Growing up, we had our weekly food rituals—take-out pizza on Friday nights from Gencarelli’s and Chinese on Sundays from Delicious and Best. We always ordered one meatball, peppers and onions—the fajita pizza—and a second which varied. Sometimes it was a white pizza with broccoli; other times it may have been a chicken parmesan or meatball pie. Apparently no one else ordered our “usual”, because we never gave our name and they always handed me the correct two pies when I arrived to pick up our order. We were predictable.
Chinese take-out Sundays was a throwback to Dad’s childhood—probably the biggest connection to his Jewish heritage other than deli. Wonton, egg drop and hot and sour soup followed by dumplings were our staples, with a few entrees that varied each week. Invariably, there were six dumplings in the order, so bickering regarding “who gets the extra” always ensued.
In my family, the only time I ever recall hearing the words “take-out” was followed by “the garbage.” It just never happened. We had our Friday night homemade pizzas, which was a fabulous alternative to Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks or creamed tuna on toast—Grandma’s answer to meatless Friday’s until, thank goodness, she had an epiphany and began making pizza. Chinese food never crossed my lips until I met Dad.
Occasionally, the seven of us would pile into EVA-179 (our station wagon) for a night out on the town. We would go to either Paul’s Diner or the Reservoir Tavern. There were no toppings on our pies. No Siree! I’m not even sure if toppings were an option way back then. The dinner that was delivered to our table consisted of delicious slide-off-the-crust cheese pizza accompanied by a few pitchers of birch beer.
Before McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s stormed into the area, a little-known burger joint known as Wetsons set up shop on Route 46 in Pine Brook, situated on the present site of Wendy’s—across from Gencarelli’s. Wetsons served fifteen cent hamburgers and ten-cent fries, and although we did not go often, it was a cheap alternative, particularly when we went shopping in the area. I believe McDonald’s and Burger King were responsible for the eventual demise of Wetsons.
I recall one very special lunch with Grandma. I am not certain if it was to celebrate a birthday or possibly my acceptance to college, but I vividly remember the restaurant. It was, to me, a very fancy schmancy place called the Hearthstone Inn. It was located on Route 46 in Parsippany (a real happening place compared to Main Street Boonton) on the current site of Fudruckers.
The occasion was memorable because it was an outing with just the two of us, which was unheard of growing up in a family of five children. But what made the luncheon a historic event for me happened when the server came to our table and asked for our drink order. Without skipping a beat, Grandma looked him in the eye and asked for two whiskey sours. I definitely was not eighteen yet, which was the drinking legal age at the time. I was no more than seventeen, but I may have been sixteen. I knew I had to act casual—no giggling or cheering, which could have revealed the deception. So I remained calm and enjoyed my first illegal drink. Grandma was a rebel!