Have we talked about how I don’t eat bird? I used to eat bird, like Swiss Chalet chicken. My family had Sunday dinner at Swiss Chalet without fail during my childhood. I remember we always had the same waitress: she was Hungarian (I think) and her breasts spilled over the top of her milk-maid style uniform. My brother and I were obsessed with those breasts. I always ordered the same thing: a quarter chicken dinner with white meat and french fries please. Oh, and one Kitty Cocktail, straight up. As a family we’d discuss the finer points of the film we’d just screened across the street at the Odeon, like E.T.(loved it), or Chariots of Fire (BORING).
So what happened? I’m not sure. I do know that there were scenes in two movies–neither of which was Hichcock’s The Birds— that gave me nightmares: the first was On Golden Pond, the scene where Henry Fonda pulls up a dead loon from the lake with his fishing line, and the second was in the remake of The Bounty, when Captain Blythe, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins divides up the flesh of a seagall between himself and his mutineed crew.
Also, a crow crashed into the window during the singing of the national anthem in my Kindergarten class. At recess, I found the black mangled thing outside covered in bright red blood and white maggots.
But none of this deterred me from eating Swiss Chalet, or Aunt Sandy’s roast chicken, or any holiday turkey dinner as a child. My phobia of bird was only realized as an adult. Today, I have difficulty riding my bike under bridges where one often finds dead pigeons, and I can’t touch dead bird, which means the Beast never gets a home-cooked meal of anything that was once feathered. If I’m served bird, I can eat it, and I even enjoy it, especially if I’ve been fed enough wine by my hosts. Only once I couldn’t stomach it, when I was served quail. All I saw was a dead baby pigeon, so I clandestinely scooped the carcass onto the Beast’s plate. It made me weak in the knees, which is exactly how I felt leading a group of students through St. Mark’s square in Venice many years ago: my twitching and squealing over the mere proximity of thousands of feathered beastie things was funny at first to them but when tears started rolling down my cheeks, I became a sad, pathetic character in their eyes, and my own.
I know what you’re thinking: that I’m denying myself memorable food experiences with this nonsensical dislike of bird. You’re right. That’s why, with only some trepidation, I accepted an invitation from the Beast’s older brother, Noah, to dine with him and his lovely wife, Laura, at Duff’s, a city landmark that’s famous for their chicken wings–probably the most filthy fucking part of those filthy disgusting animals, besides their feet and assholes. It was Noah’s birthday and he loves Duff’s. I couldn’t say no.
Beast: Does anybody want to start with something?
Foodie: Why don’t we get one of those fried appetizer plates? It just seems like the right thing to do.
Beast (to Noah): Did you hear back from mom?
Noah: I called her.
(Back story: Sweet Marg, mother to the Beast and Noah, kept calling the birthday boy to find out where the four of us were going for dinner so that she and Dave, the Beast’s father, could join us for a post-dinner drink. Noah did not want this to happen, not because he doesn’t dearly love his folks, he just wanted to keep things simple, and he DID NOT WANT THIS TO HAPPEN. But Marg, good-humoured, sweet thing that she is, kept texting us asking what time she and Dave should meet us at Duff’s. Noah grew more and more anxious as the day went on.)
Foodie: What did you say?
Noah: Oh everything is fine. I just said that I didn’t want things to get complicated and that the four of us just wanted to have a meal together.
Foodie: Do you think they’ll show up?
Beast: I keep looking out the front window expecting to see their faces against the glass looking for us.
Our fried appetizer plate arrived. What a good idea! There were fried zucchini sticks, fried mozzarella sticks, fried onion bits and fried round things (contents unknown). Everything went wonderfully with the pitchers of Creemore we were sharing.
There were burgers on the menu–even fish and chips–but I felt compelled to try the wings. So the Beast and I ordered 20 mild ones to share, plus a basket of fries. Noah ordered this too, except his were hot and he wasn’t sharing them. Laura, Noah’s wife, ordered “saucy finger” chicken fingers. It was almost too much food for the table.
I think I ate about six wings. And you know what? They were delicious! If you ask me though, Noah had the right idea when he ordered them hot. They were far saucier–and tastier– than our mild ones (because the Beast is sensitive to heat, I had no choice.)
Noah finished all but four of his wings. I don’t know if eating 16 wings counts as excessive (because I don’t eat wings). But he seemed pretty full.
Although no one was too full for espresso and gelato down the street at Dolce. We sat outside and people-watched the College Street crowd. Marg and Dave never did show up, but because we were all half-expecting them to pop out of a car with balloons at any given second, it’s like they were with us the entire time.