For Pickwick & Frolic owner Nick Kostis, that story involves his mom Theodora’s spaghetti.
That may seem unexpected when you discover that Kostis’ grandparents were Greek immigrants who owned a coffee shop in Manhattan. Sure, his family meals included keftethes (a meatball made from ground meat, herbs and pieces of day-old bread soaked in egg to keep them moist), whole roasted chicken and salads with crumbled feta cheese and imported olive oil. But his favorite dish was his mother’s spaghetti with a sauce of fresh tomatoes, herbs and wine. The mix of flavors was so intense that one spoonful was enough for an entire plate of pasta.
Kostis says his family didn’t have a lot. “My mother made meals out of nothing, but they were fantastic.”
What’s more important than the food, he says, is the act itself: a mother’s extending, a giving of herself to the family. It’s a gift acknowledged in so many mealtime blessings, a small token for this outward expression of her love: “yia sta heria sou” or “bless your hands.”
It’s what we’re paying tribute to in this month’s cover story — 70 dishes that remind you of home. The dishes that have family as their main ingredient: meatloaf, fried chicken, pot roast, pierogi, macaroni and cheese, pot pie, grilled cheese.
They’re our sentimental favorites.
For me, nothing says it better than meatloaf, simple and unadorned. A pound and a half of ground beef mixed with some seasoning in a half-football-like loaf, no ketchup, just a little gravy and mashed potatoes with lumps.
I remember complaining as a kid that we ate meatloaf too much. I probably even said I hated it. I might have said it more than once — maybe even a lot. (Sorry, Mom.) But for the next day’s school lunch, there was nothing better than a cold meatloaf sandwich with mustard on white bread.
When we make meatloaf in our home now, it’s more of a ring than a loaf, with room in the center for potatoes or vegetables — a minor update on the classic. It’s probably been more than a few months since we’ve had it last — or even all sat around the dining-room table as a family for any meal.
Like many children of the ’70s (or ’60s or ’80s for that matter), we don’t cook at home as much as our parents did. And when we do, we rarely eat at the same time.
It’s easy to say that’s because more women are working outside the home. The proportion of families in which the husband, but not the wife, worked outside the home declined from 66 percent in the 1940s and ’50s to only 18 percent in 2003, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
But even when only one parent goes to the office, things just seem more hectic with countless sports practices, youth-group meetings and after-school activities for the kids.
Sometimes it’s just easier to have someone else do the cooking.
As dining contributor Greg MacLaren remarked in our May issue, “We appear to have truly become a dining public, moving farther away from family meals held around weathered kitchen tables and toward a present where people are willing to pay $7 for a cheese sandwich they could make at home for 40 cents.”
So now I’m drawn to meatloaf on restaurant menus like amateur chefs are attracted to the Food Network. I’ve even discovered a new favorite at Kostis’ Pickwick & Frolic (see page 140), because he understands that comfort food is about more than just the food. “It’s about the feelings associated with the experience,” he says, “and partaking in that food.”
It’s sentimental. It’s emotional. It’s mom.
Congratulations to Jacqueline Marino, former associate editor and current assistant professor at Kent State University. Her June 2006 feature “Blood Brothers” took the gold medal for the best single story among regional publications at this year’s Eddie Awards. This was the first year individual stories were recognized in Folio magazine’s national competition. Other winners included National Geographic Adventure, Newsweek, People and Cooking Light. The story followed the 3/25 Marines from Brook Park, a company that lost 16 soldiers during a single week in Iraq and 48 by the time their tour ended.