the house, at Diana’s, and a slice of ham at Helen’s, so I didn’t miss Costco at all. In fact, I have to keep reminding myself that I really prefer supporting these small businesses, rather than indulging in the brie and cranberries and spending $115 just for breathing, when it could have been $30 at two shops, both in walking distance, that really fill the bill, and make life here so much fun.

Diana, Helen and Sylvia are fixtures here, and I intend to tell everyone how lucky we are to have their shops, and their personalities, and how much we need to patronize them so we aren't forced to shop big boxes only, convenient though they are.