I love food – I really, really do. I especially love rib-sticking comfort food. It’s made my quest to get lean and healthy a challenge and a half, but though I struggle to maintain an occasional dose of self-discipline, I will never rid myself of this passion.
Honestly, I apply my love of food to most aspects of life – and why not? It is a necessary component of life, after all. When I think back to happy childhood memories, I often think of special trips to restaurants my mom took me to on summer weekdays. When I think of things that make me homesick for San Diego, I can almost taste the carne asada. Additionally, I honestly believe that the best way to define and identify with other cultures is by their food – the raw ingredients, the marketplaces, the preparation methods, and the meal gathering practices. Some of my favorite shows on television are Good Eats, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. I love to cook, grill, bake, and fry. I love food.
Going back to the happy childhood memories as well as homesickness, I can’t think of a better example than Troy’s restaurant in the Clairemont Square, smack dab in the middle of single-story-homes, lower-middle-class San Diego, California. There’s nothing particularly special about Troy’s – it features standard greasy spoon diner fare with a very, very slight Greek twist due to the nationality of the proprieters. Its busiest time is Sunday morning where you can expect a whopping 3-minute wait for a table while the elderly church goers dine absently in pasty conversation.
So why this place? Largely, because it was a constant in my life that was uniquely my own. A somewhat regular patron of Troys, even whilst inside my mom’s womb, I grew up on the comfort food offerings and when I needed a silent refuge to engage in self-reflection over a bottomless cup of coffee for $0.65, it was always there. The waitstaff were ceaselessly friendly; many of whom watched me grow up from a boy into a man. I grew taller, they grew grayer, and for over two decades, we were there to banter with each other whenever I walked through the doors. When my father would get particularly angry or violent, my mother would take me there as a quiet apology for our situation. When I wanted to show a friend or colleague something about myself – to take them on a more intimate tour of some deeper level of my soul, I would do it over a plate of chicken-fried steak and eggs. Some of those friends didn’t quite get it – it was just average food, after all – but they indulged me nonetheless. A select few actually joined me in my feelings of the place and I will always share a very odd bond as a result.
And so, ever since I moved away from San Diego over three years ago, I have made it a point to order a turkey club sandwich in most every restaurant I visit; this was my favorite lunchtime meal at Troy’s, you see. Much like the diner itself, there was absolutely nothing special about it. Turkey, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo, all stacked betwixt three slices of bread cut into four diagonal pieces and served with large-cut steak fries. Still, I have yet to come across a turkey club sandwich in these parts that compares to Troy’s, and I suspect I never will. Some leave off the cheese. Some add ham. Some have skinny fries. But that’s not it, really… no, the big difference is the location. The people. The emotional connection that I have with a place of brick and mortar. The difference is myself.
My old refuge is still out there somewhere, keeping the old folks of North Clairemont hopped up on mediocre coffee. As for myself, now, I must move on to find solace within new places, new people, new comforts, and perhaps, even new sandwiches.