Serendipity and Serenades at the Eiffel Tower.

So when i wasn’t prowling about the Eiffel Tower looking for a hot dog, i was busy being rather bedazzled by the tower itself. There’s magic in Paris, i swear; perhaps the secret entrance to Beauxbatons lies beneath the Seine.

eiffel tower in b&w, watermarked

Seeing the Eiffel Tower at all is striking and poetic and full of Aristocat-themed-music-making. Seeing the Eiffel Tower at night is unlike anything else; the gold against the purple night, the way it lights up and sparkles for ten minutes every hour, the glow it casts on the whole of the jardins surrounding it make me understand why so many artists and writers came to Paris and never left. It’s the music itself.

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Sparkling on the hour!

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Though initially disappointed to learn that the cables for the lift to the tippy-top were too frozen to function, the mid-atmospheric snow in the air at the second level made us quite content to look out at Sacre Coeur and L’Arc de Triomphe from our frozen perch. It was stunning; the whole of Paris reflected back at us like the lights on the tower itself. Even the Seine glowed. If you’re going to Paris, do everything you can to scale the Eiffel Tower at night. It may be knee-knocking, teeth-chattering freezing, but the view is transcendent.

Windswept!

Windswept!

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Making the climb back down!

Making the climb back down!

The Tower’s magic, though, was not bound in cables and floor and vistas for us, though. In some cosmic convergence, one of my very best friends from Mount Holyoke, Saran, was traveling through Paris at the same time as us. Neither one of us had functioning phones, so through spotty glimpses of wifi we’d managed to communicate online that we would meet at the Eiffel Tower sometime that night.

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My fingers were going numb, refreshing my inbox at the base of the Tower. J and i had scouted the lines, walked the perimeter, tried every cranny we could see to find Saran. Worry we were relying too much on chance in a city too big, i began to fret we wouldn’t find her at all.

Until someone shrieked my name from the other side of the tower.

There was a running and a leaping and a hugging and an OH MY G-D, PARIS-ing. I was so delighted to see her, and a mutual friend from Paris, all basking underneath the sparkling gold beams of the most famous French landmark. We walked, arm-in-arm, to a restaurant a few blocks up and had warm reminiscing and fast catching-up over French cuisine. Entrenched in a language and culture and place not my own, i was home in the hearts of people i love.

Blurry and beautiful because of what this means to me!

Blurry but beautiful because of what this means to me!

Just when you start to disbelieve in the magic that weaves Paris together, the rug is pulled out from under you all over again. I suppose that’s falling in love: being awash in passion, falling into a place of comfortable constancy, and, just when you start to get too comfortable or edgy from boredom, something happens to make you commit and believe all over again. 

Paris certainly lives up to its reputation in that way!

current jam: ‘little bird song’ ed sheeran.

best thing: these INCREDIBLE signs advocating for marriage equality at the supreme court yesterday.

inquiry: would anyone be interested in purchasing a (non-watermarked) print of the eiffel tower (or anything, really)?

The Seven Year Pursuit of a Parisian Hot Dog (Which is Not a Metaphor)

I picked a French name for myself on the first day of French 1 – Céline, because it had an accent in it which made me feel tremendously exotic and française. Within two weeks we’d covered hellos and how-are-you’s in Mme Kelly’s sunflower yellow room. I was already amassing a small collection of Eiffel-Tower-themed housewares.

But it was chapter two of my 8th grade French textbook that captivated my imagination. The chapter on French gastronomy.

A textbook geared towards American students detailed simple translations of cuisine famous in the USA; french fries and milk and hamburgers and hot dogs. It was the hot dogs that got me. Madame Kelly’s curly bobcut bounced as she flitted about the room like a fairie, petite and clad in an ascot like a true American-gone-Parisian. “En France,” she began, “the hot dogs are très delicieuse! They come inside a baguette, so that the ketchup or mustard or whatever you like is wrapped all around the meat! What a treat!”

My parents heard nothing but je voudrais un hot dog, s’il-vous-plaît! for the subsequent month. I talked endlessly of how my first meal in Paris would be un hot dog without ketchup, because i am allergic to processed tomatoes (i am aware that this is really very odd, trust me).

