Intellectual insecurity and Cafe Sarkis
Last month I went back to Chicago to attend the IACP conference and, of course, to eat with wild abandon. One day I met up with a friend from my brief sojourn in grad school.
A few years back, late in the summer -- right before I was about to quit my job, move across the country and start my classes, in fact -- I received an invitation to a party hosted by someone named Melvin. I hadn't met any of my classmates yet, so I had no idea who the guy was that had sent me such an enormous document that also happened to be written entirely in 18th century vernacular. I read this tome while I was at work, sitting in front of my computer at the large tech company in Seattle. It terrified me. I had to scan it a few times just to figure out that I was being invited to a party. After leaping a few more linguistic hurdles, I felt pretty confident that there might even be booze available at said party. Oh dear God. Why did I think I could go back to school? Would I have the slightest chance of keeping up with these academics with their whither-this and their libations-that? I couldn't even understand their PARTY INVITATIONS.
Thankfully, I did make it through school with only a smattering of humiliations, and Melvin became a good friend after keeping our entire class entertained during a sustained period of attack on Pere Goriot and Bleak House.
Melvin has been living in Evanston, Illinois for a long, long time and, like a latter-day Lucien Chardon, no longer holds any illusions about the city's various dining options. He has been everywhere, eaten everything and is over it, weary and wary of the great Evanston culinary classics (Joy Yee's, Lulu's, Clarke's) as only a long-suffering sixth-year doctoral candidate in 18th century literature who's ready to get the hell out of Evanston forever can be.
So when he suggested we dine at Sarkis, I accepted.
Cafe Sarkis is a classic greasy spoon on the North Shore that keeps on going despite the retirement of Sarkis himself. I had not been there since I was 16. We'd ditch high school, hop in some guy's uber-cool (at the time, at least) Jeep Wrangler and careen out of the student parking lot so as not to get busted by the "narcs" who patrolled the vicinity. Soon we'd converge on Sarkis for a huge plate of omelets, hash browns and Diet Coke. With a side order of bread. Ah, sweet teenage metabolism, why hast thou fled?
Beyond the omelets, Sarkis specializes in something called a Disaster, which includes a generous helping of home-made Armenian sausage, sauteed green peppers, onions, and tomatoes atop thick, chewy bread (see below). You must also order the special hash browns, which come topped with a heart-stopping pile of melted cheese.
Hash browns, ready to go.
After lunch, we drove to the cafe where Melvin works as a barista. Along the way, he ran out of gas. For the second time that week. In Martin Amis's autobiography Experience, somebody at some point says, "Poets shouldn't drive." But what about people that study poets?
Melvin ponders at the pump.
Later, Melvin pours.
Some caffeinated creations.
Sometimes--for example, whenever I go back to Evanston for any reason--I really, really miss school. Guess the grass is always greener.