I don’t recall such a thing as a “children’s menu” in the 1970s, not one that my parents ever pointed out to me, at least.
At restaurants, I ordered from the main menu and ate what everyone else ate: a fried flounder platter at Sea King Fish Camp, a chopped barbecue sandwich at Blue Mist Bar-B-Q, a vegetable plate with fried okra and macaroni and cheese (counts as a vegetable, right?) at Dixie Restaurant. In Asheboro, meals out were at familiar spots, the food not so different than what my mom or grandmother would’ve cooked at home: meatloaf, country-style steak, chicken pie.
But on the occasional Saturday night, my dad would put on a sport coat and my mom would brush the tangles out of my hair, and the three of us would head to Pinewood Country Club for dinner.
As much as I loved going out to eat — for the Royal Feast at Sir Pizza or the baked spaghetti at Apple House Cafeteria or a grilled cheese at Mayberry — those meals were casual, without ceremony. An evening at Pinewood felt like something special.
I remember my dad pulling open the heavy front door and my mom and me, in our nice dresses, walking down the carpeted hallway like we were on a runway. The hall led past the bar, its wall made out of wavy glass blocks, backlit and glowing gold. I’d cup my hands on the cool blocks and try to see through, catching the prismatic view of the gleaming brass rack above the bar that held wine glasses, their reflections glinting like diamonds.
On past the room where we hung up our coats, and then we were in the dining room, chandeliers sparkling overhead, and on each table, a white tablecloth and candles with tiny silver shades and cloth napkins that had been folded into perfect pyramids.
I couldn’t get enough of those napkins, and I was ecstatic when my grandmother saved a Good Housekeeping article with a napkin-folding tutorial so I could practice this fanciness at home.
At the table, someone pulled out my mom’s chair for her; someone clapped my dad on the shoulder and asked about his golf game. And at some point, a smiling server placed in front of me, with a grand flourish, my favorite thing, the only thing I ever remember eating at Pinewood: shrimp cocktail in a glass bowl on a bed of ice, a tiny fork to eat it with, a ring of cocktail sauce right in the center.
I’ve since dined at many fine places in North Carolina — the elegant McNinch House in Charlotte and Il Palio Ristorante in Chapel Hill; the exquisite Fearrington House Restaurant in Pittsboro and Kimball’s Kitchen in Duck. I spent my birthday at Saint Jacques in Gibsonville. At every place, I’ve appreciated the experience as much as the food.
But when I think back to the place that gave me my first introduction to a special-occasion meal, I think of my dad proclaiming his medium-rare steak excellent, and my mom delighting over the silver boat of blue-cheese dressing, and the three of us enjoying an out-of-the-ordinary moment, a night to remember.