Monday, January 13, 2003

The Restaurant I Ate at Last Night XVIII
For my grandmother's 92nd birthday Saturday, seven members of my family went to Phil Smidt's in Hammond, Indiana, for lunch. Originally opened in 1910, the restaurant's location is sheer accident. Phil Smidt and his wife were on their way to California when their train stopped in Roby, Indiana. The Smidts thought they were in Chicago, so they got off the train. The train left without them, and they decided to stay in the area. Imagine that!

Since its opening, the restaurant -- which originally included a boat livery because of its proximity to Lake Michigan -- has specialized in perch and frog legs. The restaurant is dotted with several display cases full of various kinds of frogs, and the restaurant's phone number is even 1-800-FROG-LEG. When I was a young boy, frog legs were my favorite "fancy" restaurant dish. And after being a vegetarian for 10 years, I ordered frog legs Saturday for the first time since I started eating meat again. They were OK. I'm not sure if I like the idea of eating a frog's legs, especially when they look so leg-like. But the perch was much better.

The original restaurant building burned down in 1945, when an underground gas pipe exploded. The restaurant is now located in a largely industrial area situated between a couple of parks near Wolf Lake, the oil refineries, and a soap factory. The smell of soap was strong in the air outside. Inside, the smell of cigarette smoke was strong.

My grandmother's wedding reception was at the original Phil Smidt's location, the one that burned down in the mid-'40s. Not too long into her reception, it was discovered that the wedding cake had yet to arrive. They called the baker, and it turned out that the cake had been delivered to another restaurant across town. While they weren't able to get the cake delivered in time for the reception, family ate it at a relative's house later that night.

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