Pub grub. Quinn's. (take two).
C. calls me from work. She's done for the day, and it's time for dinner. I throw on a jacket and head off towards Quinn's Pub, five blocks away through the biting cold. (Yesterday's snow is completely gone, only a memory). It is early, and there are few diners at the bar and the downstairs tables; upstairs is nearly empty. The mezzanine dining area has the same high-backed bench running along the wall, the same tables and chairs of dark wood, the same low, warm lighting that casts a dim, golden glow over everything. As I look around I think about that newspaper article a few weeks ago, describing how a local interior designer had her students play around with their own ideas for the 100-year-old space. I try to envision it any other way, but I cannot. Besides, I'm hungry, and I want to think about the menu.
The menu offers meatball sliders and fish-and-chips and gnocchi with oxtail and pâté and steak frites and the wild boar sloppy joe I had last time and salads and cheesy gougére. There are beers on tap and by the bottle and whiskeys and wines. I want to try everything I see. But all I really want is a cheeseburger, and when C. arrives that is what we both order, one medium-rare, one medium-well. I sit back and wonder if they will be like the steak frites at another restaurant, which has always arrived rare, no matter how it was ordered. Then again, it is so dark in here it would be hard to tell. Perhaps I should bring a flashlight next time. (As we leave, I tell our waiter, "I don't mind not being able to read my menu. But not being able to see my food is a bit ridiculous.").
The smell of toasted buns and grilled beef signals the arrival of our dinner. The burgers are topped with bacon and cheddar, the beef melting against the crisp, almost charred interiors of the bun. There is a small dish of ketchup on the side of my plate, nearly hidden by a vast mountain of french fries, but the burger needs nothing, no ketchup, no lettuce or tomato or onion or mustard to distract from the sweet-salty-soft-crisp contrasts of beef-bun-cheese-bacon. There is the wonderful caramelized taste of meat and bread when it is almost to the point of being burnt, but not quite. The fries are fries - I have never met a fry I didn't like - but this burger is something else. I have not yet finished my dinner before, as usual, I am already plotting the next one.
Reluctant to go back out into the cold, we order dessert, an apple tart that comes hot from the oven. It has a crumbly-textured crust shot through with bits of Cheddar, and the sweetness of the fruit against the crisp savoriness of the crust (is there anything better than cheese that has melted and then browned to a crunchy, salty brittleness that melts on the tongue like a snowflake?) is one of life's great pleasures. Outside it is cold and dark; a week of work and cleaning up my apartment for an upcoming party (another story) lies ahead. But for now we are warm and well fed and happy.