What is your idea of a great birthday celebration? If dining at a favorite restaurant is the answer, welcome to the club. By the way, this club has no membership card, no dues and no meetings. (If you’d rather that the restaurant staff didn’t surround your table and sing “Happy Birthday” and/or clap, that’s OK, too.) But saluting a fellow Restaurant Aficionado (RA) on his or her birthday is perfectly within club guidelines. So allow me to raise a toast on Tuesday, July 21st to one of the all time great RA’s and a few of the restaurant doors he passed through.
As a young man before and just after World War I Ernest Hemingway’s favorite meal was pan-fried trout served with a can of pork and beans, a can of spaghetti and a can of peaches for dessert eaten by a campfire after a long day’s hike. As for a restaurant, he was very partial to the Huckleberry Pie at Jesperson’s Restaurant in Petoskey, Michigan. As a young writer in Paris his idea of culinary heaven was Belon Oysters served in the cafes along the Boulevard du Montparnasse and the Boulevard Saint-Germain. He never lost his love for simple fare – like Peanut Butter and Bermuda Onion sandwiches or a green salad with fish caught from his boat, Pilar, and prepared in her galley. But pretty early on in his career he started collecting favorite restaurants – and in many cases adding to their fame by writing about them in his best-selling books.
The Book “Spinner”
In his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, Jake Barnes mentions Botin’s in Madrid, calling it “one of the best restaurants in the world.” (It is also the oldest – having been around since 1725.) Jake has Botin’s world famous roast suckling pig and “three bottles of rioja alta.”
In Across the River and Into the Trees, his character Colonel Cantwell shares the author’s love of Harry’s Bar in Venice and says,” “You find everything on earth at Harry’s.” (Harry’s is known for creating the Bellini – Prosecco sparkling wine and fresh peach puree – and Carpaccio – thinly sliced raw sirloin beef with lemon, olive oil and white truffle shavings.)
And in the posthumously published Islands in the Stream, Thomas Hudson, who lives in Cuba, is happy to find that “the Floridita was now open” and proceeds to order a double frozen daiquiri.” El Floridita also had a fine dining room and a reputation for a great Cuban menu with salads, fruit, black beans and rice and fresh seafood.
Hemingway, it turned out, was better at restaurant promotion than sign spinners, sandwich board walkers, blimps and plane-towed banners. Maybe in hindsight we could call him the first “book spinner.” Tourists continue to flock to Casa Botin, Harry’s Bar, El Floridita and countless other restaurants and follow the writer’s footsteps through some pretty famous doors.
So Happy Birthday, Papa. And may you, dear reader, enjoy passing through many favorite restaurant doors when you celebrate your birthdays!
Lucky writer Craig Boreth passed through many of the same doors as Hemingway while researching his excellent Hemingway Cookbook. You’ll find recipes from Casa Botin and Harry’s Bar. Another treasure is Philip Greene’s To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion, where you’ll find a recipe for the genuine Papa Doble Frozen Daiquiri from El Floridita in Havana.
Unfortunately, Craig Boreth didn’t make it into El Floridita’s kitchen. (I’m guessing he spent too much time researching in the bar?) But I know that Hemingway entertained many visitors in El Floridita’s dining room. The specialty was – no surprise – the fresh seafood. I did find an interesting dish on El Floridita’s current menu: Papas Rellenas. Named in honor of their famous customer? Well…there’s enough phony Hemingway stories floating around so I won’t start another one. It is not Papa’s…it is Papas. (No apostrophe.) Which means “potato” in Spanish. The dish is “Mashed potato balls stuffed with Picadillo beef which is served with garlic plantain chips.”
There’s a great Valley of the Sun connection to this story. The biggest Hemingway Birthday Party is held each year in Key West, Florida. One of the yearly Hemingway Days events is a Hemingway Look-Alike Contest at Sloppy Joe’s. Last year Last year Valley restaurateur Wally Collins – owner of Wally’s Pubs in Scottsdale and Phoenix – won the 2014 contest.