Nouns, verbs and grub

Fri, 11/18/2022 - 10:15am

“Hey Brian, I’ll be hungry in one hour. Hit me will ya, please?” I shout to Brian Holder.
“Hot or cold, Joey?” he asks.
“Your call, brother,” I say. “It’s all you. I’ve got too much stuff rattling around in my head.”
“Gotcha,” he says.
When I go to write a column at the 12 Metre Café at Bowen’s Wharf in Newport Harbor, it’s like ripping into a box of chocolates; I never know what I’m going to get. When I’m inking up a blank page I can’t think of food. It’ll cloud my brain; I’m terrible at multi-tasking. Therefore, I hand off that responsibility to Brian Holder who knows how to - among other things - make a serious sandwich, and I mean, serious. The first time I grabbed some grub from Brian was a day a few years ago when I was off duty and going sailing. I needed a sandwich that would travel well on ice, and would be eaten on my boat when I got up to Prudence Island in about five hours. Holder hooked me up with a roast beef sandwich that blew me away as I ate it at sundown in the anchorage. The sandwich was on a baguette with Swiss cheese, horseradish mayo, shaved red onions, and arugula salad with lemon oil. Unbeknownst to me, the name of that particular sandwich is a Kipling. That day, I crossed the Rubicon and never looked back; Brian Holder scored a new customer.
Regarding the food thing, when I lock onto something I really like, I’m all in for a penny or a pound. My wife’s shepherd’s pie always knocks me senseless. Hey, I know it’s only meat and potatoes but she plays subtle tricks with the ingredients. For example, she’ll put a touch of A1 Sauce in the mix, which kicks it up a notch. Good stuff. Cindy can cook.
The sushi at George’s gets my attention, and I’ve eaten most of the menu. Moreover, the swordfish at Jimmy’s Portside in Galilee is better than anything you’ll find in the state of Rhode Island. (Jimmy simply knows how to consistently present a great swordfish steak.) Brian Holder’s 12 Metre Café is in the same ballpark of the formidable aforementioned, because of the basic quality and preparation of the food. Furthermore, Holder is a personable Newport guy with a great ‘tude. And, he likes what he does to earn his nickels. Likable stuff. The other thing all of the aforementioned share is the lack of me having to actually think more than two seconds about how to get the grub in front of me so I can eat it. I refuse to labor over a menu; never did, and I never will.
Brian Holder is a fifth-generation Newport guy, and for decades his family has had notable food establishments around town. (They had The Atlantic Club for years.) He’s been cooking since he was a kid. “When I was five years old I was standing on a chair cooking Chicken Divan,” he says. This is a casserole named after the Divan Parisian Restaurant at the Chatham Hotel in New York City. Ahem, the guy was just five making this dish. That’s really all we need to know about Brian Holder’s love of cooking. In his kitchen he showed me a picture of his great-grandmother making her own raviolis. Cooking is baked into this guy’s DNA. Brian came up as a kid in Newport being a bar-back and continuing to learn the workings of saloons and restaurants. “I was in the automotive business and mortgage business for years, and then I made the break to do what I love to do,” he says. Here is a guy who clearly loves his work. Lucky guy; lucky customers. Win, win.
Today, after I got about 600 words on the page for this column, I went to Bowen’s Wharf to check my sailboat Reverie after last night’s storm. I went to the boat and opened her hatches and checked her bilge and lines. All was well with the old warhorse. When I came back to the 12 Metre Café to my writing rig, Brian said from the kitchen: “You’re all set up, Joey.” When I got to my seat, I saw a roasted chicken sandwich with Swiss cheese, tomato, and a balsamic glaze on an asiago roll. Jaysus! I inhaled the sandwich and was gobsmacked at how good it was. The simplicity of the sandwich made it profound by the subtle addition of the glaze. This, is how Brian rolls. He knows what ingredients
work together in what amounts.
When I go to Newport to ink up pages for a piece of writing, sentences usually start getting constructed as I’m cruising about half way across the Pell Bridge. I literally start crunching out the first paragraph while I’m driving my Jeep
and scanning the bay and the ocean. The sentences begin to take shape and I talk out loud to hear my voice and see if the sentence phrasing works. Writing, by its very nature is just thinking out loud and using the eight parts of speech to paint a picture or develop an idea to engage a reader. I’m writing/thinking all of the time and developing stuff for the page that interests me and hopefully, my readers. I always have plenty of pens and Moleskine notebooks, and scratch paper nearby in the car and on my boat. Where the rubber actually hits the road - when I finish and submit a column - is when I’m on to the next ideas to track down and develop another column. It’s like being a hunter and curiosity is all. If I wasn’t writing I’d probably be dialed into fly-fishing as that also looks like another great obsession that is filled with the unknown and expectation. In the final analysis and in my estimation, it’s all about the hunt. Note
well, that in this paragraph about writing at the 12 Metre Café, I did not mention the word, food. When I hit my writing spot, nouns and verbs are on my mind; not grub. That’s Brian’s domain. He makes the sandwich, and I hit the keys.
A few weeks ago I wrote a column about the 12 Metre sailor Ted Turner, who sailed Courageous into the history books. For that column Brian made me a Mr. French: smoked ham, Swiss cheese, tomato, whole grain, on a pressed baguette. This past summer when I wrote about Rhode Island sailor Charlie Enright and his foiling racing boat Malama, Brian made me a Tug Boat: roast beef, ham, turkey, mixed greens, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, whole grain mustard on a baguette. Last week when I wrote Dune town, redux, Brian hooked me up with a standard-issue, cold Italian grinder. Again, writing and eating in this context is like a box of chocolates; I truly don’t know what I’m going to get.
Finally, next week when I come into town to write something and check my boat, I’ll just shout up to Brian’s kitchen from the sidewalk after I park my car, “Brian, Houlihan needs grub in one hour,” and I’ll hear him from his kitchen, “Hot or cold, Joey?” and I’ll say, “Your call, brother. It’s all you.”