Seven years later, i was with mon amour and we were going to Paris. As aforewritten, our first meal was a collapsing into the first restaurant we could find in Montmartre. Though it was, admittedly, a gourmet pizza place, it was still pizza in PARIS, i am in love, and la vie était belle. The hot dogs could wait.

The next day was gloriously filled with seeing the Musée d’Orsay, red wine, the Louvre, more wine, Notre-Dame de Paris, and a romantic stroll along the Seine (with wine).

But nowhere were the hot dogs to be found.

I wasn’t bothered, really, because the aura of Paris basking in azure sky warmth and sunny day smiles had me totally enamored (the wine may have had something to do with that). I also figured that hot dogs were, after all, really an American thing and the more touristy spots around the Eiffel Tower would be my best bet.

Turns out, i was right.

eiffel tower at night, watermarked

J and i arrived at the Eiffel Tower, glittering in all its golden splendor against a purpling night sky. I’m not lying when i say seeing the Tower up close literally takes your breath away (asthmatic, remember?). In our haste to get in the queue to the second floor elevator (the top was closed – frozen elevator cables) i didn’t even notice the hot dog stands dotting the massive space beneath the tower. It was only after we had un-frozen our hands from the outer railings and gone back inside the tower that J saw the café on the second floor.

On the second floor of La Tour Eiffel!

On the second floor of La Tour Eiffel!

My big moment was here. J was fumbling in his pocket for the 2 Euro fifty as i proclaimed the most practiced phrase i know in French: “Je voudrais un hot dog, s’il-vous-plaît!

Désolée,” replied the clerk. “Nous n’avons pas des hot dogs. Ran out this afternoon.”

My look of disappointment must have told non-Francophone-J all he needed to know. They did not have hot dogs, so a pretzel it was. Down the stairs we went, catching sight of the glittering Seine and far-off Sacre Coeur.

Until we reached the bottom, where, not twenty feet from the elevator, stood a sign that read HOT DOGS HERE. I skipped my way over, the words out of my mouth before i could catch my breath. The guy at the stand grunted a yes, and set to work making my hot dog. I was ecstatic, i was elated, i was ready to fulfill seven years of waiting, when the clerk handed me -

a hot dog smothered in ketchup.

For the second time that evening, my eyes were painted in shades of forlorn as i shared a look with half-laughing,-half-sympathizing J. I handed him the hot dog, walking back to the  stand to ask for one without ketchup. For whatever reason, the guy refused to make me one. J tried not to tell me how delicious the snack was, and i tried not to let the inner-thirteen-year-old throw an entirely inexcusable tantrum.

I had given up, prevented by my weird allergy and longing for the magic that made Mme Kelly dance in her sunflower-yellow French classroom.

J, however, is not one so easily defeated. The next morning, we took the metro to Trocadéro where there is a large platform from which you can see the entirety of the Eiffel Tower. Lo and behold, where there are tourists in Paris, there are hot dog stands. At his encouragement, i walked up to this stand-man and asked i could have a hot dog gratine (with cheese) and sans ketchup.

His affirmative reply literally made me yelp with glee. At last, in my hands, was a hot-off-the grill hot dog encased in a baguette swimming with cheese. So there i was, overlooking the monument that had adorned the posters of my walls since i first learned how to say bonjour, when i at last had my Parisian snack.

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It was scrumptious and cheesy and so worth the wait (in case you can’t tell by the enormous grin). I don’t even like hot dogs all that much in the States, but there was something so magical about remembering Mme Kelly and the first time i fell in love with Paris. And maybe i was always destined to have to hunt for the snack – after all, it makes for an absurd and ridiculous Parisian tale to tell.

current jam: ‘la foule’ édith piaf.

best thing: l’amour à paris!

(also also, there will be a full blog solely on the eiffel tower coming soon!)

Self-Reliance & Southern Fried Chicken.

My inability to cook anything more than rice and eggies-in-a-basket has been a running joke in my family since my brothers learned how to grill steak circa age eight.

I called it my feminist anti-domesticity clause. “I don’t cook because i don’t adhere to gender roles!” i’d stomp and snap. Meanwhile, all my self-prepared dinners consisted of frozen pizza or my tried-and-true favorite eggie snack.

