The Humblest Meal, The Greatest Memory

I simply love food. I like to try new things, see pictures of food, and read about the intricacies of the flavors in reviews.

Barnaby's in Niles

Barnaby's in Niles

I'm very social, and I love to have reasons to meet with friends and family and head to eateries to experience the whole gamut of the meal - I love to immerse myself in the ambience of a restaurant - the drinks, the entrée, the candlelight, the décor, the conversation. It's truly one of life's highlights.

I've eaten glorious meals at the top of mountains in Colorado, and dined as I watched the setting sun over the Pacific Ocean or smoky fog rolling in over the vineyards of Napa Valley. I've enjoyed fantastic 5 star meals while on business trips in cities across the country from California to New York. I've savored lovely, home-cooked style breakfasts and delicious lunches and dinners while soaking in the atmosphere of charming tourist spots like Door County, WI and Saratoga Springs, NY. I've even been shocked to get a full lobster on my plate when I thought I only ordered the tail while in Atlantic City, NJ (dealing with the little black eyes looking at me is a whole 'nother blog).

And I recently appreciated for the first time the lovely sites and perfect, customized meal from start to finish at The Signature Room at the 95th for my 50th birthday with my husband.

And I love local spots, too - like Meson Sabika in Naperville. Dining outside with my friends and enjoying the lovely patio and sangria before the tapas arrive...times like this define relaxation for me.

In many ways, I'd say my life revolves around meeting for a meal - to gather family and friends together for the purpose of enjoying the pleasure of the food and the enjoyment of the company. I've got vivid memories of the sites, people I was with and celebrations - anniversaries, holidays, weddings, engagements, birthdays, retirements, graduations, etc.

So as all of these memories of places I've been and people I've shared them with came to mind, I have to say, I was hard-pressed to come up with a single experience in which I vividly remembered exactly what I ate, even though I know I loved the meal at the time. I could remember the people I was with, and what the celebration was, or the location I was in, but not necessarily the actual meal.

The only time I could remember exactly what I ate, and who I ate it with, the reason for the meal, and where I was eating it was when I ate my last meal out with my father.

He'd been sick with cancer - melanoma - for two years. He appeared to be responding to therapy, at last, and we were hoping he'd beat the cancer. He was always so strong. I barely remember him ever being sick when we were growing up. It was unfathomable, at times, to realize that he was as mortal as everybody else, and that he might not last forever.

It wasn't a gourmet venue for this meal. It was a pizza place called Barnaby's in Schaumburg. That location has been closed and leveled, apparently to make way for a car lot for the neighboring auto store.

On most Friday nights when I was growing up, we went to Barnaby's because the pizza was good and the price was right. In fact, we went so often that I got tired of the place, but Dad didn't.

He was a man who was fully satisfied by the simplest things in life, and found joy in everything.

I recall that we sat in a corner booth, which was made of dark lacquered wood, with the purposely-uneven dark brick wall alongside us. We ordered a cheese pizza, and it came, as always, perfectly baked with just the right amount of cheese and with a dusting of cornmeal beneath. It added a delightful texture and kept the pies from sticking when transferred from oven to pizza platter.

It was a special night because it was one of the only times my Dad and I had a drink out together, because I was only 22. It was fun to clink the glasses of our beer mugs together.

I'm glad I can recall it so well, because at the time, I didn't know this was the last time I'd eat out with my Dad. It's sad now that I can't visit that booth anymore because as I mentioned, this Barnaby's was torn down.

But this is why memories are made - to be reminisced over for years to come. And thank goodness for that - because anytime I have a slice of that pizza (there's one near O'Hare) I am always filled with these warm memories of my Dad.

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