Several people thought I was joking when I wrote that Debbie and I consider our Friday night grocery shopping trip to Kroger as a date night. Unfortunately, we do.
How sad is that?
As a date, it might be pretty boring, but we always see people we know. We chat. We laugh. We generally have a pretty good time on our Kroger shopping/date night.
On our last trip, I discovered that they finally moved the Velveeta to where it belongs. It’s now back beside the dairy door, not in the same aisle as the macaroni. I hope they moved it because I complained so much, but I doubt it.
Even better than having the Velveeta returned to where it always belonged, a delightful lady stopped us in aisle 4 and told me how much she enjoys reading my columns. She especially liked my description of Debbie eating a delicious, goopy, messy steak sandwich (formerly known as the Sorority Steak sandwich) at the Corn Festival.
She told me that she is now the keeper of the recipe. I was in the company of greatness.
That started a fun conversation about the importance of keeping alive the traditions and recipes that many of us grew to love in Wilmington. We specifically talked about the Van Dandy that was sold at Van’s Dari Crest on the corner of Locust and Wood street and the JoJo’s that were a specialty at Cowgill’s near Locust and Wayne.
Talking about those two restaurants brought back some good, good memories. She said she would love to have the recipe for the Van Dandy, especially the secret sauce that made it not just tasty, but memorable.
I once tried to replicate the tasty crispness and flavor of Cowgill’s Jojo’s. I didn’t come close. In case you don’t remember Jojo’s, they were huge slices of potatoes. Think of a mega-French fry. Then they’re lightly coated with a thin, magical breading that brought out potato flavors that no Irishman could resist. Deep fry those taters and serve them with small cups, filled with butter for dipping. Whoa … magic happened.
Cowgill’s Drive-Inn sat on the west end of town, where the old A&W Root Beer stand used to be. In fact, Grace Cowgill bought the A&W stand around 1960 and turned it into Cowgill’s Drive-Inn. Thank goodness, she did. I loved the old A&W Root Beer stands, but Cowgill’s was a cut above.
Grace Cowgill selected and cut the meat herself. She ground the meat for the burgers and hand-sliced the potatoes. You could buy a “Bag ‘O Burgers” and enjoy every little, mini burger right there at one of their outdoor tables, or you could buy a Husky Burger.
It was just that… husky. Grab a burger and some Jojo’s at Cowgill’s and the rest of the day was… well, it was just better.
Some well-meaning medical experts will try to convince you that a diet of Husky Burgers and Jojo’s isn’t good for you. Well, Grace Cowgill lived to be 101 years old. Enough said.
Surprisingly, we even had an all-male, bastion of bean soup, steak sandwiches and pool tables right in the middle of downtown Wilmington. Of course, I’m talking about Zimmies. Women could order food from Zimmies, but they had to wait on the stairs to receive their order.
It’s hard to imagine now, but that’s the way it was up until just a few decades ago. I heard a few people complain about the men-only rule, but the food was so good that no one ever seriously challenged the Zimmie’s ban on ladies.
I’m surprised the ban lasted as long as it did. It wasn’t fair for the ladies, but when eating a bowl of Zimmie’s bean soup and one of their special steak sandwich, the fairness was lost in the flavor. Sorry, ladies.
A lot has changed in the past 30 or 40 years, but good food is still good food and the memory of good food stays with us forever. I’ve just exposed the tip of the iceberg lettuce when it comes to good food memories. I’m sure everyone has their favorite.
If I made any errors on names or spelling of names, I apologize. Remembering the Van Dandy is more important than whether the owner spelled it Dari or Dairy Crest.
What I would like to see happen, is for someone to dig through their old recipe files and find the recipe for Jojo’s. The recipe for the Van Dandy, and the secret sauce that made it famous, are out there somewhere. Someone has them filed away. Blow the dust off the old recipe box and see what you have.
If you would like to share a favorite, old Wilmington recipe, send it to me in care of the Wilmington News Journal. After Debbie and I try it to be sure it’s authentic, I’ll share it with our readers.
Until then, enjoy the memories.
Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.