First, that angry oven. All I wanted to do was bake two slices of garlic bread to accompany the spaghetti I was having that night. After a few minutes, I smelled gas and saw that the oven temperature had not risen. I proceeded to do the most stupid and dangerous thing a stupid person can do. I opened the oven door, which, in ovenland, I now understand, is like waving a red cape at a bull. There was an instant BOOF, and a wall of orange flame leapt out at me, singing my hair and eyebrows.
With the door shut again, the temperature rose, and presently my garlic bread was nice and crispy. Fortunately, I was not. The ladies to whom I have related this episode are uniformly appalled that I let the cooking continue. The gentlemen are not. I was hungry. I guess it’s a guy thing. I did ponder whether, had I not opened the door when I did, if the oven would have exploded when it ignited. It is fifteen years old. They deliver the new one tomorrow.
The third of the cherished restaurants I would resurrect if I could is Nikos. An Indiana supper club, it was not, of course, listed in the Chicago book Mary gave me. It was the creation of the Gardikiotes family, Nikos, Athena, and their son Hercules, a clan of such talent and charm that I wish they were neighbors.
John and I always kept an eye out for interesting local dining options, and on our very first visit, we knew we had discovered a treasure. The food was succulent down to the vegetable garnish. Things were good that almost didn’t need to be. Nothing in this kitchen was considered unimportant. And the desserts! Our desserts were exquisite. We raved about them to Hercules, who said, “Mama makes them. She’ll be pleased. I’ll bring her out.” We didn’t know what to expect, a weathered Greek crone, all in black? The woman who accompanied Herc back to our table took our breath away. It was as though Gina Lollobrigida, at her prime, had emerged from the kitchen. Athena is one of the most beautiful women I have ever met. She is also an innovative master of pastries and sweets who likes nothing better than sharing her culinary secrets. We urged her to write a book. If she does, her picture must be on the cover.
The entrees were uniformly mouth watering, and best of all, the quality did not vary from visit to visit. I have never had, nor will there ever be, a veal chop as glorious as those I had at the hands of Nikos. Of course, he pleaded with me not to order it rare, once coming out of the kitchen to try to reason with me. But I was obdurate, and he did as I wished. He always did as we wished. John was the same way about prime rib, telling him if it wasn’t rare, he’d dash it to the floor. John would say that to a new waitress who would scurry to the kitchen to say that a crazy man was ordering prime rib. Nikos would pop his head out, smiling and say, “Welcome, John.”
It was impossible not to become friends with such people. We became regulars, bringing along everyone we knew. Even at the last minute, and no matter how crowded they were, they would always make room for us. We were never turned away. Not even the Valentine’s Day when we showed up apologizing for not having made a reservation. “We are full,” said Athena. “No matter, some one else can wait. They will be angry with me, but you must have dinner with us.”
Nikos was a supper club with all the old fashioned, cozy ambience that implies. Athena would lovingly deck it out for seasonal occasions, and when you wanted to spend a leisurely, comfortable evening with friends, there was no better place in Northern Indiana. Nikos worked long and hard at his two restaurants (the other a splendid breakfast place) for many years. He’s entitled to retire and have a life. Athena is now an adoring grandmother to several children who will grow up having no idea what grandmothers are supposed to look like. I’m happy for them, but oh, how I miss being at Nikos.