Saturday, May 9, 2009

Food Nostalgia!


I was trolling around Facebook (shocking, right?) , and happened across the "Farrell's Fan Club" - a tribute to the long-forgotten Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour chain. Boy, that took me right back to Junior High! When I was a young teenager, our family would often pile up in our 1970 Pontiac Safari station wagon and make the ride up the road to Wheaton Plaza for ice cream at Farrell's.

The parlor had a turn-of-the-century motif, and the wait staff all wore red vests and brimmed straw hats. The menu featured all manner of ice cream specialties, including the world-famous Farrell's Zoo sundae... 16 scoops of ice cream, eight toppings, whipped cream, nuts and cherries, which would be brought to the table by two waiters on a stretcher-type device and with sirens blaring.

We, of course, never ordered the Zoo sundae outselves - With all of us kids being pudgy, I think we were all way too self-conscious to do that. However, there were many a time when my friend Jeff Kitzler and I would split a "Pig's trough", which was actually a banana split made for two. Sometimes, I would order the "Hot Fudge Nutty Nutty" - a hot fudge sundae that came with two cups of fudge and two cups of salted spanish peanuts. Dee-lish!

The other great thing I remember about Farrell's is it's candy counter, which you had to pass as you walked out the door. We always made sure to take home a few black licorice ropes, which were delicious and a bargain - three feet for a quarter!

During its local heyday in the DC area, Farrell's was owned by Marriott, which eventually sold the chain. That led to Farrell's downfall, and by the mid-80's, it was gone. Now just three Farrells are still in existence - one in California and two in Hawaii. A few years ago, we hunted down a Farrell's near San Diego and stopped in for lunch. It happened to be my birthday, and they blew the siren for me. It was all great fun.

Thinking about Farrell's with its straw hats and early 20th Century motif reminded me of another childhood family haunt - Shakey's Pizza. For me, Shakey's goes all the way back to kindergarten or so. My father - back when he was still a middle-class slob like the rest of us - used to take the entire family to the Shakey's in Adelphi, just up the street from Tick Tock liquors.

Shakey's also had a retro motif, but it was a much more barebones place, with long wooden tables, and backless benches to sit on. There were sarcastic wooden signs lining the walls, and an actual oldtime player piano that played ragtime tunes on long rolls of paper, and I remember asking my parents relentlessly for money to play the piano.

We'd meet our family friends, the Chatfields, and Mom and Dad would order pitchers of beer and soda while we kids would stand on benches in front of the kitchen window and watch the chefs make the dough and the pizza. It was all quite a show!

Shakey's Pizza had a very distinctive taste - The sauce was not as sweet as others I've tasted, and the crust was very thin - almost crisp. In my youth, I thought it was superior - but I wonder if I'd think the same today. The memories of the times spent there quite likely mask the taste of the food.

In later years, as I turned into a teenager and then into young adulthood, I would frequent the Shakey's in Rockville, which was similar to the original Adelphi location. My friend Bob and I spent many an afternoon with pizza and beer commisserating over one broken teenage dream or romance or another... Later on, I was a regular at the Shakey's in Gaithersburg, which had a more modern design and was more of a buffet than a pizza joint. Alas, they all left the area years ago as well, and now there are just a couple of Shakey's east of the Mississippi.

After doing a bit of web searching, I have discovered that Shakey's is making a comeback in California, where the chain originated. In fact, there's a new location just a couple of miles away from Disneyland, which I'll be visiting this summer. You can bet we'll be stopping in for dinner there!

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