So much for self-reliance.

I knew, in spite of my claim to anti-domesticity, that cooking is not inherently an anti-feminist thing. Obviously, all people have to eat. And i was growing older and pizza for dinner was getting to be repetitive and unhealthy. When i moved into my own flat for the first time on January 11th here in Edinburgh, i knew this was to be the semester of learning and growth abroad.

Fundamental to the growing pains? Learning how to make a balanced meal for myself.

It started slow, tortellinis cooked in slightly salted and oiled water. A few days in i was making sautéed spinach salad, and my first foray into baking chicken was an endeavor of it’s-still-pink-so-five-more-minutes? (For the record, it turned out pretty moist and edible and non-salmonella-filled). I then tried my father’s go-to: honey mustard chicken. A few rounds into those baked delights, i was feeling more assured of my own abilities.

The time had come. My friend Megan and i decided to undertake cooking what we Southern ladies missed the most: fried chicken.

Merlot is the most important part of any well-cooked meal.

Merlot is the most important part of any well-cooked meal.

It was a semi-disaster. We knew, vaguely, that it was best to soak the chicken in some kind of egg-or-butter wash before slathering it in flour and bread crumbs. I always hated how warm the milk was after my mom had kept it beside her while frying up her famous Second-Helpin’ recipe, so i figured milk went in there somewhere.

With a decidedly eff-it-we’ll-make-it-work attitude, we threw all the ingredients together in one bowl. Which turned into dough.

Oops.

Half an hour of packing dough onto chicken legs ensued. Merlot was drunk. Potatoes began to boil. At last, dough dripping off those once-running legs, we threw our concoctions into a pan of oil and prayed to the Almighty Steal Magnolia that She would help us make our mothers proud.

Having no tongs, Megan expertly wielded chopsticks to flip the chicken over until, all but surrendered, we popped them into the microwave to ensure they were fully cooked.

In the pan floated the remains of our dough.

As we sat down to the table, we contemplated our creation. The mashed potatoes and corn, if nothing else, looked exquisite. Bravely, we took a bite of the chicken. Not bad, i thought. Not too bad at all, for making up the recipe on the fly. Sure, it was no Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ but it certainly was good enough for the bone to be licked clean. Megan and i exchanged smiles of victory.

Round 1.

Round 1.

When i told J, the other fried-chicken-master-maker of my life, how our endeavor had gone i think he actually wiped tears from his eyes he chortled so much. My pride mildly wounded, i emailed my mother for her Most Secret Recipe for Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ Fried Chicken.

A Tesco trip later, i was armed for round two.

And this time, i must say, it went peach-pickin’ perfect. I’d had to improvise slightly, because Bisquik isn’t exactly available in Scotland (to my knowledge). But one sizzling pan later, i proffered the generously full plate to one of my flatmates, a hopeful grin tucked into the corner of my cheek.

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Round 2.

“Daaaa-aaaamn!” she exclaimed. There was a pronounced diphthong in her reply, even with a mouth full of chicken. Paula Dean would be downright green in the face.

I’m not sure which was more satisfying: the fact that i’d finally made something worth craving (and not just edible) or the chicken itself. As delicious as the food in Amsterdam was, nothing really compares to the warmth of my Southern Mama’s cuisine.

I’m sure there are immeasurable numbers of my peers who scoff at my simple pride in learning how to balance a budget, much less cook a meal (again, my brothers could grill sirloins before middle school). But i think growing up sometimes can be so taken for granted it’s hard to remember a time when you didn’t know what you know now.

So i’m taking time to appreciate the learning, even if it involves clumps of should-have-done dough and try-harder-next-time chicken. Because nothing tastes so sweet as knowing my own capability, domesticity and all.

current jam: ‘kiss you’ one direction (unashamed!)

best thing: self-reliance is the new sexy, ya’ll.

other cookery blogs: cheese buns & rice.

Top 5 Things to Do in Amsterdam.

I’ve written about all of the things below in greater detail, but if you’re planning a trip to Amsterdam in the near future, these are the condensed top 5 things i would recommend doing! (See all my writing on Amsterdam here.)

