Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Culinary Dispatch -Naperville, Illinois: I'm traveling the great U.S.A. again with my colleague Splint McCullough and we've stopped in Naperville, Illinois, founded in 1831.

I hear rumors that there's an historic pioneer village called Naper Settlement nearby, but Splint and I are unlikely to take in the local culture as we're scheduled to spend much of our visit at a corporate park.

Our accommodations are austere (why did I get the handicapped-equipped room on the first floor??) situated just off highly-traveled Illinois Route 88. Yet we quickly discover a bright spot. We are located about thirty feet from a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, and agree on a breakfast pilgrimage. The pioneer spirit lives in Naperville, Illinois!

It is just after half-past six in the morning when Splint and I enter the roadside shrine, the auto noise and exhaust fumes from Route 88 still assaulting our ears and nostrils. A step over the threshold and we are transported to another era of porch rockers and penny candy. The store is packed with Americana and even in the heat of early August, there are merchandise displays for Halloween and Christmas. It is, after all, never too early to start holiday shopping. We move towards the dining room and Splint points out a vintage advertisement for "Domolite, the Easy-to-Sew Plastic Fabric." You've gotta love those space-age innovations! We look ahead and there is an immediate sense of comfort, as there is comfort food just ahead.

We are seated. Splint orders grapefruit juice and I order orange juice with coffee. Splint vows he will not go overboard and promptly orders three pecan-studded pancakes smothered in creamy butter that are the size of hub caps. Splint caresses the mini bottle of maple syrup and nearly squeals with delight. "They heat the syrup!" he gasps. "It's little touches like that! This place gets it done!"

My utensils could be cleaner, so I return them to the server for a fresh set and take note of our surroundings. At this hour, there are just a few patrons and Splint and I are probably the only ones below retirement age. Country music wafts through the air mingling with the aroma of flapjacks. We might as well be in an Adirondack lodge. The walls are adorned with fishing pole and tackle, a rifle, rolling pins, snow shoes and antique portraits of Naperville forefathers. A rustic getaway just minutes from downtown Chicago! Splint notes that the eyes on a photograph of a gentleman from a previous century seem to be following us ...

I've ordered "Eggs-in-the-Basket," (a bargain at $5.89) a classic breakfast item where a farm fresh egg is nestled in a hole cut in the center of a slab of sourdough bread and fried to perfection. My platter has two "baskets" neatly framed by three slices of bacon and a generous scoop of hash brown casserole, a sinful mash of crunchy hash browns and melted cheddar cheese. I slice into crisp, tart sourdough and golden yolk drenches the bread on my fork delivering a mouthful of morning sunshine. For just a moment, I'm certain I can hear a rooster signaling the start of a new day.

Shortly after, I have nearly licked my plate clean and Splint's pancakes are nothing by a sweet, nutty memory. We leave the Cracker Barrel Country Store to start our work day and I notice a small chalk board out of the corner of my eye announcing that it is only 140 days until Christmas.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

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