1. Albert Cuyp Market. If you want to see a local side of town, this – the oldest street market in the Netherlands – is it. The market is exploding in stalls of things to try – everything from frites stands (mmm!) to lingerie shops. We took a full morning to peruse the selection and mostly ate our way through, devouring a powder-sugar-covered waffle at Wally’s Wafels and gorging ourselves on local olives. The prices are unparalleled for such gourmet food! (The market runs Monday – Saturday, 9 am – 5 pm).

top 5 - market

2. A Bike Tour. Really, i’m sure any company will do you just fine; Mike’s Bikes was great for the youthful, edgy side of Amsterdam (if a little heavy on the information about weed and prostitution for people not looking for that sort of entertainment) but if you want to get the lay of the land hop on a bike and go. It is the local way of getting around, after all!

shop cats make for the best bikes!

shop cats make for the best bikes!

3. The Van Gogh Museum. While the actual Van Gogh museum was undergoing renovations whilst we were in Amsterdam, the Hermitage Museum displayed the bulk of the collection in a special exhibit. Regardless of their housing, Van Gogh’s paintings come alive off the walls and force you to pay attention to their kinetic, vibrant energy. Though this is on the pricier end of Amsterdam museums, it is worth every cent!

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4. Dam Square. Though this is certainly the touristy center, there are so many great little shops to peak in (and wonderful people-watching!).  As a connoisseur of cheesy souvenirs, i loved shopping in Dam Square Souvenirs which is full of beautiful – if pricey – wooden shoes and other lovely Holland-themed merchandise. The best part, though, is the enormous yellow wooden shoe outside. Free mega-tourist-photo-op!

top 5 - souvenirs

5. Eat. Anything, really, but especially the bread, cheese, sausage, and frites! The Albert Cuyp Market is definitely the place to eat your way through, but don’t let your gastronomical exploits end there. Our favorite restaurant was van Kerkwijk, in Amsterdam Centruum. The menu is recited by the wait staff, who are warm and friendly folk, and it’s a selection abrim in quirky combinations (like steak slathered in strawberry sauce and goat cheese – shockingly good!). Another great place was right next to our hotel, the Café Onder de Ooievaar – the cheese and sausage plate made for a sumptuous late-night snack!

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Bon voyage!

Highly Honorable Mentions:

The Anne Frank House (it was a wee bit crowded for this claustrophobic, but still very powerful – book tickets online & try to go first thing in the morning, rather than in the afternoon!)

if you like my condensed travel reviews, you’d probably like my tripadvisor profile!

current jam: ‘shake it out’ florence + the machine.

best thing: magna carterrrrr!

 

Markets and More Eating (Amsterdam, Day 2!)

If the Albert Cuyp Market was a field, i was a plow.

I’ve never been surrounded by so many sumptuous and tempting things to try – from the wafels to the hot chocolate to the small bucket of olives i purchased. Plus, as a mayo-loving french-fries eater whose allergic to ketchup, i just adored the frites stand that sold paper cones stuffed with fries slathered in mayo. And the cheese, sweet Holy Mary the cheese! The displays were utterly intoxicating.

(Note the bicycle!)

(Note the bicycle!)

We’d decided, for our second day, to set aside the whole morning to explore the oldest street market in the Netherlands: the Albert Cuyp Market. Lining the block were some of the most eclectic stalls i’d ever beheld (including my experiences in pre-burned-down Owino Market in Kampala). There was an entire pharmacy spread wide under a tent and in the cold, more lingerie shoppes than i could count, a plethora of places to purchase scarves and the like, and a few stalls reserved for Amsterdam-themed souvenirs. Interspersed between the flower stalls (oh, the tulips!) and garter belts were the main attraction: street food.

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(Van Gogh had followed us, even here!)

(Van Gogh had followed us, even here!)

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It was as good as it looked!

It was as good as it looked!

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Making the famous frites!

Making the famous frites!

frites!

Frites!

I love street markets – the chaos, the food, the cool vintage things you can find, the food, and the experience of feeling like a local. As much as i may love doing silly tourist-y thing (see me in a large wooden shoe, below) i always try to find at least on thing per travel destination that gives me some sense of what it would be like to live there. Naturally, we were not the only tourists strolling about the market. But tourists were in a serious minority here, amongst the clamor of Dutch-speaking voices selling flowers and toothpaste and lingerie. I’d easily say this was one of my most-favorite things we did in Amsterdam!

Having sufficiently eaten our way through the market, we made our way over the Dam Square for more sightseeing. At the sight of THE LARGEST SHOE i have ever seen, there was a lot of squealing and leaping in to take pictures. So much for trying to blend in!

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About a block or so up from Dam Square is the (in)famous Red Light District. We chortled our way through all the funny little shops and such surrounding the red-lamped alleyways, but they definitely are not the reason i’d wanted to go to the city. And the whole district is clearly geared for people visiting the city, not the residents themselves. The gift shops are certainly amusing to visit, but once i’d cracked up at enough genitalia plastered on velvet hats (et cetera) i’d had my fill. Definitely would not say this was the family-friendly place to go on a holiday to the city, but as two young women walking around in the middle of the afternoon we felt pretty safe and took the whole thing in with a sense of humor.

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This is not the Red Light District, but it IS a picture of a red lit sign at night, so it metaphorically serves a purpose!

This is not the Red Light District, but it IS a picture of a red lit sign at night, so it metaphorically serves a purpose!

By then it was high time we ate, again. Utilizing a combination of my Lonely Planet guidebook and the MOST EXCELLENT TripAdvisor City Guide App, we arrived at the quirky and chic van Kerkwijk. With whitewashed, wood paneled walls and candles adorning the tables, we knew this promised to be a unique place to dine.

Turned out there’s no written menu at van Kerkwijk, so our gracious waitress just plopped right down at our table and talked us through the extensive list of their eclectic combinations. When asked what was a truly Dutch thing to try, she explained that the port-city-nature of Amsterdam meant all Dutch food was really a mash-up of European and Indonesian cuisine. We asked for an appetizer that involved bread and cheese, so she brought out a bleu cheese paté-type-thing that was incredible. For our entrées, Abby had steak with strawberry cream and goat cheese, and i had Indonesian chicken. We split a salad and (of course!) frites with glorified mayo.

The incredible cheese-and-bread combination!

The incredible cheese-and-bread combination!

It was an exquisite capping off to two days and three nights of fabulous dining. But, alas, the next morning we were whisked off to the airport leaving behind Amsterdam’s canals and bike lanes for a flight home to Edinburgh.

Though we’d only had an all-too-short time in Amsterdam, i was utterly entranced. It is a beautiful place (even in the cold!) and i am ever grateful for the opportunities i had to visit.

current jam: ‘day that i die’ zac brown band.

best thing: productivity. back to dale martin, for now.

of interest: i’ve added a new page at the top of the screen! it’s still a work in a progress, but have a look if you like!

Maps & Gastronomy: Eating and Reveling in Edinburgh

Edward Tufte says maps are metaphors. I’m no infometrics whiz, but i like this idea – if, for no other reason, than my affinity for maps. Splayed across my wall before me is a map of Edinburgh i peeled out of my guidebook. Adjacent to it is a map of Durham, North Carolina that i plucked from a visitor’s desk downtown. Though these maps are from far-away places, the greens couldn’t be of a more identical hue.

I love this metaphor within a metaphor: a town that is known to me and a town that is new are not so very different that they are required to clash. Durham’s streets are reminders of the world that has nurtured me, and Edinburgh’s closes and squares nurtures the at-times-overwhelming feeling of falling in love with a new world.

Yet falling in love with a new place means i need to share this love with the people who make up the home in the map of my heart. I sometimes fear my noticing of the very-matched greens will be a noticing only for me. That while this world i’m coming to know in Edinburgh is vast and exciting and beautiful, it starts to make my own dot on the globe all the farther from the world i knew.

This fear, though, was deeply assuaged this past weekend: i had the delight of sharing my budding romance with Edinburgh with one of my dearest, dearest friends – Nora!

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As she is also studying abroad in the UK, Nora and i threw together a weekend excursion about the city on a whim – a marvelous, serendipitous, and delicious whim. Because i’ve been so focused on making myself feel at home in Edinburgh, i haven’t necessarily done all the typical tourist-y things one might explore on holiday. Having a guest, though, was the perfect excuse to give myself full permission to go light on the schoolwork and heavy on learning all the reasons you should holiday in Edinburgh.

And easily ranked in the top ten reasons to visit Edinburgh would be the food! Thus, this is the first of two blog posts chronicling our weekend together. And it’s all about the food. (Don’t worry, the latter will be about the actual tourist-y things we did!)

Our gastronomical tour began with the comfort food haven, Mums. “Top nosh at half the cost,” according to the website, Mums boasts of a vibrant and edgy charm: they’re home-cooked comfort mixed with urban attitude. I mean, the mac & cheese has a spice kick to it and comes with chips!* Who doesn’t love drowning in cheese and carbs? Their food is locally sourced, their service impeccable, and the deal incomparable to anywhere else. Eating there with Nora was my first time, but it will so most definitely not be my last.

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Having sated our need for traditional fare, the next evening’s meal was one reminiscent of home: Southwestern American cuisine. Living in North Carolina for so long spoiled me, with taco stands and sit-down Mexican restaurants on every block. So to tend to my poor, burrito-deprived needs, we ventured to the local Tex-Mex joint: Illegal Jack’s. It was all i wanted and more, guacamole included.

Our final dinner was at a place i’ve frequented before: 10 to 10 In Delhi, a Halal Indian restaurant with excellent chicken roti and even better student deals. If you’re looking to stretch your pounds, three quid will get you a belly-stretching meal here. We particularly loved the pretty tapestries stretched across the ceiling and the cozy couches!

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Easily the best place we visited, though, was no foreigner to me: The Elephant House Café.

I met Nora in the fall of our first year at Mount Holyoke. She was wearing a Hogwarts crest t-shirt, it was love at first sight, and the rest (as they say) was Hogwarts, A History. Nora and i are no strangers to Harry Potter-themed adventures; in the winter of the subsequent year, we attended the Brooklyn Yule Ball together. On the last day of finals. In Christmas-themed ball gowns. We’d skipped dinner in an effort to catch the last train into the city, downing rolls of bread and Dr. Pepper’s in a convenience store outside the venue as substitutes.

There aren’t many people you can romp about New York City in a gold petticoat with, but Nora has always been an exceptionally genuine and beautifully adventurous friend.

I remember gleefully turning to her, as Harry and the Potters crashed and roared over their keyboard and guitar on stage. “I’m so tired, but i am having so much fun!“she mouthed over the din. It was a magical moment to share with a dear friend then, and it was just as magical to share the “Birthplace of Harry Potter” with her this weekend over elephant-shaped shortbread and excellent cups of tea.

We were sure to leave our own note in the bathroom – signed, as ever, with our nicknames for each other: Padfoot & Prongs.

(note the painting of JK Rowling writing in the café behind us!)

(note the painting of JK Rowling writing in the café behind us!)

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Feeling known is an immense gift. I feel known by this city – but part of this feeling known comes from sharing it with an old friend. Nora and i have a history of adventures (gastronomical and literary alike!) and to make this weekend a part of that map of stories was such a treasure. My green maps still match, and the loves in my life make the most beautiful harmonies when sung together.

current jam: ‘good morning sunshine’ alex day.

best thing: a beautiful place to be with friends.

p.s. you can always find my reviews of restaurants and attractions on my tripadvisor profile!

*for friends in the states: chips = french fries, just in case your daily dose of the BBC hadn’t kept you abreast of British slang!

History and Home: Elmo’s Diner.

(Part 2 in my Hometown Tourist Summer Blog Series) 

Nestled in the corner of the tumbled-brick, rain-dotted streets that encircle the train-track epicenter of Carrboro, North Carolina, is a slice of heaven served with a side of fries. Though i dream of the days when the dust is unsettled and the nooks and crannies of yet-uncovered places are the itineraries of my soul, there is nothing akin to coming home. The warmth of familiarity, the comfort taken in the known, and the want for the expected are the irreplaceable gifts when all i want is certainty. Coming to this corner of the world is the certainty and warmth and things known i need when i, however long at last, come home.

This is why, forever and amen, Elmo’s diner will forever be my most favorite restaurant in this wide and wonderous world.

Elmo’s is entrenched in history by virtue of its very walls. Its occupation of the corner of Carr Mill Mall stands within the same foundation as when the building was hewn from redclay bricks in 1898. Though the mall now houses small boutiques and the best cole slaw this side of the Mississippi, it was first built as a cotton mill not too far from the American Tobacco District of Durham, NC, where Bull McCabes is tucked away.

However, though Elmo’s tangible history paints a portrait of compelling hole-in-the-wall splendor and quirk, the real magic of Elmo’s – for me – is in the sense of personal history. The ambience of a place dripping with local color and the milieu of a community with roots is inseparable from this sense of home-ness, to be sure, but the persistence of memory permeates and seeps far deeper than the creaking floorboards might, at first, seem.

But what i first see when tracing my fingers along with crumbly, imperfect brick walls, is how much my fingers have grown – and how unchanging and constant those walls have been. I’ve been perching on the edge of Elmo’s green booths and counter-top seats since i was six years old – young enough to be unquestioningly given a kid’s menu and cup of crayons. Elmo’s kids menus have always, at least for the last decade, garnished with a friendly duck with an “E” emblazoned on the front of a polka-dotted tea. More of my works of Elmo’s-duck-art have (shall we say) adorned the walls of the host stand area than there are sculptures by Michelangelo. My family has been dining within the confines of the fairy-lit patio since they first strung up plastic bags filled with water to stave off the ever-omnipresent North Carolina flies. I don’t bother to open the menu anymore; even after they modified the font and prices, i know precisely what i’m going to order every single time.

It helps, certainly, that Elmo’s comfort is manifested most deliciously and directly in its phenomenal diner-style food. They are most famous for their breakfast foods which are, delightfully, served all day long (i recommend a stack of two chocolate chip pancakes with, if you’re feeling ambitious, a side of grits or fruit), but anything you order will assuredly be rife with flavor and fullness. The chocolate milkshakes are nectar of angels, the biscuits are made from dough i swear to be kneaded by holy hands, and, though i don’t eat beef anymore, the burgers are known to the be the best for blocks.

Most of all, however, i can heartily endorse the one thing on the menu that i have unfailingly ordered for every lunch and dinner meal spent in the crevices of tumbled red bricks and formica counters. I can back this recommendation with, firstly, my soul, and secondly, over ten years of consistent perfection on the part of the people in the kitchen.

I give you: The Greek Grilled Cheese with Chicken.

(feast your eyes!)

This Magnificat is composed of: grilled chicken (perfectly seasons) atop a bed of fresh lettuce, tomato, onions, feta cheese, cucumbers, and more feta inside a pita smothered in cheddar cheese. I like to drizzle some of the (what i presume to be) cucumber-esque sauce that comes as a garnish on top, but save half the ramekin for dipping my fries. It’s a monster of a sandwich to consume which, therefore, requires you to look a bit like a monster while eating it. Luckily, Elmo’s is a homeplace for me which, therefore, makes it a judging-free zone when it comes to inhaling creation’s best meal. (It also helps that i try to bring people along who will love me regardless of inability to eat like a dainty lady).

(the damage done)

So whether i’m indulging in a breakfast before dashing off to work (in yet another restaurant) or sharing a slice of my hometown’s history with friends, Elmo’s is an unmistakable landmark in the Triangle area of North Carolina. The service is impeccable and hospitable, the food is supreme, and the salience of memory makes any meal a new kind of remembrance.

And when i’m feeling particularly wistful, well, the waitstaff doesn’t really mind if i color another duck to hang on the wall.

Condensed McMizziview:

Price: 1.0 – 1.5 (0 being fast food, 5 being somewhere super-fancy and of multiple courses (this menu is also contingent on size of portion & time of day))            Atmosphere: 5 (0 being fast food boring, 5 being the full experience of delicious things for eyes and mouth and ears!)                                                                                      Delectability of Food: OVER NINE THOUSAND (0 being fast food, 5 being mouth-explosion crazed-good)

For future Elmo’s Ducks: the website, the menu, and an urbanspoon profile.

current jam: ‘roll away your stone’ mumford & sons

best thing: elmo’s, when shared.